TikTok Book Covers: How #BookTok Users are Crushing Author Promotion and Impacting Book Cover Design

POSTED ON Apr 2, 2024

Shannon Clark

Written by Shannon Clark

Home > Blog > Book Marketing, Social Media > TikTok Book Covers: How #BookTok Users are Crushing Author Promotion and Impacting Book Cover Design

Let’s talk about TikTok book covers.

From publishers and book designers to marketers, knowing what makes a book cover sell is part of the job. This means understanding buyer behavior, genre expectations, color theory, and the fundamentals of design as well as current trends.

Similar to the rules of professional writing, the rules of design are widespread and well-known. Once you learn them, you can freely create within those boundaries. The formula is not perfect, but if you have all the right pieces in place, you can usually make an educated guess on the best way to go. 

But, thanks to TikTok (a.k.a #BookTok) and other platforms, social media book influencers are now heavily impacting how book marketing is done, including book design.

Where book cover trends once bubbled to the surface without an indication of their source, we now have a face and a social media account to attribute an author’s meteoric rise on any number of bestseller lists.

If we want to be successful in commercial sales of our books, keeping our eyes on what TikTok book influencers are saying might be key.

What is #BookTok?

The TikTok platform houses short, entertaining videos (3 seconds–10 minutes) from its users. #BookTok is a hashtag used on the platform to share book recommendations. In a few short years, it has swept through the publishing industry and turned it on its head. 

TikTok book influencers along with their massive following have been responsible for pushing book sales over the top for authors like Colleen Hoover, Fiona Lucas, Sarah Maas, JoJo Moyes and more.

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The TikTok Book Phenomena: More Than a Passing Fad

When you search online for who started #BookTok, you’ll find TikTok user Cait Jacobs as the founder, but even Cait points to TikTok user @kathyellendavis as the first one she saw use the hashtag (in 2019).

Whoever started it doesn’t matter as much as the unprecedented momentum the hashtag gained in such a short time. By April 2023, TikTok reported that #BookTok had 126 billion views, and 19 million posts to date. These are big numbers, large enough for the publishing industry to take notice. 

Even brick-and-mortar stores and online retailers are dedicating areas to highlight #BookTok recommendations. 

TikTok Book - BookTok display at Dymocks Bookstore in Sydney, Australia
Dymocks book store, Sydney, Australia

One of the rules of marketing (anything), is to go where your audience hangs out, and TikTok’s #BookTok community offers a ready-made audience eager to share their love of books. From authors and publishers to marketers and retailers, everyone wants a piece of the #BookTok pie. 

The 2023 Forbes article, Can BookTok Save Bookstores? Read Between The Lines, shared the following insight:

TikTok and #BookTok are proving that social partnerships can profit both buyers and sellers, because the partnerships ensure accountability. They help establish a set of checks and balances and best-practice guidelines.

These guidelines will help determine what’s next, because #BookTok is likely an early chapter in this trend. More groups will emerge. More shoppers will become active in hopes of becoming influencers. It can happen anywhere.

Unexpected Partners: TikTok Book Influencers

Since 2020, there’s been an unexpected explosion of books (traditional and self-published)  making it to bestseller status due to #BookTok’s influence. 

Most authors will tell you that marketing is the hardest part of publishing, so to have your book swept away on the wings of a viral video is the stuff of dreams. 

In several interviews, Colleen Hoover the author of over 27 books— who’s held multiple best-selling spots in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today— has credited #BookTok for much of her success. 

Other authors, like Lloyd Richard’s who released his first book Stone Maidens in 2012 to mediocre success, found his book suddenly catapulted to Amazon bestseller status after his daughter shared her his book story on TikTok. 

#BookTok influencers are like other social media influencers who create content, but unlike other influencers who shine the spotlight on themselves, booktook influencers redirect the spotlight to authors. This has changed the game of influencer marketing and given authors a new avenue for marketing. 

As of this writing, some of the top #BookTok influencers include:

This is a small slice of the #BookTok influencer pie. Many more creators with followers in the tens and hundreds of thousands could be talking about your book right now.

Unexpected Marketers: TikTok Book Followers

#BookTok followers (and influencers) are often giddy, over-the-top, loyal, emotional, opinionated, and every other adjective you would use to describe a raving fan. For authors who become the object of their affection, tons of book sales are not far behind. 

An article in The Artifice offers unique insight into the impact of the TikTok community when it comes to book promotion.

Rather than fighting for advertising, TikTok users are both the architect and engineer when it comes to the publicity of a book, drawing the blueprint of successful marketing and then constructing upon it with a finesse and authenticity that exceeds the attempts of traditional marketing. When a book falls into the hands of a member of BookTok, they make videos hailing it, overlay trending audio or trending soundbites are used in hypothetical scenarios to make it as though the characters themselves were speaking.

The #BookTok community’s impact on the publishing industry is undeniable. Just as the maturation of self-publishing knocked down many of the closed doors of traditional publishing and created a more level playing field for authors, TikTok book promotion through BookTok has created a sizeable crack in traditional book marketing. 

As with most successful trends, other players will eventually want to play the game.  

To #BookTok or Not to #BookTok

#BookTok seems to be more effective when others are sharing their book reactions as opposed to authors patting themselves on the back. Joining the community just to talk about your new book might not be the best move. However, using your platform to share your favorite books could be a good way to get others to take notice indirectly.

When it comes to your book cover design, using #BookTok to research your audience’s preferences is smart marketing. You may discover that whatever is trending is not a good fit for your book, but you won’t know until you take a closer look.

In the article, Coolest Book Covers: 10 Inspiring Cover Designs That Defied Trends, we talked about common book trends and how to know if you should embrace one for your design or do your own thing. Ultimately, every design decision points back to knowing your audience, their expectations, and the best way to express your book’s theme within those parameters. 

The genres that currently do well on #BookTok are fantasy, romance, and young adult fiction. If your book fits into any of these categories, then taking a look at what’s trending on #BookTok couldn’t hurt. You might get some ideas you hadn’t considered or decide that you want to give your readers something they don’t expect. The latter is a gamble, but if you’re confident it’s a good move, go for it!

Final Thoughts

#BookTok is not for everyone, but its impact on the publishing industry is hard to ignore. When you think like a publisher, every avenue (except for illegal things, of course.) should be considered when setting your book up for success. At the least, look at some of the #BookTok videos and jot down ideas that might work. There’s no exact path to success, and the ones you least expect can offer the biggest rewards.

Whether you jump on the #BookTok bandwagon or not, it’s likely not going anywhere soon. Even if it does disappear, there will be more companies like TikTok to shake things up in publishing and force everyone to take notice.

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Shannon Clark

Written by
Shannon Clark

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