How to navigate BookTok, TikTok’s book-loving community

BookTok” isn’t just a TikTok community for book lovers. It’s a major force in the book publishing industry.

The community’s hashtag has generated more than 36 billion views. Within it, you’ll find content that covers formats and genres of all kinds.

Check out In The Know’s guide to the 5 million videos and countless creators that make up BookTok.

Measuring BookTok’s real-world impact

BookTok isn’t just a little corner of the internet where people share what books they like. That’s part of it, for sure, but according to publishing industry experts, it’s also a major force in publishing.

Members of BookTok often share books they enjoyed, which inspires other users to buy the book in order to check it out. That sounds pretty typical on the surface, but it happens on such a major scale that the books that go viral within the community often sell out in stores and across the internet.

They don’t just sell out, either. They sell at such rates that books published years ago that have long since fallen out of the mainstream return to the top of the coveted New York Times best seller list.

In early 2021, BookTok catapulted the gut-wrenching 2017 book They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera to the top of the Young Adult Paperback chart, where it remains today.

“No other social platform moves books like TikTok does,” Elizabeth A. Harris wrote in a New York Times article about BookTok.

Many of the most influential BookTok users are young women. Their demand for particular plotlines and characters has driven Barnes & Noble (and many other bookstores) to set up displays in stores for BookTok-friendly titles.

It’s possible that their demand could drive the publishing industry to cater to their tastes.

What makes a BookTok hit?

So, what kinds of books are TikTokers snatching off the shelves? A variety.

Young adult fiction, fantasy, romance and contemporary literature are the most popular genres, but a particularly good review could generate interest in just about anything — even “sexy blue aliens,” per CNN.

Some longstanding favorite books include The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid, It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh and A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas.

Most have elements of fantasy, romance and suspense — but they all have (or inspire) plenty of emotion.

BookTok communities

Anyone can find their niche within BookTok thanks to TikTok’s powerful algorithm. Recommendations can help you expand your literary horizons.

BookTok mainstay Ayman (@aymansbooks), a 21-year-old graphic design student who turned to TikTok out of quarantine boredom, told In The Know that she has made some of her best friends within the community.

“Most of my community are people my age and gender, female members of Gen Z … looking for a laugh and the occasional book recommendation,” she said. The catchphrase she starts many of her videos with is “stop what you’re doing, shut up and read this book.”

@aymansbooks

i like slow burn but not when it’s painful 😓 #bookishtropes #bookishhumor

♬ original sound – Salem Beneviento

Ayman embraces a voice on the app she calls “humorous, relatable and sometimes unhinged.” She doesn’t always post about books, but when she does, it often strikes a chord with her audience.

“Certain books I have recommended, like The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, sold out everywhere after I made a video that went viral about it,” she said.

People aren’t just reading these books because they’re popular on the app. That’s why we don’t see just any old book going viral on BookTok. It’s evident that members of Gen Z are craving diverse, emotional, world-expanding storytelling that TikTok gives them access to, even amid a pandemic.

Ayman said that before she found BookTok, she read roughly three books per year. Now she reads 100, and she wants to inspire others to do the same.

“BookTok is such a diverse community, and it is a privilege and honor to be a part of it,” she said. “I have the entire BookTok community to thank for my success and overall happiness.”

The kinds of posts you see on BookTok

Most of BookTok’s most popular posts are reviews, recommendations and warnings. Above all, it’s a useful corner of the internet if you’re looking for reading inspiration or trying to figure out if a certain book is worth your time.

“Do not read this book if you are a child or if there is any child left inside of you,” user @newlynova said in a “chaotic” review of Verity by Colleen Hoover.

Some clever reviewers like @lauryns_library turn the plot of books into “storytime” videos to convey just how dramatic they are.

This is especially effective with romance novels. BookTok has popular hashtags for each of the most popular romantic tropes, like friends to lovers, enemies to lovers and one bed.

Many of BookTok’s favorite authors have joined TikTok, which gives fans the unique opportunity to interact with them and learn more about the writing process.

Colleen Hoover, once a “cult-favorite author” who has become “one of the most influential voices of the last decade,” according to Elle, exploded with popularity when a number of her dark and emotional novels became hugely popular on TikTok.

She has since made her own account and uses it to correspond with her fans, who often playfully threaten to sue her for emotional distress.

Credit: TikTok/@ColleenHoover

Of course, there are plenty of trends and in-jokes within the community, like revealing stacks of books that fall under a particular theme, filming live reactions while reading or being jokingly hostile toward good writers.

There’s a particularly “aesthetic” element to many of the posts as well. The recent dark academia trend made the entire concept of reading a book trendy.

On this side of TikTok, it’s perfectly acceptable to judge a book by its cover.

BookTok is ever-evolving, just like the rest of the internet. There are debates, cliches and hot takes. You never know what the algorithm might surface for you — but you can count on it making you feel things.

If you enjoyed this story, check out In The Know’s guide to Scary TikTok.

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