What Is BookTok?

By Charlotte Mayer

Recently, the term “BookTok” has popped up in college conversations, leaving many confused. What exactly is BookTok?

Booktok is an online community of book lovers on the social media platform known as TikTok. People on BookTok create all kinds of book-related content such as reviews, recommendations, hauls, aesthetics and more. These videos can range from a few seconds to three minutes. 

It all started with the increasing popularity of TikTok when COVID-19 quarantine began. Scrolling through the app to ease boredom, people found a new space to share their passions and express their creativity. Quarantine also led a lot of people to pick up new hobbies such as reading. 

BookTok is the place to be if you are trying to decide what to read next. It is full of recommendations, which spread extremely fast. One viral video can send a swarm of people to the bookstore. 

For many authors, this platform has greatly helped their career. Previously unpopular books are finding their way onto Barnes & Noble shelves and into the hands of excited readers who maybe never would have picked them up if it were not for BookTok. 

Author Adam Silvera released a book four years ago called “They Both Die at the End.” According to NBC News, in August of 2020, Silvera’s publisher noticed a significant sales bump, “the start of a trend that would send the book to the top of the New York Times’ young adult paperback monthly bestseller list in April.” He had no idea where the sales spike was coming from until a reader told him they saw it on BookTok. “TikTok videos containing the hashtag #TheyBothDieAtTheEnd have collectively amassed more than 37 million views to date,” says NBC.

A common way to convince viewers to read a book is to explain what trope it may have. Tropes are plot elements or cliches, such as hidden royalty, the “chosen one,” fake dating, love triangle, slow burn, friends to lovers, morally gray villains, grumpy/sunshine, and the much-loved enemies to lovers, also known as hate to love. Book recommendation videos such as “books that made me sob” or “books I couldn’t put down” are another way to reach readers. 

“I think BookTok is really clever,” says Regan Farrar, a sophomore at SMCM. “You think someone is telling a story and then they say ‘read the book to find out more!’”

“I always get sucked in,” she adds. “And then you think ‘oh my gosh, now I have to go buy the book.’” 

An anonymous SMCM sophomore says “I enjoy getting recommendations, however, I feel like some aspects of [BookTok] are problematic because a lot of people on it support authors who are not good people.”

They say that it is “not super diverse in terms of book recommendations or the characters in the books” and feel that these recommendations can become repetitive. “It’s a lot of the same books.” Overall, they think BookTok “needs to be more diverse and more open to criticism about books and authors, but also ‘BookTokers’ themselves.”

Over the past few months, this community has been reaching even more people. In fact, there is now a designated “BookTok” section at Barnes & Noble, as well as “spicy Booktok.” As one can imagine, these are mainly romance books with adult content. 

“On top of book recommendations,” says the Barnes & Noble website, BookTok has “other relatable videos for book lovers like ‘which dress are you wearing to dramatically run through a castle to your lover?’ or ‘the zodiac signs as Hunger Games districts.’”

Some fiction titles made popular by BookTok include “It Ends With Us” by Colleen Hoover, “The Song of Achilles” by Madelline Miller, “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” by Taylor Jenkins Reid and more. In the YA fantasy section, there is “Shatter Me” by Tahereh Mafi, “Six of Crows” by Leigh Bardugo, and “The Cruel Prince” by Holly Black. 

Can’t decide what to read next? Head over to #BookTok. 

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