BookTok: A Safe Haven for Young Female Readers

From Jane Friedman:

It might well be impossible at this point to host a children’s publishing event without offering at least one session focused on TikTok—or, more specifically, BookTok, the community of young book lovers on the platform. At The Bookseller’s children’s online publishing conference last fall, a panel discussed the power of BookTok and why it’s pushing YA books up the bestseller lists. The latest title to fly off shelves because of BookTok is They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera, the second best-selling book of 2021 overall in the UK children’s market—and number-one bestseller in the US.

The marketing power of BookTok starts with peer-to-peer recommendation.

All book marketing research shows that people are strongly influenced by what friends suggest they read, and that describes TikTok on a global scale. But the twist with TikTok is that it goes beyond a simple recommendation or just flashing a book cover. Instead, BookTokers focus on a book’s plot, themes, and genre—the real meaty heart of the book, not necessarily the aesthetic. Panel moderator Charlotte Eyre (children’s editor at The Bookseller) said, “TikTok is about conveying the emotion” felt while reading the book. Author Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé, an avid consumer of BookTok videos, says, “I really like living through [BookTok readers] as they’re experiencing the emotions.”

TikTok remains a positive place for young people.

TikTok creator Faith Young, whose audience is 97% women, said, “I sort of describe it as the last wholesome place on the internet. It’s just become this safe haven for young women.” Young, who is 22, described growing up as an uncool teenager who spent all of her time reading books in the library. She then discovered her people on TikTok. Georgia Henry, a children’s specialist campaign manager at Rocket (a UK marketing agency), said that, given her job, she hardly ever has time to pick up a book for relaxation, but whenever she goes on BookTok, “I just want to curl up with a cup of tea and open a book and lose myself in a book, and it’s just really inspiring.” Young audiences are now walking into bookstores and libraries in significant numbers to buy and read books. (If you haven’t visited a brick-and-mortar store lately, try it. You are sure to find a display based on BookTok.)

. . . .

However, as with all social media, TikTok requires authenticity and may come more naturally to younger authors. Àbíké-Íyímídé said that posting on TikTok feels like an extension of her overall creator skills—skills she’s built up over time as a Gen Z author. She and her author-peers are using what they know about internet culture and applying it to their publishing careers in how they talk about books and engage with readers online. “Especially as Gen Z we can see when something is inauthentic,” Àbíké-Íyímídé said.

Publishers can use the platform organically and succeed. 

Young said that one of the first accounts she followed on TikTok was Penguin Teen because they have a designated person who creates their social media posts and also shares about her own life. “An important part of TikTok is feeling like you know the people that you follow,” Young said. “It wouldn’t work if [publishers] have loads of different people creating videos.” Similarly, she really likes the content coming out of Sourcebooks Fire, one of her favorite publishers. “They recently casted—no, hired—a new head of social media, and she already had a big following on TikTok, and she now runs their TikTok, and that felt very authentic and I really like their videos.”

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Color PG skeptical about TikTok. He has visited a couple times, but didn’t find much that interested him. He has, however, read more than a few horror stories about young people getting into bad situations on TikTok.

About Gen Z folks understanding “internet culture,” PG suggests that there are a zillion internet cultures. ISIS and Al Qaeda have internet cultures. Left-wing and right-wing radicals have their internet culture. English-speaking romance readers have their own internet culture. Ditto (likely) for German-speaking romance readers.

PG will grant that there are lots and lots of internet sub-cultures and some authors of books for female teens may be familiar with female teen online sub-cultures, but PG suspects that it’s easy to age-out of a subculture based on age and stage of life.

PG is happy to be further enlightened by those more familiar with TikTok.

As far as traditional publishers and authenticity – that’s a bridge too far for PG.

6 thoughts on “BookTok: A Safe Haven for Young Female Readers”

  1. I looked into TikTok/BookTok shortly after the publishing industry news mentioned it as a potential marketing tool. But after reading their terms of service, I completely lost interest in doing anything on TikTok. I’m not a lawyer so maybe I’ve misinterpreted, but there were some scary-looking clauses in there about ownership of rights. I’m probably paranoid… but just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re *not* out to get you. 😉

  2. I was unimpressed after my first look at Tiktok as well, but learned that there is a good reason for it. On first glance the app throws any random junk at you because it doesn’t know you yet. It takes a short while of liking videos, hashtags, and people before you train the app to show you only what you want to see.
    Not saying its for everyone, but I’m certain that’s why the first reaction of most people is to scratch their heads and wonder what the appeal is.
    Myself included.
    But there is far more on there for the stalwart soul who digs in and is firm with it. Communities, dramas, serials, memes, and I won’t say “internet culture” but definitely Tiktok culture.

    • Yes, TikTok, like Google, FaceBook/Meta and all the other social media use “the algorithm” to maximize engagement—i.e. pigeonhole everyone to only see more of what they engage with, whether it’s benign, like cat videos, d&d, art, or a malignant, festering echo chamber of lunatics.

  3. Is there even a unitary English reading romance “culture”? I think that there are probably as many “cultures” as there are categories (those of all of the sellers combined, not just Amazon). Many readers, of course, are “cross-cultural.”

    In any case, call me old-fashioned, but I just cannot wrap my head around a book titled “They Both Die In the End” being uplifting. Yes, I read the blurb for it. Give me a book where the protagonists tell Death-Cast “Oh, really? You think so, do you? Let’s just see about that…” Something like “Death Goes Away Frustrated In the End.”

    • Good point.
      Which pretty much explains why most of these attempts to build niche communities of readers end up insignificant; tbey are self limiting and readers by and large aren’t. Even within genres, readers tend to have eclectic tastes. “The same but different” works to an extent but even tbe most rabid subgenre consumer wanders pretty far afield. This is particularly true of young readers whose tastes change as life lessons sink in.

      For certain subgenres of SF, as an example, the “Golden Age” is 9 years or so, when young folk’s natural inquisitiveness and questing minds haven’t yet been browbeaten by tbe educational system’s focus on conformity. Get to them young and they’ll be readers of SF (and other genres) forever.

      Building online communities for young readers, of whatever focus, is a fine goal but one shouldn’t expect them to *stay* there. They *will* outgrow the “safe spot” and move on. (Even the ones focused on indoctrination instead of honest discussion.) Do the job right and tbey’ll seek broader frontiers, do it wrong and they’ll get bored.

      Thus, self-limiting.

  4. “He has visited a couple times, but didn’t find much that interested him. ”

    — He is not fifteen. Trust me, that makes all the difference.

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