TikTok has become all the rage among authors lately. Authors from all over are tapping into the culture of “BookTok” and making a lot of money doing it.
But is TikTok really worth it?
After all, properly building an audience on any social media platform takes time, and as authors, we don't have a lot of time.
Well, I'm here to say that, for now at least, TikTok is definitely worth a look for authors who want to expand their social media audiences. In fact, I might go so far as to say that TikTok is the best social media for connecting with readers.
After all, you don't see shelves at your local bookstore with Facebook favorites.
Here is my experience: I started out knowing nothing about the platform before beginning preliminary research for this article. But in just a few short weeks, I managed to get my TikTok subscribers over 1000, and saw measurable increases in my book sales and newsletter signups. The hype is real, folks.
So if you'd like to give TikTok a shot, read on. We've got a comprehensive guide to help you reach new readers and grow a substantial audience on TikTok.
- What TikTok is
- Why it is important
- Nuances surrounding the culture of TikTok
- Tips to grow your audience on TikTok
- Mistakes to avoid
- Advice from multiple authors who are doing well on TikTok
Table of contents
- What is TikTok?
- Why Is TikTok Important for Authors?
- How to Set up a TikTok Account
- TikTok and BookTok Culture
- TikTok Tips and Tricks for Authors
- Tip #1: Decide if TikTok is Right for You
- Tip #2: Stick to the 20% Promotion Rule
- Tip #3: Save favorite Sounds, Effects, and Videos to Work On Later
- Tip #4: Follow Trends (But Not Too Many)
- Tip #5: Use 3-5 Hashtags
- Tip #6: Your Book Cover Is Your Best Friend
- Tip #7: Do a Series of Cover Reveal Videos
- Tip #8: Book Recommendations
- Tip #9: Niche Down
- Tip #10: Engage with Other BookTokers
- Tip #11: Consistency is Key
- Tip #12: TikTok is a Numbers Game
- Tip #13: Shoot for 1000 Followers
- Tip #14: Be Authentic
- Tip #15: Hook Viewers Immediately
- Mistakes to Avoid on TikTok
- Authors Killing it On TikTok
- Is TikTok Worth It?
Note: This is not a technical guide for how to create TikTok videos. For that, I'd recommend this article, or sign up for Mark Dawson's Ads for Authors course, which includes a course on TikTok for Authors. We are an affiliate of Mark, because his course is amazing, and I highly recommend it to everyone. If Mark's course is not currently accepting new applicants (the course is only open 1-2 times per year), then try this course instead.
What is TikTok?
Put simply, TikTok is a social media platform for posting short-form videos. But unlike older short-form video platforms like Vine, TikTok is unique in the way that it allows users to interact.
On the TikTok platform, you can create reaction videos using other people's content, or the sounds that they use in their video, and you can even leave video comments. In short, it is a place where you can use video to interact in ways that were never before possible on any other platform.
TikTok started out as a place to post lip-synch videos and dancing videos, and while it has expanded far beyond this core content, it is still a very large part of TikTok's culture.
Most videos on TikTok are short videos with a clear hook to capture attention. However, you can do longer videos (we're talking 1 to 3 minutes), but these are better suited for a specific type of video, and rarely perform as well as the short videos.
Why Is TikTok Important for Authors?
TikTok is important for authors because of two things: organic reach and advertising opportunities.
TikTok is currently known for being one of the best, if not the best, social media platforms for organic reach. It is remarkably easy to find readers, other authors, and to build an audience of people who genuinely want to read your book.
While this is subject to change, after all Facebook Pages and Groups used to be the same way before they changed their algorithm, for now TikTok remains a fantastic platform for discovering and engaging with readers.
While this is not something I recommend most authors use when they are just starting out, it is possible to promote a specific video for that video to get extra views.
This is a new opportunity for advertising, but one that comes with some learning curves. While it is easy to promote a video, creating a good video that will likely work for you is more difficult.
In other words, you have to already be doing well (organically) on TikTok in order for your advertisements to really help out. But I will get into some of that later.
But the bottom line is this: TikTok is an opportunity to sell more books, perhaps a greater opportunity than any other social media platform at present.
How to Set up a TikTok Account
While this article is not intended to be a technical, step-by-step process of creating and posting videos, I do want to briefly run over the basics to set up your TikTok account.
Step 1: Download the App
Step 2: Sign Up for TikTok
The app will then prompt you to sign up, and you can do this using your phone or email, your Facebook account, or your Apple or Google accounts.
Personally, I just used my phone number. It sent me a text with a special code, I inputted that code into the field provided, and I was logged in.
Step 3: Set Up Your Profile
Next, it's time to set up your profile. This is an important step, especially if you want to find a specific type of reader.
When you hit edit profile, you will see these fields:
- Change photo: a simple photo of your face will do.
- Change video: this is where you can have a short, video profile picture.
- Name: put your name here and add something like “author” or “writes” so that readers who come to your page know that you may be relevant to them.
- Username: when you pick your new username, you also wanted to be relevant to writing, reading, or whatever niche you plan to inhabit (I'll talk more about the importance of niches below)
- Pronouns: this is where you include your preferred pronouns. For example, mine are he/him/his.
- Bio: this is where you put in a few brief words about who you are. You don't have a lot of space, so it is recommended that you just use a few words, and separate each distinct aspect by a new line. See an example of my bio above.
- Nonprofit: this is where you list a specific nonprofit organization that you care about and want to support.
You can also hook up your Instagram and YouTube platforms, so that your TikTok's get shared elsewhere as well, which is a useful way of repurposing your content.
Step 4: Make That First Video!
You may not feel ready for it yet, but I recommend that once your profile is set, that you dive straight in and make your first video. This may feel highly uncomfortable at first, but don't worry, you don't have to be amazing to start.
I would recommend doing a brief introduction of yourself, what you write, what you love to read, etc.
Try to keep it short, but don't worry too much about the quality. Just get something out there so you can experiment using the tools. Don't worry about doing any fancy effects, sounds, or anything. Just get yourself out there, then figure out how everything else works.
TikTok and BookTok Culture
Before I get into the tips and tricks for using TikTok effectively, I'd like to make a few notes about the culture of TikTok, as well as the subculture, BookTok, as these are important to know going forward.
1. What is BookTok?
BookTok is a subculture of TikTok overall, and it's pretty much where all of the book nerds live. There is no designated place where BookTok happens, or a specific group that you have to join, but most videos in the BookTok community will use the hashtag #booktok. This is the one hashtag I use with every single one of my videos. It is a clear indication of who your intended audience is.
When you engage with the BookTok community, you are likely to see a lot of bookshelves. This has become a popular way to add a backdrop to your videos that is relevant to BookTok.
If you happen to have a bookshelf, this can be a good opportunity for you. However you don't have to have a bookshelf. It's just a helpful visual cue to instantly let people know your values of reading and writing.
When scrolling through TikTok, I recommend engaging with any videos that have these video cues, as it's a good way to train the algorithm to know who you are, what you like, and who might be a good audience for you.
One of the weirder cultural icons to emerge in the BookTok community is this concept of having a crown.
Why a crown? Why not? It's just one of those cultural threads that emerged, and now it's a thing.
Like the bookshelf, you don't have to have a crown in order to engage in the BookTok community, but it is a fun minor aspect of BookTok culture if you choose to go with it. Most of the users who wear a crown are women, but there is ample opportunity for men to use them as well (and yes, I got one).
You'll see a lot of people talking about stitching videos, or videos with the hashtag #stitchthis.
Stitching is a way of taking a clip from someone else's video, then recording your own response or reaction to that clip.
Authors and readers will often use this to ask questions, which you can then answer by taking a clip of their video, and answering it in your own.
This is one of those great interactive innovations that started with TikTok, and is one of the reasons why it has grown so large.
A duet is similar to stitching, but it allows you to take someone else's video, and record yourself reacting to that video in real time, which makes for great reaction videos.
In my experience duetting is less common than Stitching in the BookTok community, but you will certainly see it frequently.
TikTok Tips and Tricks for Authors
Now to get into the meat and potatoes of this article: how do you use TikTok effectively to grow your audience and engage with them in order to sell books?
I've got no less than 15 tips for you, so let's dive right in.
Tip #1: Decide if TikTok is Right for You
Before I go any further, I should point out that TikTok is not for everybody. Just because it's the new hot thing right now, doesn't mean that it will continue to sell books effectively.
If you are overwhelmed by all the many things that are recommended for authors to do, don't stress. You don't have to be on TikTok if you don't want to. Instead, you can focus your efforts towards more tried-and-true methods of marketing, such as a good email list, getting a good book cover, and of course the actual writing.
That said, if you're eager to try something new, you're a fan of social media, or you're just curious, then read on.
Tip #2: Stick to the 20% Promotion Rule
There's an informal rule in social media marketing that 20% of the content that you post should be promotional, and the other 80% needs to be for engagement.
In other words, you don't want to be spamming people with videos about your books.
Instead, take some time to create a few informational videos, some silly videos, some stitched or duetted videos, etc. You will find you get a lot more engagement and are more likely to gain followers if you keep the amount of promotional content to about 20%.
Tip #3: Save favorite Sounds, Effects, and Videos to Work On Later
In the TikTok, you have the opportunity to save the sounds that are used in different videos that you see. You can do the same with the effects that each video uses, or you can even save the video itself so that you can stitch it later.
This is a great way to search for ideas on TikTok videos to create. For example, if you see a video on a certain topic, and you decide that you want to do a video on that same topic, you can save the voiceover or the music that the video uses, then use it in your own work.
I would say about 80% of my videos are created this way.
Tip #4: Follow Trends (But Not Too Many)
TikTok allows you to see trending sounds, effects, and hashtags. These can all be great inspiration for your videos.
However, I would caution people about chasing trends too often. While I have no real source for this, it seems that chasing trends can actually impact your organic reach badly, so it's something I only recommend you do now and then.
That said, if you see a trending hashtag that is perfect for you, definitely jump on it.
Tip #5: Use 3-5 Hashtags
I recommend using only 3 to 5 hashtags per video. Once again, I have no data to back this up, but from my own personal experience, as well as everything I've seen from other creators, videos with too many hashtags do not get picked up by TikTok's algorithm.
The only hashtag that I use every single time is #booktok, but other than that the others can vary depending on the subject of your video.
Be sure to check out our hashtag generator tool for inspiration on what to post for your hashtags.
The hashtag generator tool lets you select appropriate hashtags for a variety of use cases, such as:
- Genre-based hashtags
- Special-deal hashtags
- Hashtags to connect with readers
- Hashtags to connect with writers/self-published authors
See it in action in this GIF:
Tip #6: Your Book Cover Is Your Best Friend
Once you start to get into BookTok culture, you'll start to see that people love beautiful book covers.
Therefore, your book cover is now your best friend. Be sure to incorporate it in your TikTok marketing, the more beautiful the better.
Tip #7: Do a Series of Cover Reveal Videos
One of the great things about TikTok is that videos are kept short. You can use that to your advantage by creating several videos to reveal the cover of your book. You can use a tool like Book Brush to create design images that slowly reveal the cover of your book, then create several videos where you reveal just a bit more of your cover.
This is superior to just recording one video with your book cover reveal, as it gives you more content, but also increases the hype.
Tip #8: Book Recommendations
One of the most common forms of content on BookTok is book recommendations and reviews.
Pick a few books that are similar to your book, and record a short video of each with your review and recommendation.
At the end of all that, you can then add a note that your book is very similar to those books, and if people like them, then they might like work as well.
Tip #9: Niche Down
This is one of those tougher pills to swallow, but if you want to be successful in selling your books on TikTok, then you need to remain exclusive to a specific niche.
In other words, don't record “slice of life” videos, or any content about a subject other than books. You don't have to niche down much further than that, but it can be helpful to pick a broader genre (i.e. fantasy, thriller, romance, etc.) and spend your time creating content just around that niche.
Your profile bio is a good place to make it clear what your niche is.
As you continue in one niche, you will find that the TikTok algorithm attracts more relevant readers to your page in your content, which is what you want if you want to sell books to those people.
Tip #10: Engage with Other BookTokers
Whenever you get a chance, be sure to scroll through the recommendations that TikTok gives you, and engage with the content that is relevant to you.
For example, if you see someone with a crown or a bookshelf behind them, those are your people. Like their videos, leave a comment, and follow them. Do this especially if they appear to be fans of your genre.
This is another way to get the TikTok algorithm working for you, so they show you more of those people, and you can engage with more potential fans.
Tip #11: Consistency is Key
How many times should you post on TikTok? When you are just starting out, you should aim for 2 to 4 videos per day.
That may seem like a lot, but if you're trying to grow an audience rapidly (which you should when you're just starting out), many people have found that this is the sweet spot for new followers and increased engagement.
However, if that seems too overwhelming for you, I would commit to at least one per day. Consistency is the real key to the TikTok algorithm, and they will reward you for posting regular content.
Tip #12: TikTok is a Numbers Game
Trying to go viral on TikTok, or at least create some posts that get high engagement, is a lot like throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks.
As such, TikTok is a numbers game. You want to post as many videos as possible, because that will give you the best chance that people will see your content.
All too often it is the posts that I create as an afterthought, not really thinking that they will do well, that end up being my top-performing posts.
Tip #13: Shoot for 1000 Followers
Shooting for 1000 followers may seem like a lot of people, and an impossible goal to reach. However, if you are posting consistently, and sticking to a niche, it is likely that you will hit this number far sooner than you think.
For me, it only took me about two months, which is actually an amazing timeframe when you think about it. At that rate, you could have 6000 potential readers in a year.
The reason why 1000 followers are so important, is that once you have a thousand followers, you can post a link in your bio. This will make it easier for people to find your work when you promote it.
So make 1000 followers your new goal, and work relentlessly to achieve it.
Tip #14: Be Authentic
One of the things that TikTok users tend to appreciate is authenticity. It is okay, and even encouraged, to let out your silly side, your wild side, your sass, or whatever aspect of your personality you feel is authentic.
It is also encouraged to be upfront and vulnerable with your viewers. After all, this is an interactive video platform. It's a great space to speak as if you are having a conversation, because TikTok is the closest thing to face-to-face interaction that we have in a social media platform.
Tip #15: Hook Viewers Immediately
TikTok videos are short by design, and you have only a second or two to capture attention. Users are likely to swipe up quickly if your content does not immediately grab their attention.
As such, get straight to the point, and find a good way to hook your viewers in as little time as possible (ideally the first 3 seconds).
Mistakes to Avoid on TikTok
In addition to all of the tips above, here are a few common mistakes that people have when posting to TikTok. If you are finding it difficult to grow your audience, consider one of the following as a possible culprit:
Mistake #1: You Think TikTok is Just for Young or Super Energetic People
Whilst TikTok certainly started out as a social media platform for a younger generation, it has been widely embraced by a much broader audience.
In fact, some of the best TikTok content comes from the elderly.
TikTok has become so vast that it is easy to find any niche, in any age group. You can find yours as well.
Mistake #2: Most of Your Content is Promotional
If you are doing nothing but promote your own content, you are likely to have difficulty finding real engagement. Nobody likes it when all you do is talk about yourself, so find ways to engage with others, post relevant content, and stick to the 20% rule of promotion.
Mistake #3: You Overstuff Hashtags
In my experience, and from what I have seen from other TikTokers, your video is likely to be shared less by TikTok's algorithm when you overstuff it with hashtags.
In fact, there's some debate about the need for a lot of hashtags, as TikTok's algorithm is getting better and better at understanding from the context of the content who it's for.
That's why I recommend staying between three and five hashtags per video.
Mistake #4: You Don't Stick to a Niche
If you are posting about your daily life, your work, as well as books, TikTok's algorithm is not going to know who to promote your content to, and you will see considerably less engagement.
Instead, pick a specific niche and only post videos about the niche. If you have a burning desire to share videos about something else, you can create a second account.
Mistake #5: Your Videos Are Too Long
While TikTok does allow for longer videos now, they are less likely to get good engagement, purely because the attention span on TikTok is not very long.
There is a certain type of longer video that works, namely informational or instructional videos such as DIY, cooking, or other such educational content.
Mistake #6: Overthinking Videos
It can be easy to be paralyzed when trying to come up with ideas for videos, as well as creating the videos themselves.
Let me say this clearly: you don't have to overthink your videos.
If you are stressed, it's better to just record something quick, maybe add a brief caption, and call it a day.
When it comes to posting videos, something is almost always better than nothing.
Mistake #7: Underthinking Videos
On the flipside, you don't want to under-think your videos either. If all you do is post longer videos of yourself talking, and don't do anything to hook your readers or engage with them, you are not likely to do well.
Instead, find sounds, effects, and videos to interact with. Keep your videos short and sweet whenever possible, and put in a minimal effort to make sure they meet a certain standard.
Authors Killing it On TikTok
But don't take my word for it. Here's a list of authors that are doing exceptionally well on TikTok, along with their top tip for succeeding on the platform:
|Author||TikTok Account||#1 Piece of Advice|
|J. Gabriel Gates||@jgabrielgates||Rather than just making statements or sharing information, make sure every post invites engagement. End each video with a question, ask viewers to give their opinion on whatever you’re discussing, or find some fun, creative incentive to get users to comment. Videos with lots of engagement get more views!|
|Brighton Walsh||@brightonwalshbooks||Utilize TT as a consumer, not just a content creator. Doing so will allow you to train your algorithm and see what’s currently hot in Booktok and alter your content to fit. Keep your posts short and snappy with hooks that suck readers in.|
|A. P. Beswickemail@example.com_beswick_author||Post consistently every day, engage with people who take the time to comment on your posts, don’t be afraid to try new thinks and keep cycling/improving the posts that connect. I treat every post as if I’m reaching a new audience and it’s worked for me. I’ve gone from no followers to 24k in 4 months. April I generated an income that was larger than my monthly salary for the first time ever and it was all through TikTok.|
|Her Stories||@her_thoughtss||Use trends in a unique way that can show your personality and allow people to see what your page is about. Don’t be afraid to try out different things.|
|Huckleberry Rahr||@huckleberryrahr||Find what is catching people's interest, and go with it. It may not be the same for everyone. Once you've built your base, you can start to really push your agenda, but TT is a long game, not short... but so is being an author.|
|Devyn Sinclair||@devynsinclair||Treat every video you make like a short, disposable ad for your books. Of course they’ll keep giving you views and interaction over time, but these aren’t pieces of great art. Viewing TikTok through the lens of marketing and advertising has really helped me hone my brand and stay on message (and it helps teach the algorithm too!)|
|Justina Luther||@author_justina_luther||Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself. If you’re having fun, your viewers and potential readers will too, and they’ll keep coming back for more.|
|Leonard Petracci||@leosbooks||My advice is to always make it about the fans or your story, not yourself.|
|Grace Grahme||@gracewritesromance||Determine what your focus is- if it's finding readers etc, then don't just do funny stuff and really cultivate the right kind of followers etc.|
|Candace Blevins||@candaceblevins||The booktok community is completely different than the TikTok my kids watch. It's about the books and stories -- you don't have to be glamorous. Just be yourself and have fun with it. I'm reaching a much younger audience - twenties and thirties - on TikTok, a completely different demographic.|
|Boris Bacicfirstname.lastname@example.org||Post in more than one niche. Users will be more likely to engage with your content, therefore, maximizing your chances of selling more books.|
|Marie Harper Wright||@marieharperwright||Work on your first hooks in the video and grabbing that viewer’s attention immediately. Something short and snappy that jumps from the screen for a couple of seconds is the aim. Then hopefully the viewer will be hooked and keep watching. And from there hopefully they will engage and follow you. Since that clicked for me, I have loved the engagement from TT and finding people actually asking me where to buy my books!|
|Melissa Sercia||@melissaserciawrites||I saw my video views and likes jump up when I started posting four times a day, using trending sounds, and paying attention to the style of videos that were doing well in my genre. I write spicy romance and the trends are very specific. It sounds simple but it requires a lot of time and studying the algorithm. Once my book sales and KU reads started going up, I knew for sure that it was worth my time.|
|Miranda P. Charles||@mirandapcharlesauthor||I have several videos that are doing well even though I still have less than 1k followers at this time. From the start, I concentrated on following and engaging with authors and readers in my genre (steamy romance), coming up with the best hooks I can for each video, and putting up the type of content that does well.|
|Stacia Suzanne||@spicyromancewriter||My #1 advice is don't wait until you're published. Start now. You don't have to have a book out for TikTok to be valuable. Although a new author in my genre, with no books out, I now have 7000+ followers. Will they all buy my books? Nope. But even if I don't sell one book because of TikTok, it's helped me so much. I've found ARC readers, gotten feedback on my pre-order book blurbs, received advice from other authors, hired an editor, made connections for future newsletter and/or TikTok "swaps" and even been asked to be on a book club podcast! There is no way I would have made these helpful connections had I not been on TikTok.|
|Billie Dale||@authorbilliedale||Persistence. Nothing in our author journey is easy until we learn. Just keep trying. Plus it’s a great use for our procrastination. 😉|
|Avelyn Paige||@authoravelynpaige||Find your niche. Whether that be reactions to thirst traps, book reviews, or just cosplaying your favorite books characters. Find what your followers love and run with it.|
|John Nardizzi||@authorpi||Best advice heard (and passing on) is to post about some aspect of your book in a short, fun or informative way. Crime fiction is the genre for me, so I post a bit about funny odd things in the private detective world (my other job) as well as crime fiction.|
|Susan McNabb||@susanmcnabbauthor||My best advice is to have fun and focus on producing the best, most authentic videos you can, and don’t dwell on the TikTok algorithms or other factors for success that you have no control over.|
|Dawn Dugle||@authordawndugle||You have to let your crazy out…. Ahem. I mean - let your true personality shine. That’s when you connect with readers who will LOVE your writing and your books.|
|Veronica Scott||@veronicascottauthor||Stay current on what's going on with Tiktok - are there new rules, has the app recently updated, what types of videos are popular (7 second page flips are big right now), etc.|
|Wendy H. Jones||@wendyhjonesauthor||Post consistently and be supportive to others by liking, commenting and sharing.|
|Lia Fairchildemail@example.com||Throw out everything you know about SM apps because TT is a whole different ball game.|
|Lou Collins||@loulovesb00ks||Remember you’re a reader first. Make connections and videos from that perspective and engage with the BookTok community. It’s not necessarily about going viral! And btw I’m not a teen girl dancer, there’s a place for everyone on TT, that’s what I love about it.|
|Suzanne Kelman||@suzkelman||The best advise I got was unlike Facebook where you fearful of over posting about your book, or twitter where it moves at such a speed, TIKTOKs algorithm is set up so it doesn’t always push all your content to the same few people. So you can promote your book as much as you like. This is very freeing I’m still doing the 7 - 3 rule (7 about other content, 3 about my book) but so far haven’t seen any drop off when I promote my book.|
|A.L. Knorr||@authoralknorr||Follow people within your sphere so you can build relationships with them, if you follow a large variety of subject matter and content creators, TT will show you more of that, so it's best if you don't mix your author business with your personal interests if you can help it. Posting regularly (daily is best when you're growing, and many even post multiple times a day) is a good practice that will keep your growth steady.|
|Jennifer Millikin||@authorjenmill||Often times, it feels a bit like throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing if it sticks. Generally speaking, users of TikTok appreciate authenticity, so I recommend striving for that. TikTok offers a creator‘s tool with insights into followers usage patterns, and that helps when deciding what time of day to post. Above all, the number one thing I try to do is get viewers‘ attention immediately. The hook needs to come first, not last.|
Is TikTok Worth It?
In my own experience, I do believe that TikTok is worth a look for most authors.
Now, as I pointed out above, if TikTok stresses you out then by all means focus your attention on more important things: for example, writing the next book. Writing books will always be the most important task that an author can do.
That said, TikTok is a lot of fun. I went into it knowing almost nothing about the platform, and I quickly found myself enjoying it. What I thought was just a bunch of people posting silly videos, was actually a sophisticated video platform that allows you to have virtual conversations and interactions that are unique to any social media platform.
I started off by taking Mark Dawson's course on TikTok for authors, which I highly recommend for those who want to go the extra mile.
After only two months of working on my TikTok channel, I reached 1000 followers, which I would never have thought possible before. It is remarkable, the amount of organic reach that you can gain when you follow some of the tips provided above.
Mark Dawson's course only opens for enrollment 1-2 times per year. And while I recommend most people wait, if you need a cheaper, more accessible course right now, check this one out.
Have you found success on TikTok? Would you like to include your advice in the table above? Be sure to reach out to us on our contact page, and let us know! We'd love to hear from you.