The platform increases circulation in school libraries as students search for trending titles. And BookTok fans who’ve never set foot in the library before are doing just that.
Three years after its first publication,The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo of Taylor Jenkins Reid hit the New York Times List of best-selling paperbacks. That was January 2021, and it’s been a consistent bestseller ever since.
While E. Lockhart We were liarspublished in 2014, has maintained a presence on and off the same bestseller list, the book has also seen renewed interest over the past year.
What’s driving the renewed interest in backlist titles among readers? Some say the pandemic is making people want to read well-known authors rather than the latest phenomenon. Another Factor: TikTok #BookTok community. The #WeWereLiars hashtag alone has amassed 67 million views on the social media platform.
What is #BookTok? When someone promotes a title on #BookTok, the impact can be dramatic and lasting.
@bookitqueen is quite a mood.
“What’s remarkable about the app is how long a book lasts once it’s running,” says Shannon DeVito, director of books at Barnes & Noble. “If there is a trending title, it is likely to stay trending for months and in some cases more than a year.”
#BookTok’s influence on book sales grew throughout Fall 2020 and beyond. Some backlist titles that found popularity there went from around 50 copies a week to nearly 9,000, DeVito says.
“BookTok has had a massive effect on our paperback sales,” DeVito says, especially mailing list titles. “We noticed organic increases of two larger paperbacks, The Song of Achilles and They both die in the end in the summer of 2020, and realized they were linked to viral content on #BookTok.
The platform has also made its mark in school libraries, where students searching for top titles increase circulation. And that’s exactly what many students are doing who otherwise might not have set foot in their library.
“BookTok has done a lot to highlight the pure pleasure of reading and has introduced many extremely engaging titles that have helped high school students read for pleasure,” says Christine Lively, librarian at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Washington. Virginia. As for the new faces showing up at the library, she adds: “Many teenagers have gone back to reading during confinement and virtual learning.
Books that gain traction on #BookTok tend to trend for a long time, allowing a wide range of readers to discover these books. Other popular titles over the past year for young adult readers included It ends with us by Colleen Hoover, Red, white and royal blue by Casey McQuiston, and the “Falling for something” series by Alice Oseman.
Most #BookTok creators and users are women, between the ages of 14 and 30, DeVito says. They use passionate language to showcase their favorites. Romance, YA and fiction are in high demand at Barnes & Noble and libraries. And thanks to #BookTok, literary essentials are also experiencing a resurgence in interest.
At Whiteland (IN) Community High School, several students follow #BookTok accounts that discuss classics and canonical titles, and some work on classics lists.
“My big surprise from #BookTok is an increase in classics like Pride and Prejudiceolder [YA] Like Speakand specific authors like [Colleen] Hoover, increasingly in demand,” says media expert Raenell Smith.
BookTokkers also highlights adult titles with teen appeal, encouraging high schoolers to broaden their reading. Some of these books are considered cross titles, others are surprises.
Titles popular with teens at the Hasbrouck Heights, NJ Free Public Library include It ends with us,The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugoand The House of the Cerulean Sea.
“I helped a few of my teens find them in adult fiction, which was like a mystery to them,” says Youth Services Librarian Maureen Herman.
Although adult titles aren’t usually part of Lively’s school collection, she’s picked up some of the most requested #BookTok titles.
Librarians note that there has been a steady stream of requests for inclusive #BookTok titles. Teenagers looking for recommendations on #BookTok come from a wide variety of backgrounds.
TikTok works on an algorithm based on the content a user interacts with on their “For You” page, so it surfaces various voices and perspectives accordingly. This can be a strength in book discovery, as well as a reminder for Keepers using #BookTok to ensure they engage with as diverse content as possible.
Why does #BookTok influence?
What makes #BookTok recommendations land with young readers? It could be the language book lovers use to share their favorites. BookTokkers crave emotional impact, and they’re not so interested in genre labels and category splits. Instead, they look at the tropes, themes, and ways a book will make them feel. For example, will it make you “cry tears”?
“I have so many students asking for books that will make them cry, and that goes beyond contemporaries,” says Leah Rae-Clark, teacher librarian at New York Public Schools in the Bronx. “My readers aren’t just looking for any graphic novel or SFF [science fiction and fantasy]. They know on a much more meta level what works for them and the BookTok subcultures have given voice to that. Want to sob hysterically? I can give you Darius the Great disagrees Where Six of Ravens.”
The fact that #BookTok trends tend to lean towards themes or feelings a book offers is another reason why newness at the top of the list isn’t a primary driver.
“As a youth services librarian and reader of romance, it’s really fun to see titles and authors that may have been overlooked when they first came out getting a second, third or fourth chance with a whole bunch of new readers,” says Herman. “It’s fun to see independent writers finding a wider audience as well; that’s something #BookTok is good at.
Popular #BookTok accounts to follow:
Beyond #BookTok, teen TikTok trends can inspire librarians to make valuable library purchases. “My copies of shine by Jessica Jung were gone the first day I put them away,” says Rae-Clark, referencing the YA novel by a former K-pop star. “I had asked the kids what they followed on TikTok, and K-pop kept coming back. I ordered shine on a whim based on what I kept hearing from students.
Also, the power of #BookTok does not depend on the following size. Any video can go viral, and while there are certainly #BookTok influencers with dedicated communities, the real magic is in using the #BookTok hashtag. Anyone who uses it can see their video gain traction. Teens find other teens on #BookTok who are excited about books and reading. It’s infectious, encouraging more teens to find, read and share books.
So how do librarians deal with viral requests for titles they don’t have? Buy more books or suggest similar readings.
“It took us a while to figure out what was going on when students kept asking if we had copies of Song of Achilles and It Ends with Us. I finally asked them where they had heard of those titles, and one of them told me they were on TikTok,” Lively says. “Since then, we’ve asked students to tell us if the books they’re requesting are books they’ve seen and heard about on TikTok and we’re ordering copies to fill that need. We’ve ordered 10 copies of It Ends with Us, and they’re going around like crazy.
Smith says that requests for 40 copies of Speak was untenable for the media library of his library. She found she could harness that enthusiasm and recommend similar books while they waited for their take.
Popular #BookTok accounts to follow,
“When I finally figured out why the specificity, I asked them about #BookTok,” she says. “It opened the door to really getting to know some students and helping them organize book lists beyond the title they were looking at.”
Barnes & Noble has also helped educate librarians: in-store displays across the country feature a sizable “As Seen on #BookTok” collection. These books are organized locally, featuring popular titles in a given area.
“Our booksellers get a lot of customer feedback and can tell what’s in demand and what’s selling, so they use that information to create their own #BookTok screens,” DeVito explains.
For librarians, it can be difficult to assemble physical displays of #BookTok hits if all titles are checked out. But creating online reading guides and a library’s social media presence can show the library’s interest in serving #BookTok readers while encouraging other users to discover #BookTok. Librarians can also tap into the language of #BookTok and suggest similar reads that don’t have dozens of reservations.
Rae Clark sees a golden opportunity to recommend books not yet popular on BookTok, including miscellaneous works. “A similar playlist for Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (which is still HUGE on #BookTok) would include This poisoned heart by Kalynn Bayron Tristan Strong makes a hole in the sky by Kwame Mbalia, traditions by Alexandra Bracken, and Born of legend by Tracy Deonn. I can nudge students toward more diverse titles that are still available,” she says.
Lively and others note that #BookTok has become a source of joy for her at the library, especially during such a difficult time for students and educators.
“The fact that they read and what they have read has become valuable social currency in a way that I only saw in elementary school with super popular series and characters,” says- she. “It made working with the teenagers this year really joyful.”
Kelly Jensen is an editor at Book Riot and editor of three YA anthologies, including Body language, (Don’t) call me crazyand Feminism for the real world.