From Self-Pub to Bestsellers: How Tiktok has Changed the Publishing World
By Emma Regan, Jordan Maxwell Ridgway, Hayley Gray and Ella O’Neill
Throughout this issue, we will be looking at the ways in which the social media platform TikTok – specifically, the subcommunity BookTok – has changed the world of publishing in recent years. The tag #BookTok has curated over seventy-seven billion views, globally, on the app and has created a community of bibliophiles with a real impact on the publishing industry. For example, TikTok has provided self-published authors with unique opportunities, organic reach and creative marketing strategies for their books through short videos with a clear hook and audience to capture users’ attention.
The #BookTok community has been responsible for launching self-published authors and their books into a whirlpool of viral fame through fan reaction videos, recommendation videos and authentic reviews. A lot of these self-published books that have gone viral on TikTok have been acquired by international and Big Five publishers. For instance, Orion Fiction recently signed ten books by Jessa Hastings’ romance series, Magnolia Parks; and Union Square & Co. acquired Melissa Blair’s fantasy series, The Halfling Saga, after both self-published series went viral on TikTok this year. Thus, the #BookTok community values creative word-of-mouth as a powerful means of promoting the books they love to other users around the world.
As mentioned above, Orion Fiction signed a ten-book deal with Jessa Hastings’ Magnolia Parks series. The self-published, romance series follows “the scandalous twenty-somethings of high society London,” with the first novel focusing on Magnolia parks and her childhood sweetheart BJ Ballentine. The series has already gone viral on TikTok this year and is described to contain the heartache of Twilight, the angst of Colleen Hoover, and the high-fashion glamour of Gossip Girl.
Orion’s editor, Celia Killan, acquired the world rights (this excludes North America, where it was acquired by Bloom Books) in a six-figure deal against other publishers. The book series had already been the topic of pre-empts and multi-book offers in several territories, so this news most likely didn’t come as a shock to the fans. Furthermore, film and TV rights have been retained by Hastings, who is in talks with several production companies.
With the ten-book deal, Orion Fiction will publish the first four books in the series in paperback and eBook editions by the end of 2022, with another two books set to publish in 2023. Orion will also focus on a major marketing and publicity campaign in 2023 and will follow on into the future of the series.
Olivie Blake, a pseudonym for writer Alexene Farol Follmuth, is another stellar example of a writer who has shot to success because of BookTok. The Californian writer self-published her book two years ago, The Atlas Six, a fantasy novel that has become a trilogy. But during that time, her novel racked up millions of views on TikTok, which sparked a bidding war.
This culminated into Blake earning a six figure deal with Pan Macmillan.
The novel follows six magicians as they navigate their way through a secret society in London which harbours lost knowledge from ancient civilisations. It captures the atmospheric moodiness of dark academia, an aesthetic trend also popularised on TikTok, meaning there was already ground for an avid fan base. It could be argued that BookTok serves as a zeitgeist divining rod, a way of tapping into that elusive magic that captures an enthusiastic audience.
This is perhaps bolstered by the fact that Blake’s writing has grown in success, as the second book in the trilogy is being published this October, there is also talks of a TV show on the horizon.
Another person at the forefront of BookTok commanding some of the biggest commissions worldwide is Alex Aster. She went from writing for middle graders to pitching her latest idea through TikTok. On 13 March 2021, she put out a teaser trailer for her new young adult novel, Lightlark, that outlined her concept: a competition between rulers of six kingdoms who all suffer from a fatal curse. One woman, Isla Crown, guides the reader through on their journey, aiming to survive this deadly game. It turns out the publishing world was listening to her and her followers as she landed a six figure book deal with Amulet Books.
BookTok, it seems, is wielding its power (for good) and is controlling the trends by promoting what most captures people’s hearts and interests. However, it is incredibly difficult to predict, with books ranging from Ulysses to Colleen Hoover’s 2010 book It Ends With Us climbing back up the charts this summer. Although one could argue that this is part of its charm and power; BookTok is perhaps finally levelling that once iron wall between genre fiction and canonically approved literature.
The erratic nature of the platform does make it a more challenging resource, but the publishing world is definitely taking notice of the influence in viewers’ hands.