“Liars” was released in 2014. So when the author of the book, E. Lockhart, saw that she was back on the bestseller list in the middle of last year, she was delighted. And confused. “I had no idea what the hell was going on,” she said. His children explained the situation to him: it was because of TikTok.
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TikTok, an app known for offering short videos on everything from dance moves to fashion tips, cooking tutorials and funny skits, is not the obvious place for a book to succeed. But videos made mainly by women – teenagers and young adults – have come to dominate a growing niche with the hashtag #BookTok, in which users recommend books, record images of themselves reading, or openly cry for the camera because of an emotionally intense epilogue. .
These videos are starting to sell a lot of books, which has surprised many creators as well. “I want people to feel what I feel. At school, nobody talks about books, which is pretty annoying,” commented Mireille Lee, 15, who started @alifeofliterature in February with her sister, Elodie, 13, and which now has almost 200,000 followers.
Many Barnes & Noble addresses around the United States have created Booktok tables, displaying titles such as “In the End, the Two Die”, “The Cruel Prince”, “A Small Life” and others that went viral. There is no table corresponding to Instagram or Twitter, because no social media platform seems to promote sales like TikTok.
“These creators are not afraid to open up and show their emotions with the books that make them cry, scream or get so angry that they throw them away. And we end up watching exciting 45-second videos that people immediately connect with. We don’t have this kind of crazy selling – I mean, tens of thousands of copies a month – with other social media platforms, “said Shannon DeVito, director of books at Barnes & Noble.
The Lee sisters, who live in Brighton, England, started making BookTok videos during the pandemic. Many of his posts look like small movie trailers, in which the images flash on the screen to the sound of a moody soundtrack.
In “The Cruel Prince”, you see the cover of the book, then a woman riding a horse, a bloody chalice, a castle in a tree – each image for a split second, with the song “You Should See Me in a Crown “by Billie Eilish, with soundtrack. There is no need for a spoiler alert: the whole thing ends in about 12 seconds, leaving you with the feel of the book, but with little idea of what happens in it. The video they created for “Liars” has been viewed more than five million times.
The vast majority of BookTok’s videos are organically successful, posted by enthusiastic young readers. For the editors, it was an unexpected shock: an industry that depends on people who get lost in the printed word is receiving dividends from a digital application developed for a minimum period of attention. Now, publishers are trying to catch up, by contacting those who have many followers to offer free books or payments in exchange for the promotion of their titles. (The Lee sisters have received books from writers, but have not yet been contacted by publishers or received money for their posts.)
Many popular TikTok users have strategies to maximize views. You can choose background songs that are already successful in the app, for example, use TikTok analytics to see the time of day when your posts are most viewed and try to post regularly. But it is still difficult to predict what will work.
“Ideas that come up in 30 seconds, those get along really well, and those that I work on for days or hours fail. But the most popular videos are about the books that make you cry. If you cry in front of the camera, the views increase,” reported Pauline Juan, a student who, at 25, says she feels “a little old” for the girls in BookTok.
BookTok’s preferences are books that sold well as soon as they were published, and some are award winners, such as “The Song of Achilles”, which won the prestigious Orange Fiction Award in 2012. The novel recounts the Greek myth of Achilles as a romance between him and his companion Patroclus. It does not have a happy outcome.
“Hey, this is my first day reading ‘The Song of Achilles’,” Ayman Chaudhary, a 20-year-old in Chicago, posted on TikTok, holding the book next to his standard Burberry hijab and smiling face. “And this is me finishing!”, She shouts at the camera, while the captions on the screen describe “dramatic cries and cries”. The video, which has been viewed more than 150,000 times, lasts about seven seconds.
The hashtag #songofachilles has 19 million views on TikTok. “I wish I could send chocolate to everyone!”, Celebrated Madeline Miller, the author of the book.
Published in 2012, “The Song of Achilles” sold well, but not as well as it is now selling. According to NPD BookScan, which tracks print copies of books sold in most US bookstores, it is selling about 10,000 copies a week, almost nine times more than when it won the Orange Award. It is the third in the list of fiction bestsellers of “The New York Times”.
Miriam Parker, Ecco’s vice president and associate editor, who released “The Song of Achilles”, said the company saw a peak in sales on August 9, but could not figure out why. Finally, he found a video on TikTok called “books that will make you under”, published on August 8th by @moongirlreads_. Today, this video, which also includes “Liars”, has been viewed almost six million times.
Miller, who described himself as “not very functional on Twitter”, said he did not know the TikTok videos until his publisher showed him. “I was speechless, in a good way. Is there anything better for a writer than seeing his work being taken seriously?”
The young woman behind @moongirlreads_ is Selene Velez, 18, from the Los Angeles area, who joined TikTok last year while finishing high school at Zoom. She said she made the video because a follower asked for recommendations for stories that make her cry.
Velez, who has more than 130,000 followers on TikTok, said publishers now send their books for free, before they reach stores, so she can post about them, and started making videos for which she also receives from publishers. She and about two dozen other BookTok creators are chatting on Instagram about which publishers approached them and how much they are charging. Fees range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars per post.
John Adamo, head of marketing at Random House Children’s Books, said he now works with around 100 TikTok users. According to him, once a title takes off on that platform, the publisher’s machine is already behind: large retailers can offer discounts, the publisher can start running ads, and if a book becomes a best seller, it also leads to more sales. “However, without TikTok, we wouldn’t be talking about it.”