Illustration courtesy of Writer Mag.
While some might argue that the pandemic is not nearly as impactful now as it was in 2020, the change in hobbies and interests of people of all ages is still prevalent today.
As people were forced to stay inside during the pandemic, reading became a popular hobby that caused different niche communities to form online, especially on TikTok.
With information being so easily accessible and reading becoming a staple in our daily routines more frequently than we might realize, it’s no surprise that reading books has become trendy again.
Frequently referred to as “BookTok,” TikTok’s community of book lovers has taken the world by storm and has essentially set the trends for what books are popular. While social media sites like Instagram also have a similar community — often referred to as “Bookstagram” — they don’t have as much reach as TikTok.
Both local and national bookstores now have “BookTok” sections in their stores of books that are widely talked about on the app, and authors like Colleen Hoover, Alex Aster and Emily Henry have established themselves in the BookTok community with their books selling millions of copies and appearing in almost every popular video under the BookTok hashtag on TikTok.
According to NPD BookScan, a site that tracks the highest selling books and other trends in the publishing industry, Hoover’s books occupy four out of the ten spots on the highest selling books as of October 2022. NPD BookScan also stated that “BookTok has helped authors sell 20 million printed books in 2021” and that “no other form of social media has ever had this kind of impact on sales.”
Dana DeCastro, 24, from Bayonne, says she usually sees a lot of “if you liked this, read this” recommendation videos, cosplays, people who she said are some of the best writers promoting their fanfictions/suggesting fanfiction ideas, and “just all these little things that immerse you into the books and stories you love [on her For You Page]. There’s even someone who comes up with workout programs based on books! We all build these little communities with each other and it’s so wholesome.”
DeCastro credits BookTok for getting her out of a reading slump after college.
“There were so many recommendations and seeing people talk about books they love made me want to read them,” she told Slice of Culture.
After reading 58 books so far this year “(more if you count fanfictions),” she says she sometimes needs a break after being in a reading slump because of how fast she reads.
With BookTok is being dominated by regular readers as opposed to major publishing companies and authors, it offers a unique sense of community and outreach.
The algorithm on TikTok is unlike any other social media site, with the For You page living up to its name and showing videos to users that are curated specifically to their interests and lifestyles. While Instagram’s algorithm focuses on users who already have a larger following, TikTok shows users videos from the average person that can quickly go viral overnight.
As an active BookTok user, DeCastro agrees that it’s affected the publishing industry and that the app even helped her find out about a ton of authors that she now loves.
In addition to bringing more attention to an emerging author’s books in the typical ways that would increase the feeling of pressure on them and the high expectations of others, it also provides a newer way for authors to connect with publishers and vice versa.
“I don’t know too much about publishing, but I think anything with enough of a following or enough people to believe in it/support it/care about it has an influence and an impact,” she said.
The app helped her discover one of her favorite book series, “A Court of Thorns and Roses” (frequently referred to by its abbreviation ACOTAR) and discovered similar books thanks to TikTok’s algorithm.
While newer books are gaining traction on TikTok, books published a little over a decade ago like “The Song of Achilles” (2011) as well as classic authors like Jane Austen are attracting a new generation of readers.
As social media continues to become a major tool in helping people discover new hobbies and practices to add to their lives, sites like Goodreads were created to help people find books and connect with each other. Users can follow other authors as well as their friends, which makes it even easier to find out what books the people they like are reading. Authors also frequently promote other authors’ books, so there’s an endless way to find another book to add to your TBR, or To Be Read, list.
TikTok’s predecessor, Instagram, has its own community of book lovers (sometimes referred to as “Bookstagram”) that not only paved the way for the type of content that is frequently promoted on BookTok.
Jordan Hernandez, a 30-year-old book reviewer on Instagram from Hoboken, made her account @_completelybooked on February 24, 2020 after initially creating posts of the same name on her personal Instagram account at the end of 2019.
Before starting her own book club in January 2021, Hernandez was inspired to review books after graduating from Loyola University Maryland in 2014 and moving back to New Jersey to start her career.
Since she worked in New York City and had to commute for a little over an hour, she would often bring at least one book and one magazine to read on the way.
“My coworkers and friends always asked about what I was reading and to recommend books to them,” Hernandez said.
While she’s not sure what inspired her to post about her latest reads on Instagram, she used it as a tool to provide recommendations for multiple friends at a time and was inspired by her mom to make a separate page for her book reviews.
“I was hesitant at first because I wanted to keep it as a very small hobby. I woke up on February 24, 2020, and just decided to make its own page, not knowing in just 3 weeks I would have all the time in the world to sit around and read,” she added.
While Hernandez says she mostly reads fiction, she doesn’t have a specific genre she goes for.
“The mission of Completely Booked is to expose just how much diversity we have in our world and how we’re able to see that through stories. I tend to read Black women authors because it’s a way for me to see myself. However, I really enjoy reading from authors of all backgrounds, races, religions, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, ability, gender, geographical location, age, etc. Simply reading will not give us total insight into another community, but it certainly opens the door.”
While Hernandez isn’t on BookTok much due to mainly focusing on Instagram, she says it’s her 2023 goal to get on the app.
After seeing how much Bookstagram has contributed to changes in the publishing industry, she also noticed how TikTok has changed the industry on a much larger scale.
“In my experience, it has been in a positive way because it’s forced publishers to push out more diverse stories and authors. It’s also forced them to be honest with the caliber of books they are publishing, as they know bookstagrammers and booktokers are going to be honest in their reviews.”
These reviews from her favorite bookstagrammers help her get out of a reading slump and help her
Hernandez said she hasn’t noticed any changes in the types of books being published since she started reviewing books because she focuses on expanding her library for her social media instead of focusing on how social media might influence these changes.
“Before Completely Booked, I just picked very popular books and would read sporadically as a hobby. It’s now a bit more of a job for me. I take pride in finding and reading both popular and less popular books. So, I have expanded my own search of books to diversify my page more so than seeing publishers’ changes,” she said.
As the average consumer’s recommendations become a source of power in the publishing industry, so how does this affect authors?
Luna Laurier, a 31-year-old author from Florida who has been active on TikTok for almost a year, knows firsthand how the app has affected the publishing industry since joining it.
“I’ve seen BookTok not only influence buyers’ interests in stories, but also boost many independently published authors’ books, landing some of them book signing deals with big publishers after their books have been independently released. Big publishers can’t deny the numbers and sales driving them to shift their outlook on potential books to sign with,” Laurier told Slice of Culture.
She credits the BookTok community for the success of her debut book “Of Shadow and Moonlight,” which was released on Nov. 29. The novel is a Barnes & Noble and Amazon bestseller and is also available on Kindle Unlimited and Books a Million.
She was inspired to create her content after seeing funny videos from other creators about their favorite books and popular stories, as well as her own book she started writing at the time. She normally finds herself gravitating towards fantasy romance, paranormal romance and fantasy in general and often sees “bookish humor/cosplay, book recs/reviews, and author advice” on her For You page.
As BookTok creators rely on the emotional impact of a book in their content, they must “gauge the viewers’ interests with reactions, out of context quotes, and aesthetic videos,” Laurier said.
“Emotions sell, and when a reader feels something for a story, they’re more likely to want to read the book, which is something BookTok is notorious for.”
She also agrees that this type of content will help pull people out of a reading slump, since they are able to connect with a book before they opened the first page.
From audiobooks to fanfiction sites to the traditional local bookstore or library, people have more ways of reading now than ever before. With social media content often invoking a myriad of emotions in mere seconds for most users, its impact on publishing has proven to be mostly positive not just during the holiday season, but all year round.
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