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Does Literary Fiction Also Work on BookTok?

Arvyn Cerézo

Senior Contributor

Arvyn Cerézo is an arts and culture writer/reporter with bylines in Book Riot, Publishers Weekly, South China Morning Post, PhilSTAR Life, the Asian Review of Books, and other publications. You can find them on and @ArvynCerezo on Twitter.

Tor Books

An explosive return to the library leaves the six Alexandrians vulnerable to the lethal terms of their recruitment.

Old alliances quickly fracture as those who remain within the archives wrestle with the ethics of their astronomical abilities. Elsewhere, an unlikely pair from the Society cohort partner to influence politics on a global stage, and still the outside world mobilizes to destroy them, while the Caretaker himself, Atlas Blakely, may yet succeed in his world-breaking plan.

The six Society recruits must decide what they're willing to betray for limitless power—and who will be destroyed along the way.

TikTok has definitely changed the publishing industry. The “TikTok magic” propelled many books to the top of various bestseller lists, elevated lesser-known titles on a popular pedestal, and even helped writers and creators score book deals. One thing I’ve noticed about this phenomenon is that most of the books that saw huge success on TikTok have one thing in common: they’re genre fiction like romance, fantasy, thrillers, mysteries, and science fiction.

The term “genre fiction” commonly refers to books that are “escapist” or have a plot-driven and fast-paced style. Even microgenres, which are genres with specific narrative arcs, character styles, or moods, appear to be emerging on platforms such as TikTok.

This begs the question of whether TikTok’s magical algorithm also works for literary fiction, which can be slow and character-driven, requiring patience to get to the heart of the story. These books can be prize-winning, with stamps on their covers or dust jackets from institutions such as the National Book Awards and the Booker Prize. This category includes books such as Lincoln in the Bardo and The Color Purple. But the main feature of literary fiction is that the writing is deemed “masterful,” and the story progresses thanks to the characters.

On the other hand, TikTok saw a boom in genre fiction content, with titles such as Fourth Wing and A Court of Thorns and Roses. These and other genre fiction books are fast-paced and focused on the plot; they provide readers with entertainment and gratification.

Given that literary fiction is not necessarily as straightforward as genre fiction, does it stand a chance on a visual medium like TikTok?

What Makes Literary Fiction Different?

Literary fiction, unlike most genre fiction, prioritizes style, character, and theme over plot. A literary fiction book might contain a meandering plot, sometimes so slight that readers may not even realize what the book is all about until they’ve finished reading it.

Some even proclaim that these books have to have a “literary merit” or that it’s the “Literature with a capital L,” which seems demeaning. Nonetheless, despite its nature, there appear to be some literary fiction titles earning time on the video-sharing platform.

“It’s true [that] TikTok has become a haven for genre fiction, with romance, fantasy, and thriller novels garnering significant attention. Yet, there’s room for literary fiction as well,” said Yulia Saf, a blogger and voracious reader who says she actively uses TikTok to discover new titles and keep up with the latest trends in fiction.

According to Saf, literary fiction may not always garner the viral attention that genre fiction does, but it has carved out its niche within the platform. She cited examples such as Normal People by Sally Rooney or Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. These books, according to her, have “deep characters and complex narratives” and “stimulate engaging, thought-provoking conversations” that resonate with a community of TikTok users.

“While literary fiction might not have the ‘instant appeal’ of genre fiction, it has the potential to grow sustainably within the BookTok community,” she said.

Books from majority white authors, such as The Goldfinch and The Secret History by Donna Tartt, Animal by Lisa Tadeo, and Cleopatra and Frankenstein by Coco Mellors, also seem to get the highest mentions on LiteraryTok, a glaring phenomenon similar to that of genre fiction. Still, books from authors of color and indigenous people, such as How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa, There, There by Tommy Orange, and Yerba Buena by Nina LaCour also get featured by some, albeit only occasionally. Diversity issues aside, there aren’t as many TikToks or BookTokers posting as there are on RomanceTok or FantasyTok.

Emily Polson, Associate Editor at Scribner, also sees a literary fiction side to TikTok and points to books like Circe, Song of Achilles, and Bunny as the most successful examples. “It’s not on the level of the commercial fiction side of BookTok, where romance, SFF [science fiction, fantasy], and ‘romantasy’ authors like Colleen Hoover and Rebecca Yarros are propelled to the top of bestseller lists — but enough that it sends backlist books into continuous reprintings and placement on featured BookTok tables in bookstores.”

Polson revealed that at Scribner, a Simon & Schuster imprint, the big “TikTok book” is Tender Is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica. Organic fan support on the platform propelled it to success far beyond expectations, prompting the publisher to release two more books from the author.

Within this moderate success of literary fiction on TikTok birthed the category “sad girl lit.” Books from Scribner, such as Ripe by Sarah Rose Etter, Big Swiss by Jen Beagin, and Milk Fed by Melissa Broder, are some examples that have found an audience there, with Worry by Alexandra Tanner also becoming one of the titles within this category. All of these books have achieved unprecedented levels of success, but publishers have yet to crack the code of publishing a successful TikTok book.

“If there’s a way to manufacture a BookTok book from the publishing side, I’ve yet to discover it!” said Polson.

Unlike genre fiction, the dynamics differ for literary fiction in a variety of ways. According to Smita Das Jain, a fiction author who has dabbled in TikTok, while TikTok’s format favors visually engaging and fast-paced content, literary fiction, often “nuanced” and “introspective,” faces challenges in capturing attention within short video snippets. It thrives on depth, which can be challenging to convey in brief clips.

She also added that literary fiction often targets readers seeking “immersive, thought-provoking narratives” and that this type of audience is at odds with that of BookTok. “TikTok’s audience tends to favor concise, visually stimulating content.”

Still, she has some advice for fellow authors trying out this platform: to connect with TikTok’s predominantly young audience, engaging narratives, compelling characters, and the essence of the story should be presented creatively. Young readers should find the stories relatable, having to latch on to a narrative in a meandering tale.

As long as TikTok is popular, it will remain one of the internet’s thriving literary corners. And with it, the popularity of genre fiction, such as these books, grows.

Although there are popular literary fiction books on TikTok, they pale in comparison to the number of genre fiction books available in there. I hope that the demand for literary fiction expands and creates an equal opportunity — before the BookTok trend dies off completely.