Social media has taken over industries one by one, and the book industry is no exception. Accounts dedicated to series, characters, authors, genres — any sort of literary collection under the sun — are seeing an enormous increase in exposure and user interactions. During the COVID-19 pandemic in particular, as people rediscovered new hobbies and tried to find ways to stay productive from home, social media book accounts emerged from all over the world. Where previously it was used for evil, now social networks can be used for good by spreading the joy of reading.
What started as a hashtag has evolved into its own monster. “Bookstagram” accounts and the Bookstagrammers who run them are finally getting a turn in the spotlight, one that’s lasted long enough to give rise to a pioneering wave of literary influencers. Artfully staged photos of books and collections organized by spine color are swamping social media feeds, encouraging people to read like never before.
The same phenomenon has struck TikTok, with the “BookTok” hashtag even making its way into Barnes & Noble as a shelf category. The BookTok hashtag, with 43 billion views, has been credited with bringing well-deserved attention to unpublished and lesser-known authors, and sent Barnes & Noble sales “soaring” during this “reading renaissance among young adults.”
Sadly, despite the enthusiasm (millions of likes, follows, screenshots and shares), there are still some that believe social media book accounts have no credibility. While that may be true for the occasional book influencer, the time and energy put into staging the photo and writing the accompanying review lend themselves to a person who really does love reading, one who wants to give audiences an honest review.
Social media book accounts, like any other community-inspired accounts, are doing what the internet does best: bringing people together to enjoy a niche hobby in a shared space. And it’s not just voracious readers that are interacting with these accounts; with increased online interactions and some clever marketing on the parts of publishing houses, book influencers are getting the message out to read more.
Unfortunately, there are still literary purists who turn up their noses at the hashtags and trendy, music-overlaid videos. They argue that BookTok lacks staying power and try to discount the users who post recommendation videos by labeling them as inexperienced readers. Some literary enthusiasts simply cannot fathom turning to TikTok for a book recommendation, and in doing so, they miss out on the great read of the summer or the year. They also miss the opportunity to interact with the book community online, which is doing leaps and bounds to encourage people to read where other methods are failing.
Bookstagrammers have achieved this monumental goal by coming up with creative ways to get their message out to audiences. An upgrade from mindlessly scrolling, Bookstagram accounts make it fun to spend time on their pages. Using the algorithm to their advantage by partaking in trends, accounts create posts for a multitude of categories; underrated books, to-be-read piles, photos of annotations in a weather-beaten paperback, even recommendation lists based on the results of a Meyers-Briggs personality test, all serve as ways to ramp up excitement and generate a closer connection between the audience and their books.
Though book accounts need to cultivate a certain number of followers and likes — the same as anyone else — to grow their audience and exposure, there’s a more involved element of enthusiasm to review posts. Maybe because they take time to write one, or maybe because the person writing is just eager to discuss and to get others to read the same book, book accounts are doing a great job of motivating others to read. Even if it’s the only book someone reads all year, that’s still one more than zero, all thanks to a social media book account and a trending title.
While not every book suggested by BookTok or Bookstagrams is going to be a hit across the board, there are certainly some can’t-miss titles nestled between trending TikToks and curated posts. Ottessa Moshfegh’s “My Year of Rest and Relaxation,” Madeline Miller’s “The Song of Achilles” and Samantha Shannon’s “The Priory of the Orange Tree” come to mind when thinking of viral recommendations that lived up to the hype, with several great YA fantasy series also having their turn. The “Red Queen” series by Victoria Aveyard and the “Three Dark Crowns” tetralogy by Kendare Blake have a combined total of over 65,000 individual Instagram posts, with Aveyard’s entire series selling a total of more than 5 million copies worldwide.
TikTok has even managed to bring attention to some bestsellers that would have fallen by the wayside. Olivie Blake, author of “The Atlas Six,” originally self-published the book online. Soon after, publishers noticed the activity surrounding the title on TikTok and a bidding war ensued, causing the book to rocket to the top of bestseller lists. And though much of the attention is given to the titles in posts, it’s not just authors reaping the benefits.
Run by users who actually read the books, book accounts can be a great place for discussion, with literary communities interacting like never before. Avid readers, critics, people reigniting a reading passion, users scrolling through who decide to buy a flashy title — anyone can join. The common thread between them all is an uncomplicated love of books, no matter how recently discovered it is. And just like with any other influencer account, shops and companies can reach out to book accounts and offer free merchandise in exchange for product placement in a post.
In the case of Bookstagram, because of Instagram’s extra space for longer captions, those with a decent following can be asked by an author to publish an in-depth review of their book, often in exchange for an ARC, or advanced reader copy. Even without the author involved, running a social media book account with a large following can help secure ARCs through publishers, also in exchange for a post or a mention of the book. Prepublication and still not quite fully formed, ARCs are a great way to generate buzz for new releases and can give a Bookstagrammer a leg up against other accounts. Because of the transactional relationship of some of the marketing, many do not believe such recommendations bear any weight, but they have only to read a few of the titles for themselves to realize their mistake.
As the book business changes even more, with brick-and-mortar stores disappearing and the eBook industry booming, it’s important to keep the joy of reading at the forefront of the collective mind. Whether it is a student who has been studying English literature for years or an adult who stumbles upon a book on TikTok, the end result is the same — another book bought, another book read. And clearly, many of the books recommended on social media are phenomenal, as a good recommendation brings people back to the same account in hopes of finding another great read.
In the end, the really fantastic thing about social media book accounts is that they use tactics specific to their platforms to get other people invested in reading. It shouldn’t matter where a recommendation comes from for it to be credible, and if someone’s favorite book can be found through Bookstagram or BookTok, it can’t be such a bad thing after all.