Emily Henry and Erin Morgenstern: How TikTok changes authors’ careers

#BookTok isn’t just reshaping the publishing industry, but the lives of the authors it celebrates, too. Here, TikTok favourites Emily Henry and Erin Morgenstern discuss their admiration for the generation of readers that turned them into bestsellers.

It was late summer 2021, and American author Emily Henry was in a good place, career-wise. Her last novel, 2020’s Beach Read, was steadily gaining attention, and her latest, You and Me on Vacation, had just been released: “I felt like it was like going pretty well,” she says now. “I was happy with how things were shaping up.” Then #BookTok happened.

“Suddenly, one day my editor calls me – I think, like, a few weeks after the book came out – and she had been watching sales and was just like, ‘I don't know what happened, but we just got this random huge spike, and you didn't do an event, you didn't have anything published online. We just don't really know what that was.’ The same day that that we had that conversation, I started getting messages on Instagram from people who were like, ‘I don't know if you've seen this but…’ and then linking to a couple different TikTok posts. I was like, ‘Oh, maybe that has something to do with this bump in sales!’”

Then, she says, “I started getting sent the same links from my friends involved in the book world who are on book Reddit and all of that. They were like, ‘Are you seeing this?!’ That's when I knew, ‘Oh, this has gone far and wide enough to make it back to me in my real life, too.’”

Alongside Colleen Hoover, Ottessa Moshfegh, Madeline Miller, Taylor Jenkins Reid, Alice Oseman, and dozens more, Henry is one of many authors for whom #BookTok – the reading-obsessed TikTok subcommunity revolutionising publishing – has changed not only their careers but their lives. 

“I have been publishing in some form since 2016 – not that long, but you know, a few years,” Henry says, “and I had just never seen that kind of support, even for the biggest books popping off around me. I had never seen that groundswell before. I had no idea at that point that it was going to become this ongoing thing, the best place to get book recommendations. Now, if you go into almost any bookstore, they've got the BookTok table, so that people can find exactly the ones that they're hearing everybody rave about.”

What she’s loved most is the authentic, unbridled passion on the platform.

“The posts are so enthusiastic and genuine and adorable – just people being really excited about books in general – and, especially, for You and Me on Vacation. I feel like it’s people just trying to find a community that loves the things you love, so you can love it in full force together. It’s such an honour to be even a small part of anyone's life; to have all these people who really care about what you're doing, and who feel impacted by what you're doing? It’s more than I ever could have dreamed up for myself, as far as ‘writer’s dreams.’ It’s very inspiring.”

'BookTok is so powerful because you're seeing real excitement, and it's not from someone trying to sell you something'

Erin Morgenstern is the author of, among other novels, The Night Circus and The Starless Sea, both of which have become TikTok sensations. And though she’s barely even seen TikTok – we speak on the phone, rather than Zoom, because her cabin “in the middle of the woods” is too remote for the internet – she shares Henry’s feeling of inspiration from this new generation of voracious readers.

“I really love the genuine enthusiasm for books that this whole generation is exhibiting. I’ve long had this sort of impression of, you know, the cliché of the book club where no one actually read the book – that idea of reading is like something that people don't actually do. I think there's a clear shift [with the #BookTok generation] toward genuine enthusiasm; there's such a desire to share things that you're excited about that I think is really present there.”

Morgenstern echoes the sentiment expressed by a number of BookTokkers when she pinpoints the importance of discussing books with like-minded peers.

“I know and I love that feeling when you read a book and you immediately want someone else to read it so you have someone to talk about it with. When you like, want to climb on a rooftop and yell about a book or a piece of art or anything that you love so much you want to share with people. Their excitement is refreshing, and exciting.”

'I feel like people are reading more than ever because of this phenomenon'

That neither Morgenstern nor Henry is on TikTok themselves is, Henry says, something of a sign of respect.

“I think a lot of authors are now sort of like, ‘Okay, how do I get engaged?’ but actually the coolest thing about BookTok is that it’s fully reader-driven. It's not about authors getting on there and trying to sell their books; it's about readers being genuinely excited. That's why it works so well and is so powerful, because you're just seeing real excitement, and it's not from someone who's trying to sell you something. They're just like, ‘I want to talk about this thing I love!’”

And the future, the Book Lovers author says, feels bright.

“It really seems to me, even as someone just kind of on the periphery of it, to be this Renaissance for books. I feel like people are reading more than ever because of this phenomenon.”

Image at top:
Design: Victoria Ibbetson / Penguin
Photograpy: Emily Henry by Devyn Glista / Erin Morgenstern by Allan Amato

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