As delegates of The Bookseller’s Children’s Conference earlier this week, we tuned in to a live podcast recording of Chapter and Verse: The Art of Selling Books to Children. The topic for this episode was ‘The Power of BookTok’ and particularly interesting was the discussion on whether or not publishers should have their own presence on the platform.

Georgia Henry, the Children’s Specialist Campaign Manager at Rocket, praised BookTok for its positive effect on back-list sales, using the success of ‘They Both Die at the End’ by Adam Silvera as an example. Publishers have recognised the value of BookTok’s model of peer-to-peer recommendation. To Georgia, the excitement comes from its unpredictable nature and how reactive publishers have to be to maximise their impact. For example, this could mean using a trending song to circulate promotional content or implementing complementary sales and marketing strategies to carry forward the momentum of a trending book.

“As Gen-Z, we can see when something is inauthentic.”

Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé, YA author and BookTok user

Some publishers take a more proactive approach and interact directly with influencers. A publisher might send advance copies or pay creators to promote their books. The next step would be for a publisher to start creating content themselves. Georgia supports this and highlights successful examples such as Bloomsbury and Penguin Teen. However, YA author and BookTok user Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé stressed that the authenticity of the content is key to its success and that this might be hard for a publisher to achieve, “As Gen-Z, we can see when something is inauthentic.” The demand is for content created organically, allowing users to build trust in a creator’s opinions and recommendations. Georgia believes publishers can produce this organic content as long as it feels as if there is a real person behind it and encourages companies to “find a voice in the community” to “bring the campaign full circle”.

“An important part of TikTok is feeling like you know the people that you follow.”

Faith Young, BookTok creator

Faith Young, a BookTok content creator, identified consumers as mostly young women and shared that a large part of the appeal of BookTok is its community feel. Calling it a “safe haven”, she echoed previous praise of it being “the last wholesome place on the internet”. In Faith’s experience many consumers engage with content that makes them feel understood, like being part of a big book club. There was a concern about how posts created by big-name publishers solely to drive sales figures would upset this dynamic. A possible solution is to interchange advertising posts with other content, for example behind-the-scenes ‘A Day in the Life’ style videos, says Georgia. Faith also selected Penguin Teen as a great example where viewers can get to know the person behind the account. “An important part of TikTok is feeling like you know the people that you follow”, she says. This varied content would help avoid oversaturation of promotional content and contribute positively to the dynamic of the BookTok community.

“[Having an online presence] can bring the campaign full circle.”

Georgia Henry, Children’s Specialist Campaign Manager, Rocket.