How to Use TikTok to Build Your Audience
As a writer, promoting your work may not seem as essential as actually writing, but growing your audience is just as important if you want your stories to reach people.
In our ever-changing media landscape, the older social media platforms—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—can still work to reach readers, especially those who are already fans. But if you want to expand your reader base, we suggest giving TikTok a try.
TikTok is one of the fastest-growing social media platforms. It’s a short-form video hosting service for creating, sharing, and discovering videos. Most videos are between 30 seconds and 3 minutes. The site also has over 1 billion users worldwide, most of them under the age of 45.
(So many potential new readers!)
But how do you get started on TikTok? How can you find readers and promote your work without being overwhelmed? Don’t worry! We’re here to help with strategies for maximizing your engagement—and pitfalls to watch out for.
Strategies for Using TikTok
Take time to learn the platform first
Like all social media sites, there’s a learning curve to TikTok. When you first create an account, it will assign you a generic user name. If you want to stay temporarily anonymous while you navigate—and see if the site is for you—keep the generic name until you’re ready to add details to your profile.
In the meantime, watch videos. Search hashtags. See what other authors and readers are doing on #AuthorTok or #BookTok or #WriterTok. Learn the difference between stitching a video and duetting. See what’s trending. If you decide you want to try the platform, make sure you change your user name to your author name and put up a profile pic. You can also link to your Instagram and YouTube.
TikTok users value authenticity. Like your author voice, your TikTok persona is a unique combination of your tastes and experiences. And the same way your voice appeals to people who like your books, it can appeal to people scrolling your TikTok feed. So it’s okay to be nervous, have messy hair, or have a pet jump in front of the screen while you’re talking. Users on TikTok enjoy the innate silliness that comes from being human.
Start slow and be consistent
No one wants—or needs—to see an author posting every five minutes. But if you want to build a following and use the algorithm (the magic formula that makes up each individual user’s For You Page) to your advantage, you should make a point to post at least a few times a week.
Post what, you may be asking? That’s your call. Some authors talk about the writing process, some talk about their favorite tropes, some make skits to popular sounds, and some do all of the above. Do what makes you comfortable. At this point, you’re looking to build an organic following. And make sure you’re using the hashtags we cited above: #AuthorTok, #BookTok, and #WriterTok along with your author name and maybe your genre as well, such as #FantasyBooks. This will help people find you in the search engine.
Product placement is your friend
We’ll talk about not hitting people over the head with your book when we get to pitfalls, but obviously the point of being on TikTok to market your books…is to market your books! Put them on the shelf behind you when you’re chatting about writing tips. Let your audience know when your books go on sale or are available for pre-order. Mention when you’re going to be on tour or speaking at a convention.
If you’ve already started building your audience organically, they’re not going to mind when you bring out the occasional (short!) sales pitch. Give them hints about your works-in-progress, remind them when your new book is coming out, or perhaps do a giveaway of an ARC or a book from your backlist.
Interact with fans and commenters
We know the comments section can be a scary place, no matter which social media site you’re using. Always put your mental health first— if you don’t want to read the comments, you don’t have to. Either way, we recommend making sure to like other videos you see in the hashtags. Writers support writers and readers alike. People will notice when the writer they’ve been following hits the like button or leaves a quick comment, and they may make a video about it (free promotion!).
If you are willing to peruse your comments section, pick out a few on each post to respond to—especially if they’re questions about when your book is coming out or where they can buy it! Or ask for questions and then reply to a few of them in video form as well as in the comments section. Let readers know you see them.
Pitfalls to avoid on TikTok
Avoid spamming your viewers
If your entire TikTok page is video after video just asking people to buy your books, they’re going to scroll away as fast as they can— or worse, block you, which means you’ll have no way to redeem yourself. Marketing happens on social media. Everyone knows this, and we all accept it at the right time and place. That’s why you build up your following before you start asking for new sales. Users will like the authentic version of you and want to buy your books. Network first, then sell, and then repeat the process.
Duck the drama
Where there are social media users…there will be drama. TikTok may feel more relaxed than some sites, but drama will rear its ugly head on occasion. Don’t wade into it. Don’t offer an opinion—especially if it involves negativity toward a fellow author. This will only drag you down into the mud and risk upsetting your own reader base. The beauty of TikTok is that you can easily stay in your own lane and continue posting without getting involved because everyone’s algorithm is unique. If you find yourself wanting to talk about the latest discourse, call your bestie and vent to them offline.
Prioritize your writing
TikTok makes it all too easy to get lost in the scrolling of endless videos targeted to your specific interests. It’s not hard to open the app and then realize an hour or two has gone by without you noticing. All the marketing in the world is for naught if you can't get any writing done!
We recommend setting specific times and days to engage with the app. Maybe you post Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and schedule 15 minutes to like posts and answer comments on the other days. Set a timer to keep you honest. When it goes off, close the app and move on with your day. Writing, plotting, editing, revising—always remember the process of creating a book is your main job.
Navigating a new social media platform doesn’t have to be scary. TikTok can help you build your audience if you’re willing to put in the time—and be yourself—while following our steps. Just don’t forget to write!