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Does TikTok Still Sell Books?

Does TikTok Still Sell Books?

TikTok is the most talked of social media app amongst authors at the moment. But does TikTok still sell books? In this blog post, the Alliance of Independent Authors' team explores Booktok and what authors think about it.

Does TikTok Sell Books?

First up, TikTok isn't a platform or store that sells books. It's a social media platform. “BookTok” refers to a subcommunity on that platform where authors showcase their books and readers discuss, review, and recommend books to each other.

This community gained significant popularity and has been credited for increasing sales of certain titles and bringing attention to various genres and authors that languished on other platforms.

While TikTok has been shouted about in the community for a while, originally, it was a social media platform more famous for viral dances, comedic skits, and foodie trends. But with such a wide range of niches, the fact that publishing has nestled into the platform is not that surprising. What's perhaps more surprising is that the platform has evolved into an unexpected, and rapid, champion for indie authors and indie books.

How Does BookTok Work?

#BookTok is a sub-community within TikTok that is dedicated to all things bookish. Much like Instagram's #Bookstagram community, it's populated by book enthusiasts, publishers, authors, librarians, and booksellers who share their love for books through reviews, recommendations, aesthetic reading nooks, and more.

What's incredible about #BookTok is it's power to both resurface books that didn't see explosive success on initial publishing and catapult them into the bestseller charts and to break the mould propelling books that would never have made it out of obscurity it with traditional book marketing methods and make them lighting bolt successes.

However, a prominent author tells the ALLi team that BookTok is not all about luck. In fact, the blue waters of TikTok are now crowded with influencers charging even up to $1000 to post about books. Becoming viral on this app is thanks to strategic promotional placements, contrary to what most authors are made to believe. While some influencers declare their posts to be ads, many don't, and the app's policies don't specify that anyone marketing a product should, like on other social media platforms.

With more booklovers flocking to this social media and looking to it for book recommendations, BookTokers have the ability to spark trends that can push a particular book or author into the limelight overnight. “The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller and “They Both Die at the End” by Adam Silvera, for example, experienced a surge in sales years after their initial release because of BookTokers going feral with their recommendations.

Whether BookTok stays, one thing is clear, it has helped to date. In this BBC article,

“Publishers say the popularity of readers discussing their favourite books on TikTok helped lift sales to record levels in the UK in 2021.”

But Is it Still Working?

Change is the only constant in publishing, and especially in social media. Platforms can burst to life as quickly as they flame out. So while undoubtedly #BookTok has had a boom, many indies are asking is it too late to get on board: does TikTok still sell books?

By coincidence, as we drafted this post for you, a news story broke about Shawn WArner, a debut author whose video went viral on TikTok and hit No 1. The Guardian reports,

“A debut author struggling with sales became Amazon’s No 1 bestseller this week after a video of the writer at a quiet book signing went viral on TikTok. 58-year-old Shawn Warner was sitting at a table in a Kroger store in Fort Worth, Texas, behind piled copies of his YA murder mystery, Leigh Howard and the Ghosts of Simmons-Pierce Manor, when two strangers approached him and began asking about the novel.”

Watch the viral video here.

It was a feel-good, underdog rises story. The TikToker noted in the video that he started talking to the author because he seemed defeated. The point though, is that clearly TikTok is a superpower for generating sales.

If it can do that for an entirely unknown author and propel them to number 1 in the Amazon store, then we believe that yes, TikTok still works… if done right.

TikTok is not just a means to an end, an app to help your books climb up any bestseller lists, as many author stories suggest. Rather, it is like any other social media apps — a place to connect with your readers.

Should you be on TikTok?

TikTok is now a staple at indie author conferences, showing they understand our importance to their growth and development. Whether or not an indie author should open a TikTok account depends on several factors. Here are some pros and cons to consider:

Pros to TikTok for Indie Authors:

  1. Younger Audience: TikTok primarily attracts a younger demographic. If your book appeals to this age group, it might be an excellent platform for you.
  2. Viral Potential: TikTok's algorithm can push content to a broad audience relatively quickly, especially if the content is engaging and timely.
  3. Engage in a Personal Way: Video content allows authors to connect personally with their readers, offering insights into their writing process, sharing book teasers, or even just sharing their daily lives.
  4. BookTok Community: As outlined above, there's a vibrant community on TikTok that loves books, giving you a ready audience that's keen to discover new authors and titles.
  5. Cross-Promotion: You can use TikTok to promote other platforms, like your website, mailing list, or other social media channels.

Cons to TikTok for Indie Authors:

  1. Time-Consuming: Creating engaging video content can be time-consuming, and to maintain an active presence, you'd need to post regularly.
  2. Learning Curve: If you're new to video creation, there might be a learning curve in terms of editing, understanding the platform's trends, and figuring out what content works best.
  3. Demographic Mismatch: If your book is intended for an older audience, TikTok might not be the best platform for promotion.
  4. Algorithm Unpredictability: While your content can go viral, there's also a chance it might not gain much traction. The TikTok algorithm can be somewhat unpredictable in this respect.
  5. Potential for Negativity: As with any social platform, there's potential for negative feedback or comments.

If you're open to experimenting with new platforms, understand the TikTok demographic, and believe your book could appeal to that audience, it might be a worthwhile platform for you. Engaging authentically, understanding the trends, and being consistent can lead to success there (see “TikTok Success Tips for Indie Authors” below).

As anywhere, a successful social media account for an author requires a well-thought-out strategy — defining objectives, target audience analysis, competitor research, and performance metrics.

Starting a new social media account, especially for professional or brand purposes, is a significant undertaking and not to be taken lightly. Regular creation of relevant, high-quality content that resonates with your audience and interaction with followers demands time and consistency. Every social media platform has its unique features, algorithms, and user behaviors. Understanding these intricacies to effectively use the platform can be daunting, especially when new, and like all the other platforms, TikTok often rolls out updates, algorithm changes, or new features. Staying updated and adapting to these changes can be an ongoing task, especially when dealing with influencers and keeping track of trends.

Be particularly careful if you're already running well on another platform. Managing multiple platforms or if you're a small team or individual author can quickly lead to burnout.

If video creation feels daunting or if you believe your target audience isn't on TikTok, then it might be more strategic to focus on other promotional efforts.

BookTok and the Creator Economy

ALLi encourages all authors to keep creative control. But that's only so that you can sell on multiple platforms, in multiple formats and in multiple ways. TikTok seems only too eager to encourage this too.

With the recent launch of TikTok shop, you're able to integrate with your direct sales platform, and with up and coming companies like BookVault making the move to integrate with TikTok shop that's only going to facilitate our ability to make direct sales to readers much easier.

Ebooks vs Physical Books

Like Bookstagram, TikTok has a preference for physical books. Why? Because the platform is oriented to videos. While holding a kindle works, holding a beautiful hardback or paperback works much better. It's in colour for one, and secondly, the aesthetic is more catchy.

Traditionally, indie authors have seen the vast majority of their sales from ebooks and thus, many haven't ever focused on physical sales. But with the rise of TikTok, this is a new avenue to reach readers of physical books.

ALLi Blog Manager, Sacha Black saw an unprecedented 56% of sales on launch day coming from physical books for her new pen name, Ruby Roe.

“While I write nonfiction and that sees a higher percentage of physical sales than typical Indies, I've never seen sales of physical books like this and certainly not for my fiction. The best part is that it hasn't cannibalised ebook sales. This is just unfettered access to a new audience and it was all driven by BookTok.”

TikTok Success Tips for Indie Authors

  1. Be Yourself: Most authors enjoy random karoke parties in the shower or dance parties in the bedroom with the curtains closed. We’re introverts. Does being on TikTok mean you need to step out and expand all your energy? Nope. You don’t have to do something you’re not comfortable with or what’s not you. Be yourself. Everyone has a place on TikTok. And you might even find your tribe there quicker!
  2. Stitch It: Stitching is when you take a clip from someone else’s video and record your reaction to it. How about reacting to a fan who has read your book and posted about it? Or to a book hack that you found helpful?
  3. Start conversations: Picking up from the previous tip, you can communicate with anyone on TikTok in a fun way. Make sure that you’re in touch with your fans and followers like you would on any other social media platform. TikTok is about connection and authenticity, it is not just a marketplace to hawk your books.
  4. BookTokers love Books! And as a booklover yourself, your TikTok community would love to see your bookshelves, or inspirations for a bookshelves, your books, your reviews. Books! Make sure to mix-up your content so it’s comforting yet surprising to your audience. 
  5. Don’t forget the influencers and other authors: We authors are in co-opetition with each other ie. we are collaborators. And TikTok offers the perfect opportunity to collab with other creators, especially authors who are in the same niche and genre as you are. You both might be comp authors who share similar reader bases. And TikTok is a good way of building on that synergy to grow both your audiences. However, be careful. Like on any social media, there are scammers who may charge you for their services. Think of the costs and benefits, and get authentic testimonials if you can before you advertise with them.

TikTok for Poetry

TikTok rewards its users for authenticity, connection, and individuality. And the app’s use of imagery and sound fits in perfectly with poetry. #poetry on TikTok has over 63 billion views. Like any other TikTok user, poets need to connect with their audience, and a great way to do that is to share their poetry recommendations, and see how that lands with their followers. Reading out your poetry — perhaps tweaking it a little first for this performance — with an apt song in the background can be a starting point for you to have conversations with people within the TikTok space. Just follow the 80-20 rule where you don’t shout ‘BUY MY POEMS’ everytime you post. It’s all about creating individualistic connections which lead to fans and superfans.

Author AK Mulford

Author AK Mulford

AK Mulford on Community

We spoke to AK Mulford all about their success on TikTok and how you can grow your audience and sell more books on the platform.

AK Mulford is the bestselling hybrid author of fantasy novels. You can find out more about them on their TikTok or website.

Q. Does TikTok still work to sell books? 
I see new books taking off from TikTok all the time, sometimes even from a single video, but usually through multiple word of mouth videos from Booktokers themselves (this is why community engagement is so valuable). Sometimes books take off through an emotional connection to the author themselves and sometimes through the eye-catching content they make. Booktokers are super eager to support new authors and discover new books in a wide range of genres. Of all the social media communities, Booktokers still seem to be the most willing to try a new story, genre, or author.
Q. What’s your best tip for building audience?
Think about what you’re offering your audience. How do you want to make them feel with your content? Even if it’s just to have a laugh and enjoy a silly video, what value are you adding that would make it worth them stopping and watching? Understand what you want people to know they’ll get when they see your face/name pop up on their FYP. And most importantly: treat your followers like the real people they are, interact with them, respect the fact they’ve given their time to you. Don’t go in with only a “what can my followers do for me” attitude.
Q. What’s your best tip for selling books?

There’s lots of ways to sell your books on TikTok and the methods vary greatly depending on the personality of the author and the content they like to make. We hear a lot about the aesthetic videos and quotes, but telling an anecdotal story, using a trending sound that connects to your book, or even something as authentic as just introducing yourself and letting people know what you write can all sell books. Not every style of video is going to appeal to every audience. Do a mixture of the styles that you enjoy making! You can tell when people are making content they like or if they’re just on TikTok because they feel like they have to be.

Whatever type of content you make: lead with solid hooks. Hooks give people a reason to stick around. When you find hooks, tropes, or stories that are working, keep tweaking them and working with them to optimise engagement. From a practicality standpoint, make sure your links are accessible and as one-click as possible.

Q. What one thing do you wish you’d known before you started (or mistake should indies avoid)?
If you don’t have a plan for your mental health, you’re going to be forced to make one. Most of the social media advice out there is unsustainable and can have a really negative impact on your mental health. I see lots of tips on how to go viral and not a lot on sustainability. Take the time to understand the impacts of these algorithms, have a community of people you can talk to, and don’t hustle yourself into burnout. Everything is designed to feel like an emergency. It’s okay to go at your own pace and be the tortoise not the hare.
Adam Beswick headshot

Adam Beswick, author and TikToker

Adam Beswick on TikTok Shop

The AskALLi team spoke to Adam Beswick all about why he decided to run a TikTok shop.

Adam Beswick is the author of Arthurian retellings. Find out more about him on TikTok and his website.

Why did you decide to run a TikTok shop?

I wanted to focus on direct selling and loved the concept of TikTok shop and at the time no other authors were selling their own books directly on the platform.

How do you work with TikTok shop? Is it worthwhile?

I use the seller centre app which TikTok have developed. It is a great platform to manage orders as well things like promotions.

Best tip/s for getting your TikTok shop to actually sell books?

You have to post consistently with your products linked. Ive tested this and if you are not putting product links in your videos then people will not realise they can buy the book from you on the platform.

How do you interact with and future your TikTok audience?

I reply to as many comments as I physically can as well as doing TikTok lives. Lives are a great way to showcase yourself as well as your books and engage with your readers.

Any last tips for new TikTokers?

You need to be consistent and show up every day. Set up a 5 day goal to post 1-3 times a day, that’s how I started. Then set yourself another manageable goal, I have posted consistently now since January 2022. You can have overnight success but aim for consistent growth and make sure all your foundations are set up for your books so if people see them and they are interested they can get all the information they need to buy it.

Elizabeth Blackthorne on the Power of Organic Reach vs Paid Advertising

Elizabeth Blackthorne is a paranormal reverse harem author who loves adventurous men, action packed plots, intriguing mythology and of course, all the steam! Find out more about her on her website and TikTok.

I use TikTok for promo for my books for two reasons. One is that I have seen so many authors' success stories from using it as a marketing platform, that it finally got to the point I couldn't avoid using it any more! The main reason, though, is that you can get your books out to so many readers that want your style of book. You can literally point them to scenes in your book and say hey, you like reading this? I've got the book for you! The downside of this, I'll admit, is that my own TBR has exploded too, because I can keep finding so many books I want to read!

As for results, well, I can't claim to be the most consistent person in the world – far from it, and on TikTok consistency is key. Loving the app yourself is a big help in this because you actually want to be on it and post, because it's fun. When I am consistent, it definitely moves the needle, sales wise. People think you need a video go viral in order to make a difference to royalties – you don't. Yes I had a friend who's videos hit 6 figures in views and she ended up with a very nice five figure month because of it, but at the same time, these don't happen that often. What you can do, which is what I aim for, is to try and hit those 5 figure views regularly. I was paying £70 a day to get my ad in front of 10k people, but if I can get my TikTok videos hitting that for free, it saves me a fortune. Regular 10k videos, even a couple a week, has made a difference to me, spiking my sales often at a few hundred pounds for that month per video. This is my sweet spot, what I aim for (though I wouldn't say no to a nice viral one too!)

My biggest lesson I've learned from TikTok is get clear on what you're selling and sell it! Write dark romance? Great. So do hundreds of other authors on there. Have a brooding hero who feeds his mate chocolate ice cream when she's on her period? Score. Read Theodora Taylor's Seven Figure Fiction book and apply it to yours – pick out those scenes, those hooks that are going to make a reader say “Damn, I need to read that!” Even better, write your book with TikTok in mind. Still write your story, but as you're going through, think about where you can add those scenes, that “butter” that will capture someone. Sometimes it's shocking, sometimes its sweet, sometimes it's downright scorching. What have you got?
One tip I would give a new author coming to TikTok – shop around and know yourself. Some people do amazingly well on camera, chatting away to their readers and making a real personal connection, and it isn't always the pretty twenty something authors either. Other people (like me) fall really flat at stuff like that. There is not one way to make videos and to get your books talked about. Experiment, try different things, find out what comes easily for you and then lean into it.

ALLi Member Experiences

The Benefits of TikTok

Carrie Elks

“TikTok has been a bit of a game changer for me, but I've definitely seen the effectiveness wane a bit this year. I've done just about everything on there over the last couple of years from lip synchs to page flips to videos and trends and to be honest I'm still not sure what works! I just throw something up and hope for the best.
Last year most of my TikTok's hit tens of thousands of views. Now they can hit less than a thousand and sell no books. But if they go viral (and I've had some go viral for my latest release in the past two weeks) it can work as well as ever.
I don't think it's too late to join. Booktok thrives on new things, and a new author coming to the app could definitely see results.”
Gail Delaney 
“TikTok has been great in many levels for me, but as with any social media platform, you get out what you put in. I have a writer friend who went into TT saying “my readers aren’t here, and I hate videos of myself.” She quit the app shortly after because she saw no benefit.
For me, it’s more than just a place to market my books. I’m part of a community of readers and writers. That has done everything to get me back into writing after a long hiatus.
BookTok wants more from creators than just videos about your book or a book review. They want personal connections. So my account has different types of videos about my books, but also my dogs, my farmhouse I’m renovating, and as of late a fun series of “Author vs Character” skits. I’m a freelance editor as well, and I do tips and help baby authors (and even seasoned authors).
My books are selling better than ever and my freelance editing calendar is full for months.
And I receive help and encouragement and opportunities, too.
It changed a lot of things for me.”

The Perils of TikTok

Gina Pond

“I don't use it at all, since the last time I did, I got a panic attack. ETA: With my neurodivergence it's sort of a dopamine trap. It's entertaining until it's not and the algorithm start giving you some really hard stuff. So, for my mental health I avoid it.”

Kevin McLaughlin

“TBH, I’ve never thought it was optimal for my business. I looked into what folks were doing, and what I saw was people getting traction were consistently spending 10+ hours a week on Tiktok, between making vids and looking at what was trending and such. Often successful folks were spending 20+ hours a week, even. I applied WIBBOW. The math didn’t work. I earn too much per hour drafting new books for Tiktok or other social media sites to be cost effective.”

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