In the past few years, social media has been a mega book sales catalyst for many authors. Physical bookstores like Barnes & Noble have tables set up just for BookTok-famous books. It seems that every book-related TikTok, Reel, or YouTube video these days features a different combination of those books.
But, dare I say it, this can be a toxic trend for readers.
While yes, I am an indie author who makes my own Reels on Instagram to promote my books, and who wants to read some of the books that have gone viral on BookTok, Bookstagram, or BookTube, I have noticed that content on these platforms has been almost cookie-cutter in appearance over the last few months across hundreds of readers’ accounts.
Do I think BookTok, and its counterparts on Instagram and YouTube are inherently toxic for readers? Not necessarily. But, I do think it can hinder our love for reading, if we allow it. Why? Keep scrolling, my friend.
Allowing Social Media to Dictate Your TBR Spawns The “I saw Cady Heron wearing army pants and flip flops, so I wore army pants and flip flops” Mindset
The reason book communities on social media became so popular originally stemmed from a diverse set of readers sharing a diverse selection of books that they read and enjoyed by first seeking out books they were personally interested in. This meant mainstream books from Top 5 publishers, or indie books like 100 Days of Sunlight by AuthorTuber, Abbie Emmons, and anything in between… a far cry from what we’re seeing today.
Though I still consider myself new to the Bookstagram community after having an author Instagram account for three years now, I remember seeing a much wider variety of books on my feed back then, compared to now, where the same few covers seem to be in each post. While I am not on TikTok, I started watching BookTube back in May 2022, when I was home sick from work for a week. Since then, I’ve watched several different channels, and chose to subscribe to some, but have noticed something unsettling about some of the content…
It seems to revolve around those same few books.
And while yes, if a book is popular, it is bound to be featured on a plethora of different social media outlets, I’ve noticed something else about the content creators’ main reason for purchasing and/or reading those books:
“So and so featured it on her channel.”
Which, if the content creators had the exact same taste in books as the one they got the book recommendation from, I wouldn’t find it that strange. However, I’ve also noticed content creators who do not have similar reading tastes pick up books that are “BookTok viral” just for the sake of the book being “BookTok viral”.
This reminds me all too much of the toxic, bandwagon mindset of the high school girls in Mean Girls. Regina George had holes cut in her blouse as a prank, and when she confidently walked the halls of the school donning the outfit, other girls cut holes in their own ensembles to be like her, not because they liked the style.
How is This Mindset Toxic for Readers?
Each and every reader is unique, with their own unique genre preferences, favorite tropes, and content standards. However, more recently, it seems like hundreds of bookish social media accounts all look exactly the same, despite still being ran by a diverse set of readers.
Before I go any further down this rabbit hole, I want to make it clear that I don’t disapprove of any specific book that is considered “viral” right now just because it became viral due to social media. I’m not hating on viral books by any means. From an author’s perspective, having a book go viral on social media is a marketing dream come true, because it’s a valuable form of word-of-mouth marketing.
But, from a reader’s standpoint, I don’t like how the “it’s viral, so I have to read it” mindset is affecting readers’ TBR choices to the point that the majority of content creators’ TBRs look like a CTRL + V of the Reel or YouTube video I watched before theirs.
Like I said earlier, each reader has their own tastes. Some may prefer clean romcoms, while others may like creepy horror books. But, if you’re a content creator for any book community on social media, you may feel pressured to read outside of your preferred genre tastes to feature popular content on your platform for the sake of likes and views rather than reading the book because it interests you.
From just observing the Bookstagram and BookTube communities over the last several months, many of the Reels, pictures, and videos I’ve seen look as if they were curated by a bestseller list rather than curated by readers with unique preferences. The same books show up over and over and over, and I’m finding it increasingly rare to see books being highlighted that are not currently viral.
Going back to the Mean Girls reference from earlier, a lot of people are buying and reading certain books just to fit in with what’s currently popular, not because they truly like the books. And, to be honest, I don’t think readers who do this realize how much this “I only read viral books now” obsession can lead to their love for reading diminishing over time. Eventually they’ll pick up a book “everyone else loves” and end up not liking it–because they picked it up for popularity’s sake, not because they thought the blurb was interesting–and feel like something is inherently wrong with them because they formed a different opinion of the book. But, that’s just not true. Everyone has different tastes, and you’re allowed to dislike a book, even if seemingly everyone else likes it.
Readers: There is NOTHING Wrong with Reading the Books YOU Want to Read
Again, if you want to read a viral book because it sounds intriguing to you, go right ahead! Personally, I’ve seen a few viral books that I’d love to read, like Dial A for Aunties, The Guest List, and The House Across the Lake. But there are a lot of others I don’t want to read, and that’s okay too.
My fellow bookworms, it’s perfectly okay if you don’t want to read a certain viral series or standalone because it doesn’t sound like something you want to read. You won’t be handed a card that says “LOSER”. You won’t be banned from the book community you frequent most. You won’t lose followers.
I mean, I’m living proof. I’ve been on this earth for 28 years, and have survived this long without reading the Harry Potter series, which is probably the most popular book series ever written. Yes, I’ve had people tell me I’m missing out, but honestly, I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on anything. I’ve read hundreds of books I enjoyed instead that are in-line with my personal tastes, and I regret nothing.
Readers, I don’t want you to regret anything you read. Choose to read books because you feel they’ll speak to your soul, not because some soulless social media app convinced you it’ll make one of your posts go viral if you include it in it.
Talk to Me, Arrowheads!
Do you feel as if social media affects what you read? What non-viral books are you currently obsessing over? Drop your thoughts in the comments!
Aim high, stay strong, and always hit your mark.