Viral books: the power of online reading communities
Have you ever wandered into a bookshop and stumbled upon a “booktok” section? Reading, thanks to social media, is now trendier than ever. Certain novels and authors, however, seem particularly popular. Our social media executive Emily Im takes a deep dive into current literary trends and what is fuelling them.
Do I really want to read this book? Or am I tempted because it’s all over my Instagram feed and presented to me in an aesthetically pleasing way? I’ve asked myself this question a few times since joining the bookstagram community.
Whether it’s bookstagram, booktube, or booktok, the bookish corner of the internet is arguably one of the loveliest and most comforting places for avid readers. Since the creation of social media and, more recently, during the Coronavirus pandemic, enthusiastic book bloggers have contributed to the acceleration of certain books’ sales.
Videos under #booktok have been viewed a whopping 19.6 billion times
Colleen Hoover’s romance novel It Ends With Us, for instance, was originally published in 2016 and sold 21,000 copies in its first month. Interest dwindled until November 2020, when the book started to gain popularity on TikTok. Fast forward to June 2021, and the novel’s sales have skyrocketed to 17,000 copies per week. A quick check on TikTok shows that videos with the ‘ItEndsWithUs’ hashtag currently have a total of 90.6 million views.
These numbers are jaw-dropping but not surprising when you consider that TikTok has 732 million monthly users and videos under #booktok have been viewed a whopping 19.6 billion times. According to Chris Stokel-Walker, author of TikTok Boom, half of Gen Z users have influenced their parents to purchase something they’ve seen on the app and a third of European users have bought a product from a retailer after noticing it on the platform.
Although everyone is welcome, book-related content on TikTok is mostly produced by teenage girls and young women. Their videos vary from themed montages inspired by their favourite characters, to poking fun at their own reading habits, and crying in response to a novel’s soul-crushing ending.
The books they’re often raving about and shedding a tear over are young adult and fantasy romance stories — that is, swoon-worthy reads and tales of love and loss causing enough emotional turmoil (pick your fighter) to prompt a reaction video. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Madeline Miller’s Greek mythology retelling The Song of Achilles, and Adam Silvera’s queer contemporary They Both Die At The End, all chock-full of plot twists, are great examples of older books that have been catapulted into the spotlight again and are experiencing phenomenal success thanks to TikTok users. Silvera’s novel, for example, has been a number one New York Times Bestseller for the last six months since reappearing on the list a year ago.
Some older books have been catapulted into the spotlight again and are experiencing phenomenal success thanks to TikTok users
On Instagram, a bigger range of genres can be found. While bookstagrammers do draw attention to the same books as booktokers – Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkin Reid have been huge hits on both platforms – newer fiction and literary fiction novels nominated for the Booker Prize and Women’s Prize for Fiction, such as Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half and Avani Doshi’s Burnt Sugar, are frequently featured.
Furthermore, translated texts such as Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s Before The Coffee Gets Cold and Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, have appeared so often on my feed, I’ve half-jumped on the bandwagon and added them to my Goodreads to-be-read list.
Of course, if you look long enough, you’ll find any book genre on social media.
Gripping thrillers, beloved classics, and challenging non-fiction all do well. Most accounts I’ve seen have at least one photo of a Stephen King novel standing alone or part of a book stack. Many users (including myself) have admitted to picking up a book because of the hype, but there are no rules to being part of an online reading community nor are there any books you have to read.
Ironically, one of the most talked-about authors of the twenty-first century, Sally Rooney, has no social media presence and is averse to fame, yet her first two novels, A Conversation With Friends and Normal People, are widely shared in the digital sphere. Photos and videos of her third book, Beautiful World, Where Are You, are already surfacing everywhere despite only being published a few days ago. Under the ‘bookstagram’ hashtag, which has 65.6 million posts, a photo of Rooney’s latest offering is right at the top, enticing me to check it out.
Perhaps I will, out of genuine interest. Or perhaps some other popular new release will tempt me first!