When It Comes to TikTok, Authors Must Manage Their Expectations – Publishers Weekly

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TikTok has upended the conventional marketing wisdom of publishers—which holds that noncelebrities’ books have a brief time after launch to see hitmaking sales before fading into obscurity—by suddenly catapulting books that have been out for years into the spotlight and onto bestseller lists. Authors have taken notice: with TikTok boasting approximately one billion active monthly users, and with BookTok content having received 74.4 billion views and counting, that’s a lot of readership and sales potential.
Or so it would seem.
Sara Raasch is the bestselling author of the YA fantasy trilogy Snow Like Ashes, the YA fantasy duology Stream Raiders, and the duology Set Fire to the Gods, cowritten with Kristen Simmons. She joined TikTok in early 2020, right before the pandemic hit. Thanks to a handful of viral videos, Raasch’s TikTok account quickly amassed more than 80,000 followers.
“I often tried to play to TikTok trends, and just shift them to fit books and writing,” she says. “I always saw the best uptick in views when I hit trends at the right time. Trends are increasingly difficult to play to, as they come and go so fleetingly and quickly get saturated.”
With such a large platform, one would think Raasch would see a major increase in sales, but she says this is not the case for her YA novels. “Not only did I not see any boost in book sales,” she notes—“the time I was spending making TikTok content was quickly sucking up my writing time.”
Raasch says that she tried a different strategy on her pseudonym account for adult romance novels. “I have had a video go viral on my pseudonym TikTok account [which has more than 2.2 million views as of this writing], and I saw a direct bump in sales because of it.” She suggests that she spent a lot of time on her YA account branding herself, but on her pseudonym account she only posts about books and doesn’t show her face.
“The success I garnered there plays entirely into the analogy of social media as a casino,” Raasch asserts. “High engagement is the jackpot you may or may not get, but if you play the game long enough—i.e., post consistently, play to trends, etc.—you might win.” She adds that she feels the success she’s had on her pseudonym account “was entirely luck,” but she continues to post there because she’s seen the potential payout.
Dante Medema, author of YA novels Message Not Found and The Truth Project, joined TikTok in February 2021 and now has more than 83,000 followers. “I have received some pretty amazing career opportunities through TikTok,” she says, citing connections with other authors and readers and lining up interviews and speaking engagements. “Overall, I think it’s had a positive impact.”
However, she echoes Raasch’s sentiment that engagement and views will vary. “It’s easy to get discouraged,” she says. “I think it’s about understanding that not every video is going to get a bunch of likes and comments.”
Medema stresses that authenticity is important. “On the heels of the perfection-filtered Instagram, people really crave things that are honest and real,” she says. “Being a little messy and sharing parts of your process are valued and appreciated. And the more I just let loose and enjoy myself, the better it does.”

High engagement is the jackpot you may or may not get, but if you play the game long enough… you might win.

Author Adib Khorram joined TikTok in mid-2021. His novels include the highly lauded Darius the Great Is Not Ok, Kiss & Tell, and Darius the Great Deserves Better. Khorram is still building his TikTok following, but he says he mostly uses the app to connect with other authors and readers and just have fun. “The more time I spend on TikTok, the more I let go of notions of what I ‘should’ be doing, and the more I embrace fun,” he adds.
His advice to authors? “If it’s not fun, it’s not worth it. You could be writing another book instead.”
When asked if he felt as if TikTok has impacted his author career, Khorram responds, “Not that I can tell—except adding to my stress level as I try to be cool and remember to actually post sometimes.”
Raasch advises authors not to stress; success on TikTok is possible, but not predictable. “TikTok is wildly oversaturated now, and the algorithm is a brutal mistress,” she says. “Try to have fun, and if you find you aren’t having fun, stop!”
Chelsea Apple is a creative strategist and content coordinator for literary PR firm Books Forward.

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