‘It’s like the Netflix for books’: Popular TikTok subset ‘BookTok’ becomes a bestselling leader

Like many millennials, Maggie Siciliano said she stumbled upon TikTok during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I thought it was mostly just for videos and dancing at first,” the Virginia-based content creator told WTOP.

At the time, Siciliano was living in New York City. She said everything changed when she read a book she really enjoyed: “From Blood and Ash” by Jennifer L. Armentrout. The novel has a cliffhanger that made her an instant fan.

“I went on TikTok, and I posted a reaction video to that cliffhanger,” Siciliano explained. “And I discovered there was this whole community of people.”

“There were tons of people freaking out about this book, and they gave me examples of recommendations off that book.”

She said she then went down a rabbit hole of exchanging book recommendations with other readers, reacting to fan-made art and enjoying literature within her newfound community, “especially when there wasn’t much of a physical community at that time in the world,” she said.

While that sounds simple in mission, Siciliano said there’s actually so much more to “BookTok” than that nowadays, which is a testament to how rapidly the platform has evolved.

Siciliano said that before BookTok, there wasn’t a place online where people could engage in rapid-paced dialogue to discuss their favorite literature.

“You’d go on YouTube and you’d give 30 minutes to an hour reviewing a book,” Siciliano said. “Or, you’d go on Instagram and take really gorgeous photos of that book. But there wasn’t a one-stop shop for discussing books.”

But TikTok, and the subset BookTok community, changed all that.

“TikTok became the perfect place to talk about it because what better way to sell a book than looking at someone who has the same taste as you, who can give you a bite-sized review of something you already know you love.”

That 15- to 60-second rundown of why you should pick up a book is something Siciliano said is the best form of advertising a modern author can ask for.

“Everyone in the BookTok community remembers the same moment,” she said when talking about the first time she and her friends realized that platform could be monetized.

“A creator made a viral TikTok review of a novel called ‘The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue,’ and it blew up overnight,” Siciliano said. “The book flew off the shelves. They had to print more copies. It was a bestseller.”

“All of a sudden it was like, ‘Oh! We can, just by talking about a book that we love — we can propel an author’s career. It’s wild when you think about that.”

She said at that point, it became entirely reasonable for people to take the leap from creating literature-focused content online, to writing books and pitching themselves as an author through their content.


@maggiemaebereading @From Books To Books deserves an award #booktok #bookgifts #bookgiftideas #booknerd #annotatedbooks #personalizedbooks #bookbesties #furyborn ♬ original sound — Maggie

“It’s a lot like what I’ve observed from the music industry,” Siciliano said, comparing authors “getting discovered” on BookTok to online singing phenoms.

“You build connections, you have short clips … just like there’s a snippet of a great singer that can grab you, you can see a great quote from a book,” she said.

Siciliano herself got a marketing job by promoting books and certain types of literature for clients, such as authors and publishing companies. Two of her best friends have since been published.

“One has been published twice already, and the other is releasing their first book this September,” she said.

Part of the reason Siciliano believes the platform has been so successful is because of how much fun BookTok content makes the business side of things.

“You feel like you’re talking to your friends,” she said. “You feel like you just had a friend recommend a book to you. And these people become your friends.”

Siciliano said she’s even traveled the country to hang out with fellow “BookTokers” to discuss literature, forge bonds and make connections all at the same time.

“It’s become such a pillar for myself and my friends,” she told WTOP. “You can definitely find your people and dig in.”

Now working at a tech company, Siciliano said her days of professional BookToking are behind her. But she said it’s still an avid hobby, and it’s a community that’s absolutely here to stay.

In other words, the future of the publishing business is now.

“It just becomes like the Amazon Prime or Netflix for books,” she said. “You just click on that hashtag and you have a million more recommendations.”

She said there are never-ending subsets of BookTok that are genre-specific, for everything from thrillers to horror, to classic literature, to sci-fi dystopia and beyond.

“There are a million different subsets just for types of romance novels,” Siciliano said.

“Bringing the joy to it is what sells the books,” she added.

Siciliano said her advice to peers in the BookTok realm has always been to be their authentic selves. She said that expression of individuality is what adds a rich layer of life to the BookTok platform, which is weaving together the tapestry of literary works, book by book, even in the digital age.

“If you’re looking to reach your audience, that’s where they’ll be for a while,” she said.

Matt Kaufax

If there's an off-the-beaten-path type of attraction, person, or phenomenon in the DC area that you think more people should know about, Matt is your guy. As the features reporter for WTOP, he's always on the hunt for stories that provide a unique local flavor—a slice of life if you will.

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