Not just for kids: What publishers need to know about books, aesthetics and TikTok

Publishing professionals, especially those involved in the marketing and distribution of new titles, are aware of the importance of social media. However, the social media platform TikTok is increasingly more essential in understanding the community of young readers but many in the industry are still out of the loop.

The #BookTok community

TikTok provides users with a platform to rapidly find new sources of content from creators that they don’t necessarily ‘follow’ but who share content aligned with common themes and interests. The benefit of a social system such as this means that a loosely defined community of users can grow around a common theme, often making use of a hashtag to rally around.

As a generation of young people defined by their lack of wanting to be defined it could be pretty difficult to pin down which marketing strategies are most effective. For book publishers, however, TikTok could potentially be a gold mine for informative marketing data of their target demographic. ‘Following these communities offers a unique insight into emergent cultural shifts before they hit the mainstream’, stated Joshua Citarella on artsy. The hashtag #BookTok has over 18 billion hits with sub-communities such as #lgbtbooks and #pocbooks having a large following as well.

The importance of aesthetic appeal and popular culture

If you download TikTok to contribute to the book-loving community you will notice something quite soon after addictively scrolling for an hour: the importance of aesthetics. Books with an aesthetic appeal can be categorised to how they fit with TV show aesthetics, music and cosplay. ‘Does this book fit the “dark academia” aesthetic?’ ‘If you like this aesthetic you should read these books!’, ‘Books that radiate Bridgerton vibes’. The community and the aesthetic become the same thing. Books, TV, music and popular culture become interlinked through aesthetics as well as through shared tropes and character arcs, shared topics or even how they made you feel at the end.

As all generations have done before, you naturally want to question conventions and build your own. Within the BookTok community one example would be book genres. Not satisfied with ‘classics’, ‘romance’, ‘science fiction’, GenZ wants more nuance and to blur the lines between the strict book categories of Waterstones and Foyles – ‘books that made me cry at the end’, ‘books where the bad boy falls for the good girl’.

What marketers could learn

Publishing marketers have the opportunity to reach thousands of readers with the content they’ve made of their new titles. Mini-trailers, reaction videos, cosplay, comedy sketches, theme songs and book discussions can be created and shared by the publishers themselves or with the help of BookTok influencers. One strategy is simply sharing free titles with popular BookTokers for them to share with their already established base of viewers.

Many users find and buy their new titles after hearing about them from other users who post on BookTok. Engagement with other members of their social community takes more importance over any particular publishing house or brand – so it’s vital that publishing professionals engage with the community as well rather than just buy advertisement space.

Some bookshops have taken notice, now displaying categories of books that have gone viral online, but it’s publishers that have the real opportunity to boost sales. Penguin Random House, Bloomsbury and HarperCollins all have a presence on TikTok in order to promote titles and engage with their readers but it’s the information about their target audience and how to effectively market new titles inspired by BookTok content that is the true value of this platform.

@penguinrandomhouse

Need book recs for the weekend? We’ve got you covered! #booksthatplay #turnupthevolume #booktok @prhaudio

? original sound – Penguin Random House

Joseph Clark is Marketing & Design Assistant at BookMachine. Joseph is also a Photographer and Designer who has had work showcased in Glasgow, Helsinki, Paris and most recently, virtually. Currently, he is collaborating with the UCL Multimedia Anthropology Lab as well as designing a series of photobooks.