BookTok: Horsham bookshops see rise in young people buying novels thanks to TikTok phenomenon

Booksellers in Horsham are seeing a rise in the number of young people coming into their store and buying books thanks to a global TikTok sensation.

#BookTok is a section of the social media platform which has seen users post short videos inspired by the books they love. The phenomenon started at the beginning of Covid and has been gathering momentum ever since.

Rosie Talbot, a Horsham Waterstones employee and ‘Booktoker’, said: “I'm not sure who the first person was to speak about books on TikTok, but essentially #BookTok is reviewers, readers, booksellers, librarians and authors all coming together and talking about books.

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“I think it’s quite a large part of the community and has had a massive impact on sales.”

Rosie Talbot from Horsham's Waterstones

The trend was first noticed in the UK in the summer of 2020, after the first lockdown, and Rosie agrees this was when she first noticed a trend appearing in the shop.

She said: “It’s hard to pinpoint an exact time because of Covid we were partially closed and partially open for a long time. But certainly the biggest impact and jump we noticed with people coming in and requesting titles they had seen on #BookTok was after the first lockdown when we reopened.

“That’s when we saw a much higher number of younger readers and people in their twenties specifically asking for books they had seen on the platform.”

It was also apparent in the district’s independent stores - as Gudrun Bowers from Steyning Bookshop explained: “The book that made me realise this phenomenon was during the summer of 2020, with a book called They Both Die At The End by Adam Silvera.

Shops like the Horsham Waterstones have dedicated stands for young people filled with popular TikTok books.

“That came out in 2017 and we had sold two copies in three years, but in 2020 quite a few teenagers came in and ordered this book.

“It got me wondering why they were all ordering this books that came out three years ago, after the publicity had ended and there had been no Netflix series made of it.”

Some Booktokers - predominantly young women - have amassed billions of views with their book reviews turning novels into best-sellers within days.

Now, shops like the Horsham Waterstones have dedicated stands to young readers filled with popular TikTok books, with Rosie stating that Fantasy, Young Adult and Romance novels had been a particular success.

Booksellers have also seen a rise in demand for novels written by Asian and black authors, as well as a growth in the LGBTQI+ writers section.

BookTook books that have seen a rise in sales at the Horsham Waterstones include:

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover

Red White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

The Fine Print by Lauren Asher

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

Rosie said: “There are certain genres that seem to do very very well on #BookTok - Fantasy, Young Adult and Romance in particular. There are all types of books on #BookTok, but those communities are particularly strong, where we have seen the impact on the store.

“We always had quite a strong teen readership, but we have seen that number increase and people who have come in and said ‘Oh I haven't read much for a few years but I saw this book and all my friends are reading it and I want to try it.

“We’ve seen a large jump in sales in a number of particular books and often it is not just new books, there are older titles that have sold well.

“It’s changed the landscape in being able to predict books that are going to do really well. If #BookTok gets hold of something, it will turn it into a bestseller, within a few days, which is an amazingly powerful thing.

"So, we have to make sure we can get those books in and get that stock in.”

Booksellers have also seen a rise in demand for novels written by Asian and black authors, as well as a growth in the LGBTQI+ writers section.

Rosie explained how this has also been apparent in Horsham: “There’s a much wider trend in diverse literature, I don’t think that stems purely from TikTok.

“I think that comes from the BlackLivesMatter movement and a lot of other movements that are happening at the moment.

“It’s extremely important that we as booksellers always make sure those books are as accessible as possible and our front and centre of the shop. We like to showcase a hugely diverse range of books.

If you are looking to find diverse books, #BookTok is a great place to find those authors and you will get a brilliant range of authors. Then, you can come into Waterstones and if we don't have it in, we will get it in for you.”

The Horsham Waterstones and the Steyning Bookshop both see the #BookTok trend as a positive shift in the literacy industry.

Gudrun from Steyning said: “It seems like an organic, grass root movement, either from the readers or the authors themselves making the #BookTok and it’s not sponsored, corporate content.

“We have seen more teenagers and young people come into the shop and are enthusiastic about books and that is always a good thing.”

Rosie agreed and said: “#BookTok has meant books are now my life, if I'm not selling books in Waterstones, I'm at home reading and reviewing and recording my reading experience for #TikTok.

"I’m also an author, so when I'm not doing any of that I'm writing. It’s basically my personality now.

“It’s lovely, our favourite thing is when people come in and get excited about books and want to talk about them. I'm reading a lot of similar books and recommending books. Anything that gets people reading is brilliant.”

To follow Rosie on TikTok, visit @Merrowchild

To find out more about the Steyning Bookshop click here