BookTok has transformed publishing since it evolved during the beginning of the pandemic. For YA authors in particular, the community can lead to runaway success, as it has for authors such as Alex Aster and Chloe Gong. “BookTok does magical things for books that no other social platform can,” says Jen Klonsky, president and publisher of Putnam Books for Young Readers, mentioning the platform’s famed ability to propel backlist titles to the bestseller list. But publishers seem to agree that the magic can’t be artificially created.
“A market-savvy author who knows how to leverage their platform is a tremendous advantage,” says Andrew Smith, v-p and publisher of Abrams Children’s Books. “The fact that the platform itself changes over time puts added emphasis on the authors’ individual adaptability and awareness of their audience, particularly in genre fiction.”
BookTok success isn’t evenly distributed, though. “The winners are just so big at this point,” says Michael Bourret, agent and partner at Dystel, Goderich & Bourret—and then there’s everyone else.
Anita Eerdmans, president and publisher of Eerdmans, thinks that in the BookTok boom, Instagram may not get the credit it deserves. “Instagram specifically has been tremendous for us since it’s a dynamic, visual platform—perfect for spotlighting gorgeous and groundbreaking art, which is a hallmark of our books,” she says. “It’s a passionate, diverse, creative community of advocates and influencers who have been so receptive to our titles and their creators.”
Not everyone is a fan of social media, though. “Yes, it helps to get the word out,” says Rosemary Stimola, founder of Stimola Literary Studio. “But the cons and toxicity far outweigh the pros in my humble opinion: reviews on books by those who have not read them, fake accounts, personal attacks on authors—there’s too much nastiness to navigate.”
Social media is here to stay, but a few industry professionals expressed the view that publishers need to look beyond it and tailor efforts to specific books. Bourret, for example, hopes that more publishers will reconsider concentrating their publicity and marketing efforts to courting influencers.