The Rise of BookTok: Meet the Teen Influencers Who Are Driving Books Up the Charts | Books
In August 2020, Kate Wilson, a 16-year-old from Shrewsbury, posted on the TikTok social media video platform a series of quotes from books she had read, “that say I love you, without really say I love you “. To a melancholy soundtrack, the short video takes place as Wilson, an A-level student, holds copies of the books with the quotes overlaid. “You were the last dream of my soul”, from A tale of two cities. “Whatever our souls are, his and mine are the same”, from The Wuthering Heights. “Every atom of your flesh is as dear to me as mine”, from Jane eyre. It has been viewed over 1.2 million times.
The Wilson TikTok handle, @kateslibrary, is among the increasingly popular accounts posted on #BookTok, a TikTok reading corner that has seen 9.6 billion views and has been described as the last healthy place on the internet. Here, users – mostly young women – post short videos inspired by the books they love. The most successful are fun, literature-addicting, and the reading experience. “Books where the main character was sent to kill someone but they end up falling in love”, by @kateslibrary. “The things bookworms do” by @abbysbooks. “When you were 12 years old and your parents caught you crying for a book” by @emilymiahreads.
These publications can attract millions of views and rekindle the appreciation of books among young readers. “I started reading again after six years when I first discovered BookTok last October,” says 15-year-old Mireille Lee, who, with her 13-year-old sister Elodie, now runs the much-publicized @alifeofliterature relies on TikTok.
The idea began after Mireille convinced her sister to try the young adult novel The selection by Kiera Cass; “I didn’t want to read. I was in the game, ”says Elodie. But once she got started, she couldn’t let go and created her own TikTok account, through which she shared videos inspired by the vibe, or “aesthetic,” of The selection. When one of Elodie’s videos received 1,000 likes in one day, Mireille decided to join her, and the sisters now have 284,000 followers and 6 million likes; one of their greatest successes concerned E Lockhart’s We were liars, which shows photos of dramatic and glamorous scenes on a beautiful coastline, summing up the contents of the book to gripping music. As the sisters say, it’s about “convincing you to read books based on their aesthetics.”
While this may seem like a reductive way of talking about books, the sisters know these memes are an effective ruse to attract readers. “I think it all comes down to the fact that when you see a book you’re like, ‘more homework, thank you very much.’ », Says Mireille. “I tried to influence my friends to The selection, or red queen [by Victoria Aveyard], and they just didn’t have it. Instead, “we showed them tons of pictures with really popular music, and it was a huge success. People loved it and we kept doing it.
Adam Silvera’s novel in 2017 They both die at the end is one of the books to have benefited from the BookTok effect. Users recently started filming themselves before and after reading the book, sobbing as they reached the finish line. In March, it climbed to the top of the teen drama charts, selling over 4,000 copies a week. The book has sold over 200,000 copies in the UK, more than half of which will arrive late in 2021, after thousands of publications on the subject (#adamsilvera has been viewed 10.8 million times).
The editors are watching with interest. “The pool of people who are guaranteed to buy young adult books is limited to a few thousand dedicated fans of the genre, but BookTok is exciting, with its short and entertaining videos providing a new and powerful opportunity to reach and d ‘Engage non-readers, to create more book lovers,’ says Kat McKenna, a marketing and brand consultant specializing in books for children and young adults. “These ‘instant’ visual trailers make cinematic books in a way that publishers have been trying to do with marketing book trailers for a very long time. But the way TikTok users create images inspired by what they read is so simple and so smart. It’s that thing of bringing pages to life, of showing what you get from a book beyond words.
At Simon & Schuster, marketing and advertising manager Olivia Horrox, who worked on Silvera’s novel, is now watching another of her titles, Tracy Deonn’s Legend, taking on new life on BookTok. “It’s become a trend that other users want to jump in and start creating their own content,” she says. “Like the ice bucket challenge that existed on Facebook, these TikTok trends become a challenge in the same way, and you don’t want to miss out on the times, so you get the book everyone is talking about.”
BookTokers captures the “visceral reaction” to a book, which is not reflected in a written review, says Horrox. “There’s something about the fact that it’s less than a minute. People who consume this content want things faster and more vivid all the time – you watch a 32 second video and someone says, “This book has an LGBTQ romance, it’s really heartbreaking, it’s speculative fiction. And then viewers think, ‘Oh, okay, these are all things that interest me. I’ll go buy it. ‘”
The emotional life of a teenager can be difficult, going from intense highs to crushing lows, and books that offer a cathartic cry are the most popular. “Romantic books and sad books seem to be really big,” McKenna says. “If it pulls on a sensitive chord, it’s likely to grab the user’s attention. “
Ayman Chaudhary, who is 20 and studies at the University of Chicago, saw her tastes soar when she posted a video of his response – loud (and hilarious) moans – to finish Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles. “There’s this trend where you talk about a book and maybe even add a clip of yourself crying while reading the book,” Chaudhary says. “It makes people curious – like, what could make this book so good or so sad that it can make you show your emotions and be so vulnerable to the audience?” Books that can make me cry instantly have my money.
However, it’s not all romance and tears. American teenager “ccolinnnn” has 21.7 million likes for his humor messages, which are often teasers for live broadcasts in which he reads children’s bedtime stories. Emily Russell, who has 1.2 million likes for her @emilymiahreads account, found it really took off after posting to a bookstore she loves to go to. And some of the funniest videos poke fun at literary tropes – “How white people write East Asian women,” or “what dress do you wear to run romantically through a castle to your lover? ” “what I think I look like when I read, compared to what I really look like ”.
Chaudhary says it was during the lockdown that she started posting BookTok videos, spurred on by “quarantine boredom.” I never planned to do any content. I didn’t think I had anything special or new to say. Today, she has 258,000 subscribers and 16.2 million likes for her @aymansbooks Account.
Wilson, too, entered BookTok during the lockdown. “I love finding even more people I can talk to about my favorite books,” she says. “I actually had a few people in my school who I had never spoken to before, who came to me just to talk about books and my TikTok account because they found it.” In December 2020, she was regularly contacted by publishers, who realized that TikTok “really sells books”.
Russell, a 21-year-old science student, began receiving books from publishers and authors in late September. “I still can’t believe I work with these publishing houses. It has always been a dream of mine, ”she says.
The content of BookTok tends to focus on the five or more “hot” books, which currently include fantasy novels. Caraval by Stéphanie Garber, Heartless by Marissa Mayer and the A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J Maas. “What people really love about Booktok is the fantastic romance. If you tell someone there’s romance when they try to kill each other, that’s it, sold out,” says Faith Young. , which posts as @hellyeahbooks.
“In the beginning, when you first sign up, there are definitely six to ten books that everyone is talking about,” she says. “The most popular books tend to be quite straight and fairly white. And so I think the biggest movement within the community is like, “Hey, haven’t you ever seen yourself represented? Here are books that will represent you. I’m bisexual, and when I first joined I was only reading books about straight couples. So finding those books that I saw myself reflected in changed my life. She cites in particular the Empirium trilogy by Claire Legrand, some of the first books she read with a bisexual protagonist.
Young is 22 and says, “I thought TikTok was ridiculous, last year before the first lockdown. I really thought it was just for 14 year olds, but BookTok is such a great community. These are people who love the same books as I do, and I can talk about the books I love. It just seems a bit magical.