19 Apr 2023

Discussion: The TikTok-ification of Book Marketing

The TikTok-ification of Book Marketing

TikTok has become a popular platform for promoting books, with authors and publishers using the app to reach new audiences and generate buzz around their latest releases. However, the rise of book marketing on TikTok is leading to a trend of promoting books based on their tropes, rather than the quality of the book itself.

TikTok has become a powerful force in the book industry, with the platform's influence leading to a significant rise in book sales and a rise in the BookTok tag and creators. Books that have gained popularity on TikTok, whether due to their adherence to popular tropes or their unique perspectives, have seen a surge in sales as readers flock to discover the latest trend.

This phenomenon has been dubbed the "BookTok effect," and has been noted by publishers and booksellers alike.

TikTok has also provided a platform for books to have a second life and gain new popularity. One example of this is DAUGHTER OF THE PIRATE KING by Tricia Levenseller, which was published in 2017, but gained renewed attention on TikTok in 2021.

The book, which follows the adventures of a pirate captain's daughter, has resonated with BookTok users who enjoy its strong female protagonist and swashbuckling adventure. As a result, the book has seen a surge in sales and has introduced a new generation of readers to the world of pirate tales. This includes getting new covers and to be reprinted again.

Some books that have gone viral on BookTok have even surpassed the sales of established bestsellers, with publishers and authors scrambling to capitalize on the platform's potential for boosting book sales.

As a result, BookTok has become an important part of book marketing, with publishers and authors looking to harness the power of the platform to reach new audiences and drive sales.

Let's talk about TikTok's algorithm...

TikTok's algorithm is designed to show users content that it thinks they will be interested in, based on their viewing history and interactions with other content. This means that users who engage with book-related content on TikTok are likely to see more book-related content in their feed, which in turn can lead to increased book sales for authors and publishers.

This algorithmic approach to book marketing can also lead to the promotion of books based on their tropes, rather than their actual content. For example, a book with a love triangle or a "bad boy" character may receive more attention on TikTok simply because these tropes are popular on the platform, rather than because the book itself is well-written or has an engaging plot.

This can create a situation where authors and publishers feel pressured to write books that conform to certain popular tropes in order to have a better chance of success on TikTok. Take LIGHTLARK as the prime example.

The LIGHTLARK Phenomenon

Alex Aster's LIGHTLARK gained popularity on BookTok due in part to its "adherence" to certain popular tropes. As a note, I have not read LIGHTLARK and will not be reading LIGHTLARK.

The book totes that it features a love triangle between the main character, a human girl named Kenna, and two supernatural love interests - a werewolf and a vampire. This love triangle is a popular trope in both young adult literature and on BookTok, where it has been used in countless videos and memes.

But as Bean points out in their Goodreads review, "I picked up this book because of tiktok. This book got picked up by a publisher because of tiktok. This book is a tiktok success story, an amalgamation of all that tiktok has to offer, and by extension, all the books that are popular on tiktok before it. Calling it pastiche would be kind."

LIGHTLARK has received mixed reviews, some noting that there is a repetitive narrative to it being full of cringe. This has led to the question about whether this is a good book or if the book's popular on TikTok is due more to its introduction of popular tropes than its actual quality.

Conversations around LIGHTLARK have led to concerns that other authors may feel pressured to write books that conform to certain popular tropes in order to have a better chance of success on the platform, rather than writing more original and diverse literature.

On the other hand...

We know that having a social media presence can help you secure book contracts. You are seen as having a "built-in" selling base rather than having to do extra marketing to make it big.

We have to talk about IRON WIDOW by Xiran Jay Zhao (which I have read). IRON WIDOW is a young adult science fiction novel that was heavily promoted on TikTok leading up to its release. The book follows the story of a young girl named Zetian, who becomes a pilot in a world where giant robots known as Chrysalises are used for combat. Zhao, who is an avid user of TikTok and has a large following on the platform, was able to use their social media presence to create buzz around the book before its release.

Zhao's promotional efforts on TikTok included sharing behind-the-scenes glimpses of their writing process, teasers of the book's cover art, and even a "book trailer" featuring animation and voice acting. These videos, which were often shared with the hashtag #IronWidow, helped to create excitement and anticipation for the book among Zhao's followers.

But according to an interview with Zhao, they don't want to promote their book on social media the way they do but would rather use social media for community and for fun. 

However, IRON WIDOW is used as a prime example of how social media can be used to create buzz around a book. Zhao's success on TikTok simultaneously highlights the growing importance of social media, especially BookTok, in the book industry and the way that publishers have been relying more heavily on authors to promote their own work in an "engaging" manner, leaving a heavy burden on authors.

I guess we have to talk about Colleen Hoover

Colleen Hoover is the biggest author right now, just having secured a spot in TIME's 100 Most Influential People of 2023. Thanks to her rise on #BookTok, she has motivated an entire generation of readers back to bookstores and libraries. All of that seems great, right?

There's a nuanced conversation about how because of CoHo and her rise in popularity, there is a revamp to romance novels (they are "cool" again and not seen as something as trashy as before) and a renewed energy in reading, which has led to increase in book sales and library use.

I just don't know if I can get into it since I am firmly on the non-CoHo defender side. It's your choice what to read and as long as you're critiquing what you're reading and have good media literacy, then read what you like.

But what about diverse authors?

One of the key "advantages" of TikTok is its ability to (sort of) democratize the book marketing process, allowing authors to reach readers directly without the need for a traditional publisher or large marketing budget. There have been some benefits to diverse authors, who are now able to get their books in hands of readers they may have otherwise missed.

For example, authors like Nandi Taylor, who self-published her debut novel GIVEN before it was picked up by a traditional publisher, have found success on TikTok by sharing excerpts from their work and engaging with readers on the platform. Taylor's book, which features a Black protagonist and draws on West African mythology, has gained a following on TikTok due in part to its unique perspective and representation.

Authors from diverse backgrounds have been able to gain visibility and reach new readers by sharing their work and engaging with the platform's community. This has led to a rise in popularity for authors from marginalized communities, as well as for indie authors who may not have the resources or connections to traditional publishing.

Similarly, TikTok has provided a space for authors like Kat Cho, whose debut novel WICKED FOX features Korean mythology and has gained a following on the platform due to its representation of Korean culture and folklore. It gained a new life because of Cho's success on TikTok. This has led to increased visibility for her work, and has helped to create a space for diverse voices in the publishing industry.

But they have also been wildly left behind. In a viral tweet, romance author Rebekah Weatherspoon wrote, “I don’t care about Colleen Hoover. Like sell your nine billion books, girl. I care that publishers, especially for adult romance, handed their marketing efforts over to the collective will of TikTok. So many debut authors of color didn’t stand a chance.”

When publishers and markets leave the promotion of a book to the author, whose job should be writing and not necessarily promoting, there are added systemic barriers for diverse authors. BookTok mirrors Twitch in terms of visibility of new and diverse creators - the algorithm is always going to prioritize "established" creators or White-centric view points (not to mention all the blatant racism on the platforms).

This means that unless a person is actively searching for books by Black authors or posts by Black creators, these will not automatically end up on your For You Page. This means searching for specific creators, looking at specific hashtags, and not just hoping that the algorithm will push it in front of them. And as The Cut points out in this article, the majority (if not all, the article is a couple months old now) of the authors who have blown up on BookTok to land new six to seven figure deals are white.

There is so much work that needs to be done to actually diversify and decolonize the publishing industry (which is partially why I'm very excited for YELLOWFACE by R.F. Kuang).

So where does this leave us?

I don't think TikTok is bad for books, authors, or bloggers. I'm not writing this because I wish I had more TikTok followers. I barely post on there and don't spend that much time on TikTok (genuinely because I mostly listen to audiobooks and you can't mute TikToks like you can for Reels). And let's be real, Instagram is just as bad for only promoting the same books over and over again and burying you if you don't stan Colleen Hoover and ACOTAR.

Overall, while there are concerns about the reliance on tropes in TikTok book marketing, the platform has also provided a space for diverse authors and indie authors to try to gain visibility and reach new audiences.

By democratizing the book marketing process and allowing authors to connect with readers directly, TikTok has helped to promote some diversity and representation in the publishing industry, but only if people are looking for it. I think there's a long way to go to provide a platform for voices that are overlooked. I also think publishers are relying too heavily on authors to do the majority of the legwork for promotion. And maybe one day I'll write about the unpaid labour of book influencers.

My biggest recommendation is to learn to diversify the content creators you follow, add in searches for other hashtags, and don't be a passive social media user. We'll have to see what happens in the future, but in the meantime, be conscientious about the media you consume. 

What do you think? Tell me below!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for commenting! I cherish each and every comment. If you leave me a link to your blog, I will do my best to comment back!