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We’re all familiar with social media, whether we actively use it or not – from viral sneezing panda videos on YouTube to perfectly in-sync dancing teens on TikTok. But you may be somewhat unfamiliar with the communities carved out by readers in this digital world, spaces dedicated to books and those who love them, and a new wave of book promotion that all authors need to know about.
Reading is often thought of as a peaceful, solitary activity. Yet there’s nothing readers love more than raving about their favourite books, recommending them to others and discussing differing opinions. The social aspects of reading have been an important part of book culture for a long time, with many celebrities starting iconic book clubs – from the infamous Oprah Winfrey to actress and producer Reese Witherspoon, YouTuber Zoella (Zoe Sugg) and model Kaia Gerber. You don’t need to be a big celebrity to have an influence, however – just a social media handle and creative flair for bookish content. The increasing popularity of social media accounts dedicated to books and reading has given rise to the development of a new category of cultural persona: the bookfluencer.
Bookfluencers are passionate content creators who use social media platforms to share their love of books and connect with fellow readers. They are essentially microcelebrities, developing a public identity or ‘brand’ as a reader, which they then leverage to gain attention and increase their social status. In turn, authors can leverage the established platforms of bookfluencers to get the word out about their new books. The most crucial feature of a bookfluencer’s brand is their reputation as a trusted source of book recommendations, by sharing their individual reading tastes and preferences, defining themselves as ‘authentic’ and ‘relatable’ book lovers. Ultimately, bookfluencers will say what they really think about a book – this is outside an author’s control. But the potential gains of exposure far outweigh any of the risks.
Influencer book marketing and reaching target readers
Authors don’t need to have a huge online presence to be successful – just take bestselling novelist Sally Rooney, who is completely absent from social media, as an example. However, a healthy author platform will undoubtedly help support book sales and improve visibility and discoverability. One of the fastest ways to do this is by leveraging other people’s platforms with existing communities that share similar interests. For example, appearing as a guest or featuring content on popular blogs, podcasts, speaking events and social media. There are endless creative possibilities for collaboration that don’t require deep pockets or a big name, only something new and relevant to contribute. Such outreach efforts will ensure you get your book in front of target readers and essentially let people know it even exists!
While featuring your work on social media is a key component to any book successful promotion campaign, the added element of personal recommendation can supercharge its power. Bookfluencers are content creators with large, engaged followings, into the thousands and sometimes millions across different social media platforms like TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, often using hashtags like #bookstagram and #booktok to flag content about reading and book recommendations. And although access to their large following is hugely beneficial in gaining exposure, their power really lies in the precision of their audience. For example, a bookfluencer who primarily produces content around fantasy books will almost certainly have an audience with an interest in this genre, whereas someone who often posts about the latest hard hitting non-fiction will most likely have a following consisting of people looking to discover more books in this category, and so on.
With eight out of every ten consumers reported to have purchased something after having seen it recommended by a content creator, ‘influencing’ is a truly unmatched form of digital marketing in the world today. For many loyal followers, creators will start to feel like trusted friends who they look to for valuable, authentic, entertaining and imaginative content. If someone is independently choosing to follow a particular influencer, this is a transparent and accurate signal of their interests. It also shows a level of trust; influencers are a constant part of the lives of their followers, posting a range of content often multiple times per day and sustaining a connection with like-minded people who share their passions.
A common challenge in book marketing is building trust with a new reader. So, by effectively earning the trust of bookfluencers and being actively aware of or involved in their community, you will also earn that of their audience, removing a major obstacle for authors when it comes to generating more book sales and reaching other set goals.
The power of online book communities
As the internet is becoming an increasingly participatory place, with consumer-driven book promotion very much part of the future, readers want genuine recommendations from other readers – a kind of publicity that money simply can’t buy. This kind of publicity can be engineered by strategically placing copies into the hands of celebrities, influencers and reviewers, but organic word-of-mouth is still a force to be reckoned with.
So, what are these online bookish communities all about, where can you find them and what are their differences? While Bookstagram evokes the sensory enjoyment of reading through curation of stunning displays and photography, BookTok appeals to the readers who want to get swept up in emotion and fast-paced recommendations. On the other hand, YouTube provides a platform for longform content that offers the impression of conversation with a knowledgeable bookish friend. Each channel presents something unique and engages readers in ways that can’t quite be ascertained by other mediums.
Let’s take a closer look at this wonderful corner of the internet and discover how these online communities have become major contributors to the resurgence of reading and the phenomenal increase in book sales witnessed over the past few years.
Instagram has been around for over a decade and has gone through many stages of development, though it has always focused on very visual-based posts. Bookstagram is a space where readers, writers and publishers connect; the hashtag #bookstagram has been used on over 86 million posts to date and is typically applied to content featuring images of books – bookstacks, colour displays, flat lays, cover reveals, book collections, TBR (to-be-read lists) and so on. It can also feature on posts encompassing the activity of reading, such as visuals of bookshelves and people holding and reading books. Bookstagram accounts are often carefully curated, with the edited visual content accompanied by text designed to spark discussions with other readers, including insightful book reviews, themed recommendations and thought-provoking questions. Bookstagrammers with a significant following will most likely post #bookmail they’ve received from authors and publishers with the latest releases and often some other goodies. It’s a great strategy to build buzz around an upcoming publication and encourage readers to pre-order.
Every Bookstagram account is unique in its aesthetic and content, reflecting the preferences and interests of the individual running it. London-based Ula Nur is the creator of @thelostlibrary, a cosy feed featuring impressive book stacks, a range of dreamy book photos (often presented next to a latte or sweet treat) and in-depth reviews of books from a variety of genres including autobiography, essays, literary and translated fiction – though she is most known for reviewing the work of Haruki Murakami. Vietnamese-Canadian Jess of @readwithme.jess lives in Vancouver and posts honest reviews about books of all genres, including romance, young adult, thrillers and more. Her bright and colourful feed includes annotated book stacks of her latest reads, her top recommendations in different genres and even photos of herself in outfits that perfectly compliment fun book cover designs. Ohio-based Hillary of @hillysreads uses her Bookstagram to champion BIPOC authors, filling her feed with vivid photos and opinionated book reviews. As you can see, the Bookstagram community is filled with so many interesting accounts to follow, explore and seek inspiration from – and they are always eager to discover new authors.
Users have been uploading videos on YouTube since its creation in 2005 and literary vloggers have been sharing bookish content on the platform from as early as 2009, though it wasn’t until 2012 that the popularity of BookTube really began to take off. The types of content found on BookTube channels will vary significantly and can include: book reviews, reading vlogs, book recommendations, monthly TBR’s, book clubs and livestreams, book hauls, book subscription unboxings, latest book mail from authors and publishers, book tags and challenges, bookshelf tours and so much more. BookTubers will often make an income from ad revenue (only attainable after reaching YouTube milestones for hours streamed by subscribers), paid sponsorships and affiliate links. Creators will also collaborate with one another, introducing their subscribers to new channels and helping fellow creators to grow their following. It’s a very supportive and aware community, with discussions constantly taking place about diversifying content and encouraging others to read non-fiction titles, particularly those that focus on social justice.
Although BookTube channels may have a smaller audience when compared to the most popular YouTube channels like PewDiePie (Felix Kjellberg) and NikkieTutorials (Nikkie De Jager), a lot of them still have a significant number of subscribers and a loyal following. For example, Jack Edwards currently has over 1.2 million subscribers and his videos have received over 84 million views. His most watched videos feature him reading and reviewing books recommended by celebrities like Kendall Jenner, Kim Namjoon and Harry Styles, as well as popular books on other platforms like BookTok. Willow Heath’s YouTube channel @BooksandBao is a spin-off from their successful literature and culture blog by the same name. They mainly upload videos talking about fiction in translation, as well as books by women and queer writers, while promoting indie publishers and bookshops. Content creator Hannah Azerang aka @AClockworkReader is one of the online bookish community’s biggest personalities. Her BookTube videos range from book recommendations and honest reviews to reading and bookshopping vlogs, unboxings, tags and challenges. The personalities of creators really shine through on this platform, with every channel offering something new and entertaining for viewers looking for more longform content to enjoy.
TikTok is the newest platform and the one the world just can’t seem to stop talking about. It exploded in popularity during the pandemic, sucking users into the ‘trending video’ black hole, where short clips play continuously, one after the other, hour after hour. BookTok is a TikTok subgenre dedicated to videos about books and reading; the hashtag #booktok has currently received over 109 billion views worldwide on the platform, but this online community’s influence extends far beyond the app. In 2021, BookTok helped authors sell 20 million printed books, increasing a further 50% by July 2022. NPD BookScan stated that no other form of social media has ever had this kind of impact on book sales. Many bookshops around the world now have #booktok displays featuring books trending in the online community and even other platforms and apps such as Goodreads, Instagram and Twitter will use the hashtag due to its mega popularity. The BookTok community has not only influenced book sales but a total reading resurgence, with 59% of 16-25 year olds crediting the platform as having helped them discover a passion for reading.
The types of content posted on BookTok is similar to that of BookTube and Bookstagram, including book reviews and recommendations, new book cover reveals, current controversies (#bookdrama), relatable reading habits, POVs and themed montages inspired by their favourite characters, as well as commentary on the community itself. Although everyone is welcome within this community, BookTok content is mostly created by teenage girls and young women. One of the most popular categories of videos that has garnered BookTok a lot of attention is where creators vulnerably display their emotional reaction to books. They’re often shown shedding a tear over a novel’s upsetting ending, often young adult and fantasy romance stories. For example, BookToker Selene Velez @moongirlreads posted a video in August 2020 titled ‘books that will make you sob’, which gained 100,000 views in only a few hours and caused a spike in sales for books including Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles – originally published in 2011. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (Hot Key Books), The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (Simon & Schuster) and Adam Silvera’s queer contemporary They Both Die At The End (HarperTeen) have also been huge BookTok hits. Silvera’s novel first shot to the top of teen fiction charts in March 2021, selling more than 4,000 copies in a week, after BookTokers like Abby Parker (@abbysbooks) started posting videos such as ‘reading they both die at the end in one day’, which has now been viewed over 5.9 million times and earned over 1.4 million likes.
However, TikTok has also provided a platform for independently published books to shine. There has been a noticeably significant increase in the number of originally self-published works being acquired by traditional houses recently, attributed to the broader opportunities for discoverability on the direct-to-consumer platform. Perspectives of self-publishing are certainly changing, with viral books like Olivie’s Blake’s The Atlas Six, Rob Dix’s The Price of Money, Lucy Score’s Things We Never Got Over, Jessa Hastings’ Magnolia Parks romance series and Melissa Blair’s (originally published anonymously) fantasy A Broken Blade, going on to sell thousands of copies and garner huge success. Ultimately, users of the platform constantly display how a book being traditionally published or not is unimportant and unrelated to their enjoyment or opinion of it. Readers are demanding more diversity and ‘non-traditional’, interesting and different authors and stories, many of which are often completely missed by the gatekeepers of the publishing industry.
How to collaborate with a bookfluencer
While influencers are typically known for their large followings, smaller audiences can be just as valuable depending on the type of book and your goals. If your book appeals to a wide audience and the aim is to make as many people aware of it as possible,a bookfluencer with a big following would probably be the best route to gain this kind of exposure. However, if your book is more niche and tailored towards a certain group of readers then doing your research and finding a content creator with an interest in this type of book, perhaps with a smaller but more specific following, would be far more valuable in terms of directly reaching target readers and generating sales. It’s important to find the right influencer for your book – a person that aligns with your values – and also to clearly establish your goals and what you wish to accomplish in order to make sure that your outreach efforts aren’t wasted.
We’ve given you an overview of the main online book communities, so take some time to explore, follow and engage bookfluencers you think would be interested in your book. It’s not essential to have your own social media accounts, but as an independent author it’s definitely a good idea. You don’t have a big publisher or agent handling the marketing for you, so managing your own accounts and consistently posting content will help spread the word about your book, build your platform and show bookfluencers you’re genuinely interested and a part of these communities. You should make sure to have realistic expectations too; at the end of the day, finding an A-list celebrity to help market your book is very unlikely. But also don’t set your standards too low – the creators you choose to reach out to must still have some influential connections and a somewhat significant following. While bookfluencers are, of course, where you’re most likely to focus your attention, it’s worth exploring other options too, such as contacts in the press and media, notable experts in your field and other authors. Finding people you believe will do a good job representing your book and connecting with your target readers is really the core objective.
When it comes to reaching out to a bookfluencer or influential contact, whether this be via email or direct message on a social media platform, there are a few things to keep in mind. Firstly, don’t write too much; influencers will likely get a lot of emails and messages each day and won’t have the time to read your entire life story and book development journey. Secondly, show that you are familiar with their content and what you admire, adding a touch of flattery without making it seem false. Let them know why you’ve chosen to reach out to them in particular and why you think they and their audience would enjoy your book. You likely won’t receive a response straight away so make sure to give it a bit of time before you politely follow up, but don’t hound them or be too pushy as this will definitely deter them. Be direct and clearly define how you would like to collaborate with them, such as offering them a copy of your book for an honest review, tagging your social media handles and using certain hashtags relevant to your book. Lastly, don’t give up if they say no. It can be disheartening but it might simply not be the right fit or they may just not have the capacity at the time to create the great content that your book deserves. Just remember to be grateful that they responded and let you know, and that you are always open to collaborate in the future if they wish. You never know, they might come back to you at a later date or reach out about your next project that’s more suited to them.
But, as always, be careful who you connect with online. Not everyone will be genuine, with some ‘influencers’ purely out for their own gain and to receive free products. Some may have bought subscribers (it’s always a good idea to look at the like-to-follower ratio) and some accounts won’t even be human, but AI bots with deceptively large followings. This warning aside, once you have connected with bookfluencers that are interested in reading and promoting your book then you can brainstorm ideas with them and provide any information and wording they may need, as well as anything you particularly want them to highlight to your target audience. Don’t forget the technical details too, such as any links, social media handles and key dates. While some bookfluencers will be happy to read and promote a book in exchange for free review copies, content creators with larger followings may require a sponsorship payment to pique their interest. If the up-front cost is too pricey, you might suggest an affiliate link; this means that they will still make money, but you’ll only need to pay if they perform well. And when all is said and done, be sure to keep in contact and sustain a relationship, supporting them and their content as much as they have supported you.
As a debut independent author with little online presence, it can be intimidating reaching out to creators with larger platforms. It’s likely you will receive few responses when first reaching out, and don’t be disheartened. Keep doing whatever you can to spread the word about your book. Believe in your work, inspire readers, capture their imaginations, showcase your writing, build awareness and grow your reputation as a respected author. Over time, if done right, all your hard work will be rewarded and bookfluencers might even be reaching out to you for a copy of your next book.
You can find out more on how to independently market and promote your book in our free downloadable guide.