TikTok for Authors and Writers: A Guide on How to Create Engaging Videos and Top Tips For Getting Started

Posted: August 24, 2021 in Tips
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When any new social platform comes along, authors ask themselves: should I join? With a day job in communications/marketing/PR, I’m always intrigued by the latest technologies and trends. So when “elder millennials” like myself started joining TikTok, I gave it a try. Like many, I was skeptical at first but since joining I have found myself laughing and learning more on TikTok than any other social media app. It is a dynamic platform and a great wat to connect with others, especially as BookTok—the community of book lovers on TikTok—continues to grow. 

Most marketers would agree with a resounding “yes” that TikTok has become a hot spot for promoting your business. But what about authors and writers? Given that there’s a huge community of like-minded individuals on TikTok, it’s absolutely worth an author’s time to test it out. If you’re ready to take the plunge, I’ve gathered my top 5 tips on how to use TikTok efficiently as an author, writer or reader, and the potential benefits. But first, a bit of background on TikTok and what to expect.

What is TikTok? 

What started as yet another social video platform for teenagers to post dancing videos has rapidly evolved. TikTok has over a billion users and more adults joining every day. Videos show users dancing, creating art, making music, giving tutorials, sharing workout tips and much more: the variety of content seems endless. 

Better yet, creators are funny, refreshing and clever. Plus, TikTok’s algorithm will show you a lot of new content and users, more so than other platforms, keeping your feed fresh and interesting. Whether learning about new cultures; seeing people rally behind important causes; marveling at feats; learning new skills; or aww’ing at pets, there’s something for everyone. If you haven’t considered joining, I recommend at least checking out others’ videos and only making your own content when you’re ready.

**Note: All social media platforms evolve, usually as they try to monetize and prioritize businesses and paid users. As such, the algorithms continue to change so I suggest staying flexible and continuing to experiment.

Why Should Authors and Writers Join TikTok?

You may have noticed a lot of authors have started to use TikTok recently. It began with a rush of news articles in the spring of 2022 that shared anecdotes of how candid book review videos on TikTok led to an increase in book sales, outlined most notably in a NYT article called “How Crying on TikTok Sells Books.”

Other articles, like “TikTok is taking the book industry by storm, and retailers are taking notice” (NBC) and “How TikTok Got This YA Author A Six-Figure Book Deal” (Bustle) have convinced authors to test the waters. Many authors are realizing how powerful a tool TikTok can be to connect with fans, network with other writers, and get your book and brand out there.

Book recommendations, reactions and other related content—typically collected under the hashtag #BookTok—are prolific on TikTok. But, despite breathy declarations that BookTok will help you sell thousands of books overnight, the reality is a little different. Even though TikTok is fundamentally different than other social platforms in some ways (see next section), like any endeavor, it takes time and work to be successful. And “going viral” is an anomaly and an outlier circumstance.

In summary, TikTok can be a vital and even inspiring tool for authors and writers, as long as you have tempered expectations. It’s highly unlikely your videos will spawn massive sales overnight. However, if done correctly, creators can find TikTok a valuable tool for growing their brand, as well as connecting with others.

How to Connect with Readers, Increase Book Sales and Enhance Your Brand Using TikTok

There are marked differences between this social platform and others—primarily the ability to go viral more easily—that can make TikTok a very useful platform for authors. In particular, TikTok content is shown to a wide pool of people beyond your followers, and a few early likes or comments can help propel your video to an exponentially wider audience.

However, TikTok is like any other social media platform in some ways: if you’re just on there to sell something, it shows, and it’s hard to be successful. The most popular users on any platform—Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube—take the time to create interesting and relevant content; engage with others; and learn the best practices of the platform.

Finally, without further delay, here are my top 5 tips for authors using TikTok.

Top 5 Tips for Authors on TikTok:

1-Use tried-and-true videography principles

The first step to TikTok is learning how to create a good video. Most people don’t have a lot of video editing experience. TikTok makes it somewhat easier with its built-in tools. There’s plenty of tutorials on getting started (see Resources below for specific recommendations), but generally you can upload pre-recorded videos from your camera roll or record directly from TikTok. TikTok has built-in options for filters, animations, adding text and—maybe most usefully—a huge repository of music, including top hits, that you can easily add to your video.

But before you get too much into effects and animations, it’s important that what you record follows the best practices of videography as much as possible. Sometimes less is more. As a communications expert with a background in video, I spot a lot of beginner’s errors in videos that are pretty easy to avoid and will help make your videos stand out. Here are a few things to keep in mind to make your videos more engaging.

Quick Tips for Elevating Your TikTok Videos to the Next Level

  • LIGHTS: Be mindful of lighting. The best lighting is from the front and/or side. Natural lighting is best (e.g., sitting next to a window). A simple ring light is affordable and can do wonders in boosting your content to the next level. Reduce light from behind and above, as these can cast many shadows on your face.
  • CAMERA: Generally, for equipment, your smartphone camera should work fine. No need to invest in a fancy camera or set-up. However, some equipment will help: a simple stand (Gorilla tripods are useful and popular) is key in making sure you can get a steady view for the angle you are looking for. Note that a lot of content creators use the “shaky cam” effect to make the video seem more in the moment and spontaneous.
  • BACKDROP: Be thoughtful and deliberate about what’s in your background. It’s great to show some personal touches (bookshelves, artwork, etc.). If in doubt, simplify. Plain is always better than distracting when it comes to your backdrop. Further, scripting or storyboarding your video can be helpful and make the recording process go faster. However, TikTok videos work well when they’re not too formal. Users want to see a glimpse into the background, the “real lives” of authors. 
  • ACTION: If you are recording yourself, start with some movement: sitting in a seat, taking a sip of water. These everyday actions help instill a sense of sincerity for your videos.
  • SOUND: This one is often overlooked but is incredibly important for good videos. You don’t need an external mic to record, but do be mindful that background sounds should be reduced so you can get the clearest audio possible. Few things will make a viewer move onto the next video than bad audio.

Finally, you will want to select a “cover” to the video that is eye catching, and add hashtags like you would on other social media sites (see Tip #5 for suggestions). Then, hit that post button!

Once you get the hang of the tools and technical side of creating and posting videos, the next step is to find your style.

2-Develop your style

Finding out how you want to approach your videos can take a few trials. If you’re a dancer, dance. If you like to read aloud or ham it up on camera, TikTok is the perfect playground to do so.  Some people like to be on camera – if you do, great! TikTok is perfect for that. But if you don’t want to tap into your latent acting skills, there are plenty of other options to create videos that more fit your style and brand.

As you master your videos, you can explore other forms of video creation as well. For example, “stitching” a video is when you take the beginning of someone else’s video and add it to yours. This is most used in a question-and-answer format. You may want to do that for the majority of your videos. Again, there are a plethora of tutorials if you want to learn how to do a particular set-up, edit or format. Google is your friend.

I personally enjoy recording a Siri voice-over for my videos. If you don’t like to appear on camera, you can show off your books or have an auto-reader read an excerpt from your latest work. If you enjoy video editing, you can try your hand at creating book trailers to post to TikTok (and cross-post to YouTube, but that’s another explainer).

Head spinning yet? Keep in mind that, as with any other craft or artform, the more you practice, the better you’ll get and find out what is working for you. Give yourself time if your first few videos aren’t great – the more important thing to do is keep going. By experimenting, posting and trying new videos, you’ll get better. Even quick social media videos are an artform in and of themselves. This leads me to the next tip…

3-Get creative and have fun

Short videos can be similar to writing fiction. Just as with any written story, a great short video often has a narrative arc too. These obviously take longer to script and shoot sometimes but they are worth thinking about as you practice your video skills.  There are a few general video narrative structures I’ve noticed on TikTok, in particular, that are worth mentioning. These can be great sources of inspiration and, as storytellers, fodder for sharing our own content.

Character’s Journey: As a writer, I find the “journey” format of video to be one of the most interesting. This type of TikTok video generally shows something happening – I did something, this is the result. It often shows a micro emotional journey: I was miserable at my job, quit, now have my own business. I toiled away on my project, received rejections, was eventually published. Think of it as a hero’s journey in a two-minute video collage. 

Playing on Expectations: This type of video sets up an expectation that quickly becomes subverted. It is effective because it creates a question in the viewer’s mind that they must have answered, resulting in the type of tension that keeps someone watching. This could include showing someone in a workplace setting having a conversation, with subtitles or musical effects indicating their true thoughts. Often these types of videos juxtapose emotions or facts, usually to humorous effects.

Sharing Knowledge: Presenting tips and information never goes out of style. Think of this as the “nonfiction” approach to TikTok. If you have thorough or professional knowledge in a particular area—whether it’s tips on writing, marketing, or a beloved hobby/craft—consider turning those into a tutorial series. Anything visual (e.g., calligraphy or painting), can help make your series take off.

One thing to note with the “sharing knowledge” approach: a lot of users take a confessional or hyper-casual style to appear to be more intimately imparting inside information. As you become more savvy with TikTok content you’ll notice many videos are carefully edited to start in what I call the mid-action video. Someone onscreen will be people drinking, eating, doing their make up, walking outside, or parking their car as they talk. These are deliberate choices to appear as if they are quickly sharing something that just came to mind. This informal style emphasizes a sense of authenticity and sincerity that is often more engaging to viewers.

Here are a few additional ideas that might inspire you or that, as an author, you might want to try.

TikTok content ideas for authors

  • Play off of trending hashtags or TikTok meme challenges, if appropriate/applicable for your style and audience
  • Show your books, bookshelves or collections
  • Give honest (short) book reviews
  • Perform readings of your work
  • Create book trailers for your stories
  • “Stitch” answers to relevant questions, such as answering who your favorite author is
  • Show a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the life of an author (this, personally, is my favorite approach). This could be an unboxing video, or showing how you get ready for an event.

And as you scroll through TikTok, think about how you can play on current video trends and offer your own take. The biggest part of this tip is to have fun. Creating shouldn’t be a chore. If it is, it will come across that way, doing you and your followers a disservice.

4-Follow general social media best practices

As anyone who has been on social media knows, there are a few golden rules for any account. Many of the social media best practice tips and etiquette rules you’ve heard before apply to TikTok as well. In short, these include:

  • Engage with your followers – if someone leaves you a comment or question, it is good etiquette to respond, generally speaking. (Note that this does not apply to harassing or troll-like behavior. See below for more.)
  • Do not post overly private information – Just as in real life, keep your personal information – like your full address, registration cards and other content – away from prying eyes to protect yourself against identity theft.
  • Be kind – As in real life, don’t participate in harassing or negative behavior. This will inevitably come back to bite you.
  • Don’t just promote yourself and book – These accounts get old fast. As a fellow writer and author, think about elevating other books and brands as well, and making personal connections to get a more rewarding experience.
  • Understand the basics of the particular platform – Know when your audience might be most engaged on the platform and time your posts then (for example, be mindful of time zones and note that most people peruse social media on their breaks or before/after work). 

For details, Sprout Social’s 11 Dos and don’ts on social media etiquette for businesses has some good tips that are useful for individuals as well, such as not being overly promotional and monitoring your posts frequently. This post from Forbes, Social Media Etiquette: 12 Step Checklist, also has some universally applicable social media tips.

Unfortunately, trolls are an inevitable part of the online experience. There are several schools of thought on how to deal with trolls, many of it conflicting. Some general tips include to first establish they are actually a troll (versus someone who is a poor communicator); ignore or politely address them; and/or report and block them. Read more at Don’t Feed the Trolls and Other Hideous Lies (The Verge); 5 Tips for Dealing with Trolls (ReachOut.com); and 10 Tips to Deal with Trolls (Forbes).

5-Use hashtags (but not as you’d expect)

This is an obvious but important. Hashtags are a powerful tool on TikTok, but I see a lot of people make a similar mistake. Instead of strictly thinking about how your content would be categorized as a guide for choosing hashtags, instead think of your audience. Who are you trying to reach? Is it other writers? Readers? That reframing will help you select more relevant and useful hashtags for getting your content seen.

Note that the advice for hashtags on TikTok seems to change daily. Generally I’d suggest doing a couple naming the audience (#readers #booktok); 1 or 2 describing the content (#bookreading #bookreview); and 1 or 2 more hyper-specific tags or tags naming my audience (#darkfantasybooks). Again, there are many, many schools of thoughts on best practices for hashtags. Here’s a starting list of popular hashtags to consider.

Hashtags for Authors

  • #BookTok
  • #Authors or #Writers
  • #Books or #Book
  • #Writing
  • #Reading
  • #AuthorsLife
  • #AuthorsofTikTok
  • #YABooks
  • #Bookstan
  • #Bookish
  • #Booktoker
  • #Bookclub
  • #FYPage – this one means “for your page.” Some believe that this hashtag can help boost visibility.
BookTok has many engaged users ranging from reviewers to authors to librarians.

Bonus Tip! Who To Follow on TikTok

TiKTok is a great place to connect and support other authors, local bookstores, libraries, reviewers, book bloggers, book artists and readers. You can start with this list of hashtags to explore: #libraries #booktok #bookstan #bookreviewers #bookstores as well as your typical genre hashtags, such as #YAbooks and the others listed above.

If you still need tips on who to follow, some top accounts of book lovers, reviewers and all-around entertaining accounts to get you started are below:

Best book TikTok (BookTok) accounts to follow

  • Cait’s Books – @caitsbooks
  • Moon Girl Reads (Selene) – @moongirlreads_ 
  • Abby’s Books – @abbysbooks
  • Sydney Blanchard @sydeneyyybean
  • Kevin Tyler Norman @kevintnorman
  • Great Valley High School Library @gvhslibrary
  • Abby Parker @abbysbooks
  • @bookedj
  • @crisreadsbooks
  • @ezeekat
  • @abbysbooks
  • @thebookplace
  • @sophie. in_wonderland
  • @kawaii. librarian

And if you’d like to follow me for an inside glimpse into my author journey, you can connect at @kcgrifant.

Additional Resources to Help Get You Started

Here are some great additional resources on TikTok:

I hope you enjoy checking out TikTok to see if it might be worth trying for yourself. Tips? Questions? Leave them in the comments section below!

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