Want To Get Into BookTok? Step This Way!

Claire Handscombe

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In the early days of TikTok, there weren’t many book recommendations, or really anything else that was bookish. But, perhaps in large part because we were all trapped at home for so much of 2020, the app exploded in popularity and started expanding far beyond the original content of lip synching and dancing teens. Now, there is both educational and entertaining content of all kinds — from history to grammar to restaurant reviews, and a whole lot of adorable baby and pet content.

Meanwhile, BookTok now has a name and a strong sense of community. So strong, in fact, that The New York Times reported on it back in March, emphasising the “crying on video” kind of content, although from my experience on the app, that’s a tiny proportion of the bookish content on TikTok. The Guardian reported on BookTok more recently, zooming in on teens, who make up a huge proportion of the app, but by no means all.

If you’ve spent any time on BookTube, some of the BookTok content will be familiar to you: round ups of the month’s reads, BookTok recommendations and reviews of specific books, book hauls, TBR piles. But there’s also a lot of other content that’s more germane to BookTok itself. In videos of one minute or less, BookTokers might express their love of a book by lip synching a song, or by a quick-moving slide show of photos that together represent the book’s aesthetic. They might start to tell a crazy story about their lives — only to reveal that they are role playing as a character in a book and encourage you to read it to find out what happens next. Booksellers might go through new books out on a given week, or show you what a day at the shop looks like.

One of the many great things about BookTok is that the algorithm is super clever. You don’t have to follow *anyone* to have a feed tailor-made for you, and as soon as you start watching, commenting, and liking, TikTok will learn what you like and fill your feed with stuff you’ll enjoy watching. There’s a reason it’s so easy to disappear into the TikTok rabbit hole for an hour without even noticing.

So, where do you start after creating an account? Head to the discover tab at the bottom of the app and type in #BookTok. You’ll seen trending videos and accounts. Go to those and start scrolling — and TikTok will soon like what you learn.

Another way into BookTok recommendations and related content is by following some great bookish accounts. Here are a few of my favourites.

@leilareadsalittle

Iranian American 16-year-old Leila was one of my earliest follows on TikTok, and over the last few weeks, her follower number has really taken off. She comes across as very sweet, good-natured, and fun, and makes all kinds of content, from book reviews and book tips to meme-style videos. The books she talks about skew contemporary YA (unlike much of BookTok, which loves YA fantasy).

@smforbookstores

If you’re a bookseller wanting to branch out into BookTok to help with marketing, head to Kathy Ellen’s specialist account. Kathy Ellen herself has a huge following, and she started @smforbookstores specifically to teach beginners tips, tricks, and how to make best use of the platform.

@citybookspgh

Arlan Hess is a bookstore owner and wearer of fabulous glasses from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. City Books has been around since the 1980s and is a used bookstore — so many of Arlan’s TikTok videos show her unboxing some pretty fabulous old and/or rare books.

@lowestoftlibrary

I nearly fell off my chair when, after I’d barely been on TikTok a few days, Lowestoft Library turned up on my feed. Lowestoft is a small town in the UK, not exactly known for being on the cutting edge of coolness. I went to high school there, but my parents don’t live there anymore so I haven’t been back in a long time. I like to think it’s pure coincidence and because of sheer content quality that TikTok knew I wanted this on my feed. I spent a lot of time in Lowestoft Library as a teenager, and it’s one of the few things about my time there that I remember fondly. The YA section in the early-mid ’90s was mostly Sweet Valley High, Judy Blume, and Caroline B Cooney — all of which I devoured — but I bet it’s way cooler now. The TikTok account certainly makes it seem like that’s the case.

@taliahibbert

If you love Talia Hibbert’s Brown Sisters romcoms, you’ll be glad to find another way to get book recs and an inside look into the writer life from the delightful Brit.

@merrowchild

If you’re a fan of the classically elegant kind of British accent that you know from Downton Abbey, head to bookseller @merrowchild’s account. She’s passed 30k followers with a mix of roundup, reviews, and unboxings.

@laura_hankin

The author of Happy and You Know It and A Special Place for Women is a lot of fun on TikTok — her videos about her books and the author life are creative and often genuinely make me laugh out loud.

@eastcitybookshop

East City Bookshop happens to be where I work, but it’s also one of the bookstore accounts with the most followers, at almost 10k. What got us growing fast was the Randomly Generated Book Recs, where booksellers pull the name of a book genre out of a jar and then run to the section and pull out a book they want to recommend. People seem to love that!

@thlaynierose

The brains behind the East City Bookshop account (and the Randomly Generated Book Recs), Laynie has one of the most popular BookTok recommendations accounts at over 50k followers. They review and recommend mostly books with queer rep, especially sapphic books, and give fun insights into the bookseller life.

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Claire Handscombe is a British writer who moved to Washington, DC, in 2012, ostensibly to study for an MFA in Creative Writing, but really, let’s be honest, because of an obsession with The West Wing. She is the host of the Brit Lit Podcast, a monthly show about news and views from UK books and publishing; the author of Unscripted, a novel about a young woman with a celebrity crush and a determined plan; and the editor of Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives.

Washington, DC
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