Supadu had a great week at London Book Fair, meeting new publishers and members of the community as well as seeing old colleagues again for the first time in years - a true breath of fresh air!
Seeing everyone back in London was fantastic, and we’re excited about new opportunities within the publishing industry. One of these being… Booktok! This is one of the most spoken about topics in the publishing world with the book fair proving this to a tee. However, despite all the TikTokTalk, we found very little evidence of any action; the common misconception of it being exclusively for the younger generation reigned prevalent. Furthermore, we were told frequently about the nervousness of how to get started, the interest was there but no strategy had been put in place.
So! As part of the upcoming launch of Supadu Hub, we will be providing resources and tips for publishers about BookTok and how you can get started. We’ll point you in the direction of BookTok experts.
BookTok has certainly proven it’s value: The pinnacle of its' success being The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (2011). Young TikTokers love to share clips of their devastated reactions to the ending of Miller’s debut novel, a homoerotic retelling of Homer’s Iliad from the perspective of Patroclus, Achilles’ unrelentingly loyal sidekick. The hashtag #thesongofachilles has over 177 million views and has made its way to the Waterstones’s best seller list despite being released over a decade ago.
Due to the sheer amount of talent emerging from TikTok, even some of the largest entertainment agencies worldwide are hiring viewers to scour the platform. One is Arleta Fowler, from the LA-based Creative Artists Agency, one of the world’s largest talent shops, whose most recent client, the vegan chef Tabitha Brown, started using TikTok during lockdown “and exploded”. She now has television shows and her new book, Feeding the Soul (Because It’s My Business), is a New York Times bestseller.
BookTok can boost unknown works into virtual stardom, with no example better than Olivie Blake's The Atlas Six (2020). The 33-year-old author Olivie Blake, aka Alexene Farol Follmuth, hadn't anticipated that The Atlas Six would be popular when she self-published it at the beginning of the pandemic. Two years later, she has landed a six-figure publishing contract with Pan Macmillan, and Amazon is adapting her fantasy novel into a film.
Yet it’s not just new releases - Persuasion by Jane Austen (1817) has been a BookTok sensation, inspiring some literary influencers whose posts praise its sarcasm and the choice of an older female protagonist. Clearly BookTok as a platform can greatly increase title visibility as exemplified by this boost in backlist book sales, especially old classics.
BookTok has sparked an interest in reading amongst the younger generations but they are not the only audience. According to TikTok, two-thirds of TikTok’s audience are over the age of 25, with the other third playing an important marketing role: half of TikTok’s Generation Z users have influenced their parents to buy something they discovered on TikTok, or to buy from a retailer they’ve seen on the app. Furthermore, TikTokers are 68% more likely to make an impulse purchase than on Instagram.
BookTok is not confined to novels but spans across all genres. For example, Cain’s Jawbone by Edward Powys Mathers (1934) is a murder mystery puzzle book which has been solved by only four people. After a TikTok posted by the American influencer Sarah Scannell that was viewed by six million people, in which she charted her attempts at working it out, a reissue of the classic sold out online, prompting UK booksellers to start stocking it. The publisher Unbound is now offering a £250 prize to anyone who can crack it.
Are all of your customers gravitating towards a screen rather than print? Fear not! Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo (2012) is now widely known as a Netflix show, attracting 55 million views within the first four weeks of its premiere last April, but the original YA fantasy series is still widely read by teenagers who love to post videos of their “tabbing” of the novels. Tabbing, or annotating books, is a quasi-competitive practice on BookTok, with many users showing off copies that have been filled with notes and Post-it Notes on almost every page.
Moreover, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong (2019) - written in the form of a poetic prose letter from a Vietnamese-American man to his mother, is frequently featured in many prominent BookTokers’ “must-read” videos, and has acquired the definitive BookTok success marker: a “TikTok made me buy it!” label on Amazon.
Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez (2019) - about the gender data gap proves that the world has been designed for men to an extent that harms women in several areas of life. Young, usually female TikTokers are adamant about the need to add this to your non-fiction “to read” list.
A growing number of poets have made a name for themselves on TikTok by posting one of their (usually very short and sentimental) poems every day. One is FS Yousaf, a young poet from New Jersey who wrote Serenity (2020) and has attracted more than 475,000 followers with his minimalist videos that usually start with instructions, such as: “Send this to the person you love.” There is a curiously old-fashioned quality to this kind of success: as Jenkins Reid says, “it is the most word-of-mouth way I have seen a book blow up”.
So get involved with all the TikTokTalk and contact Supadu for a helping hand!