Updated: Mar 2
In the age of social media, it only takes persistence and an accurate perusal of trends to crack the code and put yourself out there. Witnessing songs, movies and books go viral has been an almost bi-monthly occurrence for most internet users since the pandemic. Online engagement as well as the number of users on social media have also shot up since 2020, this has caused a ginormous shift in several ways, social media now holds immense power in influencing, setting and ending trends when it comes to various genres such as fashion, music, beauty and even books. “Book Tok” has become the new medium which dictates, originates and buries trend in the fictional market, drawing in young readers and encouraging older ones, this community has been thriving and attracting many readers to the reading market through romanticised quotes, exaggerated memes and even a popularization of certain ‘tropes’. Bookstores now often exclusively feature Booktok popular reads on their front windows attracting new readers through social media. Such an impact is enough to indicate the kind of mark that Booktok has left on the publishing industry. When we observe the sort of hold this community has had on the publishing world in the past two years, a shelf or an aisle dedicated to Booktok does not seem surprising.
Book Tok consists of a demographic that began reading online on apps like Wattpad, A03 or Inkitt, these apps drew in millions of readers and gave a space for many authors to publish their works and for readers to read, for free, before most of these apps became monetised towards the late 2010s. These communities thrived mostly on romance, fantasy, science-fiction and queer literature, encouraging authors and readers alike to partake in the digitization of reading as a hobby. People began reading on their phones, laptops, iPad, and Kindles, these communities hosted forums for discussion, allowed commenting options at every other paragraph of a book and brought readers together from all across the globe. Banking on this multiple creators began to write similar fiction and get it published as the pandemic set in, giving such a wide readership an even more isolated and formalized experience of reading. These platforms normalized the idea that reading can be more accessible and fiction expands beyond classical and contemporary literature, it iterated the idea that stories written by regular people can also be recognized as good fiction and can amass wide readerships, this has allowed publishing houses to associate with these authors and transition “fanfiction” or “online fiction” into physical books. Authors like Cassandra Clare (The Mortal Instruments) and Ali Hazelwood (The Love Hypothesis etc.) are examples of authors who started on e-reading apps and are now bestselling authors.
The current market, though oversaturated, has a lot of space for fan fiction, escapist fiction as well as your typical romance narratives, ‘tropes’ in romance narratives are also a popular gimmick to sell and/or promote stories. Fantasy universes like those created by Sarah J. Maas or Leigh Bardugo also heavily appeal to the younger reader base across the globe. In a world that is constantly facing geopolitical tensions coupled with regional fallacies, the current youth has grown up on rebellious fantasy, science and escapist fiction like The Hunger Games, Maze Runner and Divergent, dystopian universes with flawed governments and frustrated youth uprisings, can draw in an and connect with readers at a sentimentally relevant level. They send out the message that even in the most hopeless of times, justice and goodwill can prevail if the youth take it upon themselves.
The key to creating engaging fiction is to stay updated with the cultural phenomenon, the political atmosphere of the world as well as social media trends, combining this information can allow one to gauge the tone and setting of a piece that is bound to garner a quite a bit of attention. However, writing a disconnected piece that caters to niche audiences and evokes a certain kind of social discourse has also proven successful, books like My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Otessa Moshfegh or I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy prove that there is a space for topics such as mental health, grief, socio-economic commentary and other topics in the current market that weren’t conventionally as well-received. Books like Gone Girl and Elinor Oliphant is Completely Fine which deal with mid-life crises and companionship issues in adulthood as well as agency in women with trauma and mental health issues, continue to dominate the market and fascinate older readers, predominantly women, while graphic novels popularised by apps like Webtoon also witness a dynamic growth in the market among men and women, young and old alike.
A lot of these books find their readership among impressionable age groups which have almost unrestricted access to the internet, this gives way to a special kind of culture where readers do not shy away from expressing their opinions, holding authors accountable as well as critiquing what they deem to be incorrect. With an increasingly aware and constantly online populace, authors now have a heightened responsibility to realize their work's impact and use their platform for better causes. Creating storylines that are gripping and ‘reel worthy’ while meaningful and artistic at the same time can prove to be a tricky concept, many readers are quick to dismiss artwork that does not instantly catch their attention in the increasing 5-second attention span generation, such development in trends calls for an insightful purview of society as it is and what it craves as a form of collective catharsis, books like 1984, Frankenstein and Metamorphosis have continued to hold the attention of readers across centuries due to their accurate analysis and prediction of a society where the individual is a cog in the wheel, where surveillance and scientific advancement are prevalent, where man constantly grapples between reason, imagination and accountability, creating such pieces of work in the contemporary era requires a kind of foresight and judgement of society as it is and as it can be. Thus, creating is not what is difficult, it is creating what will persevere that proves to be the challenge for most authors nowadays.