Highsnobiety

Experience this story and others in the new issue of Highsnobiety Magazine, available from retailers around the world and our online store.

In the summer of 2020, amid a global pandemic, Steph (@stephsstoriess) joined BookTok, a subsection of TikTok dedicated entirely to books. “I was depressed and needed something to do,” she tells Highsnobiety. Previously a fan of dystopian fiction, Steph was introduced to romance as a genre on the app — and she fell in love with her very first book boyfriends. Two years later, Steph says she has a better understanding of what she’s looking for in a partner. “There are people out there willing to put in the work to show you that you’re worth it,” she says. “I learned that through reading.”

BookTok’s impact on publishing is no secret to industry insiders. After years on the decline, Barnes & Noble’s book sales are up 14 percent, with storefronts sporting tables dedicated solely to BookTok’s favorite titles. Authors like Colleen Hoover, whose 2016 novel, It Ends With Us, began dominating as a bestseller in 2020 after becoming a BookTok sensation, now boast multiple titles on the New York Times Best Sellers list. Self-published authors are selling more copies than ever before — all through word-of-mouth recommendations. “As a self-published author, I have to rely on myself for advertising,” Willow Winters, bestselling author of dozens of romance novels, tells Highsnobiety. “TikTok is unique in its ability to go viral and develop a reader base very quickly.”

Since the TikTok algorithm amplifies the voice of any creator with an engaging message, regardless of following, self-published authors have even begun outselling some traditional titles, as well as having their backlist acquired by the “big five” publishers. Ruby Dixon, the author of Ice Planet Barbarians, went from having a dedicated following to being a viral sensation after BookTok began boosting her series. “So many bookstores started to order paper copies that I signed a deal with Berkley Publishing,” she tells Highsnobiety. Similarly, Bloom Books, an imprint of Sourcebooks, has gone on to quietly acquire the work of BookTok darlings like Lucy Score and Elle Kennedy, all authors within the romance BookTok celebrity sphere.

The genre dominating BookTok’s recommendation videos? Not “sad girl reads” or “dark academia,” but toe-curling, butterfly-inducing romance. Readers are flocking to the app to read, rave, and review romance novels across the board, with a level of analysis and introspection previously reserved for literary fiction. As they call out misogynists who dub romance novels “trashy” and monopolize bestseller lists, readers are also falling in love with new book boyfriends. And these fictional men are even teaching users about their own sexual desires, romantic fantasies, and relationship standards.

Read the full story by downloading the PDF below.

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