A few weeks later, I made the TikTok that pushed Filgate’s book viral. I picked up my phone, no script, sitting in my Brooklyn apartment, and invited readers to fall in love with the anthology in the way I did. I usually record TikToks multiple times to come to a concise video. This one came together in one take. I read Filgate’s iconic line aloud, knowing it would resonate with people as it had with me but unaware of just how many. I understood the reach the video had when, days later, coworkers across the globe, my fifty-five-year-old uncle, and my best friend’s younger sibling had all seen it.
When I spoke to Filgate about whether the TikTok had prompted any conversations with fellow writers, she said, “I’ve talked to a bunch of writers [about this experience]. And a lot of the writers are like, ‘How can I make this happen for my book?’”
Multiple BookTokkers have single-handedly sold out books and pushed them into the hands of new and established readers alike. Authors, readers, publishers, agencies—they’re all taking notice. BookTok makes it possible for people outside the traditional delineation of the publishing industry to propel any book to success. After creating a few consecutive viral videos, Nathan Shuherk (@schizoreads), a popular nonfiction BookTok creator, was told by followers that “the Amazon algorithm had changed enough that when you looked at one of the books that [he] recommended, the suggestion from Amazon was actually just all of the books that [he] recommended.”
This influence rivals publishing’s traditional marketing efforts, and it holds space in an industry so keen on keeping its gates shut. I wholeheartedly believe publishing plays a role in peddling the “BookTok is only for YA and fantasy titles” narrative. By acknowledging the influence BookTok holds, the publishing industry would have to relinquish some of its power. And, as BookTok creators like Mel Thomas (@pagemelt) and Shuherk have pointed out, the industry might also have to offer financial compensation and a legitimate seat at the table for book influencers’ labors. The industry loves BookTok for its sales potential and hates how little it controls the app’s outcomes. Frontlist, backlist, literary fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, and back again, these titles are affected by BookTokkers’ sway.
With its more diplomatic entry point, a phone and an account, BookTok creates opportunity for those intentionally pushed out of traditional publishing—for one, those unable to take on multiple unpaid internships or low-wage entry-level jobs in New York, a city with an ever-increasing cost of living. BookTokkers effect real market change, and they’re forcing the industry to meet readers’ demands. In the past two years, I’ve seen more diverse authors, books, and creators popularized by BookTok than any other bookish platform because the space has brought visual representation to who is a reader and what they want to see offered by publishers. Shuherk explains it best: “You had readers clamoring for [diversity in books], but they didn’t have a voice. They didn’t have a viral voice [before TikTok].”
BookTok allows me to influence and operate within the world of books without working directly for publishing. For me, it’s the right call. And for others, it can be a nontraditional path into the industry. I expect some BookTokkers will soon use their platforms to secure publishing jobs. The platform’s flexibility is part of the appeal.
Being a book influencer has opened doors for me, blazed trails, slashed through caution tape. It’s offered me the opportunity to do right by the writers I so adore, like Filgate and the other incredible contributors in her anthology. “I bought [the book] before the video ended,” “I’m convinced,” and “I have never ordered a TikTok book rec so fast,” read the video’s comment section.
Each time I create a video, I carve out my space. Sitting in my bedroom, armed with a phone propped up by an empty coffee mug, holding a public library book, wearing the clothes I slept in—I carve out my space. BookTok is inextricably linked to publishing, but it’s uncharted territory. Publicists can send ARCs. Creators can make content for publishing houses. But no one in the Big Five dictates how we BookTokkers speak about and engage with books.