‘BookTok is our technique to escape actuality’
A year ago, Elodie Lee, 13, from Brighton, was more interested in games than literature – it is now not uncommon for her to read five books a week.
She and her older sister Mireille, 15, are among the growing number of young people who have found other book lovers, followers and fame on BookTok, a sub-genre of the popular Gen Z social media app TikTok. YouTubers share 15-second videos recommending their favorite books and characters, as well as book reviews, reading lists, and all kinds of emotional, exuberant content that glorifies reading.
“I try to tell people that reading is not like school,” says Mireille. “It’s so much more than that, it’s so useful, it’s so fun. You won’t regret picking up a book. “
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Elodie and Mireille Lees TikTok, @alifeofliterature has 280,000 followers
Before the first lockdown in March 2020, young people’s reading pleasure had hit a 15-year low, according to the National Literacy Trust. In the 10th annual literacy survey last year, however, a third of the 58,346 children and young people surveyed said they would read more during the lockdown.
Similarly, a survey conducted by The Reading Agency found that while almost one in three said they read more during the lockdown, there was a particular increase among 18- to 24-year-olds.
Elodie became addicted after reading Kiera Cass’ reality TV romance The Selection. “I wake up in the morning and read books. I come home and read books. I’m just obsessed, ”she says. As a result, the siblings created their TikTok account @alifeofliterature in February, which now has more than 280,000 followers.
“It is unimaginable. We’re still struggling to process the fact that so many people are looking at our content, ”says Mireille.
In the past few months – and alongside the recent reopening of bookstores and libraries – BookTok has seen a surge in popularity. In February it had 3.4 billion views. There are now 10.3 billion.
Abby Parker, 21, whose @abbysbooks account has almost 400,000 followers, discovered the community at the beginning of the pandemic. “For me, reading has always been a way to briefly escape the realities of our world, and I think that was essential last year,” she says. “BookTok was new, exciting, constantly growing and full of creativity – and still is.”
She posts videos of her emotional reaction to the beginning and the end of a new series, where she inhales the smell of a new book, unpacks freshly shipped books, explores the most convenient reading positions, reacts to suggestive storylines, and much more.
“I fell in love with mythological and historical retelling and discovered my new favorite book, The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, which tells the story of the great battle of Troy and the relationship between Achilles and the exiled Prince Patroclus,” she says.
Miller’s novel, which was awarded the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2012, has found renewed success on the platform with the hashtag #thesongofachilles, which has been viewed more than 36 million times. It is currently on the Waterstones bestseller list.
Georgia Henry, 25, runs marketing campaigns for children’s publishers at Rocket agency and has seen the impact of BookTok on sales. She cites the example of Adam Silvera’s teenage novel You Both Die in the End. “It was first released in 2017, but this year it was number one for weeks – all because of BookTok,” she says.
“When it started sparking conversation in the BookTok community, we worked with UK publisher Simon & Schuster and key influencers in the field to create videos of their experiences reading the book – one from @abbysbooks, that went viral at 4.9 million views. “
She adds, “BookTok enables the creative storytelling that both publishers and readers make a living on. Most publishers really see TikTok as a core platform in their marketing campaigns, which wasn’t the case a year ago. “
Likewise, London-based writer Fiona Lucas, 53, set up her BookTok account @fionalucasauthor (21,700 followers) on the assumption that this could be a great way to attract new readers. “I’ve been an author for 16 years and during this time I’ve seen various social media platforms come into being. What I’ve noticed is that those who adopt early have the potential to build the best following, ”she says.
“While Instagram is all about the perfect graphic, TikTok is definitely where people are their fabulous, nerdy, eccentric selves.
Still, there are downsides. “We are all at the mercy of the constantly changing algorithm,” she says.
Lucas has written 27 books: she spent years writing romance novels as Fiona Harper but switched to Lucas for her more recent books, including The Last Goodbye. Much of their BookTok content revolves around the writing and publishing process itself.
Her followers have started promoting her work and have organically generated word of mouth. “The rest of the book industry knows how powerful TikTok can be,” she says.
A reader replies to Amanda Gorman’s ‘The Hill We Climb’ on @penguin_teen, the publisher’s TikTok account
Penguin has surely recognized its importance and launched a TikTok account called Penguin Teen in 2019, best known for a 600-book video that looped through the publisher’s New York offices last year to create a “book domino.” .
Penguin Teen has more than 240,000 followers and recently featured American Youth Poetry Award winner Amanda Gorman (who appeared at the inauguration of President Joe Biden) at the release of her book, The Hill We Climb; it had the highest first week sales of any poetry title ever published.
In North London, Chrissy Ryan, 27 – founder of the independent bookstore and social space BookBar – is about to open a BookTok account for her own business.
“We wanted to reach a younger audience who don’t visit bookstores regularly,” she explains. “We regularly get customers who come and say they discovered a book on BookTok – so it must have informed my maintenance of the inventory.”
For Ryan, BookTok also has the potential to change the way books are published. “BookTok can connect with a younger and, more importantly, more diverse audience – allowing people to bring about social change. It will create a larger market for books that address these conversations. Books that are traditionally not dealt with, ”she says.
As writers access a new generation of readers through the platform, BookTokkers themselves are driven by their shared desire to simply share their passion for books.
The Lee sisters place a high value on the integrity of their platform. “We remain strictly authentic on our BookTok. We don’t lie about recommendations, ”says Mireille. “When an author wants to give us a book, we read it first before we think about promoting it.”
BookTokkers are particularly drawn to the opportunity for joy and discovery on the platform. Brittany Guy, 21, from the West Midlands, has started
@whatbritreads (43,200 followers) when she was unemployed at the beginning of the pandemic.
“It really broadened my scope as a reader and took me on so many adventures, all from my phone,” she says. “I love the short format, the way viral sounds can turn into memes, and how easy it is to use. It just made the last year of my life so happy. “
As a generation of book vloggers before them learned, books and videos go hand in hand. “Reading is a pretty lonely thing, but TikTok is just the opposite – it’s very busy and noisy,” says Mireille. “But it works really well to combine the two.”
However, the feeling of a supportive network is perhaps the ultimate appeal. “It is a community that I have never judged or felt ostracized by. I feel like the love and acceptance are so overwhelmingly positive, ”says Parker.
“It’s just a really nice place,” adds Guy.