If you've walked into a Barnes & Noble, you've seen it: tables advertising the latest BookTok sensations. The Barnes & Noble website also devotes a section entirely to BookTok and other booksellers are also game to highlight what everyone's reading on the wildly popular website TikTok.
The corner of TikTok that belongs to readers is known as BookTok, and it has proven to be integral to marketing books, driving sales to brand-new releases, pre-releases, and books that have been out for a while (but people are rediscovering). It drives sales.
As someone who is trying to be an author, I wonder if eventually if I'll have to join TikTok. I worry that publishers might push authors to make one as part of the work authors need to do to market their books. I don't know if this is the way to go because BookTok is largely by readers, for readers...
And yet there's success stories with authors and TikTok. The most recent example I can think of is Alex Aster, author of the #1 NYT bestseller Lightlark.
I have been following the story of Alex Aster closely ever since Twitter erupted over her, calling her an "industry plant," and accusing her of fabricating a "rags to riches story" about how her book came into being. Talks about privilege and industry connections ensued, as well as examinations of her friendships with other authors who blurbed her book and gave her five stars. There are also complaints from readers that a lot of what Alex Aster advertised on her TikTok didn't show up in the book. I'm not going to explore that part in this post,, but if you're curious, you can watch the YouTube video via Reads with Rachel that discusses it.
What I'd like to focus on is how Alex Aster used TikTok to become a "BookTok sensation" (and that's exactly how her book is being marketed). First of all, she has almost a million followers on TikTok. Her video of her book being advertised in Times Square has 2 million views. She marketed Lightlark fiercely, from conception to book release, and things in between, like being on Good Morning America and getting a movie deal for the book.
TwotheFuture gives a good, brief analysis of the three types of TikTok videos Alex made to promote her book. Check out this little clip I cut from his video (I could only do 60 seconds so it ends kind of abruptly. If you want to watch the whole video, go here. It's called "The 'Fyre Festival' of TikTok: Lightlark").
To be honest, one of the clips shared in the video left a bad taste in my mouth, and that was the video of Alex dancing in the bookstore. It made me think, are authors expected to dance for their supper? It made me not want to ever make a TikTok if that was the kind of thing you have to do to sell books. I've got my pride. Maybe too much of it, but still.
This is another TikTok video of Alex's that kind of turned me off. She has since deleted it, but it was a video of her and two other authors strutting through the bookstore "like they owned the place." I thought it was a bit pretentious. And these are authors who gave her the five-star reviews and blurbs, by the way.
As much as some of the TikToks were cringey to me, I have to hand it to Alex Aster--you can't deny that these videos worked for hundreds of thousands of viewers and drove people to buy her book. It also led thousands of people to Goodreads to review her book. And I'm not sure about this one, but I think the TikToks actually helped secure the contract with the publisher for the book to be written.
So Alex Aster has figured out how to make TikTok work for her, and it has played a huge role in her wild success with Lightlark.
...Which got me thinking about what I may be expected to do as an author. I know I'm jumping the gun because I don't have a product to sell yet, but writers are pushed to market themselves before the book is out (and there are lots of articles espousing advice about this, like this one, for example). Because of that advice, I've got this website, plus Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. I have virtually no engagement on any of these sites, and I lamented about this on my FB to friends (because marketing yourself as as a product is hard work) and some of those friends cheerfully told me, "Join TikTok!"
Cue a toddler-like whine from me: "Do I have toooooo?"
I can't envision myself dancing to music in a bookstore or lip syncing to quirky dialogue or popular songs. I also don't think I have the type of "look" the most successful TIkTokkers have (i.e., young and thin and cute). I can't see myself making videos marketing books with popular tropes (and yes, that will eventually be its own blog post). And I can't see myself strutting through a bookstore with fellow famous author friends "like I own the place."
It's easy for me to say "I don't want to do TikTok" now, but what happens if a publisher, really, really pushes me to? Am I allowed to say no? I sure hope so!
But who knows...if TikTok ends up being the best place to sell books, maybe I'll eventually have to. I'm not looking forward to it.
Friends, do you have TikTok? Are you active in the BookTok community? Do you think authors need TikTok to market their books? I'd love to know your opinions. Feel free to share them in the comments!