Booktok or Bust

For the past two months I have been posting regularly on Tiktok. I read that it provided interesting opportunities for making known (i.e. marketing) one's book, and thought I would try it out. I have had an active presence on Twitter for over ten years. It seemed a good time to make the effort to explore another social media platform. I read up on Tiktok, and the pundits suggest posting from 3 to 5 videos a day during the first month of using to platform in order to develop a presence that will drive, essentially, visibility, which is the result of the rather mysterious operation of the site's algorithm. It is clear that this algorithm does follow a system, but guessing exactly what that system is, poses problems. Anyway, I took the advice to heart, and although I felt squeamish about filming myself so heavily, I took the plunge.

I have actually started to enjoy the process of presenting myself on video, although there are days it is hard to muster the interest to follow through. Tiktok handles video clips up to 15 seconds, 1 minute, and 3 minutes differently. For new users of Tiktok, it is not possible to post videos longer than 3 minutes. So one learns to be concise. However, there are a lot of tricks one can do, via video editing, to enhance the clips, many of which take advantage of the way Tiktok works.

At its root, it was developed as a way for users to lipsynch song lyrics. Today it is used much more broadly than that, but its lipsynching features are still present and often used to advantage. Hence, for example, instead of synching to songs, one can synch to recordings of actors' lines in films or even to recordings from other Tiktok users. There are hundreds of sound tracks that are repeatedly used in this way. Sometimes these are just noises that are used to highlight messages, for example, a series of bells ringing, and text boxes are used ubiquitously also to draw attention to issues (such as books). It is a highly playful environment, and demands a great deal of creativity to use fully.

Although there are users who have clearly adopted a persona rather than present themselves directly, I would say that the majority find a way to "be themselves" in whatever way works for them. As a writer, this appears to be the way to go. Over the two months I have been active on the site, I have gained about 420 followers. This is probably average in terms of growth. Some people gain followers much more quickly, usually as a result of finding a "winning formula", but sometimes just as a result of who they are. For example, those who are more playful tend to do better. Women may do better than men, but this is not always a good thing. As a writer, one is trying to build a community of interested readers and fellow writers. If one attracts people to one's pages for other reasons, these followers may end up causing problems, as they will bias the algorithm that promotes visibility towards the wrong audience.

Like others, this causes problems for me because of my eclectic interests. It has become clear that my "writer's account" should probably be kept separate from my "fashion designer's account" so as not to confuse the algorithm. On the other hand, my gender fluid advocacy seems to be good for my book promotion and for my fashion design stuff as well. Finding the right combo is very much a case of trial and error.

As a new user, the first major milestone one tries to achieve is to get to 1000 followers. Some of the more advanced features of the site are only available to those with that level of followers, including the ability to hold live seances, and the ability to receive donations from interested viewers. Indeed, there is a way to earn an income via the site, although only the most popular users are able to generate an income that is significant. Live sessions are interesting to writers because they allow us to take more time to read aloud, say, or to carry out interactive sessions involving story-telling.

There are writers who have been successful at generating follower communities that significantly affect book sales. In the most successful cases, these can be substantial. However, I suspect that for most writers on Tiktok (or Booktok - the part of Tiktok devoted to books), the impact on sales is much more modest. Still, for struggling writers newly published, even a few book sales can make a difference and can help build one's credibility as a writer, especially if this leads to book reviews and the like.

As for myself, I am rather enjoying the whole exercise, still, although I imagine one could tire of the whole effort. There is still so much to learn about how to use the environment. Also, I enjoy it rather more than Twitter, Facebook, or even Instagram, all three of which I use as well. I get to talk about things that I am passionate about, and so far, the followers seem to come just as a result of saying those things. Many users of Tiktok don't actually post videos - I estimate that is the case for about two thirds of my followers. They are just people interested in one's voice but don't, for whatever reason, wish to express themselves via video. I titled this post "Booktok or Bust" but although I think one could go all out on Tiktok, that is not necessarily what I wish or plan to do. I will stay with it as long as I have fun, and if it helps sell my book(s) as well, then so much the better.

N.B. My TikTok account is @geoffreyjen_author

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