As Seen on #BookTok: Inspiring Young Readers, TikTok Is a Boon for Books

The platform is driving up circulation in school libraries as students seek hot titles. And BookTok fans who’d never set foot in the library before are doing just that.


Three years after its initial publication,The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid hit the New York Times Best Sellers list in paperback. That was in January 2021, and it has been a steady best seller ever since.

While E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars, published in 2014, has maintained a presence on and off the same best seller list, the book has seen a surge of interest in the past year as well.

What is driving the renewed interest in backlist titles among readers? Some say the pandemic makes people want to read known authors rather than the latest phenomenon. Another factor: TikTok’s #BookTok community. The hashtag #WeWereLiars has amassed 67 million views alone on the social media platform.

What is #BookTok? When someone promotes a title on #BookTok, the impact can be dramatic and long-lasting.

@bookitqueen is a whole mood. 

“What is remarkable about the app is the staying power of a book once it is working,” says Shannon DeVito, director of books at Barnes & Noble. “If there is a trending title, it’s likely it will stay trending for months and, in some cases, over a year.”

#BookTok’s influence on book sales rose throughout the fall of 2020 and beyond. Some backlist titles finding popularity there moved from selling about 50 copies per week to close to 9,000, DeVito says.

“BookTok has had a massive effect on our trade paperback sales,” DeVito says, especially backlist titles. “We noticed organic upticks of two bigger paperbacks, The Song of Achilles and They Both Die at the End in the summer of 2020, and realized they were tied to viral content on #BookTok.”

The platform has made its mark on school libraries, too, where students seeking hot titles drive up circulation. And many students who might otherwise not have set foot in their libraries are doing just that.

“BookTok has done a lot to highlight the pure joy of reading and has introduced many extremely engaging titles that have helped high school students read for fun,” says Christine Lively, librarian at Wakefield High School in Arlington, VA. As for the new faces showing up at the library, she adds, “Many teens got back into reading during the lockdown and virtual learning.”

Books that gain traction on #BookTok tend to trend for a long time, allowing a broad swath of readers to discover these books. Other popular titles over the last year for young adult readers included It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover, Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston, and the “Heartstopper” series by Alice Oseman.

Most #BookTok creators and users are female, from age 14 to their mid-30s, DeVito says. They use passionate language to pitch their favorites. Romance, YA, and fiction are in high demand at Barnes & Noble and libraries. And thanks to #BookTok, literary staples are seeing renewed interest, too.

At Whiteland (IN) Community High School, several students follow #BookTok accounts that discuss classics and canonical titles, and some are working through lists of classics.

“My big surprise from #BookTok is an uptick in classics like Pride and Prejudice, older [YA] like Speak, and specific authors like [Colleen] Hoover, becoming wildly requested,” says media specialist Raenell Smith.

BookTokkers also highlight adult titles with teen appeal, prompting high schoolers to expand their reading. Some of these books are considered crossover titles, others are surprises.

Popular titles with teens at the Free Public Library in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ, include It Ends with Us,The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, and The House in the Cerulean Sea.

“I’ve helped a few of my teens find them in the adult fiction area, which was like a mystery to them,” says youth services librarian Maureen Herman.

While adult titles don’t tend to be in the collection at Lively’s school, she has purchased some of the most in-demand #BookTok titles.

Librarians note that there has been a steady stream of requests for inclusive #BookTok titles. Teens seeking recommendations on #BookTok come from a wide range of backgrounds.

TikTok works on an algorithm based on the content a user engages with on their “For You Page,” so it surfaces diverse voices and perspectives accordingly. This can be a strength in discovery for books, as well as a reminder for gatekeepers who use #BookTok to be mindful about engaging with as diverse content as possible.

Why does #BookTok influence?
What makes #BookTok recommendations land with young readers? It could be the language book lovers use to share their favorites. BookTokkers crave emotional impact, and they aren’t so interested in genre labels and category divisions. Instead, they’re looking at tropes, themes, and ways a book will make them feel. Like, will it make you “ugly cry”?

“I have so many students ask for books that will make them ugly cry, and it goes beyond just contemporaries,” says Leah Rae-Clark, teacher librarian in New York City Public Schools in the Bronx. “My readers aren’t just looking for any graphic novel or SFF [science fiction and fantasy]. They know on a much more meta level what works for them and, BookTok subcultures have given voice to that. Want to sob hysterically? I can give you Darius the Great Is Not Okay or Six of Crows.”

The fact that #BookTok trends tend to angle on themes or the feelings a book offers is another reason front-list novelty isn’t a primary driver.

“As a youth services librarian and a romance reader, it’s really fun to see titles and authors that may have gotten passed over in their initial release find a second, third, or fourth chance with a whole bunch of new readers,” Herman says. “It’s fun to see indie authors find a wider audience as well; that’s something #BookTok is good at.”

Popular #BookTok accounts to follow:
From left: @abbysbooks, @aymansbooks, @breana_reads,
@dayanarabooks, @emilymiahreads, @ezeekat

Beyond #BookTok, teen TikTok trends can tip librarians off to valuable library purchases. “My copies of Shine by Jessica Jung were gone the first day I shelved them,” says Rae-Clark, referring to the YA novel by a former K-pop girl star. “I had been asking kids what they follow on TikTok, and K-pop kept coming up. I ordered Shine on a whim based on what I kept hearing from students.”

Also, #BookTok’s power doesn’t depend on one’s following size. Any video can go viral, and while there are certainly #BookTok influencers with devoted communities, the real magic is in the use of the #BookTok hashtag. Anyone who uses it may have their video gain traction. Teens find other teens on #BookTok who are excited about books and reading. It’s contagious, encouraging more teens to find, read, and share books.

So how do librarians cope with viral demands for titles they don’t have? Buy more books or suggest read-alikes.

“It took us a while to figure out what was going on when students kept asking if we had copies of Song of Achilles and It Ends with Us. I finally asked them where they had heard of those titles, and one told me that they were featured on TikTok,” explains Lively. “Since then, we have asked students to tell us if the books they’re requesting are books they’ve seen and heard about on TikTok and we order copies to meet that need. We ordered 10 copies of It Ends with Us, and they’re circulating like crazy.”

Smith says that requests for 40 copies of Speak was untenable for her library media center. She realized she could harness that excitement and recommend similar books while they waited for their hold.

Popular #BookTok accounts to follow,
from left: @fowlervillelibrary, @kateslibrary, @kendra.reads,
@leilareadsalittle, @thedogearedbook, @what_is_this_b_reading

“When I finally caught on to why the specificity, I would ask them about #BookTok,” she says. “It has opened the door to really getting to know some students, and to help them curate book lists beyond the title they were looking at.”

Barnes & Noble has helped tip off librarians as well: In-store displays across the country feature a prominent “As Seen on #BookTok” collection. These books are curated on the local level, showcasing popular titles within a given area.

“Our booksellers get a lot of feedback from customers and can tell what is being asked for, and what is selling, so they use that info to build their own #BookTok displays,” says DeVito.

For librarians, it may prove challenging to assemble physical displays of #BookTok hits if all the titles are checked out. But creating reading guides online and across a library’s social media presence can showcase the library’s interest in serving #BookTok readers while prompting other patrons to discover #BookTok. Librarians can also tap into the language of #BookTok and suggest read-alikes that don’t have dozens of holds.

Rae Clark sees a golden opportunity to recommend not-yet-BookTok-popular books, including diverse works. “A read-alike list for Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (which is still HUGE on #BookTok) would include This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron, Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia, Lore by Alexandra Bracken, and Legendborn by Tracy Deonn. I can push students to more diverse titles that are still available,” she says.

Lively and others note that #BookTok has become a source of joy for her in the library, particularly during such a challenging time for students and educators.

“That they’re reading and what they’ve read has become a valuable social currency in a way that I have only ever seen in elementary school with series and super popular characters,” she says. “It has made working with teens this year really joyful.”

Kelly Jensen is an editor at Book Riot and the editor of three YA anthologies, including Body Talk, (Don’t) Call Me Crazy, and Feminism for the Real World.

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