Writing Magazine – BookTok Business

Writing Magazine – May 2023

Is TikTok every author’s dream marketing platform? Simon Whaley chats to two authors about their experiences.

In 2022, the Publishers’ Association attributed some of 2021’s five per cent rise in book sales to the social media platform TikTok. They even went as far as saying that sales for four out of every five young adult bestsellers in 2021 were because of the video platform and its #BookTok hashtag.

Understandably, traditional publishers are encouraging their authors to make use of the social media platform, and self-published authors are finding success through it too. What’s exciting many publishers and authors is there’s evidence that TikTok’s BookTok hashtag is breathing new life into an author’s backlist.

In early 2020, the lifetime sales of US author Colleen Hoover’s books stood at 237,000 copies. But this jumped to over 2.3 million in less than eighteen months after several of her books became popular on TikTok. So, should we all be on TikTok? How do we get started on the platform, and how can we make it work for us too?

BookTok Basics

TikTok is a Chinese social media platform that began in 2016 and quickly gained a large user base. By October 2022, users had downloaded the app over three billion times, and it has over 1.5 billion active users every month.

It’s a visual platform, so its posts are videos, similar to Instagram Reels. However, what makes TikTok different is that anyone can see our videos, especially if we use the right hashtags. Whereas, anything we post on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter is only visible to those who follow us and anyone those followers share it with.

TikTok’s users find content by searching for hashtags, and for authors, the best hashtag to use is #BookTok. However, it’s not just writers using this hashtag. Readers use it to engage with other readers who share similar reading interests, and they also use it to find new authors.

Glenda Young (@Glenda_Young_Author), whose latest saga, The Sixpenny Orphan, is published in paperback in May, writes historical sagas and cosy crime mysteries for Headline. She’s been on TikTok for about a year now.

‘I’ve always embraced social media,’ she explains, ‘and find it a great way to interact with readers. So I thought I’d give TikTok a go. Joining TikTok was an organic thing for me as an extension of my interest in social media and to see if I could use it to find new ways to reach readers and provide content for them.’

Self-published author Adam Beswick, who writes fantasy novels as A. P. Beswick (a.p_beswick_author), posted his first author TikTok video in January 2020.

‘My author buddy Rob Radcliffe challenged me to join a TikTok for authors group to get over my fear of putting myself on camera. I had a new book coming out and wanted to get out of my comfort zone to let people know about it.’

Camera Coy

I’m sure there are many authors who can identify with Adam’s camera shyness. It’s why I prefer Facebook and Twitter, hoping my words and photos will do the marketing. But there is something in the magic of video that catches browsers’ attention.

Adam has over a thousand posts on his TikTok account, and his face appears in most of them, but not all. There are ways and means for authors to use TikTok without holding their phone camera in front of their face. Adam’s first post is twelve seconds and shows him flipping through his handwritten notebook before switching to the front cover of his first novel, A Forest of Vanity and Valour, on his tablet.

Those twelve seconds show his author journey from scribbled notebook to published book.

Similarly, Glenda’s first post is seventeen seconds long and simply moves from a promotional postcard showing the front covers of all her historical novels to a bookmark detailing her cosy crime books.

Both authors have experimented with different styles of videos, ranging from flicking through the pages of a book and cover reveals, through to book unboxing and asking readers’ questions. And that’s the key: experimentation.

‘Don’t be afraid to try new things,’ Adam encourages, ‘and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.’

Glenda believes it’s always best to think about your reader and whoever might stumble across your post. ‘A good TikTok post is visually gripping from the first frame, has relevant hashtags, and at the end you feel you’ve learned something or been entertained.’

Reader Reach

Adam agrees, TikTok is all about interacting with readers, and that’s what the content is all about.

‘TikTok is about engagement, so if people comment on your posts, asking questions, try to respond to as many as you can. Those initial followers will soon become your super fans. People like cheering on people chasing their dreams. Remember, every time you post, that’s fresh eyes seeing your work for the first time. Whether it be ten views or a thousand. You can reach new readers every day with every video you post at no cost. From a marketing point of view, that is incredible.’

Just like other social media platforms, the people who succeed most on TikTok are those who turn up regularly. How you define regularly is up to you. Some authors post videos several times a day. Others succeed by posting only a couple of times a week. As Adam suggests, it’s not about frequency, but about being honest with readers.

‘Be consistent and hold yourself accountable.’

Use TikTok to share your writing journey. Glenda posts videos from locations that have inspired her stories, while Adam shares the trials of life as a writer, especially when he slots it in between his role as a full-time nurse.

But his consistency is now paying off. With five books in his Levanthria series, and his Arnold Ethon trilogy, Adam’s about to become a full-time writer. Naturally, this is something he’s shared in a seven-second TikTok video because, for him, he wouldn’t be where he is now with his writing if it wasn’t for TikTok.

‘TikTok definitely helped with sales,’ says Adam. ‘It certainly helped my organic growth last year.’

TikTok Terror

Of course, just because many jump onto a bandwagon doesn’t mean we should all follow suit. Ultimately, it’s about finding different ways to engage with our readers and if our readers aren’t on TikTok, then our time may be better spent elsewhere.

One year on, Glenda is reviewing her TikTok strategy. ‘My advice would be to embrace all kinds of social media but only if you want to and feel comfortable. TikTok – and social media – isn’t for everyone and no-one should feel pressured into using it. To be honest, I’m not really sure TikTok is the right platform for me. My readers are more Facebook-based where I have a huge and dedicated following, and that’s where the bulk of my social media efforts go.’

But even if we decide TikTok is not for us, there are still ways in which we can spread the word about our books on this platform. Glenda recommends working with someone who enjoys the platform.

‘Team up with a TikTok influencer who is already a fan of your books and will help promote them for you. In my case, this has been a wonderful young woman called Kathrine Taylor (@northeastnostalgic). Kathrine is a big fan of my historical sagas set in the northeast and we’ve met a few times when I showed her the locations of my novels in the coal-mining village where they’re set. Kathrine has been hugely supportive and creates TikToks around the locations of my novels.’

TikTok Takeaways

TikTok and its BookTok hashtag have been hugely beneficial for the publishing industry, both for traditionally published and self-published authors. Spend time getting to know the platform, and the BookTok hashtag in particular, before getting involved.

The classic 80/20 rule applies to TikTok, just like other social media channels. So for every post marketing your book directly, have four that engage with readers instead. Share videos of your writing desk, or wherever you write. 

Don’t use too many hashtags for each post. Use the BookTok hashtag, and one or two that identify your book’s genre, and perhaps another to explain the content, such as #coverreveal, #betareaders, #unboxing.

Most users create their TikTok videos on their smartphone, using nothing more than the phone’s camera and the tools offered in the TikTok app. You don’t need professional video-editing software. Often, the most spontaneous and informal videos work best.

Finally, remember that social media platforms regularly change the algorithms that determine who see which posts. The organic reach enjoyed by many on TikTok at present used to exist on Twitter and Facebook during their first years. 

If your books could do with a free marketing boost, and you’re not already on the platform, perhaps now’s the time to check out whether TikTok is where your new readers hang out.

Business Directory- TikTok Top Tips

  1. Create an account at TikTok.com. There are two main feeds: For You, and Following. The For You feed is what the TikTok algorithm thinks you might like to see. To begin with, it knows nothing about you, so its first suggestions may be quite random!
  2. Search for the #booktok hashtag and follow this. Search for other authors you know, either as a reader, or as fellow authors in your genre. Soon the algorithm will suggest more suitable suggestions in the For You stream.
  3. Watch other authors’ videos. Which of their ideas appeal to you? Which can you replicate for your books, or your writing life?
  4. Ask questions. Readers enjoy engaging with authors. Remember to respond.
  5. Start small. Although TikTok now allows ten-minute videos, short and succinct can be successful.
  6. Tag your videos with the #Booktok hashtag and others that define your genre, e.g., #cozymystery, #romcoms, #thrillerbooks, #fantasybooks, etc.

© Simon Whaley