BookTok—the bookish corner of popular social media app TikTok—has become a recent staple in the publishing world (as discussed in our previous introductory article on BookTok). In this article, we reveal BookTok tips and tricks, publisher dos and don’ts for partnerships with influencers, trends, branding, and other tidbits shared by five Canadian BookTokers.
What Makes TikTok Special?
BookTok is unique in the way it has impacted the publishing industry, as evidenced by massive sales boosts for books that go viral on BookTok, book club partnerships with major retailers such as Barnes & Noble and Indigo, as well as in-store #BookTok table displays. So, what makes TikTok so special?
BookToker and co-host of the podcast Books on the Brain, Danielle @d.j.books, who started her BookTok account at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, was quick to point out the power of TikTok’s algorithm and how it differs from social media sites such as YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter.
“I think it is just the algorithm,” notes Danielle. “You don’t need to have a huge following to have a video go viral, which creates opportunity for indie authors, which creates opportunities for diverse authors, or people who lack representation through traditional means.”
“And you’ll see every once in a while, things “blow-blow” up for indie authors and everyone’s like “woo-hoo, this is amazing! So excited,” because it is exciting because that’s probably something that they might not have gotten through any other means,” adds Danielle.
University student and BookToker, Faith, whose BookTok handle is @yabooktok, also started her account at the beginning of the pandemic after stumbling across BookTok videos on her For You Page—a page on the TikTok app where users can discover new content based on their interests and activity on the app.
“The biggest difference between TikTok and other social media platforms is that TikTok shares your videos with a much wider audience,” Faith notes. “You could not even be watching BookTok videos or anything, and a BookTok video could come on your For You Page.”
“And they’re much shorter videos,” says Faith. “So 15 seconds of someone’s time versus 30 minutes for a YouTube video or something. People are a lot more easily hooked in.”
Psychology researcher and BookToker, Charlotte @littlebibliophile, also touches on both points.
“[The algorithm] learns you, so it becomes that addicting quality,” notes Charlotte. “But also there’s something exciting about always being shown different things […] it feels like a very bite sized and easy place to start getting information about areas you might not have explored before. And also because it’s from real people, I think, helps it. It seems like a very user driven space.”
Trends, Tropes, Aesthetics, and How to Build a Brand
Users are the heart and soul of TikTok, with new trends emerging constantly, but fading just as quickly. University student and BookToker, Mei @mei_lailing, remarks, “I find that when you hop on big trends at the moment, your videos tend to reach a bigger audience because usually when there’s something trending, it’s on everyone’s For You Page.”
Another BookToker, Zara @wxstednights, notes the importance of getting the timing for trends right. Her most viral video—which used a trending sound—was about the Goodreads app and her constant status updates every time she finishes reading a chapter.
“It was early on into the trend that I used the sound, and I picked something that a lot of people I know talk about,” recalls Zara. “So Goodreads, a lot of people use it. And I think it generated a lot more views because people were commenting on it, recommending the Storygraph app instead, so I think there was a lot more interaction to the video because people kind of have different opinions about those two popular apps as well. […] I think it’s mostly about hopping onto trends early on and picking something that is very general I guess in the specific niche that you are talking about.”
“The key is that you have to do it within like a day of it being trending,” shares Danielle. “Because if you wait a week, trend’s gone. TikTok moves so fast.”
Many readers and influencers in the book community have noticed the recent “trope-ification” of the publishing industry, and how using tropes to promote books is increasingly prevalent in book marketing these days.
“From trends I’ve noticed on BookTok, just talking about plot points or tropes, just using sounds and putting texts on the screen, is what I’ve seen do best recently,” notes Faith.
Faith also points out the potential drawback of such an approach from authors and publishers alike: “When [publishers and authors] advertise a book, they’re saying, “oh, it has the one-bed trope, or enemies-to-lovers,” instead of talking about the actual unique content and plot of the book. […] I understand the appeal, but I feel like it’s ruining the publishing industry. I’m not hearing a unique story, I’m seeing a bunch of tropes trying to be put in to sell a story—which I understand, you need to sell a book. But still, I feel like a unique story is more important, in my opinion.”
One of Faith’s most popular videos was her talking about the plot of one of her favourite books, a YA romance novel called Better Than the Movies by Lynn Painter, as if it were happening to her.
“At the end I was like, “if you want to know what happens next, read this book” and I think people really liked the plot, and liked the idea [of the video].”
If you’re hesitant to dive into creating on TikTok, it may be because of misconceptions about the look and quality of successful videos, and whether that’s achievable.
However, Danielle notes, “Bookstagram (Book Instagram) is like the aesthetics. BookTok is more relatability and authenticity—but there’s still a space for that aesthetic, even if that aesthetic is “I’m a cool girl who is not wearing makeup today and I’m just relaxing in my bed.” That’s still an aesthetic. […] It comes down to you as a creator trying things and test running things and seeing what works for you.”
Building a Brand
Simply creating a TikTok account, posting random videos, and praying to the algorithm gods won’t guarantee success.
“I was focused on always doing it for me and not so much worrying about ‘how am I going to get growth?’” remarks Charlotte. “Then of course, you’re like, ‘hey, what does well and what doesn’t?’ A certain amount of it, I think, is not predictable […] As for things that I think help, it’s also just engaging in good faith with other content creators that you like on the platform and sort of making those connections and finding your niche, so to speak, within the platform.”
Aside from deciding what content to post, the frequency of posting also matters, particularly for accounts that are just starting out.
“I try to post once a day,” says Danielle. “That is kind of what people say is the most successful; try to post once a day. […] Posting consistently gives your videos a better chance of hitting the For You Page, which is where they’re going to get that virality.”
Dos and Don’ts for Publisher-Influencer Partnerships
Mei, who has worked on book campaigns previously, finds that aside from strict, definite timelines, one important do is to “communicate every detail that you want the BookToker to have included in the video if you are sponsoring them.”
This could include whether a publisher wants the content to contain a book review or simply the premise, synopsis, or tropes of the book. Though in general, BookTokers tend to post the latter, owing to TikTok’s shorter video format.
As for whether BookTokers prefer receiving physical versus ebooks, the consensus was heavily in favour of physical books.
“I think physical books do better on BookTok, personally, holding it, manipulating it, I find those do better in videos,” says Charlotte. “I think it just seems more personal and like there’s more of a commitment behind it, so that would be my preference.”
“A digital copy is really easy to request on NetGalley, and I try not to request them as much unless it’s something I know I really want to read,” mentions Faith, who has experience partnering with Penguin Random House and Viz Media. “I also don’t like to obligate myself to read so many books. I like to have a little freedom in my reading, otherwise it’s not really fun.”
Moreover, Faith adds, “I think [publishers] should consider if they want someone to promote something for them that they’re going to have to set aside a budget for that.”
Unlike in the United States, Canadian TikTok does not have the Creator Fund. This means that Canadian TikTokers do not earn money through views on TikTok, which may prompt Canadian BookTokers to prioritize paid partnerships over unpaid ones where the compensation is simply a free book.
A big don’t, according to Danielle, is for publishers to request reviews without researching the BookToker and the type of content they create, “because everybody does what they do really, really well, but not everybody does everything.”
“Also, a big thing about decorum for emailing is try not to do the mass emails like, the more personable or individualized emails are, the more successful they are,” says Danielle. “I know that is a little extra labour on the publishing house side, but it makes a big difference for me as a reviewer for them to like actually be like this is a book that we know you’re going to enjoy.”
“Also something that the big publishing houses haven’t started doing, but I’ve noticed a lot more indie publishing houses have and I really love it, is including content warnings in the emails for pitching the books. […] That’s something for me that is a huge checkmark, like I want to work with these people again. They care about me, and they care about my experience as a reader.”
As for how publishers can reach out to BookTokers, direct messaging might not be the best method. Danielle notes, “Most of us have our work emails in our bios on our TikTok. That is like the preference of how to be reached out. If you DM, it gets lost in like the ether, so it’s much better to e-mail people.”
Though the Canadian independent publishing presence on BookTok may be scarce, Zara believes there is room for them to thrive as well.
“I do think that there’s still space to go in and be able to succeed and thrive in the BookTok community,” begins Zara. “I think it’s still possible because people are always looking for newer content and the repetition of the same big publishers, the repetition of the big authors, it gets to a point where you’re like, okay, I’m skipping videos because I’ve already seen this. I’ve already heard people talking about this.”
Danielle holds similar optimism about the potential of Canadian publishers to succeed on BookTok, which she believes to be an equalizing space where anybody can go viral.
She notes, “I think [BookTok] is even like the place to thrive in the marketing scene because people are actively seeking out indie publishers online to promote and to work with […] I follow so many indie publishing houses because I’m very interested in what they’re doing because often those are the publishing houses that are doing queer books, doing diverse books, doing these books that I feel passionately about.”
The Future of BookTok
BookTok exploded in popularity and growth over the course of the past few years, particularly following the pandemic. However, there have been concerns about its stagnation, and it becoming an echo chamber of sorts, as viewers see the same books promoted over and over on the platform, with little variance in between.
On the contrary, Mei believes that “BookTok is definitely diversifying–because it wasn’t as big then as it is now. […] Books become popular on TikTok because people talk about them, so having more people with more diverse minds, gives more opportunity to popularize diverse books.”
“Authors of colour, or marginalized authors in general, just really are finally getting some sort of a platform,” notes Faith. “We’ve seen some of their books published, but they’re still very much a minority, so I think we’ve opened up the room for conversation a lot more here.”
Danielle mentions that a shift has occurred in the publishing industry when it comes to diversity and advocacy.
“I think it’s kind of coincided with BookTok being taken more seriously by the publishing industry and people realizing like BookTok does hold more sway in power than I think people were ever really expecting a little corner of the Internet could hold,” says Danielle. “It’s powerful, and when a huge population of people get together and say this is what we want, we want more diverse books, we want more indie publishers and we want more diverse voices and those things happen or start to happen, that is important. Or even having larger conversations about like, ‘this book is problematic, this author has problematic tendencies.’ How do we deconstruct it? How do we educate people?”
“So, I think hopefully the future of BookTok is that advocacy continuing to happen and people finding success in uplifting voices of marginalized groups that don’t get the same spotlight in other places. That’s what I hope.”
Bonus: BookTokers’ Genre Preferences and Book Recommendations!
Favourite genres: Speculative Fiction and Literary Fiction, among others
Book rec: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
Favourite genres: Adult romance, YA Romance, Fantasy Romance, Non-fiction, Memoir
Book recs: The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Beartown by Fredrik Backman, Loveless by Alice Oseman, and Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert
Favourite genres: Young Adult, Romance, Contemporary Fiction, Fantasy
Book recs: The Poppy War series by R.F. Kuang, How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe by Raquel Vasquez Gillilan, Just Last Night by Mhairi McFarland, Better Than the Movies by Lynn Painter, Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram, Legendborn by Tracy Deonn, and Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
Favourite genres: Fantasy, Contemporary Romance, Young Adult, Thriller, Mystery, and Action and Adventure.
Book rec: Red Rising by Pierce Brown
Favourite genres: Fantasy and Romance
Book rec: Defending Jacob by William Landay
To reach out to the BookTokers in this article for partnerships or sponsored content, please email the Technology and Marketing Specialist for contact details.