Marketing is Hard, BookTok is Harder

Marketing is Hard, BookTok is Harder

Good Afterevenmorn!

I’m back at it with the mentions of BookTok, largely in part because this is a (relatively) new-to-me social media site, and I’m still trying to plumb its depths and unravel its mysteries. Right now, all I’ve managed to do is upload a few vids that are largely trying out silly filters and somehow turn my ‘For You Page’ into nothing but Astarion (from the Baldur’s Gate 3 game that was recently released) thirst traps.

You like one funny video…

In any case, I understand that it can be an incredibly powerful tool in getting a readership — which I so desperately need if I have any hope of making any kind of living from my writing. BookTok is such a powerful player in the publishing world that brick-and-mortar stores often have a table near the front door devoted to books that have popped off on the site. Conquering BookTok is now one of the best ways to acquire that much-needed readership.

This is Astarion, incidentally. Look, if I must suffer, so must you.

I’m still not entirely comfortable talking about my books on the site myself, so I’m not likely to see any one of my books make it big there any time soon, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not keenly plugged into BookTok. It’s all part of my marketing research, you see. It’s not just an enormous time suck at all, nor is it the reason I lost three hours of my life yesterday with no recollection of the time passing at all.


Now, here’s something I’ve noticed: readers on BookTok will hype a book they absolutely loved as if the thing was their own; even if that book is objectively not so great, or has been rejected by literally every publishing house there is. They’re keen and kind and enthusiastic. But these people are not fools. They know when people are behaving badly, and rarely will they tolerate it. They also know when people are trying to exploit them, and they have even less tolerance for that.

So, you’ve probably guessed by now that there’s an author who has very recently earned the collective ire of BookTok.

As an aside, I believe it was a very deliberate move on the author’s part. I don’t think he was interested in getting BookTok on-side. I think he was trying to make it so he could appear to be a victim, which would appeal to his actual targeted audience, which is clearly not the women of BookTok. If so, it’s kind of genius, but will ultimately not really serve him in the long-run.

Essentially, what happened what this:

A male author recently got on TikTok to try and get his book onto The New York Times Bestseller list (I am not going to name either the author or the book here). His means of doing so? Reading a book by a female author every day. It’s actually not a bad strategy, really, considering that BookTok is very much a space dominated by women. It even sounds vaguely wholesome… and it would be, except that the whole reason he’s doing it is to market his own. In fact, he said out loud that he would be “Reading a book by a female author a day until his own book gets on The New York Times Bestseller list.” Emphasis mine. It feels inauthentic. It’s weird and exploitative.

It begins to feel more like clout-chasing than uplifting creators when the only books read were already popular in the mainstream.

Now, in the beginning, near as I can tell, there was a much more gentle pushback from the community; something along the lines of that it was great he was reading more female authors, but maybe he should divorce his own book from the notion and just make it a regular, separate thing for BookTok content. He… did not like that. When the reviews started coming in, and they were less than flattering, he liked that less. He accused BookTok of being the real Mean Girls, implying that there might be some weird BookTok conspiracy against him. I’ve not been on all that long, but even I know this was the wrong take to make on BookTok.

Now, some people did pick up his book. However, several reviews mention that the women in his story weren’t written well. Some were not particularly kind to his actual writing, either, mentioning that it reads like Chuck Palahnuik, if Chuck Palahnuik couldn’t write. Other reviews noted that the book was full of ‘paedophilic tendencies,’  ‘toxic spirituality,’ or (and this is a particular favourite of mine) that it was ‘written by a man who once dated a girl who was into crystals.’ Other reviewers mentioned that the book contained very misogynistic language, sounding alarming akin to the worse kind of Red Pill blogs.

Something felt off and BookTok started an investigation, as they’re wont to do. They dissected the titles of the books on the shelves behind him in his videos. They went off of TikTok and found his Instagram filled with images that would get them banned from TikTok, and memes that use suspiciously Red-Pilled and Q-Anon type language. BookTok sounded the alarm, noting that his intentions here were not as wholesome as it might appear at first.

When this was pointed out to him, both in video responses and gentle parodies, he first attempted to try the ‘I don’t understand’ route. When BookTok wouldn’t let him do that, and the problematic aspects of both his book and his marketing approach were explained, he doubled down, then tripled down. One BookToker questioned a video of his, trying to understand why he was marketing this book to women, when she felt it was better suited being marketed to men, he refused to answer, blocked her, and then ultimately took down the video she asked the question under.

He compared his book to the The Joker. He blamed women for, and I quote, being ‘very uncomfortable when faced with true male vulnerability.’ Which is… a thing. Look, perhaps claiming that the problem is actually one thing when the whole world is telling you what the actual problem is (which is not the thing you’re claiming) isn’t the best move.

There is a really brilliant TikTok video explaining the issues BookTok had with this man’s approach by Natalia Hernandez, which I recommend you watch here.

Listen, I’ve already discussed why writers should stay out of the reviewer space, so I won’t hash it out again.

Now he has been review-bombed. I think I’ve made my distaste for that tactic known. If you haven’t read the book there’s no real reason to give it a rating. Just move it into a ‘Will Not Touch Ever’ pile and move on. But a good number of those one star reviews are, to my mind, quite genuine.

Marketing is so difficult. I, personally, hate it more than I have ever hated anything in my life. That is saying a lot. I’m generally a grump. I can understand the desire to break in any way you know how. BookTok is a fantastic place to find or make a community of readers. But this was not the way.

If his goal was to gather the collective power of BookTok in order to propel his book into bestsellers lists, it was a spectacular fail. He has all but guaranteed that he is now on so many ‘Will Never Read’ piles, any future books will suffer. His chances of getting this book, or any future book with his name on the cover on those coveted tables in bookshops are pretty much nil.

I have, however, a sneaking suspicion that perhaps his goal was always to rage-farm, to position himself as the victim in order to gain the approval and readership of a different demographic. Like… those who willfully misunderstood what Fight Club was actually about, perhaps. But again, I’m a grump, so take that opinion with a healthy dose of salt.

When S.M. Carrière isn’t brutally killing your favorite characters, she spends her time teaching martial arts, live streaming video games, occasionally teaching at the University of Ottawa, and cuddling her cat. In other words, she spends her time teaching others to kill, streaming her digital kills, teaching about historical death, and cuddling a furry murderer. Her latest novels are SkylarkDaughters of Britain, and Human.


Notify of

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Aonghus Fallon

I remember near identical incidents on Goodreads, back in the day. Also on the Amazon Customer Discussion forums. The romance forum (where there was – supposedly – real money to be made) was dominated by group known as the Net Nannies. Invariably some solitary male author would troll them, usually via self-promotion (which was forbidden). What this had to do with getting people to buy your books I do not know. The Amazon Customer Discussion forums in particular were completely invisible to regular Amazon users – I only discovered them by accident.

S.M. Carrière

I think that maybe the idea that infamy is the same thing as being famous and that any attention is ultimately good? Again, it might just be to get to their preferred demographic, which is to say, not the being their currently engaging with.
Also, I’ve never heard of the Amazon Customer Discussion forums before. Now I’m curious!

Aonghus Fallon

Amazon removed them many moons ago…..

S.M. Carrière

No doubt. I can imagine it devolved pretty quickly and would not make much financial sense for Amazon to maintain.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x