- TikTok’s hashtag #BookTok is turning books into bestsellers.
- Platform users often describe new storylines by “tropes” or recurring narrative devices.
- But a focus on tropes can limit authors, and some feel pressure to incorporate them into their writing.
TikTok is changing the publishing industry.
On the platform, the hashtag #BookTok related to the book has accumulated more than 140 billion views. Thousands of creators discuss their favorite reads daily, and authors can find great success there.
“It changed my whole life, it changed my career,” said author Alex Aster, who landed a six-figure book deal after making a video that went viral on the platform describing the plot of a novel she wrote.
And BookTok has changed the way creators and authors talk about books on social media.
A common way to quickly discuss book plots on TikTok is through specific tropes or themes that recur in many stories. Tropes are commonly associated with genres like romance, but can extend to many others.
Some of the most pervasive tropes are “lovers’ enemies”, where two characters initially dislike each other and end up being lovers; “friends to lovers”, where two friends become romantically involved; or “right person at the wrong time”.
Hashtags related to these tropes rake in millions, even billions of views: #enemiestolovers has seven billion, #friendstolovers has 940 million, while #rightpersonwrongtime has 220 million.
The focus on tropes has to do with the short nature of videos on TikTok, creators told Insider. With one- to three-minute videos, creators only have a few seconds to capture a viewer’s attention and condense a book’s plot. Tropes make the task easier.
“You’ll get a recommendation within 15 seconds rather than a YouTube video where you wait a few minutes or Instagram where it’s just a photo and you don’t really know what the book is about,” said Emily Russell, who built an audience of 65,000 recommended books on TikTok.
BookTok helped increase book sales. 2021 was the publishing industry’s best year since 2004, according to data from US print book sales tracker Circana BookScan (formerly NPD BookScan), which began tracking sales that year. Since then, sales have dropped slightly, but are still up compared to 2019.
Romantic fiction is the genre that has benefited the most, with three consecutive years of growth and more than 36 million print copies sold in 2022.
Publishers are also thinking about tropes. While these storytelling devices aren’t new, they’re gaining in importance thanks to TikTok.
“Tropes are more important than ever,” said Christina Demothenous, editor of Renegade Books, an imprint of Dialogue, owned by Hachette. “They’re meaningful to readers, and readers are ride-or-die types for their favorite tropes. There’s something about the comfort and familiarity of them.”
The success of tropes puts pressure on authors to try them out.
For the authors, seeing these types of plots succeeding on the platform can be a double-edged sword.
Those who set out to write using tropes may find transformative success – like the ever-present sensation Colleen Hoover or Emily Henry, author of several bestselling romance novels.
But other writers might feel discouraged or feel pressure to incorporate certain tropes into their writing to increase its chances of going viral.
“There’s a constant battle to try to stay one step ahead of the trend, so that your book feels different enough that people want to buy it, yet familiar in terms of tropes and sounds,” said Michael Evans, a thriller author and founder of a subscription platform for writers.
Chloe Gong, who wrote the best-selling historical mystery series “These Violent Delights” and promoted it through TikTok, said she was lucky to find a dedicated readership even though her novels weren’t necessarily “BookTok books.”
“Otherwise, you tend to talk more about the romance and the subplot of the drama, and I think that’s because that’s what gets attention,” Gong said. “As far as supporting other books that don’t fit that mold, that’s quite difficult and I would like people to be more supportive of those books.”
Author Anne Bailey, for example, is primarily a writer of historical fiction.
She decided to try writing a novel incorporating popular tropes like “enemies to lovers”. When compared to her first historical novel, her first novel took off much faster, selling five times as many copies in 30 days, she said.
“I was very aware of what people were looking for in terms of keywords, what was popular, and I wrote a book that was still in my own voice, in my own storyline, but that fell into that category,” she said. .
Some creators worry that the focus on tropes on TikTok could be limiting authors’ views.
“The books are so much more than the tropes they use,” said Russell. “It’s limiting for authors, mainly because they feel that nowadays they have to base a lot of their books on tropes, which isn’t true. As long as it’s a good plot, people will read it.”