by Jess Zafarris
So you want to try TikTok, or get better at it. I have good news: Dancing is not required (though it is allowed!) Still, maybe you’re intimidated, and/or you find TikTok unapproachable and annoying.
That’s OK. You’re allowed! For what it’s worth, I’ve found the vast majority of TikTok—especially #BookTok and #AuthorTok—to be full of good, kind and creative people. I am very fond of my community, and there is a block button for anyone ruining your good time.
But why bother at all?
In the U.S. alone, Tiktok’s user count has soared to more than 150 million this year. By 2025, worldwide TikTok users are projected to exceed 955.3 million and overtake Facebook as the most popular social media platform by users and minutes. The average U.S. adult will spend nearly 20% of their social media time on TikTok in 2024.
In short, there is an audience waiting to find you, and they love to read and discover new books.
In less than a year running Adweek’s TikTok account, I took it from 2000 followers to 120,000. I also have more than 87,000 followers on my personal TikTok account, where people come to listen to me yammer about entertaining, intriguing and surprising word origins.
That’s my experience. Here’s how you can enhance yours.
Understand #BookTok and #AuthorTok
#BookTok and #AuthorTok are not exactly the same. You’ll find overlap, but generally speaking #AuthorTok is about the experience of being an author and writing books, while #BookTok is about discovering your next read.
On #AuthorTok, you have your bookstores and your old favorites: For example, Parnassus Books in Nashville has a book recommendation series in which owner and author Ann Patchett recommends books. You’ll also find book coaches providing advice, aspiring authors tracking their process and, of course, current authors marketing their books and discussing their books and careers.
#BookTok is especially enormous and powerful, and it’s all about non-authors providing recommendations to readers. Some of the biggest creators in this space include @aymansbooks, @ezeekat and @jennajustreads.
According to a May 2023 survey of 10,000 US and Canadian TikTok users, ages 18 and 45:
- 48% of American TikTok users are reading more books as a direct result of #BookTok, reporting a 60% increase in how much they are reading.
- 65% of TikTok users in the USA and Canada have read a book because #BookTok recommended it.
TikTok has had a notable impact on the sales of books that are recommended by users—even books that aren’t new releases. The #Booktok hashtag has over 188 billion views at the time I’m writing this article—that’s billion with a B—with additional multimillions in related hashtags such as #booktokrecommendations and #booktokreviews.
Romance is a particularly powerful community, and if you visit #BookTok, you’ll find that many of the top performing accounts are dedicated to romance, YA and romantic YA reads.
These are just a few examples of books that hit the stratosphere thanks to TikTok, all several years after they were published.
- Colleen Hoover (@colleenhoover) owes a huge amount of success to TikTok and has had several books go viral there, notably the 2016 title It Ends With Us which became the second bestselling Adult Fiction book and sixth bestselling book overall in 2021. The hashtag #ColleenHoover, has 4.4 billion views. The author herself has 1.4 million followers.
- YA novel They Both Die At The End by Adam Silvera (@adamsilvera) was published in 2017, and sold 685,000 copies in 2021 after going viral.
- Similarly, The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller was published in 2012 and sold 650,000 copies in 2021.
- Lloyd Devereux Richards’ 11-year-old debut thriller novel Stone Maidens became a No. 1 bestseller on Amazon after his daughter posted a video to TikTok. (And hoo boy, the follow-up video is a major tear-jerker.)
Build Your Audience With a Savvy Approach
Obviously as with any social platform there is no guarantee of virality, but there are ways of thinking and strategies you can use to increase your chances. And even if you don’t reach internet fame, you might just have some fun.
TikTok users want interesting, entertaining, visually captivating, humorous, timely, community-focused content that makes them feel connected and shakes them from the anxiety and monotony of their daily lives in short, swipeable, shareable video form. (But you don’t have to do all those things at once.)
TikTok wants creators and accounts to succeed, so it releases a trends report called “What’s Next” every year. Among the tips:
- TikTok users want actionable entertainment: 4 out of 5 TikTok users said the platform is very or extremely entertaining. The most effective messages are uplifting, funny, personalized and relatable.
- Make space for joy: 90% of users who took an action off-platform (as in, buying a product or a book) as a result of TikTok said the application makes them happy and never gets boring. Keeping this priority at the center of TikTok strategies is critical.
- Community-built ideals are key: Communities on TikTok let people share hyper-niche interests, bond and broaden each other’s horizons. The platform is 1.8 times more likely than traditional social platforms to introduce people to new topics they didn’t know they liked.
These are few tips specifically for tapping into the #BookTok audience:
- Play with tropes: “Enemies to lovers,” “friends to lovers,” and “right person wrong time” are popular phrases and tropes that Romance fiction TikTok loves. They will render them as hashtags, include them in captions, and make memes about them. Use popular phrases associated with the tropes in your book, and see if they already exist as hashtags. For example, the #friendstolovers hashtag has 1.2 billion views currently.
- Get spicy (where appropriate): The hashtag #spicybooktok—referring to videos about books with steamy scenes—has 4.3 billion views. Videos also needn’t be sexy-spicy. Being particularly vehement, exaggerated, controversial, weird or passionate—or even crying—in a video can make it more attention-grabbing and boost its performance. TikTok’s audience appreciates wholehearted enthusiasm and giggling curiosity of all kinds.
- Tap into microcommunities: There’s diversity, positivity and acceptance to be found for every passion, form and subgenre, from narrative nonfiction to journalism to lesbian space necromancy. If you know you know.
Stand Out in a Crowd
With all that in mind, here are the tips that have worked for me:
- Identify your core value proposition—why people read and like your work—and what people come to the app for. Marry the two in your content.
- Hook viewers within the first five seconds (or sooner). The average user swipes away after 3-5 seconds, so your first line or action must give them a reason to stay.
- Look for opportunities to join trends and larger conversations. Don’t be afraid to meme.
- Be relentlessly curious and creative. Watch videos, explore, and bend the rules around challenges, filters, sounds and hashtags.
- Be nice, and be inclusive. TikTokers are open-minded and welcoming.
- Make connections and build relationships. Follow, like, share, repost, duet, stitch and DM your favorite creators. The communities are very welcoming.
- Don’t let the trolls get you down. The block and “delete comment” options are your friend.
Jess Zafarris is the author of the books WORDS FROM HELL (new from Chambers 2023) and ONCE UPON A WORD (Rockridge Press 2022) and the creator of UselessEtymology.com and its social platforms. She has been a journalist, editor, content director, social media strategy and audience engagement lead for media brands for more than 12 years.