Fast Fiction

The problem with “BookTok”


(Graphic by Eva Mayrose)

If you’re a reader who also has social media, whenever you open TikTok or Instagram you’re probably bombarded with videos about the same books you heard about months ago: “A Court of Thorns and Roses” by Sarah J. Mass, “The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller and every single book Colleen Hoover has ever written. 

Of course, there are some exceptions, but for the most part the bookish corner of TikTok, accurately named BookTok, popularizes poorly written and undeserving novels. 

This is not a new concept. The literature industry has always published easy reads because they sell well. But with the recent rise in social media usage related to books, the sales on these types of books have skyrocketed. 

Bookstores and the literature industry are seeing the benefits of BookTok; book sales are reaching “an almost 20-year peak” and more people are buying from bookstores (Coleman, The Week). 

While the effects may seem positive, there is a dark side to the popularity of these kinds of books. 

An example of this is the controversial work of Colleen Hoover, one of BookTok’s most popular authors. She has written books such as “It Ends with Us,” “Verity” and “Ugly Love,” all of which have gained popularity on the platform. 

“It Ends with Us” has been both celebrated and heavily criticized for its content. It’s about the dangers of an abusive relationship, but some readers have accused Hoover of romanticizing domestic abuse. 

Many of Hoover’s readers are teenagers, which presents a problem with the subject matter of her novels: if young readers are seeing toxic relationships portrayed without any consequences, will they know how to navigate away from and protect themselves from dangerous relationships in real life? 

This issue isn’t unique to Hoover’s work, either; many other popular books on TikTok romanticize hazardous subjects. 

Another drawback of BookTok is the actual quality of writing. There are some popular books that are well-written, but the majority are written solely for sales, often focusing on tropes and aesthetics instead of plot, character development, theme and eloquent prose. 

A recent example of this comes with “Lightlark” by Alex Aster. When Aster pitched the novel’s plot on TikTok, it gained immediate traction and was published in August of 2022. Soon after its release, readers complained about her writing style, calling it juvenile and generic. 

Despite this, it’s not possible to stop writing these kinds of books—not everyone wants to read novels that examine the purpose of life. 

But writing is an essential part of the human experience: it allows people to connect over hundreds of years, to tell meaningful stories that impact lives and to document important cases of individual experience. 

If we prioritize stories that are written only for the purpose of a quick, easy read on vacations, we lose so much relevant insight on humanity. 

Colleen Hoover will go down in history for her immense number of book sales and Alex Aster is a prime example of BookTok’s influence over the publishing industry, but their novels will not be remembered as monumental, expertly-written works of literature.