The TikTok hashtag #BookTok now boasts more than 175 billion global views. According to TikTok, “#BookTok had a more than 140% increase in total views over the past year.” In a promotion this August, the platform urged users to participate in a Global #BookTok Challenge by attaching the tag to content about “underrated reads” and small businesses, and in September, signaling attention to the industry, the TikTok Trends newsletter spotlighted #independentbookstore, a way to summon “book lovers to gather, browse, and get lost in a cozy local business.” A spokesperson for the social media platform calls BookTok “evergreen on our platform,” a consistently energetic space for user engagement.
Bookstore owners and staffers agreed that TikTok increases their visibility when they make a concerted effort to use it. They don’t always post about specific books or publishers, but they do stress their stores’ appearances and locations. Though it’s time-consuming to monitor and to apply tags and trending sounds strategically, those contacted for this article said sustained engagement is worthwhile. The platform connects bookstores with customers online and in person, introduces them to authors, identifies popular titles to stock, fosters relationships with other booksellers, and turns their stores into destinations.
Though booksellers change up their hashtags depending on context, TikTok Trends singled out #independentbookstore, which garnered over 35 million views, with five million of those coming in the month before the September newsletter. On September 8, a TikTok spokesperson listed others, including #bookish (“almost 21 billion total views, 316 million in the last 30 days”), #indiebookstore ( “over 102 million total views, five million in the last 30 days”), and #fallbooks (“over 38 million total views, 15 million since August 15”).
While the spokesperson attributed the recent strong performance of bookstore-related hashtags to the fall publishing season, they noted that BookTok performs steadily year round. “BookTok doesn’t seem to stop on our platform,” they said. “There isn’t a lull—this is a really engaged platform.” Because “virality can come and go,” TikTok offers a business account and designated TikTok representatives to help stores develop content, yet stores are likely to find their own way by scrolling and observing.
Stephanie Hind, TikTok’s lifestyle and education head, called BookTok “a testament to the power of community.” In an email to PW, Hind wrote, “From niche book clubs to viral book recommendations, we’re witnessing a movement that is igniting a love for reading and spreading knowledge in ways that at one time felt unimaginable. We are proud to be a platform that supports and amplifies this positive impact on books.”
Balancing hashtags and content
No booksellers contacted for this article reported a BookTok sales bump recently, but they do say it’s integral to the growth of their stores. Owners and staffers named similar examples of how the app boosted their stores’ profiles locally and more widely, whether in cities or small towns.
Patrick Kern opened Little District Books (@littledistrictbooks), a 900-square-foot store specializing in LGBTQ titles, in Washington, D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood in June 2022, and he believes “BookTok promo has sustained” the shop. “D.C. is a city with a lot of bookstores, so it takes a lot of push to get the word out,” Kern said. Social media led him to reconsider his advertising approach, because at one point his free TikTok account provided “200,000 views at the same time we did a premedia paid promo with a traditional publication.”
Kern tags some posts with #independentbookstore, but “the hashtag only works if the content is right,” so he tailors his tags to each video. He credits BookTok with an Independent Bookstore Day that “exceeded our wildest expec-
tations—the hashtag I’m sure was helping, even though it’s hard to quantify,” and he hears anecdotally that tourists stop in because they follow Little District on BookTok: “A lot of people say, ‘I’ve been following you for months, so while I was planning this trip to D.C., I made a special trip-within-a-trip to Little District.’ ”
BookTok introduced Kern to breakout authors including Rebecca Thorne, whose self-published sapphic fantasy novels fit Little District’s niche. “We found her book Can’t Spell Treason Without Tea through BookTok and started ordering it—it was probably one of our top 10” after its September 2022 release, Kern said. “We were her first store event” back in March. Thorne just signed a four-book deal with Tor, and she’ll have a much larger platform with Treason’s U.S. republication in 2024.
Little District also is among the two million TikTok followers of Mercury Stardust, known as the Trans Handy Ma’am and author of Safe and Sound, which hit #1 on PW’s bestseller list in late August. “An author will have one social media platform they focus on, and you have to go where they’re spending their time,” Kern said, so he used BookTok to petition Stardust for a book-tour stop. The effort succeeded, and Little District is partnering with a nearby café to host Stardust on October 9, at no charge. “The café is letting us do this free because they know they’re going to sell 200 cups of coffee” during the 11 a.m. event, Kern said, noting that he anticipates 200–300 “Gen-Z and young millennial” guests.
Social media mavens
Second Flight Books, a new-and-used bookstore in Lafayette, Ind., reports solid results from BookTok engagement. Laura Kendall, who has co-owned Second Flight with her husband Justin Kendall since 2016, noticed that her personal post about the store’s new location in 2020 “went a little viral,” so she created the store handle @2ndflightbooks. (The couple also owns and operates Main Street Books in Lafayette, which they took over in August 2022.)
At Second Flight, Kendall likes to “rotate through hashtags” to see what performs best. “The first time we got 30,000 or 40,000 views” store traffic increased, she said, “and we still get people regularly who say, ‘We were driving through Ohio, and since we saw you on TikTok we thought we’d stop in,’ or, ‘You were only an hour out of the way.’ Some people from out of state become repeat customers.”
BookTok helps raise awareness of Second Flight products, notably gift boxes. “We do Advent calendar mystery bundles for the holidays—a box full of books to open every day for the season—and we do a push around October and November” on social media, Kendall explained. Even in slower seasons, she finds her “TikTok bookstore tourism is increasing. I had drinks at Winter Institute with a bunch of bookstore people I met” through the platform.
In Ames, Iowa, staffers at Dog-Eared Books (@dogearedbooksames) have come to rely on BookTok too. Co-owners Amanda Lepper and Ellyn Grimm opened the 2,600-square-foot store in March 2021, and social media coordinator Rachel Trainum came on board to manage their online profiles. “Trainum used to be a part-time bookseller, but she became what I call a Swiss Army knife,” handling graphics, web page management, and branding, Lepper said. “Social media is our primary way of communicating with our customers. We don’t do paid advertisement anywhere—we pay her.”
Trainum said, “They don’t spend marketing money—they think my position itself is dollars at work,” acknowledging that not every store can afford a full-time social media maven. (Dog-Eared Books has 14 employees including the owners.) “What we invest we get back, because it increases our sales significantly and draws more coverage to our events.”
The #independentbookstore hashtag “has brought people in the door the next day—we’ve had someone drive up from Kansas City,” Trainum explained—a nearly four-hour trip. To broaden the audience, she “switches it up” with #shopindie, #midwestbookstore, or #shoplocal—“anything that can narrow it down,” she said. “What people want from our TikTok is to see the space, see who we are.” Among her proudest moments was catching the attention of book club influencer Jenna Bush Hager: “We were one of her first 10 follows, and her books sell well in the store.”
Dog-Eared Books practices “a very loose creative response” and stays attuned to trending sounds, which drive viral status. “Trending sounds transcend business type or TikTok profile identity,” crossing from BookTok into other viewerships, Trainum said. Dog-Eared’s most popular post, in March 2022, was a casual pan across the store, referencing the heavenly Iowa setting and the film Field of Dreams.
Simple as it appears, BookTok “is not all fluff and fun, even though that’s how it appears through social,” Trainum said. “It’s fun in the end result, but it’s also a lot of work.” Booksellers—who master Batch, Edelweiss, and Bookshop.org—are adding TikTok to their daily tech.