A sub-community on TikTok, BookTok focuses on creators reviewing and discussing books and literature in an interactive way through the app. This week, Rowanvale Books' Digital Marketing Team sat down with @StarrySteph, an avid BookToker based in Jersey City.
Q: What role does BookTok play in your life?
Steph: I stumbled into the BookTok community - it was all quite unexpected! I’ve always been a passionate reader, but in a solitary way. I remember adoring my public library’s children’s book club, but I didn’t have that sort of communal bookish experience as an adult.
When I found BookTok, I thought it was a bit intimidating and overwhelming. I wanted to make friends, but I was scared to reach out to others. I wanted to share recommendations, but I had stepped out of the content creation world years earlier. I wanted to find people that aligned with my passions and interests, but when you first come across BookTok you tend to see only a few books being promoted.
I’m so glad I stuck it out, because now I’ve buddy read & video chatted with real friends, discovered hundreds and hundreds of diverse new books, and reached millions of viewers through my own posts. BookTok plays a huge role in my day-to-day joy and has expanded my boundaries as a reader in a delightful way.
Q: How important is BookTok to the reading community? What do you think it’s useful for?
Steph: BookTok has connected readers in a special way. Many of us have been reading all our lives, but for others it reignited a passion and reminded them that reading can be fun & joyful & exciting. It’s like a gigantic book club where there’s truly a spot for everyone.
My favorite part of BookTok is probably all the micro-communities. I’ve found really specific groups of people who enjoy the same sorts of books as I do - which makes me trust their recommendations far more.
BookTok has helped elevate marginalized voices. It’s changed the lives of independent authors who went viral after sharing their books. It’s ignited real conversation and community among creators and just-watchers alike.
My hope is that those who bring BookTok “offline” (ie. into bookstores) will take some time to cultivate their feed and who they choose to follow & engage with. There’s far, far more to this community than the SJM and CoHo books I often see represented on BookTok tables. BookTok can be an incredibly useful tool for discovering fresh voices in literature and exposing readers to diverse and inclusive stories. I’d love to see bookstore recommendation tables reflect that a bit more.
Q: How have your reading habits changed since you’ve been using TikTok?
Steph: I read more, of course – it’s hard not to when you stumble across amazing book recommendations every single day.
I also have become more intentional about diversifying my shelves. I’m fascinated by statistics and spreadsheets, but I’d never applied those to my own reading habits. Believe it or not, I wasn’t even on Goodreads or StoryGraph before I joined BookTok. Reading had always been deeply personal for me in the past.
Now, I’m reading all sorts of inclusive, diverse literature. I’m breaking outside of my comfort zone by hearing from new voices and identities - and also have found myself represented on the page in ways I hadn’t thought possible. As someone with a chronic illness, other disabled BookTokers have been a great source of community. It’s the same way with my fellow Jewish BookTokers!
Q: What are your top tips for reading more?
Steph: Stay away from TikTok! Just kidding. ;)
My best advice is to view reading as building a habit - incorporate it into your daily routine. If you’d like to read more, try spending 20 minutes with a book before bed instead of watching one more episode of a sitcom. Listen to an audiobook while you drive to work, fold laundry, or go to the gym. Read one chapter every morning before you turn on your cell phone.
I am a natural speed reader, and there are ways to practice & train yourself to increase your reading speed if you’re eager to devour more stories – but reading isn’t a competition. Set a goal for yourself that is reasonable for your life & responsibilities and not too stressful. Maybe it’s one book a month, maybe it’s one book a week, or maybe it’s just reading (for any length of time) every day.
Q: Is there anything you think TikTok could do better to help authors and readers alike?
Steph: Like all online bookish communities and social media platforms, TikTok has its flaws. Creators with marginalized identities - especially creators of color - tend to face suppression in the app’s algorithm. Readers sometimes choose to ignore harmful content when it’s part of a beloved book or series.
I would love for TikTok to ease up on its content restrictions - creators get flagged or suppressed for initiating genuine, thoughtful conversations about serious topics. Let people share their experiences with racism, homophobia, ableism, antisemitism, and so on. And the system flags perceived violence as well - which makes sense, but also makes it quite hard to discuss horror books.
I’ve heard rumors that TikTok is moving towards promoting longer form content, and I love that! Watching extensive book reviews - and discovering them in a way that feels organic - is one of my favorite aspects of the platform.
Q: What suggestions would you give to an aspiring BookTok creator?
Steph: Be open to growth. This community will support you, challenge you, and change you. We all make mistakes and we all struggle to live with compassion.
Stay humble and earnestly acknowledge when you can do better. Talk to other creators & ask for advice. Reading is fun of course, but it also has real-world impact. Think about the stories you are promoting and engaging with - are they reflective of the world around you?
Remember that you don’t exist in a vacuum – please support other creators. Comment on a video if you enjoyed it. Actually tell a BookToker that you read a book they recommended (you’d be surprised how few of these comments I see, even though I know people are picking up books because of me). Uplift other voices in the community, and remember that not everyone will have the same opinions as you.
Q: What has surprised you the most about BookTok?
Steph: It’s a real, warm, inclusive community! Before I downloaded TikTok, I had a whole bunch of incorrect assumptions about the platform - that it was exclusively for dancing teenagers and hot takes and silly memes. Those things are all present, but it’s truly a widespread, multi-generational platform.
BookTok welcomes readers and authors of ALL ages, reading all genres, and engaging in thoughtful ways with that material. I believe that it can be a place for critical analysis of media – and I’m always amazed at the nuance some reviewers are able to offer in a 3 minute video.
I’m so grateful to the connections I’ve made and the community I’ve slowly immersed myself into. I can’t wait to see what 2023 brings!
If you want to see more of what @StarrySteph is doing, you can find her on the following platforms:
Website: stephaniepilavin.com or https://beacons.ai/starrysteph