Online Trends

What exactly is BookTok, anyway?

As many people remember, TikTok used to be known as Back then, people used to almost exclusively post lip-syncing and dancing videos. However, the rebranding also brought on a shift in content. Today the app is known for much more — short funny videos, absurdist Gen-Z content, and, most importantly, a myriad of distinct communities focused on various hobbies.

Most notable examples of those TikTok niches include FoodTok, full of simple recipes going viral and cooking challenges; DnDtok where people share their experiences and tips for playing the tabletop RPG game Dungeons and Dragons; and the topic of this article: BookTok, the community for book lovers.

@novelneighbor have a feminine rage book rec for us? #femininerage #feministbooktok #booktok #scififantasy #historicalfictionbooks #dystopianbooks #horrorbooks #literarytok #sapphicbooks #yafantasybooks ♬ original sound – The Novel Neighbor

BookTok gained its popularity at the beginning of 2020, thanks to the user @caitsbooks, who made the tag popular by posting a book-themed video that went viral, which in turn encouraged other creators to start posting about literature.

It is unclear where the majority of booktokers come from – did they form primarily on TikTok or migrate from other social media platforms? From my observations, there seems to be a huge discrepancy between booktube (book YouTube) and BookTok creators, with booktokers mostly being very young, Gen Z people who began their literary journey on TikTok. Some YouTubers have been trying to establish their accounts on TikTok, although they do not seem to be as successful as TikTok’s homegrown creators. Why is that?

To be successful on the platform, one has to understand how its algorithms work. TikTok relies heavily on hashtags, viral sounds, and challenges — all of which are less emphasized on YouTube. Hashtags like #booktok list, #booktok recommendations or #booktok spicy books allow videos to quickly go viral. Their form is easy to replicate and the process of creating such a video is far less complicated and demands less editing than a typical BookTube video. Trends come and go really fast, so naturally it is easier for seasoned TikTokersto keep up with them.

BookTok: embraced by the publishing industry

An interesting thing about BookTok is that it often appears to promote books that are not exactly new releases. When these releases get picked up by TikTok’s algorithm, they experience a rebirth and reach new heights of popularity. This has happened with titles such as “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” by Taylor Jenkins Reid or “It Ends With Us” by Colleen Hoover, released in 2017 and 2016 respectively. Both of those books, and these are just examples, experienced a massive surge in sales starting at the end of 2020.

Naturally, many publishers realised that they can use TikTok as a means of advertising. And is there a better way to do that than to collaborate with a creator who is already established on the platform?

A great example of such collaboration was Penguin Random House deciding to work with the tiktoker @kimmybookss, who was invited to appear on the publisher’s TikTok account to promote her favourite romance books and boost Black authors.

@penguinrandomhouse hi guys i’m @kimmybookss and i’ll be on here for a little bit so here’s a get to know me! #fyp #foryou #booktok #bookish #bookclub #gettoknowme #read ♬ original sound – S A R A H

Many authors with an online presence decide to promote their upcoming titles on BookTok as well – even if they have already signed with a publisher and have a release date.

There are cases such as Xiran Jay Zhao and their book “The Iron Widow or Rebecca Mix” and Rebbeca Mix’s “The Ones We Burn” (published respectively by Penguin and Simon & Schuster), both of whom were so beloved by TikTok, that their books could already be called successes before even being released.

The pre-sale number for Zhao’s “The Iron Widow”, for example, went up by 600% in the week in which Xiran posted an unboxing video of advanced copies of the novel.

@xiranjayzhao Had to reupload bc TikTok didn’t like my big knife LOOOL #booktok #booktoker #yabooks #yabooktok #foryou #fyp #books #bookrecommendations #bookclub ♬ original sound – Xiran Jay Zhao

It’s not just traditional publishers that are benefitting from the platform’s algorithms, though. Perhaps the biggest story of self-publishing success came from TikTok, too – Olivie Blake’s book “The Atlas Six”. This young adult novel was originally published by Blake in early 2020 and quickly went viral on BookTok, under popular hashtags such as #darkacademia. The enormous success of the book on social media attracted publishers, which led to Tor acquiring the publishing rights and issuing a new edition in 2022 — this time, also in hardback and audiobook versions!

Bookstores are also heavily involved in BookTok. From large retailers like Barnes and Noble and Waterstones to small bookstore chains like Ireland’s Dubray and even some independent shops, it’s almost impossible to walk in and not see a separate shelf dedicated to BookTok sensations. Novels that went viral or that come from TikTok’s favourite authors are displayed prominently and are often sold in attractive deals or discounts. “Recommended by BookTok” tabs can even be found on their websites!

A BookTok display at the Chapters Bookstore on Parnell Street in Dublin.

A BookTok display at the Chapters Bookstore on Parnell Street in Dublin.

Booktok influencers — the popular and the niche

So what does BookTok content actually look like? The first noticeable thing about it is how diverse it is – popular creators come from all over the world and show a wide range of interests. Although young adult books undeniably take the front seat when it comes to TikTok popularity, there’s no shortage of even smaller BookTok niches that promote every genre, be it romance, horror, literary fiction or queer literature.

Admittedly, many videos can feel repetitive due to how popular certain trends, sounds or challenges are.  After all, how many TikToks can one watch where the creator just shows cover after cover without saying much about the novel itself? That’s where originality and strong online personas come to play – there are many creators who shine through thanks to their personality or clever approach.

One such booktoker is Alicia from @li.reading, who is easily recognizable thanks to her bold, unapologetic tone, honest opinions and fun editing style. Alicia often participates in popular challenges, but she also creates in-depth videos about books, does mini-reviews and squeezes as much information as possible into the short format.

@li.reading does not contain spoilers. may contain: controversial opinions. #booktok#books#ottessamoshfegh#lapvona#litfic#literaryfiction#contemporarybooks#myorar#deathinherhands#eileen#lireading ♬ original sound – Alicia (Li)🌙

Another account worth attention is @bonbinebee, characterised by a calmer presence and more minimalistic videos. This creator often tries to find and promote books that are not talked about enough and always shares original insights.

@bonbinebee a few literary fiction titles I have enjoyed this year so far 😎 …. being earnest online is litcherally so embarrassing wtf #swag #booktok #fiction ♬ original sound – fantine :^}

There are also creators like Jesse from @bowtiesandbooks, who came to TikTok with an already established audience from YouTube. Jesse focuses on promoting Black and LGBTQ+ authors, and even organises their own nonbinary book club.

@bowtiesandbooks♬ original sound – bowtiesandbooks

How to BookTok

For anyone who professionally works with books, TikTok is, without a doubt, the place to be. But how can one promote novels, bookstores or other businesses in a way that feels genuine?

First of all, authenticity is key. Young TikTok audiences can spot insincerity very quickly. Regular ads are so different from TikTok’s genuine and homemade format that they are immediately identifiable. Make no mistake — they will be skipped within seconds. That’s why in order to promote anything on the platform, it’s essential to work with influencers. But how does one go about such a collaboration?

The most popular form is account takeover – an influencer gains access to a publisher’s TikTok account and posts videos in their name. This makes the content feel organic, because the influencer’s style of filming and editing remains unchanged, which satisfies their fanbase, but they are able to post directly for the publisher, gaining traction and attracting new followers to the publisher’s profile.

It’s a tried and true method,  and we can see how well it works with examples such as @penguinrandomhouse, who work with previously mentioned @kimmybookss and @balloonbreath. We can notice a consistent growth in video views following the collaborations.

@penguinrandomhouse get excited to see @balloonbreath on here over the next couple months 🎉#booktok #balloonbreath #cryinginhmart #lovehypothesis #elifbatuman #books ♬ original sound – Penguin Random House

Another example of authenticity is how bookstores use TikTok to advertise themselves. @waterstones, for example, lets their young employees post to their TikTok account and show off their current book displays or participate in viral challenges. And the employees know a lot about popular books – if they didn’t, BookTok would have noticed straight away!

@waterstones Are any of these on your TBR? 🌈 #books #booktok #bookish #bookrecs #waterstones ♬ Angeleyes (Sped Up Version) – tuna (SVT HOT)

If you’d like to learn more about general TikTok advertising, read our blog post on the best practices for brands on TikTok. If you’re interested in tracking more trends like BookTok, you’re in luck! SentiOne has just launched its TikTok integration! Don’t wait — start your journey with social listening today by getting in touch with us to book a demo!