#BookTok: How TikTokers' tears are driving book sales

·3-min read
"BookTok" videos on TikTok are largely created by women in their teens and twenties.

Books are buzzing in the US, and that could well be thanks to TikTok. In fact, the upcoming "BookTok" trend has created a new community on the popular social network, while also helping to drive book sales. The trend's success is being buoyed by emotion, with many users now filming themselves moved to tears as they read ... a successful tactic, it seems.

On TikTok, the #BookTok hashtag has over 5.8 billion views. Fueling this movement are literature-loving users who have turned their passion of books into a business. In under a minute, these users film the covers of books they recommend, showing montages of inspiring images to illustrate a work, or filming themselves reading a book.

One of the user accounts proving a hit is @alifeofliterature : "I want people to feel what I'm feeling," 15-year-old Mireille Lee told The New York Times. She has created an account with her 13-year-old sister Elodie, which now counts over 205,700 followers on the platform. The two teens summarize a book very quickly in a few images, giving people a feel for what it's about without giving away the ending, or propose selections of books for a desired emotional effect, like "Books that broke me," watched over 65,600 times.

And on TikTok, sadness sells. In November 2020, the short film "If Anything Happens I Love You," available on Netflix, went viral on the platform . Users filmed themselves before and after watching the touching animated short, often showing themselves crying and emotional. Now, with BookTok, the trend for tears is back.

Madeline Miller's 2012 book "The Song of Achilles," for example, has found renewed success online thanks to the trend. The #songofachilles hashtag counts over 20.8 million views to date. Users notably film themselves after they finish reading the book, red-faced and crying. "I feel like I've lost words in the best possible way. Isn't it better for the writer than seeing people keep their work in mind?" author Madeline Miller told The New York Times.

Shaping up to be a major trend, reading books -- even on social media -- is proving beneficial for publishers, who have seen sales skyrocket. Speaking to The New York Times, Miriam Parker, vice president and vice publisher of Ecco, which published "The Song of Achilles," said she had noticed a surge in sales of the book, August 9, but couldn't understand why. The reason was, in fact, down to Selene Velez, an 18-year-old girl living in Los Angeles. This reader took to her TikTok account, @moongirlreads to recommend the book among a selection of works that will "make you sob." The video has been watched more than 5.8 million times.

Faced with this new market, publishers have discovered a new way of promoting their books. Some have even started sending books out free of charge to certain influencers, who are much-loved among young adults. Some are even being paid to make specific videos, reveals The New York Times. The trend has also reached the Barnes and Noble website, which now has a special "BookTok" page featuring the most popular books on TikTok -- riding the wave of the trend's success, without having to pay any TikTokers.

Sabrina Alili