Dirt: Saved by #BookTok

One author's perspective on selling books through social media.

Dirt is a daily email about entertainment.

Chelsea G. Summers’s novel A Certain Hunger is released in paperback on October 19th.

You call yourself a writer. You want to write a novel. You work full-time, you have a life, you take your sweet-ass time. You have doubts. You have worries. You have hopes. You have dreams. You have a Netflix subscription. You have a Tinder profile. You have a gym membership (that you rarely use). Things happen, you write. Things don’t happen, you write. Years after you began, you finish your book. Years later, it sells.

You’re me, a middle-aged emerging writer whose debut novel dropped on December 1, 2020. In many ways, I was blessed in ways that most debut authors only dream about. My novel, A Certain Hunger, got rave reviews from major papers, an embarrassment of critical riches. Its sales were lively as bunnies until the coming of a new year and a new flock of new authors writing new books. Suddenly, my gory angel baby seemed destined to quietly molder on the remainder stacks.

Then #Bookstagram rescued my book from its premature, silent death as an impassioned Instagram influencer and then their influenced picked up the slack of conventional media. For the uninitiated, Instagram’s #Bookstagram hashtag denotes the site’s literary corner: readers display what they’re reading, writers promote what they’ve written, and authors anxiously search for their books. Instagram, an app ostensibly created for people to show off their meals, vacations, and midriffs, feels counterintuitive to reading, but books have long been objectified. You can buy them by the foot, for fuck’s sake.

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Cutting-edge technology in 1455, books should have come and gone, but today’s tech offers a rich source for big book love. Take, for example, TikTok, the fleet and kinetic app built for dance challenges and anti-vax theories. While TikTok’s manic energy might seem out of step with old and static books, the app’s easy fetishization of Dark Academia, the leather-bound aesthetic that marries Oxbridge with Yankee Candle, lends itself to literary love. #BookTok’s passion embraces a prismatic bookish spectrum, shining brightest on romance, horror, YA, LGBTQ, and, specifically, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, the current #BookTok It Girl.

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People on #Bookstagram tend to depict books in glossy piles or reclining against a suitable backdrop, choices that invite viewers to drink in the vibes. #BookTok, however, sashays across a variety of memes: those that slay if the VMAs were a funeral, those that seamlessly flip covers, those that tell you what people did/are/will read. Both platforms surprisingly dip below the slick surface sheen. You find depth where you find it, and you enjoy a bite of eye candy before scrolling on.

You feel weird relying on strangers’ memes to sell copies your book. But in this era of late-stage capitalism, you take what you can get, and when you’re a debut author of a book put out by an indie press, you’re thankful for the InstaTokLove. (You’re more ambivalent about the hate, but de gustibus non est disputandum and all that chromatically organized bookshelf jazz.) — By Chelsea G. Summers

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