The bestselling author, who got a publishing deal through TikTok, talks social media, representation and her highly anticipated new book
After facing countless rejections for her young adult fantasy novel Lightlark, Alex Aster became a #1 bestselling author after turning to an unlikely platform: TikTok.
“I posted the video to social media basically pitching my book to the world, because I truly felt at that point I had nothing to lose,” she tells PEOPLE. “I almost deleted it because I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I'm proving these publishers right. No one wants to read my book.’ But I luckily left it on, and then the next day it went viral.”
Aster, 28, didn’t expect Lightlark's success when she shared that initial TikTok, which detailed the book's premise. Soon after, she received a publishing contract and movie deal from Universal Studios and the producers of Twilight. Upon its release, the book, which tells the story of a deadly competition in the vein of The Hunger Games, became a #1 New York Times bestseller.
Nightbane, the highly anticipated sequel, publishes Nov. 7 and tells a story that Aster is “so proud of.”
Aster grew up in a family of entrepreneurs. Her parents co-own the Jacksonville, Fla., car dealership Keith Pierson Toyota, and her twin sister, Daniela, co-founded the mental fitness platform Wondermind with Selena Gomez. Aster, however, has always known that writing was her passion. She began querying agents at age 12, and skipped her college graduation to sign with an agent. Though Aster was already a published author, having released her middle grade Emblem Island series through Sourcebooks Young Readers, she was without representation when querying Lightlark.
Aster's presence on the app set her apart in a number of ways. For one, she utilized social media to make the publishing process more accessible for her followers. She included her fans throughout the book production process, which is usually kept under wraps, and took to TikTok to let them decide which cover to use for Lightlark.
“I really wanted to include all of these people that have really made it possible for me to be published in this way throughout everything,” Aster says of her push for complete transparency. Lightlark's publisher, Abrams, has been supportive of the decision from the start.
Aster’s rise to literary stardom has been both inspiring and confounding for users on BookTok, the book community on TikTok. Some people were skeptical of how quickly she received a publishing deal, while others were disappointed that scenes she teased on the app weren't in the final book (Aster said in a statement to TODAY that some of those scenes would appear in the book’s special edition or sequel, and reiterated that the publishing process includes cutting scenes.) She also acknowledges how grateful she is for her success, and how TikTok is becoming an accessible app for both authors and readers to promote and find new books.
“Publishing has seen that it's one thing to get views on your videos, and it's another to sell books,” Aster says. “I think that BookTok, and TikTok in general, has shown that there are these readers who are hungry for these stories.”
Despite Lightlark’s success, or perhaps because of it, Aster admits that it was difficult to jump into writing Nightbane, which picks up directly where Lightlark left off.
“I have never talked about this, [but] I have never had writer's block in my life before this book,” she says. “It was really tough to start writing this book, just because Lightlark had become more successful than any of us had anticipated, especially myself as someone who was not used to actually having people care about my words or be waiting for my book.”
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As a Colombian-American author, Aster reiterates that Latin representation has always been an important part of her books. She incorporated Spanish names for Lightlark protagonists Isla and Oro, and incorporated the myths her grandmother told her into her first Emblem Island novel, Curse of the Night Witch.
“There were people in my ancestry that weren't even allowed to go to college or write at all,” Aster says. “For my family to know that I get to tell these stories and be part of publishing, I know it means a lot to them.” She also notes that Lightlark was the first of her books to be translated into Spanish, which made it possible to share her story with relatives who didn’t read English.
Aster teases that Nightbane includes even more romance, adventure and plot twists, as well as a possibly divisive ending.
“Some people will be very happy with me, other people might be a little bit upset at me,” Aster says. “I can also exclusively share, because I've never shared this before, but readers can expect in Nightbane to learn what happened in the year before the events of Lightlark. And people who have read Lightlark will know what that means.”
Aster also wants readers to know that someone’s public successes don’t always show the full story.
“Please don’t focus on the highlight reel if you’re working toward something,” she says. “I was a failure for so much longer than I’ve been a bestselling author. Our failures are always so much greater, and it's just what you do after that failure, if you're able to get back up and try again.”
Nightbane is available now where books are sold.
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