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Reading is all the rage on BookTok — and Wichita bookstores are taking notice

The Barnes & Noble bookstore in Wichita has several tables devoted to titles that are popular on BookTok.
Suzanne Perez
The Barnes & Noble bookstore in Wichita has several tables devoted to titles that are popular on BookTok.

The community of bookworms on the social app TikTok, known collectively as BookTok, has become a powerful force in the publishing industry.

If you want to see people passionate about reading, scroll through TikTok.

The social app is awash in young readers who love to share book recommendations, author crushes or library “shelfies.” And lately the community known as BookTok — along with its slightly older Instagram sister, Bookstagram — has become a powerful force in publishing.

“We see a lot of new people coming into the store,” said Iris Rigg, manager of the Barnes & Noble store in Bradley Fair. “It’s kind of opening up a whole new world for them, which of course makes more sales for us, which is great.”

Experts say Booktok, as well as people having more free time during the pandemic, contributed to a resurgence in reading. And that has translated to more book-buying.

According to data from NPD BookScan, which tracks the publishing industry, sales of printed books in the United States were about 826 million last year, up from about 694 million in 2019. So far this year, sales are up another 50%.

“It’s had a very positive effect,” Rigg said. “We’ve seen our store (on BookTok) a couple times. They’ll come in and tag us, and that makes us really happy and excited that they’re having such a good time.”

Barnes & Noble caught on early to the BookTok trend, and Rigg says she makes sure to stock titles that are gaining traction on the platform.

A display near the front of the store is devoted to romance author Colleen Hoover, the undisputed queen of BookTok. Hoover’s novels became a sensation on the app — fans call her CoHo — and now she’s one of the best-selling authors in the country.

Three of the top five books on the current New York Times list of fiction best-sellers are Hoover novels, and her latest release, “It Starts With Us,” debuted at No. 1.

A display at Watermark Books & Cafe in Wichita features books by Colleen Hoover, who is popular on BookTok.
Suzanne Perez
A display at Watermark Books & Cafe in Wichita features books by Colleen Hoover, who is popular on BookTok.

Sarah Bagby, owner of Watermark Books & Cafe in Wichita, says her staff watched BookTok go from a social media novelty to a huge driver of book sales.

“Consumers are getting their book recommendations from BookTok, and … that has created an awareness among publishers of a lot of books that maybe they had dismissed in the past,” Bagby said.

That includes Hoover, along with similar romances and rom-coms.

“We now have a TikTok page, probably because of her,” Bagby said. “Because we saw how many people would come in and ask about her.”

And it’s not just about romance. Almost every genre has its own category on BookTok, including #HorrorTok, #ThrillerTok, #MysteryTok and #LitTok.

Rigg, the Barnes & Noble manager, was delighted to learn that one of her favorite literary fiction novels, Donna Tart’s “The Secret History,” had become a BookTok darling. Whenever an older book gets a sudden spike in sales, she assumes it’s related to social media.

“It’s exposed people to reading in a different way and reached a new generation,” Rigg said. “I just love to see people read. I don’t care what they’re reading, as long as they’re reading.”

Here’s a list of some titles that are popular on BookTok:

  • “It Ends With Us” by Colleen Hoover
  • “Verity” by Colleen Hoover
  • “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” by Taylor Jenkins Reid
  • “The Silent Patient” by Alex Michaelides
  • “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” by V.E. Schwab
  • “A Court of Thorns and Roses” by Sarah J. Maas
  • “Ninth House” by Leigh Bardugo
  • “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens
  • “The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller
  • “A Little Life” by Hanya Yanigahara
  • “They Both Die at the End” by Adam Silvera
  • “A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder” by Holly Jackson
  • “Heartstopper” by Alice Oseman
  • “Red, White & Royal Blue” by Casey McQuiston
  • “The Summer I Turned Pretty” by Jenny Han
  • “Beach Read” by Emily Henry
  • “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath
  • “We Were Liars” by E. Lockhart
  • “The Cruel Prince” by Holly Black
Suzanne Perez is a longtime journalist covering education and general news for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. Suzanne reviews new books for KMUW and is the co-host with Beth Golay of the Books & Whatnot podcast. Follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.