My Love-Hate Relationship with BookTok

by Abby Brockway on February 22, 2023

Arts & Entertainment

This Valentine’s Day, I suggest buying yourself a little something to let you know that you love you. After all, there’s no one who knows you better than yourself! This year, I’m going to gift myself a new book—specifically, some romance. On my quest to find a good romance read, I’ve turned to a certain subcommunity on a certain social media app. I’ve turned to BookTok.

For those who are unfamiliar, BookTok is a sect of TikTok where creators share book suggestions based on particular genres and moods. The content ranges from “Books that will have you sobbing your heart out at 2 a.m.” to “Books that changed my perspective on life” to “Books I’d sell my soul to read for the first time again.” 

 I found one author who featured in almost every video: HRH Colleen Hoover, Duchess of BookTok. Since 2012, she’s produced 24 books and six series. Hoover’s ability to create dramatic characters, captivating scenes, and a gripping plot—all while including her fair share of spicy dialogue and passionate love scenes—pulls her readers in so deeply that many finish her novels in one sitting. I will confess: I did stay up until 2 a.m. reading It Ends With Us (2022), and I finished Verity (2018) in less than 48 hours. 

It’s true that Hoover is an accomplished and talented writer. However, BookTok has placed her 24 novels on too high of a pedestal while pushing other lesser-known authors out of focus. Hoover found her fame in 2020, when everyone had time to breeze through books. The demand for her books grew so strong that it seems like she started to write purely for the TikTok audience. Hoover’s intended messages about female empowerment— some of her female characters triumphing over domestic abuse, childhood trauma, and child custody ordeals—have been obscured by the viral spiciness and salaciousness.  

Verity and It Starts With Us are incredibly different novels in quality, and I’d argue the reason for this shift is BookTok. Verity has a constantly turning plot that takes completely unexpected routes. It’s also a book within a book, highlighting a creative and challenging writing method mastered by Hoover. It Starts With Us, written at the height of Hoover’s fame, has an incredibly predictable plot in comparison. The dialogue is incredibly cringeworthy and highly unrealistic. You can’t underestimate the effect of BookTok in contributing to these differences. The social media community and readers are now a vital part of her process; as she said in an interview with The New York Times, “The readers are controlling what is selling right now.” 

After my metaphorical breakup with Hoover, I turned back to BookTok to find some new authors. If you’re looking to play the audience to someone else’s fictitious love story this Valentine’s Day, these are some great options.     
At first, the lack of quotation marks in Sally Rooney’s Normal People and Conversations with Friends will confuse you. But I implore you to keep reading, because you need to find out how Marianne and Connell (NP) and Francis and Nick (CWF) end up. (They can be problematic, but you’ll secretly root for them.) Jenny Han’s The Summer I Turned Pretty trilogy is a quick read, but will pull your heartstrings in every direction as you question if Belly really ends up with the right Fisher brother. Madeline Miller is beautifully descriptive and poetic in The Song of Achilles and Circe, both historical fantasy books, which serve as perfect palette cleansers among all the romances. Josie Silver and Jojo Moyes are masters of writing books you’ll need to see adapted into a movie. Both One Day in December and The Last Letter from Your Lover include multiple narrators and different timelines while blending mystery and romance to create page-turning stories. Tessa Bailey is a craftsman of perfect rapport between characters combined with a tasteful level of spice in It Happened One Summer. Julia Quinn is the queen of period-piece writing, and I suggest reading at least the first two Bridgerton novels if you don’t have the patience for all eight novels plus some prequel and sequel series she reported are coming soon.