Disclaimer: This isn’t a definitive guide to BookTok. It may not even be fully accurate, compared to how people who use BookTok extensively view the platform. It’s simply some impressions I got after trying to navigate the platform for a while.
After the New York Times published an article title “How Crying on TikTok Sells Books” on March 20, 2021, arguing that BookTokers are selling hundreds of thousands of books for publishers by making videos as brief as 7 seconds and getting millions of views and money from publishers in return, the online bookish community went into an uproar. Bookish influencers on other platforms wondered why they couldn’t get the same amount of attention (and cash!), and publishers and authors quickly joined BookTok themselves to see if they could make their own books go viral and boost their sales.
I joined BookTok, as well, just to see what everyone was talking about. I’ve historically been a hold-out on joining different social media channels for this blog. I took a year after starting the blog to join Twitter. I took much longer to join Bookstagram because I didn’t initially “get” the point of posting a photo of your book on a park bench or whatever. I’m still “late” to TikTok, especially because clearly the platform has wildly taken off and apparently I missed it, but I figured checking it out now was better than waiting two years, again.
Unfortunately, I don’t think the platform is for me. There’s the small issue I don’t like to show my face online, and a lot of popular BookTok videos feature the creator themselves in them. But I also find TikTok itself a bit difficult to navigate and to show me content I like and am interested in. Perhaps I’ll give the platform another go in the future, but I’m think I’m done with it for now. Nonetheless, here are a few observations I made while briefly using BookTok:
1. Not Everyone Has a Million Followers
This is probably self-evident if you think about it, but it’s worth saying since the New York Times seems to have given many people the impression that all Booktokers are mega-TikTok famous and raking in sponsorships from publishers because of their legions of followers. My impression is that it’s like any other platform: there are some big creators, and then there are a whole lot more who have a much more modest following.
2. Follower Number Doesn’t Seem Correlated to Video Views
A lot of BookTokers seem to be hovering around 300 views per video, and this is regardless of whether they have 5,000 followers or 500. I’m sure there’s some variation in this, and if you have a gazillion followers, of course your videos will have more views, but I didn’t see a strong correlation between followers and views, the way I’d expect to see on someone’s blog or on Instagram.
Three hundred views is still a lot, of course, and I think many people would be thrilled if their blog post gathered 300 views over the course of the week it was published, but keep in mind that “views” doesn’t mean people finished watching the video. (And frankly I find it a bit sad you can post a 7 second video and people will stop watching it after 1 second. How brief does content need to be???)
3. My Own Video Views Varied Widely
When I posted my first few videos, they were getting anywhere from 500-800 views, which I thought was incredible considering I literally had 0 followers at the time! (You can see right now I only have 26, after having posted 10 videos and pointedly having gone around to comment on other videos and follow other people to see if I could get some followers.) The latest videos have 6-12 views. 6-12!!!
I don’t know if the algorithm promotes the videos of new accounts to get them invested in the platform and then stops after a while, but that’s one guess I have to explain this. The content I was posting wasn’t particularly different. At any rate, the 6 views were definitely a factor in why I’ve paused using BookTok, at least for the time being, because it’s not worth it to me to spend time making a little video that only 6 people are going to watch.
In contrast, I posted some of the videos, like the YA Books Based on Lesser-known Fairy Tales to Instagram as reels, and they got around 1,700 views, which is much more encouraging.
4. Creators Don’t Seem to Reply to Comments
This was also a big factor in why I left the platform. I went around commenting on other BookTok videos, particularly on accounts that didn’t have 5 million followers, and nearly everyone just “liked” my comment instead of actually responding to it. Perhaps some people are more responsive than others, but my personal experience was that commenting seemed like a waste of my time, and it’s definitely a different vibe than I’m used to from blogging.
5. Personally I Wasn’t Interested in Much of the Content
This is a “me” problem, but I simply don’t “get” a lot of the content that’s posted to BookTok. The New York Times article talks a lot about really short videos where creators basically hold up a book, cry, and say the book was devastating, and while I personally didn’t see any of those types of videos, they’re a good example of content I wouldn’t find useful or interesting. If someone posted a blog “review” that amounted to, “The ending of this book is sad,” that wouldn’t tell me much about the book or whether I would like it, and that doesn’t change for me just because the sentiment is expressed in a short video.
Similarly, I saw a lot of videos where people filmed something that amounted to a meme, or they dressed up and dramatically said a quote from a book, or they offered recommendations like “two books about dragons.” I don’t care for spending my time watching meme-type videos, the cosplay is cool but I don’t really get it if I haven’t read the book, and if I wanted a list of books about dragons I could certainly find a written list that has more than two!
I don’t mean to insult the platform or the videos that people are making, but I prefer to spend my time engaging with content that’s more in-depth or tells me something useful or that I didn’t know, and the videos that TikTok was putting into my feed weren’t giving me that, for the most part.
Will I ever go back to BookTok? I’m not ruling it out entirely. Maybe if I have some inspiration for videos I want to make, but right now I’m short on time, so I’m going to spend it focusing on the blog and maybe Instagram.