July 20, 2021
Four years ago, author Adam Silvera released the young adult science fiction novel, They Both Die at the End, which found success and landed for a few weeks on The New York Times bestseller list.
After that fleeting experience with fame, Silvera settled in for a longer run of occasional sales and obscurity. But years later in August 2020, Silvera said his publisher noticed a significant sales bump, the start of a trend that would send the book to the top of The New York Times’ young adult paperback monthly bestseller list in April 2021, where it still reigns.
Silvera had no idea where the sales spike was coming from, according to a report by NBC News.
“I kept commenting to my readers, ‘Hey, don’t know what’s happening, but there’s been a surge in sales lately, so grateful that everybody’s finding the story years later,’” Silvera said. “And then that’s when a reader was like, ‘I’m seeing it on BookTok.’ And I had no idea what they were talking about.”
“BookTok” is a community of users on TikTok who post videos reviewing and recommending books. The group has boomed in popularity over the past year.
TikTok videos containing the hashtag #TheyBothDieAtTheEnd have collectively amassed more than 37 million views to date, many of which feature users reacting — and often crying — to the book’s emotional ending.
BookTok’s impact on the book industry has been notable, helping new authors launch their careers and propelling books like Silvera’s to the top of bestseller lists years after their original publication. Madeline Miller’s “The Song of Achilles,” E. Lockhart’s “We Were Liars” and Taylor Jenkins Reid’s “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo”—all of which were published before BookTok began to dominate the industry—are among some of the other books that have found popularity on the app years after their initial release.
Retailers like Barnes & Noble have taken advantage of BookTok’s popularity to market titles popular on the app to customers by creating specialized shelves featuring books that have gone viral.
“We’re identifying these trends as big opportunities,” Shannon DeVito, director of Books at Barnes & Noble, told NBC News. “So [Barnes & Noble store managers] say, ‘Let’s create a table, let’s create a shelf, let’s create a statement because I know I have so many customers coming in saying, ‘I saw this trending on TikTok.’’”
DeVito said Barnes & Noble began noticing upticks in sales of books last summer, particularly the “juggernauts” of “The Song of Achilles” and “They Both Die at the End.” Since then, she said, almost all Barnes & Noble locations have put BookTok tables or shelves on display.
“We’ve seen big box retailers jump at the chance to engage with the #booktok community, like Barnes and Noble creating a dedicated ‘TikTok BookTok Reads’ section both online and in-store from creator recommendations,” a TikTok representative wrote in an email to NBC News. “We’ve also seen creators and brands lean into the #BookTok community—from the publisher side, Penguin Random House is very in-tune with #BookTok trends and frequently collaborates with creators.”
The app has been pivotal for introducing younger audiences to reading, DeVito said, as well as for introducing older titles to new readers and for helping new authors find an audience.
The BookTok phenomenon also closely coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, which DeVito credits for people craving an emotional connection with others that they satisfied through reading.
Research contact: @NBCNews