Jul 6, 2022 - Technology

The power of "Bookstagram" and "Booktok" for writers of color

Illustration of a hand cursor resting on the pages of an open book.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

TikTok and Instagram influencers are increasingly transforming the way readers find the next great read by writers of color.

The big picture: Worldwide book sales grew during the pandemic. BookTok and Bookstagram — the monikers and hashtags for reading accounts and posts on social media — are major drivers, according to analysts and publishers.

Titles by authors of color pop up frequently on BookTok and Bookstagram.

  • “They Both Die at the End,” a YA queer romance by Adam Silvera, who is Puerto Rican, is a hit on social media.
  • So are "These Violent Delights," a Romeo-Juliet retelling in Shanghai by Chloe Gong and "This Woven Kingdom," a fantasy series from Iranian American author Tahereh Mafi.

Latino-run social media accounts are among those redefining how literary word-of-mouth works in the social media age — helping some books become bestsellers.

  • For example, Latina TikTok user Selene Velez’ video about “seriously life-changing” books was linked to a sales bump for E. Lockhart's 2014 novel, “We Were Liars,” and to its prequel getting greenlit.
  • “The Atlas Six,” a 2021 self-published novel with a Cuban main character, became such a runaway social media hit that it was reprinted by Tor Books this Spring and is now being adapted as an Amazon series.

The intrigue: Publishing companies have created programs to work with social media influencers in hopes of making books a hit.

  • Barnes & Noble and the U.K.’s Waterstones now have “Trending on BookTok” and “BookTok Made Me Read it” displays at their stores and reading clubs.

Social media is also a way for readers to find books that are targets of bans.

  • Instagram account @bannedbooksbookclub posts titles that are blacklisted in public libraries or school districts, like Carmen Maria Machado’s memoir, “In the Dream House.”

Yes, but: As social media influence keeps growing, so do criticisms in some corners that its most popular and reposted titles lack diversity — a general problem in the publishing industry.

What they’re saying: Carmen Alvarez, who runs an account that promotes diverse authors, tells Axios that being on Bookstagram “made me really question how I didn’t used to wonder why I never saw my personal experiences reflected on the pages of a book."

  • “I demand that now. I seek that out and I use my feeds to spotlight it because I want others very early on in life to understand that these characters that are like us deserve to be the default,” Alvarez says.
  • "It's a sense of community that helps you feel less alone in reading. Bookstagram is where I hang out with bookish friends and BookTok is where I meet new people, all for good recommendations"

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