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The Business of the #BookTok Table

Published on February 13, 2023, at 4:36 p.m.
by Alaina McDuffie.

If you’ve taken a stroll around your local Barnes and Noble or Books-A-Million lately, odds are you’re familiar with the #BookTok table. Marked with a sign reading “#BookTok” and stacked to the brim with talked-about books of varying genres and plots, “securing a seat” at this table is every author’s dream.

A book’s position on this table can catapult it onto the New York Times Bestseller list, but does this table have a dark side for those books less fortunate?

What is #BookTok?

Photo by Aunf Soe Min via Unsplash

Created by a passionate group of readers on the social media platform TikTok, the #BookTok hashtag has been viewed upward of 60 billion times, with certain videos on the app garnering hundreds of thousands of likes. Book lovers of all ages use the platform to share books they love, proving that great word-of-mouth can make any book a bestseller.

A perfect case in point is Colleen Hoover’s “It Ends With Us.” Since the book went viral on #BookTok, it has spent a whopping 85 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list and has sold over 4 million copies. Due to its overwhelming success, it is also in the process of being adapted into a major motion picture.

From a public relations standpoint, #BookTok has revolutionized the way publishers and authors interact with their fanbases. Authors have the opportunity now to not only post exciting behind-the-scenes content about creating their books but also listen to the critiques and praises surrounding their work.

This open dialogue gives a voice to the reading community and allows authors to better promote themselves. The result is a personable exchange that leaves both parties feeling heard and seen. It also serves as a reminder of the power of effective social media strategy.

The dark side of the #BookTok table

Photo by Nik via Unsplash

On the other hand, not landing a book on the #BookTok table can serve as an obstacle to many authors.

For example, the past few times I’ve been to a bookstore, I have been guilty of buying exclusively from the #BookTok table. My reasoning: I have to know if books like Sally Rooney’s “Normal People” and Emily Henry’s “Beach Read” are as good as everyone says.

As any reader knows, wasting time and money on a book you don’t enjoy is disheartening. Because there are so many reviews of these books online, it is more likely I will enjoy a title I pick off that table than a book I pull off a random shelf. This combination of genuine curiosity and a position on the #BookTok table creates intrigue that most other books simply cannot compete with.

Therefore, I neglect other areas of the bookstore, missing out on solid reads that just haven’t received the same level of publicity. This hesitance to explore hurts the new author trying to break through.

A warning to the reader

Landing a book on the #BookTok table is every author’s dream and for good reason. The result is increased book sales and recognition among the book community. The #BookTok table also facilitates a love for reading and has connected many readers to their favorite books. However, it is important to acknowledge that this phenomenon can limit a reader’s sense of adventure and encourage them to “play it safe” when purchasing books. It can also isolate the rest of the bookstore and hurt emerging authors.

For new readers

Photo by Natalie Stimpfl via Unsplash

For the new reader overwhelmed with book choices, the #BookTok table is a great place to start. By connecting new readers with popular books, the table aids in providing a smoother entry into the book community.

However, this group should keep in mind that not all #BookTok recommendations are gospel. It isn’t uncommon for publishers to pay individuals on TikTok to review their books positively.

My advice: beware inauthentic, overly glowing reviews of books.

For seasoned readers

If you are a seasoned reader, you likely have a love-hate relationship with the #BookTok table.

You may have purchased a book with rave reviews only to find that it was mediocre at best. Or you might argue that there is a lack of diversity on #BookTok because the platform fails to promote stories from authors of color.

Whatever your reasoning, the open dialogue around books and the #BookTok table benefits the book community. Hearing positive or negative reviews may encourage individuals to read books for the sole purpose of formulating their own opinions.

The final chapter

All in all, the #BookTok table is a double-edged sword. While it reminds PR practitioners of the far-reaching impact of social media strategy and helps strengthen author and reader relationships, it may also limit the world view of the community it wishes to serve.

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