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How BookTok and Bookstagram Changed Publishing PR

By Jacqueline Gualtieri on May 27, 2024

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Colourful, colour-coded bookshelves in a library.

If you walk into any bookstore in 2024, I can guarantee that one of the tables will be marked with something like “BookTok Favorites.” 

What are some of the top picks? Well, you’d be hard-pressed not to find Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros on the table, 2023’s arguable BookTok darling. But you’ll also likely see some other romantic favorites out and about, like Twisted Love by Ana Huang, a self-published book born from pandemic burnout.

On average, a self-published author can expect to sell 250 copies. Twisted Love alone has sold more than one million copies, which isn’t even addressing the copies sold of her later novels in the series. 

A scroll through TikTok and Instagram may just show you why. Huang, like many other self-published authors who have taken off in the past few years, attributes her success to BookTok, a subsection of TikTok focused on reading. 

The Broken Barriers of BookTok

The self-published author began promoting her books on her own TikTok account, and it wasn’t long before book-dedicated accounts started to pick up her content. If you find a TikTok of someone sharing their favorite romance reads, you’ll often see Twisted Love amongst the ranks. 

In many ways, BookTok and its Instagram-driven counterpart, Bookstagram, have broken down barriers that existed in the traditional publishing world. If the average self-published author sells 250 copies, it’s impossible for them to make a bestseller list, which usually requires selling more than 5,000 in a week. But Huang can call herself a New York Times Bestselling Author, just one example of a self-published author whose virality transported her to the top of the lists.

But BookTok and Bookstagram also broke down barriers as to what is allowed to be at the top of recommendation lists. While romances frequently top bestseller lists, reading these books has often been treated as a dirty little secret. In 2012, all three Fifty Shades books by E.L. James and the box set of the three landed in the Top 10 of the Publishers Weekly bestseller list for the year. 

I can remember talking about these books in hushed tones. As a high school student, perhaps we should have been less aware of these books, which in romance reading terms were highly “spicy.” But the books were also treated like coveted treasures. Someone would borrow a copy (without permission) from a parent and pass it amongst their friends, leading to lunchtime discussions that paused anytime a teacher was too near. 

Outside of the hushed conversations, though, we knew how much the books were derided. 

“It’s just porn. That’s not real reading.” 

But thanks to BookTok, such spicy books are read out in the open today and talked about freely online. The barriers around what is allowed to be considered “reading” have changed. 

The New Barriers Around Books

However, while BookTok has removed some barriers, it could perhaps be considered the reason why new ones are in place. As someone who has been in the “query trenches” before with traditional publishing, I, and many other hopeful writers like me, have noticed a trend that changes the nature of the relationship between writer and publisher. 

Agents, editors, and publishers often now ask for links to your social media and want to determine if you have a high following. The truth is, whether you’re self-published or hopeful to be traditionally published, writers now need to be their own social media managers as well. Expecting to be a bestselling author without any social media is a dream that might not be feasible anymore, which is bad news for the less social media savvy of us.

But it also puts some control back into your own hands in regard to establishing your brand identity as an author. Being an author in the world of BookTok comes with challenges, but

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