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What is BookTok? And is it a Good Thing?

Ah, BookTok. My favorite double-edged sword of the internet, allowing me to brag about reading books before they were trendy and draining my bank account faster than any video game microtransaction could dream of.

Credit: @camillehill/TikTok & @metaphoricallymj/TikTok
Credit: @camillehill/TikTok & @metaphoricallymj/TikTok

Ah, BookTok. My favorite double-edged sword of the internet, allowing me to brag about reading books before they were trendy and draining my bank account faster than any video game microtransaction could dream of.

A Guilty Pleasure

I’m a sucker for long-form book reviews. I adore Cindy’s scathing reviews, love the raw emotions A Clockwork Reader’s videos manage to articulate, and Jenny Nicholson’s videos speak for themselves. But when they delve into the books promoted on BookTok, you’ll have to excuse me for being a little more restrained these days.

TikTok user @camillehill’s review of Verity, where she briefly mentions the consequences of her negative BookTok review.

I’ve spoken about GAYLE’s start in the music industry, courtesy of TikTok. And I have plenty to say about industry plants regarding authors. But right now, the glaring issue I see focuses more on the authors that found themselves heavily promoted on the site.

Colleen Hoover, romance author and one of the many queens of BookTok. A bestselling author, too, dominating the bestseller lists. 

More cynically, her books also glorify abusive relationships.

A Quick Escalation

Romantic or abusive? In Colleen Hoover’s books, it’s hard to tell.
Credit: KieferPix/Shutterstock

Exploring one of the few remaining independent bookshops, I was face-to-face with a copy of her novel It Starts with Us as I walked through the door. At the time, I didn’t know as much about Colleen Hoover as I do these days, but her name was familiar enough that I grimaced. But, after returning home with three independently published books, I turned to TikTok to figure out what was going on. 

TikTok user @camillehill’s review of It Ends With Us

Listen, I like it when authors don’t take themselves too seriously. I love authors that interact with fanbases that don’t feel too removed from the rest of us. I’ve followed Adam Silvera since I accidentally picked up his novel They Both Die At The End instead of Michael Ausiello’s Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies way back in 2017 after misreading a post on Jesse Tyler Ferguson’s Instagram. That seems to make Colleen Hoover appeal to BookTok; she’s messy and imperfect and doesn’t try to hide it.

Correction: She only tries to hide it when it makes her books look even shadier. If I had a bad taste in my mouth before, the way she brushed aside her son’s abhorrent behavior made it even worse.

A Sense Of Deja-Vu

Anna Todd’s After originated as One Direction fanfiction published on Wattpad. After being released as its own novel, Harry Styles was allegedly so uncomfortable that he blocked the author on Twitter. Yikes.
Credit: Jaguar PS/Shutterstock

Wattpad gave us Anna Todd’s After, so this is far from the first or last time it will happen. The focus on her books being romantic leaves plenty of readers – many of them young and vulnerable – face-to-face with books that create a highly unhealthy idea of love. Nevertheless, I worry that young people will see these books on their hidden TikToks, find and read them, but then feel unable to ask questions. On a whim, I asked my family and friends about the situations in her books. And all of them were horrified.

Her success and output are admirable. But why are we parading her around as a romance author when, in reality, she writes about horrendously abusive and unbalanced dynamics? And why are we okay with the deceptive marketing that puts these books in front of young people navigating some of their first relationships and the numerous complicated feelings they involve?

TikTok user @metaphoricallymj spotted this amusing scene whilst out bookshopping.

I’m not saying we should deplatform anybody. I’d just like books to be promoted appropriately to readers so they know what they’re getting into.

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First-year creative writing student at Nottingham Trent University.

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