A woman records herself reading a book

Authors Stand To Lose So Much From a Potential TikTok Ban

On April 24, President Joe Biden signed a bill that could result in a nationwide TikTok ban as early as 2025. While many are concerned about the ramifications of the bill, the effects could be devastating for authors.

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It has been less than a decade since TikTok first launched, yet it has managed to become one of the most popular social media platforms worldwide. Countless creators have taken advantage of the platform’s wide reach and utilized it as a source of income or to promote their careers and hobbies. One of the industries that has benefited the most from TikTok is the publishing industry. The platform has birthed an enormous community of authors, readers, and influencers dubbed BookTok.

BookTok has received some mixed reviews from users, including garnering criticism for its preoccupation with “spicy” literature and its romanticization of toxic relationships. However, it can’t be denied the community has also done much good. The BookTok hashtag has over 29.1 billion views and it’s estimated it aided in selling 20 million books in 2020 alone. Thanks to the online community, book buying has become easier for consumers as they head to the store to purchase the latest BookTok trend or the recommendations on their For You Page. Many authors have taken advantage of the platform, using it to bolster their sales, gain recognition, and even break into the industry. Soon, though, countless authors, influencers, and aspiring writers could lose TikTok.

How the TikTok ban will impact authors

The publishing industry used to exist without TikTok, so it can do so again. However, the loss of the platform means countless authors will lose something that made their foray into the publishing industry a little less difficult. It’s well-known that the publishing industry is notoriously difficult to break into. Often, the industry cares more about how popular authors are rather than how well they can write. Additionally, it pays unlivable wages to authors, to the point many need to pick up side jobs after publishing a bestseller.

While going viral on TikTok is no easy feat, the platform does provide an alternative route for some authors. Lauren Roberts started talking about her idea for her first novel, Powerless, on TikTok. Users loved the idea so much that she eventually wrote and self-published the novel. It became such a hit that a traditional publisher picked it up and it became a New York Times bestseller and paved the way for Roberts to publish further books. She’s far from the only author with a TikTok success story. Scarlett Sinclair is another indie author whose work was picked up by a traditional publisher through TikTok. Many authors, such as Kobe Campbell, Kiersten Modglin, and Nathan Evans, all went viral on TikTok for reasons other than writing, but their social media fame paved the way for them to secure book deals.

In an extremely competitive industry, having an extra route to getting published is a huge deal. It also has the potential to combat some of the unfairness in publishing. The industry isn’t very diverse, and a large part of that is because publishers often care only about the popularity or marketability of the author and book based on their social media following, name, appearance, and book subject matter. Many very talented writers never get published for factors out of their control. With TikTok, though, users have the power to get an author published because they genuinely love their book idea. One can use a large following to secure a book deal they otherwise would have been denied.

There’s also the fact that many authors don’t make a livable wage. For example, award-winning bestselling author Xiran Jay Zhao nabbed a two-book deal with Penguin Teen Canada yet had to delay the second book due to not being paid enough. Essentially, the publisher wanted two books from Zhao but only paid the author $18,000 to start, making them wait two years for another payment. Obviously, $18,000 won’t pay the bills for two years, so Zhao was forced to write a different book for another publisher and utilize social media to pay the bills instead of writing the second book in their book deal. Author Madeline Miller has also opened up about how TikTok’s help in advertising her book, Song of Achilles, allowed her to provide for herself and her family while she recovered from long COVID.

Whether through boosting book sales or TikTok ad revenue, the platform has helped countless authors and their families financially as they struggle to work in an industry that doesn’t always value their hard work. Without TikTok, many authors could lose a major source of income and support. However, TikTok could also close an extra doorway for aspiring authors. They’ll essentially have to go back to the traditional route of hoping they’ll be among the lucky 1–2% of authors who are actually published and that their name and the subject matter of their book will appeal to publishers since it will no longer be about the actual quality of their writing or story.

It’s true that TikTok has a lot of controversial creators who may not deserve the money they earn from the platform. It might even be cathartic to see the loss of income for influencers who exploit their children on the platform or use their accounts to spread hateful views. However, it’s important to remember there are hardworking and deserving users on TikTok. Many authors have turned to TikTok because it’s their only option to be able to do the work they love in a flawed industry.

(featured image: Kemal Yildirim / Getty)


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Author
Rachel Ulatowski
Rachel Ulatowski is a Staff Writer for The Mary Sue, who frequently covers DC, Marvel, Star Wars, literature, and celebrity news. She has over three years of experience in the digital media and entertainment industry, and her works can also be found on Screen Rant, JustWatch, and Tell-Tale TV. She enjoys running, reading, snarking on YouTube personalities, and working on her future novel when she's not writing professionally. You can find more of her writing on Twitter at @RachelUlatowski.