In an age of increasing online influence, a new form of persuasion arises: BookTok. BookTok, a hashtag on social media app TikTok, is made up of literature-based content created predominantly by teens and young women. The hashtag has over 14 billion views and contains subject matter ranging from book reviews to “hot girl summer” reading lists. This online space of bookworms is not only influencing fellow TikTok users, but their influence extends to book sales, marketing, and the future of literature.
Most BookTokers film in front of shelves filled to the brim with books of all age ranges and genres. Others stack their book recommendations on top of one another and film from above, removing books from the stack individually like a handmade slideshow. Recommendations from BookTok include long beloved reads from writers such as Haruki Murakami and Patti Smith to newer authors such as Sally Rooney and Michelle Zauner.
BookTok is not the first online presence of a bookworm community — Bookstagram, Book Twitter, and others are still alive and well — but there is something unique about this platform. The videos of BookTok have the potential to reach a wider audience due to TikTok’s For You Page, which curates an endless stream of new videos from all over the world. And while both Instagram and Twitter have video features, TikTok is solely video-based, creating an outlet where avid book readers can review books not only on the (electronic) page, but where they can speak directly to their audience and have the audience answer back. In my experience, BookTok is an intimate and beloved space for this reason.
The online space of BookTok is often broken down into smaller hashtags based on the content of each page, with #SapphicBookTok and #BlackBookTok among the most popular. In these spaces, creators recommend and review books that contain topics, themes, and characters that may not be seen in more mainstream media.
With this online community rapidly growing in popularity over a short period of time, publishers, writers, and booksellers alike have taken notice of the change, and some are shifting gears to appeal to this increased interest in literature.
“The pool of people who are guaranteed to buy young adult books is limited to a few thousand dedicated lovers of the genre, but BookTok is exciting, with its short, entertaining videos bringing a new, powerful opportunity to reach and engage non-readers, to create more book lovers,” Kat McKenna, a marketing and brand consultant specializing in children and young adult books, shared with the Guardian.
“These ‘snapshot’ visual trailers are making books cinematic in a way that publishers have been trying to do with marketing book trailers for a really long time. But the way TikTok users are creating imagery inspired by what they are reading is so simple, and so clever. It’s that thing of bringing the pages to life, showing what you get from a book beyond words.”
BookTok creators are single-handedly boosting book sales and pushing certain pieces of literature to the front. Last summer, young adult novel “We Were Liars” by E. Lockhart reappeared on the New York Times Best Sellers list despite being published in 2014. The novel is described by BookTok users as heart wrenching with an unexpected ending, leaving readers “sobbing for days.” The book had become a must-read in the eyes of BookTok, which resulted in a massive increase in purchases of Lockhart’s book.
Currently, there is an up-and-coming favorite on BookTok: “People We Meet On Vacation” by Emily Henry. The novel is fifth on the New York Times Best Seller list, and quickly becoming one of the most popular reads of the summer on BookTok. Other favorites on BookTok include “Red, White & Royal Blue” by Casey McQuiston, “The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller, and “They Both Die at the End” by Adam Silvera. Many of these contain queer characters and themes, providing representation that has been long sought after by young LGBT+ readers.
Major bookstores like Barnes and Noble are also shifting gears to accommodate for this online trend, with many U.S. Barnes and Noble locations including a BookTok table at the front of their store. The setup contains all the most talked-about books on the app, ranging from realistic fiction to fantasy.
The future of literature is bright for upcoming writers and readers alike. Even as major retailers such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble scramble to keep up with the youth’s interest and influence, there’s a push online to buy from independent bookstores and utilize local libraries. Young creators large and small are addressing this issue, taking time to shout out independent Black owned bookstores like Jubilee Books or highlight the positives of owning a library card.
I believe that this online trend is truly a gem within an emerging culture of online influence. BookTok is an accessible yet tight-knit community of young people that will continue to inspire their peers, carrying on the love of literature to the newest generation of readers and writers