How can you even explain the phenomenon that is #booktok? What is #booktok? Factually, it’s simply a hashtag on TikTok, but really, it’s a magic wand in promoting books. It’s a community of book fans, which is so extensive and powerful it has been called a “cult”, an “army”, and plenty of other words that strike fear into the hearts of Putin. It’s a launcher of cult favourites, it’s a maker of movies “based on the book [insert example here]”, it’s the creator of franchises, it’s the thing that is making being a novelist a genuine career path in the 21st century.
Don’t get us wrong, this cult following might have started with women swapping their favourite books to read alone with a glass of wine while their boyfriend is away, but it has simply exploded into anything good. Titles that don’t have “spice” as their core selling point but have been taken off due to TikTok include: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong, It Ends With Us by Coleen Hoover, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Taylor Jenkins Reid has four, that’s four, adaptations of her novels in the works, (the earliest of which was released in 2016, by the way) including a movie by Netflix and TV adaptation by Amazon Prime. That is the power of #booktok.
It’s especially impressive due to the notorious hellscape that is the publishing industry. It has always been an industry that appreciates traditionalism and was definitely the slowest to embrace the online world and changes that that can bring to the publishing process. For a community to cut through the red tape and snobbery that is the publication industry, that is impressive.
So, what can we learn from #booktok? How do you infiltrate #booktok? Or how do you cultivate your own community that can make enough demand to get things done? We’ve got some ideas…
How do you infiltrate #booktok?
Now, this is a tricky one, because this is a feverish community that appreciates organic, authentic, marketing. These people are bloodhounds for strengthened attempts at marketing, and if you cross a line, they’re not going to like it. An example is the trend of “industry plants”. There’s one in #booktok and it was a scandal for a few weeks. But there are means of marketing to #booktok that they do appreciate.
There is also the idea of the “fluke”. Ice Planet Barbarians is a, now, very famous “spicy” book by Ruby Dixon that was originally self-published in 2014, six years before #booktok really took off. Then one day, by the author’s own admission, it exploded on TikTok.
So, there is a case for no control, but there are ways you can try. For example, authors have gotten far by getting into the habit of sending out copies of their books to bigger players in the community, who then give it a shoutout, and thus affiliate marketing does its job.
There is also the approach of putting the cart before the horse. Some have criticised this approach, but there’s no denying that publishing houses are looking for potential authors that have a following behind them already, as though it’s a guarantee for sales. So, influencers drip-feed their novel in content form and cultivate an eager audience ready to buy before they are even published.
But there is also nothing better than a premise that gets people talking. As with the examples of Ice Planet Barbarians and Kiss the Coronavirus, the titles say it all. We don’t have to explain their premise. You can tell they’re crazy, especially considering we’re talking about romance books. But there’s a lesson in that. If you can sum up a premise that no one has ever heard of before, your premise will spread like wildfire through the community. Keep it short, and simple, but intriguing.
How do you cultivate your own #booktok?
We should point out that #booktok has also launched the careers of a lot of creators. Every community, every cult, every army needs its leaders. Leaders of any online community naturally evolve into micro-influencers, so says the business model. So, take a look at what community would aid your industry well and seek out micro-influencers that can promote your items.
Then again, if you have something special, you can cultivate your own community around it. Encourage engagement as much as possible. Whether it’s conversations in the comments, discussions in stitches, fan art, user-generated content, welcome it all.
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