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How a celebrated Dublin bookstore has started a new chapter thanks to BookTok

With more than 160 billion views, #BookTok is shaking up the reading world

In early 2022, Chapters bookstore closed its doors for what seemed to be the last time. In the wake of the pandemic, after nearly 40 years in business, it announced a clearance sale and customers flocked to pick up last-minute deals and bid farewell to the Dublin store.

Almost two years later, on a mild autumn morning, a young woman with a tote bag browses the section nearest the door. She picks up The Gilded Cage, a young adult (YA) fantasy novel by Australian author Lynette Noni, and thumbs through it. Beside The Gilded Cage sit books by Emily Henry, Anthony Doerr, Sarah J Mass – trending authors on BookTok, TikTok’s burgeoning books community.

Since it emerged in 2020, the #BookTok hashtag has racked up more than 160 billion views. It has had a profound impact on the book world, turning lesser-known authors, such as Colleen Hoover, into superstars almost overnight, reinvigorating sales of backlist titles and boosting the popularity of YA, romance and fantasy genres.

“It’s been a huge part of our business since we reopened,” says Sara Phelan, store manager. “[The BookTok section] is right inside the door, it has an incredibly prominent position.”


Social media was, in part, the catalyst for the store’s reopening in March 2022. The outpouring of love online caught the attention of new owners, Kevin Neary and Michael Finucane, who decided to take a chance on the business. Perhaps it is no wonder that the store has leant into BookTok, which has the potential to bridge the gap between online enthusiasm and in-store purchases.

Since BookTok started, Phelan has noticed an uptick in book sales generally and an evolution in the kinds of customers that visit Chapters.

People are buying more books, he says, “which is brilliant. And you see groups of friends coming in, where maybe they wouldn’t have in the past – like, if you were going to town with friends, a bookshop mightn’t have been your number one destination”.

BookTokers tend to be majority female, and in the young adult age bracket, and above.

“They come in, and they come upstairs and have a coffee, and have a browse.”

Like many internet communities, BookTok has unique idiosyncrasies and lexicon. Various subcommunities have sprouted since it started, including #blackbooktok, #queerbooktok, #booktokireland, and the Jane-Austen-inspired #Austentok. Tropes are a big theme – phrases like “enemies to lovers”, “right person, wrong time” and “fake dating” are common shorthand for the story archetypes BookTokers enjoy. And on BookTok reading is as much an aesthetic endeavour as an intellectual one. The platform is replete with perfectly curated bookshelves, diligently compiled book series and readers cultivating bookish lifestyles. No coincidence, then, that beside Chapters’ BookTok section is the gift books section, full of beautiful editions.

On the official Chapters TikTok account (@chaptersbookstoredublin), book recommendation videos are interspersed with funny videos of the staff riffing on the latest TikTok trends. In May the account was nominated for a TikTok Book Award in the Indie Bookshop category.

“Us and Sally Rooney were the only Irish nominees, which is pretty incredible,” says Phelan. “It was a response to our videos and to the content we make, which is also a really nice boost for staff, because it’s staff led.”

By chance, author Tadhg Hickey comes into the store to sign copies of his memoir, A Portrait of the Piss Artist as a Young Man (Eriu). The staff ask if he would be willing to film a TikTok and in one take he nails a 30-second skit comparing his book to Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

“It’s not always as easy as that,” says bookseller, Sarah Shanahan, who takes me around the store to record a TikTok she’s conceived of. It will be a day in the life of a bookseller, set to the “sound”, “No sleep, bus, another club ...” (many TikTok videos are set to trending sounds).

We move about the store, enlisting her colleagues to act as though they’re reading instead of working, or putting aside books they should be shelving. The process is impromptu and casual. Part of the charm is in the semi-shyness of the bookseller-turned-actors. You can see the glint in their eyes, and the almost-smile, as they perform their one-time parts.


It was a pleasure to have the fantastic @Tadhg Hickey in store to sign his new book: A Portrait of the Piss Artist as a Young Man. Thanks also to Tadhg for putting us onto the up and coming author James Joyce! #chapters #booktok #indiebookstore #signedcopies

♬ original sound - Chapters Bookstore

“It’s the staff having fun,” says Phelan. “We look at trends and look at what works, but we don’t stick to that at all. If someone has an idea, we’re so willing [to try it].”

There has been no small amount of hype around BookTok since it began, with reports of authors (such as Alex Aster) getting six-figure deals because of it, and best-seller lists being colonised by TikTok-famous books (at one point, Colleen Hoover held six of the top 10 places on the New York Times best-seller list). But there’s debate over the extent to which the platform can be leveraged to promote individual authors, books, and publishers.

Matthew Parkinson Bennett, publisher at Little Island, says: “I think you’ll get different answers from booksellers and publishers about this ... A lot of publishers are confounded by it, because it’s very difficult to influence. And the books that get promoted aren’t necessarily the ones that publishers would choose to have promoted.”

A small handful of titles seem to get the lion’s share of the benefits, while others remain unseen.

Still, Parkinson-Bennett views the BookTok phenomenon in a largely positive light. “What I think is interesting about it is that it seems to be very organic ... It’s not being dictated by publishers at all ... Even if I say so as a publisher, I think it’s really cool. I sort of like that it’s beyond the publisher’s influence because it’s people genuinely responding to books that they like.”

Irish novelist and BookToker, JF Murray (@j.f.murray), whose debut novel, Fling (Macmillan) came out in February, has managed to use the platform to his advantage.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say TikTok got me an agent or got me a deal. But I would say it probably didn’t hurt. When publishers and agents are looking at a potential client, those numbers, and that reach, definitely would come into play.”

Murray’s book is a contemporary romantic comedy, and so sits nicely in the #romancebooks category. But more risqué and erotic romance books are growing more popular on the platform. The subcommunity #spicybooks has more than 4.5 billion views, with users rating their most titillating reads using chilli pepper emojis.

“There is an element of BookTok where people love a bit of ‘spice’,” Murray says. “People love the books that are a little bit raunchier than your typical stuff ... It’s not reflected necessarily in my writing but it’s very interesting that there’s such a demand for it.”

Murray has 92,600 followers and counting. Some of his videos have millions of views. When asked what captures people’s attention, he says: “On TikTok people don’t necessarily like the hard sell. You could never get on TikTok and say ‘buy my book’. It would have to be a bit more clever than that. It would have to be: ‘here’s a line from my book’. Or, ‘here are the tropes in my book’.”

Parkinson-Bennett says the obsession with these tropes seems to be bleeding into publishing.

“Publishers are starting to list the tropes that are used in books, and publishing a particular kind of fiction that they think will be BookTok friendly. So it’s quite interesting how it’s already influencing how publishers are packaging their books.”

In some ways it’s easy to see why people are cynical about the platform, its taste-shaping algorithm, and the commodification of art and storytelling it seems to promote. But Parkinson-Bennett is also wary of snobbery towards it.

“We’ve published for teenagers a lot. And I always think there’s a tendency for people to belittle teen culture. And that’s been there since Elvis. Whatever the kids are into, people will take issue with ... It’s not something I like. I think some of the attitude towards BookTok has been influenced by that, because it is a teen thing. And I think it’s great to see people engaging with books and I think there are people out there who are reading because of it.”

Murray’s experience of BookTok has been generally positive, but if there’s one downside, he says it’s the pressure to keep pace with speedy readers.

“One thing I will say is that when you’re scrolling through BookTok […] you see this thing where people say: ‘I’m currently on my 156th book of the year’, and my jaw does be on the floor. Like, I’m probably on book five.”

And when it come to choosing what to read, the latest viral book always ends up taking precedent over those languishing in the to-be-read pile.

“I suppose books can go viral but they can also fade away quite quickly. So, you almost want to read them when they are a topic of conversation,” says Murray. “It’s a shame that they can be chewed up and spat out so quickly. But on a more positive note, it has made me read quite a lot more than I would have ... And just being part of an online reading community is something that definitely benefits my life.”