Joanne O’Sullivan's recent piece in Publishers Weekly, YA Authors Talk #BookTok: Boon or Burden?, hits some of the highs, lows, and territory of the TikTok effect on book sales.
It's worth reading to get a sense of what some of our fellow kid lit content creators are thinking/feeling about the pressure to make a difference on #booktok, and how maybe making an impact isn't something you can really control.
Three stand out moments from the piece:
Jenny Elder-Moke says that much of the work of publicizing and marketing books has been “offloaded” to the writers. “Authors have to be available online somewhere, and social media can be a powerful tool for authors to keep interested readers updated. But it’s also not really what social media is for. Social media is to socialize, not to sell. The people who have learned to take advantage of these platforms for sales are dedicating their entire existence to it—like social media influencers—and that’s not who authors are.”
Even if making videos is fun, mixing it with commerce isn’t for many authors. “I don’t enjoy promoting my book on TikTok,” says Xiran Jay Zhao, whose sci-fi fantasy Iron Widow was a bestseller in 2021, with much of its success credited to their social media platforms. “I’d rather make TikToks that amuse myself. If you see me promoting my book, respect the hustle. It’s tough out here for a queer Chinese author writing very queer Chinese books. I feel like I get named as one of the prominent examples of ‘TikTok authors’ and used as a case study for why authors should put more effort into social media. But that is publishers learning all the wrong lessons from my case, and it frustrates me deeply. I happen to have the right skill set to do well on social media because of years in the cosplay and fandom communities. This skill set has nothing to do with my writing, and therefore most authors don’t have it. If they’re expected to lipsync to random sounds on TikTok for sales, that’s just cutting into their precious writing time. The real lesson from my case should’ve been, don’t be afraid to acquire a book just because it’s in a genre that hasn’t been selling well, even though your editors loved it.”
While it’s tempting to view the dazzling results some authors have seen through BookTok as a path to success, for now at least the platform remains primarily a spot for readers to share books they love outside the highly curated bounds of Instagram and the ad-driven sphere of YouTube.
Illustrate, Translate, and Write On,