SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Books have always been part of Kevin Tyler Norman’s story. Growing up, he remembers regular family visits to book stores.

“My mom and I would go to Borders, when it was still around, and sit there for hours and read. Growing up I was always a reader,” he said. 

What You Need To Know

  • On TikTok certain creators focus on creating book related content, an area of the app known as BookTok

  • At Barnes & Noble and other book stores, book buyers said when a title is popular on the app it sells well in stores

  • Authors who published books years ago have seen their titles re-enter the best seller list thanks to popularity on TikTok

  • Kevin Tyler Norman is a 'booktokker' with a large following who joined the app during the pandemic

However, Norman never imagined that books would turn into a career. He has worked as an actor for several years, but during the pandemic the acting work dried up and he found himself at home, with plenty of books and lots of time.

“I was like, hey I have all these books, let me start reading them. Then I was like, ‘what’s TikTok?’ I started getting recommended bookish content. I decided to create a video,” he said.

Six months later, he has close to 100,000 followers and creating book related content on TikTok has turned into a full-time job.

Norman makes money through sponsored posts and works with a book subscription company by creating content for them.

BookTok is a corner of the TikTok universe where content creators and book lovers share recommendations and post reviews about books they love or loathe.

It also includes book-related humor, jokes about plot lines and aesthetic images of color-coordinated bookshelves. Books that do particularly well on TikTok are those that makes people cry, “spicy’ stories,” as they are called, including romance.

Young adult books (YA) also tend to do well on the social media platform. He saw a gap in the TikTok sphere when it came to LGBTQ+ recommendations.

Norman, who is gay, said finding well developed, strong queer characters in books has often proved challenging.

“We’re generally the side characters, or the best friend, never the main character or the one actively pushing stories forward,” he said.  

According to Norman, things have changed in recent years.

“Newer LGBTQ+ books focus on more positive aspects, it’s not just about coming out and our struggle to come out,” he said.

He started sharing these stories on the app, discussing titles that centered on queer characters — and his following took off. Now, Norman’s home library has become the backdrop to his popular videos. He shoots with his camera, sometimes using a compact tripod or just goes handheld.

The books take center stage.

Always an avid reader and book collector before joining the app, Norman now has books that are piled high and fill many corners of his living room. Many of them are sent to him from publishers and booksellers who hope he will promote the stories on his page. Packages also pile up outside his front door.

The correlation between popularity on BookTok and books sales is strong as Norman discovered with his own work.

In 2018, he published a book of his poetry called “Shelter.” When he promotes it on his TikTok page, he notices a spike in Amazon sales. Barnes and Noble took note last year that TikTok was causing a stir, and now many stores have a BookTok section or table.

Amanda Youngman, a senior book buyer at Barnes and Noble, said the social media app is having a major impact on booksellers.

“This is kind of like the new water cooler conversation. BookTok is a way for you to feel like you’re participating in a cultural zeitgeist — people come in in droves,” she said.

As a book buyer, Youngman watches trends closely and noted that whenever a book starts climbing up the best-seller list unexpectedly she turns to TikTok to see if it is doing well on there. 

That is inevitably the case.

“It catapults them [authors] into a completely different level of sales and access,” she said.

Youngman explained that a new fiction release with quite a bit of buzz could sell between 5 to 10 copies in a week at a Barnes and Noble store. When a title is popular on TikTok, sales can approach 30 or more.

“This is huge for bookstores. It’s huge for Barnes and Noble; it’s huge for the book industry. It’s fabulous,” said Youngman.

There is only one problem for Norman. Now that his work is so focused on creating book content, it can sometimes dim his love of reading.

“Being a creator on the app sometimes takes the joy of reading away, because I feel like I have to read to create content,” he said.

Therefore, when it all gets too digital he knows exactly what to do.

“Sometimes I’ll log out of the app, pick up my book and start reading for the sake of reading,” he said.

Returning to the source material and stories that started it all.