BookTok – and Bookstagram – sells. From turning debut novels into overnight bestsellers, to deciding what genre is the trend of the moment (looking at you, Romantasy!), creative user generated content (UGC) holds the power to catapult a new book into the spotlight. You’ve likely seen the buzz – and, as a result, rise in sales – generated when a book is shared by these communities of excited and trusted readers.
The dream, right?
But what about the content creators? Alongside our roles as Marketing Executives at BookMachine Creative Agency, we are both book content creators (find us at @booksarebrainfood and @readingbyemily), and fully appreciate the privileged position we are in when we receive special advanced copies and proofs from publishers. But as the sales potential of BookTok and Bookstagram has grown, so too has the pressure on creators to support, review and build buzz around the books they are sent. With marketing budgets often tight, gifting is far more common than paid collaborations, meaning that very few bookish creators are paid for their time and effort.
The relationship between publishers and book content creators is now an integral part of book promotion. So how can we make this more of an equal partnership? We spoke to five bookish creators who regularly receive books from publishers, to get their thoughts on gifting, the expectations involved and how publishers might adapt their methods to strengthen their relationships with content creators.
All of the content creators we spoke to receive at least one request for PR each week. @amysbookshelf, who has built her audience to over 100,000 on Instagram, receives around 25 requests each week. The expectation of accepting such requests isn’t always clear, and opinions differ amongst creators. Whilst some consider a gifted offering to be just that – a gift – with no obligation to post unless the book is read and reviewed at a later date, others feel they are expected to post at least once.
For publishers reaching out to book content creators, it can be extremely beneficial to be as clear as possible about what you are expecting to receive in return for a gifted partnership versus paid collaborations, to avoid miscommunication on either side. Be open and straightforward around expectations, timeframes and deliverables for better results all round, and a smoother experience for creators from the start.
The time constraints
Only a handful of book content creators make content as their full-time job. For the vast majority, creating content for publishers is done alongside other work, and has developed from a love of reading. Accepting a book to review or taking part in a structured book tour or campaign is time-consuming. All of the creators we spoke to mention the difficulty and pressures associated with taking part in marketing campaigns. @whatbritreads shares book recommendations, reviews and more on TikTok. Of the time constraints involved in campaigns, she says:
“I think it’s hard sometimes when a campaign is scheduled around quite a tight timeframe. I personally film everything during weekends or days off. It also makes it more difficult because I’m a person who likes to have fully read the book before I post an ad to my followers about it, so sometimes I feel quite rushed.” – @whatbritreads
@rachloureads and @heatherreadsbooks also mention the difficulties of keeping up with reviews, stating it sometimes starts to feel like another job. Once the excitement of receiving something exclusive wears off, reading and reviewing to a deadline can be stressful. This means creators are increasingly having to turn down requests despite appreciating the offer from publishers.
What can publishers do when prepping a campaign?
We recommend spending time researching the right creators for your book or campaign’s niche, and reaching out with appropriate titles in mind. This will go a long way in reducing the amount of requests creators are receiving, and also ensure that the content creators who accept a review copy are genuinely interested and excited to read the book and share it with their audience (who in turn will see immediately how authentic their excitement is!).
When budgets are tight, marketers are tasked with creating maximum impact with the spend they do have. However, content creators are more likely to disengage from a gifted campaign when the pressures greatly outweigh the benefits for them. An overly complex brief, multiple pieces of content required, and frequent follow-ups are just a few of the turn-offs noted. Another issue, which @rachloureads comments on, is that books are entirely subjective. What if a content creator simply doesn’t love the book?
“I know a lot of creators struggle if their enjoyment of the book doesn’t match the obligations set by the publisher. The main worry is blacklisting from any future campaigns with that particular publisher. There’s a power dynamic within that that works as a double-edged sword.” – @rachloureads
It goes without saying that readers shouldn’t ever feel that they are disliked by a publisher for not enjoying a book they are sent. @whatbritreads states that ‘gifted is a gamble when it comes to marketing.’ Publishers hope that the creator will love their book and create content around it – but it’s not a given.
To alleviate any pressures, we recommend keeping the process relaxed, informal and as easy for the creator as possible. Avoid overly long briefs, and instead communicate the key points in a concise and/or visual way, giving the content creator the freedom to be creative.
Content creators want to feel valued and appreciated, especially when their hard work is generating such positive outcomes for publishers and authors/illustrators. Whilst gifting books to creators is a proven strategy that has the potential to yield results for publishers, especially when reaching new audiences, refreshing this approach could help to further strengthen the relationship between publishers and content creators, and in turn generate the best ROI for book campaigns.
We’d like to say a big thank you to the content creators who contributed to this article!