| Don’t Write Alone
Shop Talk How to Get Your Book on TikTok
The algorithmic behemoth can cause any book at any time to have a viral moment, selling out and back-ordering titles in mere days.
#BookTok, TikTok’s bookish community, has gained over 90 billion views since it began rising in popularity in 2020. With its ability to sell out backlist titles , push self-published authors into the limelight , and re-introduce thousands of app users to their forgotten love of an analog pastime, BookTok is holding its own among traditional media tastemakers. BookTok darlings dominate the New York Times bestseller list , pushing app-favorite authors like Colleen Hoover and Sarah J. Maas closer and closer to literary sainthood.
Authors are taking notice . The algorithmic behemoth can cause any book at any time to have a viral moment, selling out and back-ordering titles in mere days. A video I created about Michele Filgates’ What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About sold out on Amazon in 72 hours. But it doesn’t have to be a game of odds. BookTokkers, the influencers at the heart of this new bookish mecca, are readily working with authors and publishers to usher readers toward newfound favorites. These book influencers are among the most avid of authors’ fans, and they want people to reach out.
I spoke with three BookTokkers about how positive relationships between BookTok creators and authors takes shape. Nathan Shuherk ( @schizophrenicreads ) is one of the most popular nonfiction book creators in the space , with over 100K followers. His interests range from mental health to pop culture and music. Emma Halverson ( @the.ace.of.books ) is a sci-fi fantasy BookTokker with a penchant for LGBTQ+ stories and speculative fiction. Zoë Jackson ( @zoes_reads ) leans toward literary fiction with sapphic stories and feminine rage at the center. My own experience as a BookTokker ( @ceciliabereading ) also informs this advice.
Should authors be on BookTok?
To “be on” TikTok as an author can mean several things, including having an account to watch videos, commenting on videos and engaging with BookTokkers, and/or posting book content yourself. What there seems to be a lot of is questions about whether authors need to create content for TikTok. In my and other creators’ experience, BookTok’s success hinges on authentic emotion and an excitement to create, and, as Shuherk explained, some authors’ videos may come across as “self-made ads” without this propulsive undercurrent. My most popular videos aren’t marketing ploys; they’re love letters, sometimes diary entries, and often frenzied attempts at making sense of my own thoughts.
“It’s pretty obvious when the only videos [authors] have ever made is just [about] their book,” Shuherk said. These videos lack the excitement, the giddiness, the anguish of reading your favorite book; they feel at odds with the community and creativity of the space.
The short and simple answer is that, as an author, if you don’t enthusiastically want to make content, don’t.
As for interacting with creators on the platform, Halverson offers sound advice: “Like with professional trade reviews . . . responding to [BookTok] reviews should be done with extreme caution.” Halverson went on to explain that authors should “look to be tagged [in a post] as an invitation” to engage if they’d like, and recommended engagement looks like a comment thanking a BookTokker for their video—or even a kind email. Many BookTokkers have their address linked on their page. If you’re not tagged in a creator’s video, play it safe and just observe.
How to pitch your book to the right BookTokker
Once a small online community , BookTok is now brimming with genre- and subgenre-focused creators and their audiences. Some hyper-specific hashtags include #femalemanipulatorbooks, #hotgirlbookshelves, and #whoneedsthegymwhenyouvegotbooks. The sheer size of the community can be overwhelming to wade through, but it’s well worth it to find the right book influencer for your project. An enthusiastic BookTokker can mean the difference between a one hundred-views post and a one hundred thousand-views post. Additionally, just like pitching your work to a magazine, BookTokkers are unlikely to accept collaborations that aren’t right for them: “I can usually tell if people have seen my content and actually think it’d be a good fit versus if they ’ re just emailing everyone,” Halverson said.
So how should you start?
A good first step is relying on your comps. “If your book has a comp, input that into TikTok, and see who’s talking about the books you used in the marketing of your book,” Shuherk said. With the app’s search feature, you can sort through top-performing videos to find book creators within the realm of your work. You can also look at the hashtags used on these comp videos to help you understand the texture of the space.
For example, a search for The Secret History , part-satirical campus novel, part-psychological thriller published in 1992 by Donna Tartt, is peppered with dark academia hashtags and literary fiction-focused creators. These hashtags help TikTok’s algorithm categorize creators’ content , making it easier for app users to find what they’re seeking out. By tags being paired with user engagement like watch time and likes, the app understands that The Secret History should be presented to readers of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein , rather than Jane Austen’s Emma . TikTok users, too, can sift through hashtags to discover authors and their work.
Authors can also sometimes defer to book influencers about who’s who within BookTok. “You can always ask a BookTokker about other BookTokkers,” Shuherk said—and this doesn’t necessitate the same level of prior creator knowledge of the platform. You can just ask! Shuherk often points authors in the direction of his friends making fiction content, tagging multiple creators per ask. Jackson also noted that while working with publishers on paid social media campaigns, If her literary fiction lean wasn’t the right fit for the project, she would recommend someone better suited. BookTokkers know the space intimately, and they want to support their peers.
How to reach out
When reaching out to a BookTokker, defer to email. You can often find it on their TikTok page or through the link in their bio on Instagram. TikTok direct messages are often set to mutuals only, meaning you and the account you’re contacting must follow each other for the message to go through. Comments get lost in translation, and even Instagram DMs can feel suspicious. (Sharing your full name and address with an unverified person on the internet? No thanks.) Between the three BookTokkers, Jackson and Shuherk prefer when an author reaches out personally, while Halverson favors outreach from publishing houses. “I like that there’s a kind of buffer between me and the author,” Halverson explained.
“I get emails that range from just two lines that end in ‘ Sent from my iPhone’ . . . to really long, in-depth [emails]. [They say,] here’s the summary. Here are the quotes that blurb the book. And I always really appreciate that level of preparedness and professionalism,” Halverson said. Show you’ve done research in your initial contact email and illustrate why a BookTok creator would resonate with your book. Does your book fall in line with other books they’ve positively reviewed? Do you also love an author a creator speaks highly of? Does a creator review books in your genre?
Shuherk noted his frustration when authors or publishers reach out just seeking the size of his audience: “Half the time [when people reach out], it’s cozy romances or holiday thrillers,” which, to Shuherk, as someone who exclusively reviews nonfiction, is a clear sign that they “have not checked out my page.” Halverson and Jackson also mentioned how general awareness of their niche—and if an author’s book fell within it—affects their likelihood of reviewing a book.
Getting your book on BookTok
As book influencing gradually resembles other social media marketing niches, a stark line between paid and unpaid content appears. Before BookTok, I’d never seen book influencers monetarily compensated for promoting a book. Creators advertised headphones, audiobook subscriptions, book lights—book-adjacent products, but I never saw this for books themselves. Now, some publishers are paying satisfied readers to promote their titles. In this content, you’ll always find “paid partnership” to help indicate what is, in fact, a paid video. However, this doesn’t mean publishers are diluting BookTok with false advertising. Jackson said, “If you’re doing an ad, and you don’t like the book, [publishers will] find someone else. Publishers are very explicit about that.”
Paid content involves contracts, financial compensation, lengthy stipulations, and a surefire positive review. But most likely, authors are reaching out to a BookTok creator for an unpaid request. Usually, this consists of sending a BookToker a complimentary copy of your work. These requests set different expectations. In short, your outreach should acknowledge your research about a creator and their content and be framed as, “Would you like to read my book?” Creators can then accept and elect to post a review.
However, I’ve experienced many publishers adopting an even more relaxed approach to engaging book influencers. As part of one publishing imprint’s influencer program, I received an email that said, “We hope you enjoy the free books and that you’ll like them enough to want to post about them, but we do not require you to post if you don’t want to!” These programs are usually application-based, prioritizing book creators with established platforms. After admittance into a program, book influencers often receive ARCs and e-galleys of upcoming titles.
Halverson, for example, affirmed she is more likely to accept books with “No pressure” language attached. “Sometimes I will get requests from people that have a really, really long list of asks, just for a complimentary copy of the book . . . so I’m more likely to say no to those.” As an author, you’re sending along your work in hopes a BookTokker likes it and shares it with their audience, similar to how a brand sends along products for mainstream influencers to try. There aren’t any guarantees.
Jackson noted she’s only had one poor experience with an author. After receiving the author’s book, she was messaged repeatedly, asking if she’d read it and if she’d be posting a review. “Not in a friendly way either,” she said. “[It made me think] maybe that wasn’t something I should not have agreed to.” As with any professional relationship, it’s important to be courteous.
BookTokkers also have to consider their audience when saying yes to author requests. While they may enjoy your novel’s premise, they must consider what will resonate with the audience they’ve created and if they can speak to the book’s nuance. Shuherk said he’s constantly considering “is there something out there for [his] audience to gain” when weighing author requests. For example, he recalled an author reaching out about a book on dark matter, which he would’ve loved to read as an individual, but couldn’t see the same appeal for his followers and the brand he’s created. Though a nonfiction book influencer, Shuherk’s tastes favor cultural critiques, like They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib.
Audiences follow BookTokkers based on their particular interests and the vibe they cultivate, and these followers expect BookTokkers to follow through. Audiences also tend to follow creators based on their authentic engagement with and analysis of a book.
Adding a nice touch goes a long way
With BookTok driving book sales through the roof , and often without compensating the creators catalyzing said sales, BookTokkers want to feel valued and respected. “We’re kind of this new media thing . . . we are reviewers but marketers but advertisers but personalities. I know being treated somewhat uniquely in those spaces is appreciated,” Shuherk said.
Everyone loves a personal touch. Shuherk, Halverson, and Jackson each spoke to how much they appreciate the notes and other small gestures sent by authors and publishers. “When [authors] include a handwritten thank-you card or a letter or just anything that shows me that they spent even two minutes thinking about my content . . . it shows,” Shuherk continued. Even a simple signature goes a long way.
And who can forget the iconic (infamous) Salley Rooney bucket hat included in Farrar, Straus and Giroux’s PR package for Beautiful World, Where Are You . As Jackson put it, what an “absolute flex” to receive such an offering. Other iconic publisher gifts include the daffodil yellow I’m Glad My Mom Died tote and the haunting Proenza Schouler White Label Lapvona tee for Ottessa Moshfegh’s 2022 release.
What to expect in the aftermath
After a BookTokker receives your book, some will post about it—but not always on TikTok. Many BookTokkers use Instagram too and, so more often, this coverage takes shape on Instagram stories (take it as cross-app pollination). Instagram stories are better at capturing creators’ quick acknowledgments, and in my experience, easier to use and more widely adopted than TikTok’s version. The post will often include a thank-you, your book cover, and a photo of the inside flap or back cover so that viewers can learn more. You should understand this to mean that creators are excited about your book. Even if they don’t love it post-read, or think it’s quite a fit for our audience to make a featured post or TikTok, this initial post can still call their audiences’ attention to your work.
As for when a full review will be posted, that’s more variable. “If it’s something I asked for that I’m super excited about, I usually will bump it to the top of my reading TBR,” Jackson said. Review timing also depends on the type of book you’re sending—advanced reading copy versus finished copy—and its publication date.
Many BookTokkers treat the official on-sale as a posted content’s “due date” for ARCs, but wait to create content about the book closer to publication. “I do feel like it is helpful for my audience when I read it later, closer to when it’s actually out,” Jackson continued.
Jackson also explained she tends to read finished copies quicker, as “those come out so close to when it’s actually published.” For books far beyond the year’s frontlist, there’s a less definitive timeline—BookTokkers tend to read these books as they’d like.
If a BookTokker doesn’t like your book, they may or may not post it. In one camp, creators believe that a negative review can help their followers, and in some cases, push the book toward the right audience. In the other camp, creators feel a negative review is simply negative publicity and would rather not post at all. “I’m probably not going to do a specific video for something I didn ’ t like,” Jackson explained.
As BookTok continues to evolve, so do its creators and the relationships they hope to build with authors. But, at their core, BookTokkers want to do right by the authors they so adore and hope to be met with the same care.