Elena Armas' rise to literary fame is a story that only could have been told in recent years.
The Spanish author's debut novel, "The Spanish Love Deception," was written during lockdown and self-published on Amazon in February 2021. That summer, TikTok got wind of it — and then came the rise up the Amazon charts, the agent, the Big Six publisher and the movie deal.
Armas' second book, "The American Roommate Experiment," came out on Sept. 6 with a different story.
"Self-publishing was basically just hitting a button — there weren't fireworks. But yesterday was just this whirlwind of craziness and excitement," Armas said, the day after her book launch, which was celebrated in New York.
"The Spanish Love Deception" traveled a relatively short road from an abandoned novel draft on Armas' computer to bestseller.
Armas pinpoints one video as the start of it all: A TikTok in which the subject pretended the plot of the book — which involves a woman taking her rival colleague as a date to a family wedding — was happening to her. (Armas said she did get in touch with the creator.)
It's fitting that the online community contributed to "The Spanish Love Deception's" rise: As a book blogger with a sizable following, Armas used to spend her days raving about books, too — she read about five or six novels a week.
The Spanish author first rose to online prominence in the Bookstagram community, a corner of Instagram where people take aesthetically pleasing photos of books and typically accompany them with thoughtful reviews.
Booktok is the TikTok equivalent, populated with fervent book recommendations in quick video spurts. The platform has developed a reputation for selling books, contributing to the sale of 20 million printed books in 2021, according to BookScan per the New York Times. BookTok "popular" authors include Colleen Hoover and Madeline Miller.
On Booktok, readers hone in on the emotional experience of reading a book — which is why, when talking about Armas' hero in "The Spanish Love Deception," Aaron Blackford, people often have tears in their eyes or a fervent expression.
"Most of my messages are just people screaming about him and how much they love him," Armas said.
She said people especially love the moment when Aaron brings Lina five tacos, even though she asked for four, because he knows how much she loves tacos. "You have no idea the wave of messages I received about that extra taco," she said. "People are dreaming of the man that would get them an extra taco."
But if she's being honest, Armas understands the hype.
"I really was obsessed with him. When I wrote 'The Spanish Love Deception' I did it for myself, so I decided to go full on romance hero. I made him as perfect as possible in my mind," she said.
Aaron was Catalina's work enemy-turned-wedding date, forced to share a single bed — and he was the catapult for Armas' life change. Following the success of the book, Armas has quit her job as an engineering consultant and is adjusting to being a full-time author, a change of plans she said she never pictured experiencing.
“A month ago, someone I was meeting for the first time asked me what I do for work. I said, ‘I’m a writer.’ I realized in that moment, I was like, Whoa, I am a writer,” she said.
But with the publication of her second book, the reality of her new job, and the identity that comes with it, is sinking in.
"Up until this month it has been like a whole dream. It's weird — some days I'm very happy. Other days it's full on imposter syndrome, because everything happened so fast," she said.
She said she's lucky she started on "The American Roommate Deception" before "The Spanish Love Deception" took off, and was able to write without the fear of readers. Less lucky for Book Number Three.
"I'm feeling a real pressure not to do things too similar to the first two books, and also not to do something completely opposite. Now, with this book that I'm writing and seeing this whole new life as a writer, now is when I'm struggling," she said.
For her third novel, she’s trying out a completely new setting: A sports-centered novel that takes place in a small town. “I am trying with every book to explore my craft,” she said.
She combats the feeling by going back to her roots as an engineer, and being methodical and organized in her approach, scheduling writing like a 9 to 5 job.
And in switching over to a creator, she can't be a content creator. Armas said her relationship to social media is changing. “Some days I miss that freedom of you know, simply being able to yell about things online," she said.
Now, she's on the receiving end of reactions, and said she feels the "weight" both of being a public figure and a creator. “I exposed myself a lot to everyone’s thoughts, comments and opinions sometimes too much," she said.
As a result, she stays off certain corners of the internet — but she can't leave all her old habits behind. Armas has been known to comment on fan-made videos and engage with enthusiastic readers.
"I have been told by readers that they are shocked that I'm answering their comments or their DMs, but I really love to interact with readers, in the same way I loved to do that when I was a reader," she said.