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When BookTok breaks into the mainstream

By Sheroog Kubur, August 9 2023—

Thanks to the explosion of BookTok, the portmanteau of TikTok and book reading has gained a new appreciation. These videos follow a clean format — bolded text floating above the creator’s head reading something like “Best #Enemiestolovers books I’ve read this year” while they balance a stack of thick novels. It cuts to the list, removing books from the stack with mostly familiar titles mixed with a couple of unique novels thrown in there. 

While this isn’t the first time an online community dedicated to readers has grown, with BookTube (Book and YouTube) and Book Twitter coming before it, the benefits of TikTok have created a unique community where readers are able to share their opinions about the newest releases and recommend their favourite stories. Conversely, all the negative aspects of TikTok also came along, making BookTok a menagerie of all of TikTok’s worst traits. 

What makes BookTok unique is that there are no genre-specific recommendations on the app. While creators are able to upload their lists of favourite horror stories or short stories, the time limit means that they need to condense an entire story down to one sentence or a couple of words. This, combined with the rising popularity of romance, means that more and more tropes are being used to describe books. 

Tropes are a shorthand way to convey a lot of information in a few words. They are especially useful for fanfiction websites, where a reader can type in the trope they like and be introduced to a world of stories with that trope. In a similar fashion, TikTok’s format means that tropes are an easy way to pitch a book to your audience. Instead of unpacking the entire plot of the story, define it with a couple of key traits. 

Publishing houses have been using TikTok as a marketing tool since they realized the power the app holds. Authors are able to share sneak peeks of their work, reviewers are able to put out content quickly and readers are privy to no shortage of recommendations. There have been several cases of books gaining sales because of their circulation on BookTok, such as the resurgence of Colleen Hoover or the newfound popularity of Ice Planet Barbarians, a book originally published in 2015 getting a physical print in 2021 after TikTok users started to increase its hype. 

The growth in popularity of romance especially has sparked conversations about whether books are being written trope-first or not, where authors decide on the tropes they want to use in the stories before writing the story. Ali Hazelwood, an author who had her start writing fanfiction, admitted that she started writing her second novel, Love on the Brain, by first deciding she wanted an academic rivals-to-lovers story. 

While BookTok has done wonders to revitalize the romance genre and reject the idea that romance is less significant than other genres, the effects of TikTok marketing mean that oftentimes these romance stories aren’t particularly good. Titles that gain popularity through TikTok are polarizing, with reviews often starting with “I don’t know why this is so popular but…” Many trope-heavy fictions are now popular to read for criticism, such as the popular Gothikana by RuNyx, a teacher-student dark romance — a poorly-written book that turned into an online sensation. 

TikTok did not create bad fiction by any means. However, the use of TikTok as a marketing tool means that it’s easier than ever to come into contact with bad fiction. It also means that there is a community of people who will value the work of the writers based on how closely they adhere to the tropes that were initially advertised to them. But, it also means that if this is what you’re looking for, you’ve got plenty of room to find it.

This article is a part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board.

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