Every author on social media probably dreams about going viral, suddenly amassing followers like no one’s business. In the blink of an eye, they’ve gone from invisible to the center of the social media universe.
But the reality of using social media is much different. Those with little experience tend to flounder. Sometimes acquiring followers is slow. People don’t always engage.
On TikTok in particular, the process can be even more puzzling. “How am I supposed to make videos about books?” we snap.
Yet there are some who argue that TikTok is the best platform for authors. So what are they doing differently?
Sometimes the answer isn’t about what you’re not doing right; it’s about what you’re doing wrong. Here are some of the biggest mistakes authors make on TikTok:
You’re being impatient.
Social media—including TikTok—takes both time and effort. You’re unlikely to see any big changes after only a few days, a week, or even a month. Slow down. Take your time. For social media, the fun is in the journey, not the destination. Take a deep breath, stop looking at time you’ve lost, and just enjoy posting and interacting.
You’re treating it like it’s your marketing plan.
TikTok and other platforms are simply a tool—a means of engagement. They shouldn’t be the entirety of your marketing plan, and a lot of authors have been stepping up and reminding us about that. “I really wish pubs would stop being like ‘Just make a TikTok!’ as if that’s a bulletproof marketing plan,” tweeted New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Katee Robert recently. “TikTok has become such a force because it feels grassroots and word of mouth. The second something is sponsored or feels like a hard-sell, people nope out.”
Social media and TikTok should be just one part of your marketing plans. Don’t make them the focus. People can smell a phony a mile away.
You’re selling way too hard.
How many authors are super quiet on social media until a month or two before their book is published? Then suddenly it’s a flurry of reminding their followers about an upcoming new title, a promotion, or even a sale. They promote hard. And on TikTok, that’s one of the fastest ways to lose followers and deter new ones.
TikTok and other platforms are about engagement, not sales. “It’s not authors out there doing hard sells of their books,” reminds Roberts in another tweet. “It’s readers engaging organically with other readers.” And that is a big and very important difference.
You’re not using the platform’s features.
TikTok does everything it can to make creating and editing videos as easy as possible. They also offer some unique features that allow users to create neat videos. Don’t know about stitching or duetting? Take the time to learn about it. Stitching, for example, is one of the most effective ways to create content on TikTok without having to come up with something new on the spot. These tools are about engaging and having fun, so take advantage of them—just because it’s trendy doesn’t mean it doesn’t have benefits.
You’re getting frustrated . . . and it shows.
One of the most off-putting kinds of content and engagement is when authors (or really any user) gets annoyed that all their hard efforts aren’t coming to fruition. Fun, engaging videos quickly turn into rants, bitterness, or even self-pitying behavior. It’s not only unsexy, it can make people feel uncomfortable or even attacked. Not a good look.
“[Authors on TikTok are] often passive-aggressive in their posts, especially when it’s ‘not working,’” points out author Natania Barron on Twitter. “They’re not part of any writing conversation, they’re just hanging out on their own, disconnected. 90% of this stuff is luck, but that 10% you can control? It’s really important.”
As Barron suggests, your best bet is to focus on those things you can control: great, fun content; sincere engagement; and just being a good and not-surly version of yourself.
You’re not treating TikTok users like real human beings.
When you’re focused on your goals and your ambitions, sometimes it’s easy to forget that every single user on TikTok is an actual live human being. They’re not a means to an end or a sales tool; they’re people. And that means they owe you nothing, and you’re not entitled to their time and attention. “Also, you don’t get the network to work ‘for you,’” tweets Barron. “That’[s] the wrong approach. You’re there to connect to readers and writers. If you’re solely focused on trying to make money, you’re going to be sincerely disappointed.”
Barron recommends that authors think carefully about whether or not they actually want to use social media. “Find what works for you, and remember that you’re a professional and that there are REAL PEOPLE on the other side of these interactions, not just serotonin hits.”
You’re straying from your genre.
One of the most important ways to navigate TikTok is knowing how to engage the right audience, and that starts with making sure you stick to your genre (or to genres where you share similar audiences, such as young adult and new adult). But you’ll need to ask yourself: Is my audience on TikTok? And if so, how do I reach out to them?
While it can be appealing to try and cast a super wide net to all readers, you’ll always get the most traction when you stick to your genre. Don’t try, for example, to entice thriller and suspense readers with your fantasy romance.
According to Marissa DeCuir in 5 Mistakes Authors Should Avoid on TikTok, YA is the most predominant genre on TikTok, and YA fantasy and romance are the biggest subgenres. “And because TikTok hosts a predominantly younger demographic, progressive content will generally attract more views (think an adventurous dystopian romance with a diverse LGBTQ+ cast fighting the patriarchy vs. a cozy mystery featuring heterosexual white protagonists over the ages of 25),” writes DeCuir. “If you don’t write YA, Fantasy or Romance, you can absolutely still find a following on TikTok with some extra creativity and strategy to engage your audience.”
Think about who you’re trying to reach, and remember who your audience is. Add in a few popular hashtags for your genre, and that will help you engage with your target readers.
You’re not having fun.
There’s nothing more obvious on TikTok—or indeed any other social media platform—than someone who’s not enjoying themselves or hates the necessity of what they’re doing. Remember that you don’t have to be on TikTok. You don’t have to use it. But if you’re going to engage, enjoy the journey.
“Luck. Persistence. Patience. Defining my boundaries,” tweets Barron. “It’s not all fun and games, especially after 10k. But it’s mostly good. I *do* sell books because of Twitter, but mostly, I connect with you awesome lot!”
Hannah Guy lives in Toronto and is a professional writer and copywriter who specializes in books, books, and more books. Follow her on Twitter at @hannorg.