Things I Learned after a Brief Foray into BookTok

BookTok Discussion

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:

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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.


Twitter Is a Terrible Place to Post Spoilers

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Nearly everyone seems to hate spoilers…but not quite enough for some people to stop posting them, often unlabeled, online.  Avoiding spoilers has become something of a herculean task, as fans of books, TV shows, video games, and more have to avoid everything from blog posts to videos to fan art to every social media platform.  Of all these things, however, I maintain that Twitter is one of the most annoying places for people to post spoilers.

Unless the creator literally titles their blog post or Youtube video something like, “Character X Dies in [Book Title],” fans who want to avoid spoilers can easily avoid reading any blog post or article or watching any video that so much as mentions the book, regardless of whether it is labeled “Warning: Spoilers” or “Spoiler-Free” or not labelled at all.  It’s harder but still doable to avoid spoilers on platforms like Instagram; don’t read the caption of any post that has a photo of the book, and don’t click on the “read more” option to read the whole caption.

Twitter is a whole different story.  While well-meaning fans will label spoilery tweets with a hashtag, and other people can then choose to “mute” that hashtag, this system is not full proof.  People might use different hashtags.  Readers might see spoilers before they can mute them.  Fans serious about avoiding spoilers on Twitter are left to frantically mute hashtags, book titles, abbreviation of book titles, author names, major character names, and any other identifying detail from the book that might pop up in their feed—and they often have to do this before the book is even released.  Recently, readers who received their preorders of Holly Black’s The Queen of Nothing were posting spoilers before other people could even purchase the book, much less find the time to read it.  Anyone who failed to mute all possible keywords early was out of luck.

The scrolling nature of Twitter also makes it much easier to see spoilers accidentally than on other platforms.  Something might actually be labeled “spoiler,” but a reader will have scrolled past that and read the entire tweet before noticing.  This is true even when people attempt to “hide” the spoiler by writing “spoiler” at the top and following it with a bunch of periods.  For example:

Character X dies.

Someone mindlessly scrolling down their phone can inadvertently get to the “character x dies” part without having read or registered the spoiler warning at top.  (And, yes, I have seen tweets with supposed spoiler warnings that literally just said “spoilers ahead” without specifying what exactly it was a spoiler for.)

Is there anything to be done?  Personally, I’d love it people would just…not post spoilers the day something is released or several days before it’s released, but I know that’s not going to happen.  People read (or watch or play) things and want to talk about them, and they’re not necessarily thinking about whether they’re spoiling it for others.  I would love it if people would keep these conversations to DMs or blog posts or other places where they can be much more easily avoided rather than on Twitter, but I realize the only truly practical thing to do is to attempt to mute any possible word related to the content you don’t want spoiled.


Social Media and Blogging: The Pressure to Keep Up Is Damaging

Discussion Post

Social Media and Phone

Credit: William Iven on Unsplash

Can I make a confession?  I don’t particularly like social media.  Social media is supposed to be connecting us, allowing us to communicate with people that we would otherwise have lost touch with or people we would have never met at all.  But, in many ways, social media seems to have become nothing more than a game of comparing ourselves with others, attempting to keep up, and feeling valuable or not based on how many likes, views, and reTweets we can get.  Instead of sharing ourselves with others, it is very tempting to try to curate an image of ourselves for others to consume–an image we hope will be impressive and make us look cool or trendy.

We feel the need to post constantly, to make sure that people know that we have been going cool places, that we do have friends.  We want people to know that we have been reading and we’re reading the “right” books, whether that means the latest releases or something “deep.”  We check our stats constantly, worrying when we see a dip.  We may be tempted to copy others and to do what they do, even if it means doing something we don’t see as “us.”  Maybe, we think, if I wear clothes like that girl, I’ll get more likes.  Maybe I’m not attractive enough.  Or maybe, we think, I need to stop reading and reviewing MG books because all the views go to YA.  Suddenly, we’re losing part of ourselves in an attempt to feel like the Internet loves us.

If we were in the 90s, we would probably have a campy high school film to teach us that the “mean girls” aren’t worth impressing.  We would learn that our true friends are those who appreciate us for being us.  However, the Internet has complicated things.  We don’t see the faceless Internet as a pack of “mean girls” who really aren’t all that (because, you know, they’re mean).  Our popularity is no longer measured by whom we talk to, but by numbers.  And so maybe we don’t feel a need to fight for ourselves.  After all, how do you fight numbers?  How do you show up to the Internet in a unique but totally you dress and stun everyone with your boldness and your weird but somehow still cool because joyful dance moves?

For some of us, the fight to reclaim who we are and our joy in the things that used to matter–the books we used to read, the way we used to read–might mean withdrawing from social media altogether.  It might not be worth it to update Goodreads every day in an attempt to make sure we are “on time,” that we’ve read all the latest releases, have reviewed the too-many ARCS we requested.  It might not be worth having a Twitter account if we’re just sad to see every day that we asked questions or created polls that no one answered.  It might not be worth it to scroll through Facebook aimlessly every day, only to feel when we were done that we wasted our time and that we’re never going to be as pretty as Jenny or as cool and adventurous as Maria.

However, some of us might just need to reframe the way we look at things.  Why are we on social media?  Why are we blogging?  Numbers are nice–I won’t pretend they aren’t.  We want someone to read what we wrote.  We’d be keeping a private reading journal if we did not.  However, why do we want people to read what we wrote?  We probably didn’t start out thinking our worth was in the number of views we got.  We probably started out because we wanted to share our love and enthusiasm of books.  We wanted to talk to people.  We wanted to carve out time and space to set down our thoughts on books, rather than rushing through them too fast.

Maybe it’s time to reclaim that attitude.  What would it feel like, for just one day, to not look at the numbers?  To simply talk to and interact with others?  To be with them, instead of asking them to validate us through their likes and comments?  What might we discover if we took a break from trying to be what we think other people want us to be?

Do you feel like social media is sometimes counter-productive for your goals? Next week I’ll be sharing some specific tips to help you reclaim you social media.