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September 13, 2021
By Raquel Shante Delemos
Indie authors are increasingly flocking to TikTok to connect with readers.

Gone are the days where TikTok was considered an app for kids. Since launching internationally in 2017, the video-sharing app has become one of the fastest-growing social media platforms worldwide, with, according to some estimates, one billion monthly users.

Although the app is still most popular with teenagers and younger audiences, the level of exposure that TikTok brings is incomparable. With trending music, flashy filters, and unique editing capabilities, TikTok makes it relatively easy to achieve viral status. It’s very possible for indie authors to reach millions of viewers and potential readers on TikTok. They just need to know where to find them—and a sound strategy.

Finding Your Audience

Marketing has always been one of the greatest challenges for self-published authors. There are a number of reasons for this, but usually it’s the lack of large advertising budgets and experienced PR teams fueling book launches—an advantage that traditionally published authors hold over their indie counterparts. Many new authors are faced with the same question: how do I get my book in front of as many people as possible?

"Not identifying their target readership is one of the biggest marketing mistakes that indie authors make. "
Not identifying their target readership is one of the biggest marketing mistakes that indie authors make. Not all readers are the same, nor are social media platforms. To successfully market on social media you need to pinpoint the ideal reader of your books and which social media platforms they are most likely to use. Age, sex, income, and even moral values should all be taken into consideration when identifying who’s most likely to read your book.

What separates TikTok from other social media platforms is the large user base and the popularity of niche-specific content, which is the driving force behind the app’s algorithm. With TikTok, there’s no need to research whether your target audience is there. With millions of people using the platform daily, they more than likely are. Now, you just need to find them, which requires examining hashtags and trends within TikTok’s book community: BookTok.

Social media and the online book community

Users interested in book-related content flocked to social media platforms such as YouTube and Instagram, which place an emphasis on visual media. Large subcommunities have been established on these platforms by book lovers who are in search of easily digestible book-related content.

Recent social media trends suggest that users have shorter attention spans, prefer mobile browsing, and engage more with visual media, especially short-form videos such as Instagram reels, stories, and IGTV. Combined with the fact that most of us judge books by their covers, this has spurred a massive uptick in the amount of book-related content featured on these platforms.

However, not all social media platforms operate in the same manner. YouTube book content usually consists of longer videos that provide reviews, in-depth discussions, and recommendations. Instagram’s book-related content tends to feature photos of enticing book stacks, bookshelves, and aesthetically pleasing home libraries and reading nooks.

Although the length and form of content may vary, both BookTube and Bookstagram give users the opportunity to find the latest releases, trending books, and genre-specific recommendations with ease. Book content creators essentially provide free press and word-of-mouth advertising for authors simply by uploading photos and videos on these platforms. TikTok’s online book community does the same, with the added bonus of possessing the power to make your book go viral.

TikTok’s online book community

Known for its upbeat music, lip-syncing duets, and viral dance challenges, TikTok has appealed to those in search of a friendly, fun-loving social media experience. BookTok’s network of writers, book lovers, avid readers, and content creators share videos in fun, new, and exciting ways.

The nature of TikTok has transformed the ways in which book-related content is shared. BookTube and Bookstagram, as well as book blogs and other bookish content, are here to stay. However, these other platforms do not possess the same viral quality as BookTok.

According to a March New York Times article, E. Lockhart’s 2014 bestseller, We Were Liars, was back on the paper’s bestseller list in 2020 after being shared in an emotional BookTok video that went viral. This isn’t the only example of TikTok spurring book sales, and several major publishers have shifted their marketing strategies in response. Indie authors should do the same.

Finding your lane on BookTok

The first place to begin before marketing your book is to get a general feel for the BookTok community. What are other authors posting on the app? What hashtags are they using? Search for authors who write in your genre and who are actively involved with the online reading community. Follow content creators and readers who post bookish content regularly. This will give you an idea of what type of content you may want to share in relation to your book, and an inside look into how the app works.

The key to going viral on TikTok is to follow what is trending. Simply browsing the app’s discover feed will tell you exactly which sounds, music, and hashtags are popular. However, using trendy music and hashtags alone won’t get you to viral status.

Certain sounds and hashtags may get you a few hundred or thousand views, but not necessarily from potential readers. Big Black Chapters cofounder and social media manager Tiffany Richardson has had some success marketing on TikTok, but not by plugging her books. She incorporates trending sounds and singing duet challenges that attract her target audience in a nonpromotional way. “Through my work across all social media platforms, I’ve come to realize that readers typically ignore or do not find any weight in authors self-promoting their own work,” she says. “I’ve found that word of mouth from readers, engaging and witty marketing content, and interactive posts about book-related content will draw a reader to your work much more effectively than sharing your book link or simply telling readers: ‘Hey! I have a book that may interest you!’”

Instead of using the popular #ForYouPage and #FYP hashtags, try ones that are industry and genre specific such as #WritingABook, #TikTokBookClub, and, of course, #BookTok. With these hashtags you’ll have a better chance of reaching someone who will actually buy your book.

Sharing books and marketing brands across social media platforms is nothing new for indie authors, but, through the use of TikTok, indie authors are able to entice new readers by the thousands and get their work to the masses through fun videos, almost like broadcast commercials. TikTok also puts readers face-to-face with indie authors, showcasing their personalities and their own reading preferences. Having to capture readers’ attention with videos that last 15 seconds to a minute essentially forces indie authors to be creative, entertaining, and engaging. Also, these advertising snippets prove useful on other, more image-based social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. TikTok has put marketing and branding in the hands of indie authors in a way that is a real game changer. Every day is a new day to go viral. 

Raquel Shante Delemos is the cofounder of Big Black Chapters, a platform devoted to supporting indie authors of color.