BookTok You Don't Stop
Some thoughts on using TikTok for promoting your book
After reading approximately one million articles about how BookTok (the bookish corner of TikTok) is selling books I decided to try using TikTok for book promotion a little more. And last month, I had a simple video about my book take off (it currently has over 250K views). So I think I have now become a convert to using TikTok for book promotion (with some caveats).
Although I had heard stories of TikTok selling books, I felt like a lot of those stories were related to YA and/or fiction books, and since my book is nonfiction parenting humor, I wasn’t sure if was the right fit for the audience. I also don’t feel like I’m great at just talking to a camera in videos and am not really often up for dancing in real life, let alone on video, so I thought maybe TikTok just wasn’t a great fit for me. I made a halfhearted attempt at posting some videos over the past year or so without much result, so I shifted my focus to other stuff.
But I kept seeing some chatter on Twitter about authors having success on TikTok so I started looking at it a bit more. After spending some time on BookTok and reading this piece that Jane Friedman had linked to in her excellent The Hot Sheet newsletter, I realized that I could easily make some quick videos that felt comfortable for me and just see what happened.
I decided to try showing some little snippets from my book because they seemed like they would translate well to social media and I had seen some other parenting humor books on TikTok where people essentially just showed an excerpt from the book.
So I started posting slightly more often (a few times a week because that is all I really had the bandwidth for) and many of the videos didn’t get more than a couple of hundred views, but then I posted a video of a funny chart from my book and it took off. It got a lot of views, shares, and comments and some of those comments were people saying they had just bought the book.
In the past year of promoting my book, I have done a lot of different things (other social media posts, freelance pieces, virtual events, guest posts, a Bookstagram tour, etc.) but have found that it’s rare for one type of promotion to immediately lead to a lot of books being sold. (Of course, another problem with a lot of promotion is it’s hard to know what actually led to what sales, but that is a different topic.)
From the stats I can see (as a traditionally published author, I don’t have access to all the info, but that is also another topic), the TikTok video led to the biggest sales bump I’ve seen since around launch time. So given this, it feels like it is worth it to spend some of my time on TikTok, although it still may not be the best choice for everyone.
Upsides of TikTok for Book Promo
The algorithm: I think the magic of TikTok is that its algorithm is really good at knowing who wants to see what. So it can potentially put your book in front of the right audience. So thinking about making a video that will appeal to your target audience helps.
You don’t need a lot of followers to get seen: I had around 300 followers when the video took off and have heard others say that unlike with some other social media, you don’t need a lot of followers to get seen.
There are lots of users/book-buyers: TikTok is popular right now so there are a lot of people on it. It’s still worth doing some investigating to see whether your audience is on there, but my audience (parents) definitely seems to be.
It has a casual feel: TikTok users don’t expect anything super polished, which means you can just film a quick video and see what happens. This is perhaps also helpful for people like me, who like to overthink things.
Downsides to TikTok Book Promotion
There are no guarantees: I think trying to get something to go viral on TikTok is a little like playing the lottery and I know authors who have put a lot of time into it without much result. I have posted some videos that have very few views! But I figure that its algorithm is so good at finding a specific audience that even if a video only gets some views by people I don’t know it’s still potentially introducing a new audience to the book.
It can take up a lot of time: I’ve been playing around with Instagram Reels for almost two years (which are pretty similar to TikTok) and there was definitely a learning curve to figuring out how to do video so the first few videos I made took a long time.
It also takes time to do basic research around hashtags, best sounds to use, and how the algorithm works for TikTok and certain types of book videos that I’ve seen people post are definitely more time-consuming than others. There are also people saying you need to post multiple videos a day every day and I definitely don’t have the bandwidth for that, but my (admittedly limited) experience so far is that that isn’t required.
Things always change: TikTok is popular now but something else will probably come along in the future. And trends and algorithms change, so next year it could be that you are supposed to make dancing holograms in a chicken costume (probably not that, but you know, something). So I think you have to accept inevitable change and whether your time invested in learning is worth it.
BookTok Video Formats
If you want to delve into using TikTok as an author, I think it is worth looking around at what people are doing on the platform. When I was doing this, I saw some poets just filming a page from their book that showed a poem (sometimes while also reading it) and I figured that could work well for some short humor pieces from my book.
Some of the other things I’ve seen people doing to highlight their books include:
Videos that seem like you are telling your life story but actually telling a character’s story like this one.
A quick video of a book with text overlaid listing who would like the book like this one.
Page flip videos, which are essentially a quote from the book or some sort of hook/description placed over a video of pages of a book flipping. This video gives some info on how to create one (as a side note, there are tons of “how to” videos for authors on TikTok as well).
For a memoir, photographs of your life that tell the story in the memoir, like this one.
Book aesthetic videos that use pictures to show what the book is like, like this one.
Some nonfiction authors also use TikTok to give advice related to the book and word on the street is that TikTok is focusing on SEO content lately so this seems like a good potential strategy. Ashleigh Renard does this and wrote a helpful article about how she uses TikTok here.
If you are not up for creating your own AuthorTok videos then you could also look at reaching out to BookTokers who read books in your genre and see if they are interested in receiving a copy of the book. I know others who do this and it can take some time for research and costs if you are sending out hard copies of books, but it’s an option.
I’ve also seen some authors talk about hiring someone to help them create social media/TikTok videos. This could obviously save you time but not money (and I’m not really sure what costs would be).
Here are a few other resources I’ve found helpful:
I mentioned this one above, but this is a good primer on how to use BookTok as an author.
Facebook TikTok Author groups — if you search Facebook you will find some and it can be helpful for more ideas/resources
Poet Shelby Leigh sold 35K books via TikTok and has an account where she shares book marketing tips at @writers.poets
This article about BookTok and publishing is an interesting perspective.
And here is one more article on the popularity of BookTok.
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Great post, Julie. Thanks for sharing what you've learned!