BookTok: please don’t let TikTok publishing lower the bar

BookTok: please don’t let TikTok publishing lower the bar

by Suswati Basu

It seems to be a week filled with book and tech news crossovers – and not necessarily positive ones. TikTok parent company ByteDance has finally exploited its large BookTok market to reportedly start its own publishing organisation.

Read: AI open letter: authors including Margaret Atwood urge companies to honour copyright

What is TikTok parent ByteDance’s publishing company?

The company, named 8th Note Press, has apparently already started reaching out to authors, mostly self-published romance writers, looking to buy the rights to distribute their books. This is based on the fact the Chinese social media conglomerate filed a trademark for a publisher in late April. And I couldn’t be more aghast.

Bound India on TikTok publishing

According to the New York Times, former Penguin Random House editor Katherine Pelz, who specialises in romance, has been hired as acquisitions editor. An author told the Bookseller they had been approached by 8th Note with an offer for publication, being told the publisher was looking for backlists and new romance and fantasy releases, and offering an advance of $3500 USD. The author was told the press was digital first, with limited print on demand until TikTok’s direct online shopping function is ready.

The publishing company is said to be completely unaffiliated with TikTok, citing it to be solely a ByteDance project. The move has attracted criticism, with some claiming that authors were being given advances that fall short of industry standards.

What’s interesting is that apparently ByteDance is actually building a separate app based on users being able to read, buy and discuss books. According to TechCrunch, 8th Note Press includes an app to read, download and discuss fiction e-books in an online community; retail bookstore services; ordering books in audio, printed and digital formats; publishing e-books, audiobooks and physical books, as well as providing online, non-downloadable fiction and non-fiction books.

Why is ByteDance starting to publish?

Perhaps ByteDance is attempting to make up for the burgeoning losses made by TikTok by monetising BookTok, an area where they’ve had massive success. It would be interesting to see how it competes with the likes of industry giant Amazon.

What’s concerning, seen by just doing a cursory search of 8th Note Press on TikTok, is its very obvious algorithm skewing towards certain books. They didn’t hide the fact that romance, YA and fantasy would be their target genres, hence seeing a random indie book called The Eternal Trade by Leigh Walker pop up over and over again was rather disconcerting. In the past subliminal messaging was just that – whether it’s the arrowing forming a grin under the Amazon logo or the bear on Toblerone chocolate – there’s something reassuring about the fact that we are being subtly manipulated, and we’re not looking beyond the curtain.

“a level of mob mentality that is unnerving”

Obviously, that’s not completely true either, and ideally we want to live in a world where we aren’t being psychologically pushed towards one thing or another. But what I’ve found with BookTok is a level of mob mentality that is unnerving. We all want a feeling of belonging and want to be seen, so more often than not, users will end up jumping on the trend just for an extra few likes, follows and kudos.

Why is Colleen Hoover famous on BookTok?

This was clearly case with the Colleen Hoover craze on BookTok with over 4.3 billions views on the hashtag. No doubt, Hoover was a savvy social media user long before TikTok. Since 2012, she distributed free copies of her first, self-published YA novel, Slammed, to influential book bloggers. CoHo was big on YouTube’s BookTube community and big on “Bookstagram”.

“Readers may walk away with potentially distorted perceptions of what relationships should look like.”

And people saw parallels between her and J. K. Rowling – a social worker and mum transformed into blockbuster author. A great rags to riches-type tale. But it misses out a key fact. The books have been heavily criticised for its extensive trivialising of domestic violence, idealisation of toxic relationships and flaws to her formulaic style of writing. And people are starting to get clued up on it.


This book and the way it’s marketed gives me the ick. Sharing trigger warnings with your readers is the responsible, considerate thing to do. #booktok #booktoker #itendswithus #itendswithusbook #colleenhooverbooks #triggerwarning #triggerwarnings #bookstagram #bookstagrammer #colleenhoovercontroversy

♬ Flowers – Miley Cyrus

Many of her stories centres around abuse, despite falling under the romance genre. It omits any warnings of these darker elements, and usually focuses on a flacid love triangle. Readers may walk away with potentially distorted perceptions of what relationships should look like. Also, in her 24 books, there is very little diversity, which seems rather absurd in this day and age. There have also been allegations surrounding her son Levi, which have also raised questions – and I’m not even religious – to how this woman has managed to outsell the Bible?

As a result, it reflects poorly on BookTok and what it’s setting out to achieve. Remember it’s quality over quantity, and the algorithm just doesn’t seem to indicate this. Hence the worry is with ByteDance attempting to capitalise on its success, are we just pushing more low quality tripe into the ether? Let’s not lower the bar please.

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