By Bianca Guzzo
Something phenomenal has been happening on TikTok over the last three years. Young people are reading books again…like, they really love buying and reading books and then talking about it online. For the last decade we’ve been told nobody was reading anymore and that books and libraries were at risk of disappearing forever. Now, thanks to TikTok, sales of physical books are on the rise and there is always a novel that’s trending on the FYP. If you’re not familiar with the wonderful world of BookTok, there’s a whole side of TikTok where users discuss their favourite books, compete in reading challenges with other “book-tokers”, and show off their latest book store hauls. Authors are even entering the online space to connect with their loyal readers in new ways. As it turns out, a culmination of silly videos, discourse over the characters, and cozy bookshelf tours have brought books back in a major way.
The novels that have gained popularity on the FYP fall into a couple of different categories. Everybody has their own niche of literary interest (mine bounce between spicy romcoms and historical fiction) and BookTok is no different. The first thing you need to know about how the magic of BookTok works is that there is content for every genre of book you can think of, and what you see or get recommended will be totally catered to your personal interests. Based on the content you interact with, the algorithm on TikTok will show you more creators recommending similar books to ones you’ve already read and enjoyed. Were you a fan of the Heartstopper series? There are thousands of creators that are constantly recommending the next great LGBTQ+ story that you need to read. Are you a Jane Austen connoisseur? There are lists upon lists of modern adaptations of her classic stories. There are creators who have endless recommendations for fantasy novels, spicy fairy stories, non-fiction best-sellers, and independently published hidden gems. As someone who has personally spent the last few years being heavily influenced on what to read from their FYP (and a stack of books beside my bookshelf to prove it), I can confidently say I have yet to read a book I didn’t thoroughly enjoy that wasn’t recommended to me by a creator on BookTok.
Books gaining astronomical popularity through the great recommendations of TikTok creators have caused physical books to be very much back in demand and the BookTok craze has also spread to bookstores. According to Reader’s Digest, American bookstore Barnes & Noble announced they would be opening an impressive 30 new stores by the end of 2023. The chain has closed around 100 stores over the past 15 years, but thanks to the recent resurgence of book buying, they’re ready to make a comeback of their own. Bookstores are getting in on the fun too, creating displays based on TikTok trends like book recommendations based on your favourite Taylor Swift song. Canada’s bookstore chain Indigo has a permanent “as seen on TikTok table” where readers can quickly browse all of the books they’ve seen on their FYP. For those of us who can’t possibly fit another book on our shelves, E-readers like the popular Amazon Kindles and Rakuten Kobo also have their own loyal followings online. Creators love to show off how they “decorate” their reading devices with stickers and cases, even dedicating entire videos to take viewers along as they pick out new swag for their readers.
Social media has also allowed readers to connect with the authors of their favourite books like never before. Some of TikTok’s favourite authors like Taylor Jenkins Reid, Tessa Bailey, and Colleen Hoover all have massive followings all across social media. Bailey is active on both Instagram and TikTok where she reacts to videos of thirst traps, creating entire scenarios to turn them into multi-faceted main characters in one of her own romance novels.
BookTok’s magic has also been beneficial to up-and-coming authors, too. A little attention on TikTok has allowed independent authors to have a taste of literary fame usually reserved for established writers. Last year Lloyd Devereux Richards’s novel Stone Maidens became a bestseller after his daughter posted a video on the app about her dad’s book. Within a week it had risen to the top of the Amazon bestsellers chart and the two of them went to New York City for press and book signing. According to readers, the book was really good, and thanks to TikTok, there’s already a sequel available for pre-order.
Even the app’s most popular authors aren’t immune to controversy either. Throughout the pandemic, readers could not get enough of Colleen Hoover novels. The books became popular with anyone who wanted more from their usual fluffy romance reads. Hoover’s most popular book It Ends With Us is currently getting the Hollywood treatment with a film adaptation starring Blake Lively. Fans haven’t been shy with their displeasure at the images from the set, quickly turning them into memes all over TikTok and Twitter. Hoover and the contents of her novels constantly have the social media divided. While some readers really connect with her writing, others call it lackluster and call out her choice to use traumatic stories from real people in her life to inspire her books. At the end of 2022, Hoover came under fire for releasing a colouring book based on one of her best-selling novels. Even her most loyal fans publicly voiced their opinion that a colouring book based on a novel that features heavy subject matter involving domestic abuse was in poor taste. The colouring book was taken down within days.
Nomatter what kind of books have filled your TBR (that’s To Be Read) list, there’s a little corner of the internet where having a stack of 20 unread books is celebrated (mood readers unite!). Though we won’t always agree on what the best book is because art is subjective, the thousands of recommendations on TikTok mean you’ll probably find at least one book you love while you’re browsing the app. Bookstores have always been sacred spaces for anyone who likes to disappear within the pages of a novel, and thanks to some young adults with a lot of free time, a TikTok account and a maybe a nudge from a global pandemic, books have been given another life and I, for one, couldn’t be happier about it.