‘BookTok’ Thrives on Marketability Rather than Artistic Integrity

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If you use TikTok and classify yourself as a bookworm, I am almost sure you have seen videos or promotions for what is known as “BookTok.” BookTok is a popular community on TikTok in which people—predominantly women in my experiences on the app—post about contemporary romance novels. I have always been a big reader and writer, and although my taste definitely lies in the classics, I originally thought BookTok was a great thing because it was a community in which women could share the books that they were reading and loved. However, after doing a few deep dives into the concept with my friends and taking time to dissect the intentions behind BookTok, I think the trend is one of my least favorite things to come from the app. Many of the books that are raved about on BookTok are written with little to no care and are focused way more on marketability than actual artistry. I think this, along with some of the stereotypes and tropes that are used in some of these books, makes the trend more harmful than it is positive.

In an attempt to have a fair opinion of the content I saw on BookTok, I read a few popular titles in my spare time. While these books were certainly easy reads, they did not sit well with me at all. As someone who pours so much love into my stories and loves seeing this level of love in the books I read as well, it was appalling to see how lazily these books were written. From the books I have read to the posts I have seen from BookTok, it is abundantly clear to me that these writers care more about how many tropes they can cram into a book than their plot or characters. I won’t lie—I am a sucker for a good friends-to-lovers or rivals-to-lovers plot—but the way I see these cliches portrayed through BookTok is terrible. I have seen books lead off with a list of tropes and overused character types rather than a synopsis. This, to me, is proof that there is no real plot, or at least not a well-constructed or thought-out one, but rather the author trying to make the book as marketable as possible. 

There is certainly something to be said about the BookTok community being predominantly female. I think this is because—in a vast majority of the books I’ve seen featured—the man is portrayed as loving above all else. Sure, he might be a mafioso or otherwise dangerous, but the main premise of the book is often his adoration for the female main character. If you are curious about specific books, they are not hard to find—just search “BookTok” online or take a visit to your nearest chain bookseller. The problem with this is that it seems like there are just as many depictions of incredibly toxic behavior disguised as love as there are depictions of healthy relationships. Now, I expect most adult readers can differentiate fantasy from reality in their relationships, but teenage girls—who are a large demographic of readers, according to The Guardian—may not be able to. This may cause young women who have not experienced a healthy relationship to latch onto the behaviors and actions of these fictional men because they are portrayed as appropriate and affectionate. This is incredibly harmful, and something that I do not see enough people on BookTok talking about. 

The fact that these books are often targeted toward young adults poses another major issue—the smut. Most (if not all) of the books marketed on BookTok include several graphic sex scenes. I am not saying young adults should be sheltered from reading about sex, but I do think this also feeds into unhealthy and unrealistic expectations of real-life relationships. Of course, young adults should be educated about sex if they are curious, but if the only way they are doing this is through BookTok—that is a major issue. Young adults and other impressionable readers often lack the maturity to fully grasp what is and is not acceptable in real relationships, and BookTok makes it that much harder with the romanticization of toxic and harmful situations (again, think back to the mafia boss plus a vulnerable female victim love story trope). Even for adult readers, there is an overwhelming emphasis on the smut included in these books. In almost every TikTok video describing or previewing one of these books, the comments are full of people asking if there is any “spice” in it. According to PR Newswire, 90.74% of the women that were polled in a study regarding reading erotica said they read at least one erotica book per month. I do not think this is inherently a bad thing, but the overwhelming emphasis of it that I have seen on BookTok takes away from the actual literature. However, when erotica is not the main selling point for a novel, I believe reading erotica can be a great way for women to explore their own sexuality. (The aforementioned study even says erotica can empower women sexually, but it is important to note the definition “women” may not inherently take into account “young women” or “girls” in a study.) Although I do not condemn readers or writers for engaging in erotica, I think the overall focus of a book should be on the plot and characters. However, I doubt that will change anytime soon: Smut apparently sells better than a book with a well-developed plot and motivated characters. 

Overall, BookTok makes me disheartened for the future of art and literature. I have read countless books that are written beautifully which I have loved, but they likely won’t receive any praise or coverage from BookTok because romance and sex are not the primary selling points. I will never discourage people from reading what they enjoy and what makes them happy, but it does make me heartbroken to see poorly written literature that focuses on profit rather than art. But, in today’s society, where it seems like almost all forms of media are viewed as content to sell rather than art, it is not surprising that BookTok authors are as successful as they are. While there’s nothing inherently bad about reading for simple enjoyment, let’s not allow lazy and stereotypical erotica overshadow the immense value of a well-written novel.

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