When adventure and morality collide, you get "The Lord of the Rings." When love and the Roaring Twenties meet, you get "The Great Gatsby."
And when the world of books and TikTok come together, you get BookTok.
BookTok is the niche side of the social media platform where readers recommend, review and theorize about their favorite books, authors and genres. As for how you get to BookTok? You can follow the actual BookTok hashtag, or interact with enough book-adjacent accounts for the algorithm to take note of your literary interests.
This internet gathering has become a leading force in the book world, converting non-readers into people who can't stop, giving literary aficionados their next adrenaline rush ... and selling copies in the process.
“I would say my last 15 books I found through TikTok,” Jessi Pridmore, 23, from Monmouth, N.J., tells TODAY.com. “I’ll find authors and I’ll go down the author rabbit hole and then I’m like, ‘All right, now everyone else needs to read this book too.’”
Part of what makes BookTok special is that readers' taste and enthusiasm determine what goes viral on the algorithm, not necessarily marketing money from publishers or authors. This can create a kind of intimacy among users, like they're getting recommendations from friends.
For Annika Norton, 31, of Germany, BookTok filled a gap in her social circle.
“I just never had close friends who read the same kind of books as me," she tells TODAY.com.
After following other book accounts for "the longest time," she started creating her own videos on her account. Her goal is to share her own experiences with a book, emotions and all. “I just really wanted to share my own feelings," Norton says.
This form of influence has proven to have tangible effects. The BookTok hashtag, aside from having more than 108 billion views on TikTok, has helped boost book sales across the charts. Data by NPD BookScan revealed 825 million books were sold in the U.S. in 2021, up 9 percent from the previous year. The company said it was the highest number it had seen since 2004.
“I feel confident in saying this is some of the biggest social media impact we’ve seen concentrated in a single platform since I’ve been tracking books,” Kristen McLean, executive director at NPD BookScan, wrote in a post on LinkedIn.
According to BookScan data, per the New York Times, BookTok helped authors sell 20 million printed books in 2021 and again in 2022, with sales rising another 50 percent.
While usually virtual, on Feb. 4, a few of BookTok’s devoted users put their phones down and got together at Barnes and Noble's sold-out BookTok Festival in New York, featuring panels of authors popular on the platform.
Kasey Shneiderovsky, 25, Old Bridge, N.J., was able to hear from authors the algorithm hadn't served up yet.
“I think (BookTok) brings books that I probably wouldn’t have read to my attention and then I read them and I love them,” Shneiderovsky says. “Then you find new authors that you didn’t think you would ever pick up and now they’re one of your favorites.”
But it's not just for readers. BookTok has become a way for authors to connect with the people reading their books, too.
During a panel hosted by Ryan La Sala, authors Tessa Bailey, Anna Huang, Kennedy Ryan and Melissa Blair discussed their relationships with BookTok.
Bailey, the author of “It Happened One Summer," originally joined TikTok during the early beginnings of the COVID-19 pandemic to distract herself from her husband's prolonged illness.
Bailey was surprised to one day discover her novel was selling better than usual.
“I had been doing this for ten years and I was like, ‘Why is this one selling so well?,” Bailey said during the panel. “And people were like, ‘People are talking about it on BookTok.’ So I got in there and over the last year or so I’ve connected with readers.”
With BookTok, you kind of feel like you have friends at your fingertips.
Author Tessa Bailey
Bailey’s novel is set to hit the big screen sometime in the future, as in 2022 BCDF Pictures and Frolic Media announced they are set to produce a feature adaptation of the rom-com.
“It’s a cure for the loneliness,” Bailey said of the platform. “When writing, you’re alone in your office all day. But with BookTok, you kind of feel like you have friends at your fingertips.”
As for the future of the hashtag? Norton hopes it's not going anywhere, as it's changed the way she reads and finds her next book.
“BookTok is from readers, for readers,” Norton said. “I trust the people that I follow to give me their honest opinions.”