Brand Insights in 3 Sentences: Publishing and readership is changing rapidly due to new market forces such as the rise of self-publishing and the growing relevance of #BookTok. Amidst this shifting landscape, romance novels are the new vogue genre, with authors like Colleen Hoover reaching heights of popularity rarely seen before. Older trends remain relevant, such as the staying power of children’s fiction or the adaptation of popular books into films, but with new readers entering the fray, the novels that reach the best seller lists aren’t always received the way they used to be.
The publishing industry is changing. Between the rise of self-publishing, the growing importance of #BookTok in marketing and sales, and the popularity of alternative formats such as E-books and audiobooks, the way that books are being read and discovered is evolving rapidly. The results are sometimes strange — like the sudden emergence of decades-old titles on best seller lists — but it’s ultimately been an important shift, reshaping an old and established industry for the next generation of readers.
However, with so much information available, in such a fluid and dynamic space, it can be hard to understand the drivers behind book sales. When titles are just as likely to gain buzz on TikTok or Twitter as they are in the bookstore, new methods are needed to discover insights about the latest trends in readership.
That’s where we come in. Using our culture AI platform, Sphere, we can go directly to the source — the internet — and break down what readers are celebrating about this year’s biggest sellers. Using data from TikTok and Amazon’s Bestseller list, we used Sphere to better understand 2022’s book market.
Here are our results:
Genres come in and out of style. Sometimes, they fall into obscurity for a few years, destined to wallow on the bookshelves of only the most dedicated fans. Other times, they have their moment — a few months or a few years of fame and popularity, with dozens of authors hopping on the bandwagon of success.
This year, it’s clear that one genre is having its moment: Romance.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Romance novels have experienced an enormous boost in popularity. So far, love stories have been the vogue genre of the 2020s, as dozens of the best-selling books on Amazon this year are of the romantic variety:
However, it’s not just the numerous romantic titles on bestseller lists that evidence this trend. On TikTok, users come out in droves to discuss their reading habits using the hashtag #BookTok. Of the categories Sphere detected in these videos, one familiar genre stood out from the pack:
But, what might be driving the popularity of romantic books on TikTok?
The answer may lie in one of BookTok’s most prolific trends: ranking and dissecting tropes.
TikTok users are fascinated by the use of literary tropes. Videos with the #booktropes have collectively amassed more than 1.8 billion views, and users have even created a filter titled “Which Trope Am I” that has been used in nearly 150,000 videos from around the globe.
What’s more, the trope side of TikTok orbits almost exclusively around the romance genre:
Romantic tropes have become so ubiquitous on TikTok that a few have branched out and developed large followings in their own right. They develop catchy names and hashtags like #fatedmates, #onlyonebed, #grumpysunshine, or #secondchanceromance. Many of these trope trends have spawned thousands of videos and millions of views — including the #enemiestolovers, which has actually enjoyed more than 4.3 billion views.
Users make videos that debate the efficacy of these tropes and sometimes even meme the cliché ways they appear in novels:
More importantly, though, they give recommendations and spread awareness about new romance titles that use their favorite tropes successfully.
#BookTok has become familiar with the strategies that authors use to tug on their heartstrings. But that self-awareness doesn’t detract from their admiration or enjoyment. Writers, publishers, and booksellers take notice: the romance genre is still buzzing, and readers aren’t scared away by tropes or clichés.
On the contrary, they’re seeking them out.
There are a ton of hit authors on Amazon’s bestsellers list this year — James Patterson, Stephen King, and J.K. Rowling among them. However, no author has come close to touching the success of Colleen Hoover.
Hoover has eleven books on Amazon’s top 100 best sellers of 2022, including five of the year’s top ten best sellers. Her books span across many genres — from romance to young adult fiction all the way to suspensful thrillers — but find a consistent audience on the world’s largest bookseller (and its largest retailer, in general).
So, how did Colleen Hoover rise from a self-published social worker to become a best-selling author who sold more copies than the bible this year?
For one, Colleen Hoover is perhaps #BookTok’s favorite author. The #ColleenHoover has more than 2.7 billion combined views on TikTok, while her own profile has more than 1.1 million followers to enjoy her funny, relatable content.
She combines her sizable presence on the platform with books that play right into BookTok’s favorite genre; Love and Romance were the top positive emotions found alongside videos about her work on TikTok.
What’s more, many users take to the short-form video platform to share their personal reaction to reading Hoover’s work:
This practice was so widespread that it came to define the visual aesthetic of TikToks about Colleen Hoover. Sphere detected “E-Girl” and “Emo” as the top two aesthetics in videos with the #ColleenHoover, in large part because of the sheer number of bittersweet reaction videos that are posted in response to her work:
Colleen Hoover’s success on BookTok — and by extension, her success on the bookshelf — demonstrates how powerful face-to-face communication is for book marketing. The old cliche of the reclusive author, whose books are discussed in prestigious magazines and college classrooms, is no longer the best seller that it used to be.
Whether it’s by her own effort to connect with readers through content, or by the viral reactions posted by her most adamant fans, Colleen Hoover has proved that the biggest author in the world is one that is accessible and exciting to her fanbase.
Another genre that sees itself highly represented on the Amazon Bestseller’s list is children’s fiction. Children are an audience that will always be available for education and storytelling, so it’s not the type of genre to come in and out of fashion.
A surprising observation we found about the children’s fiction on the Amazon’s Best Sellers list is the older publication of some of the titles:
Although some new children’s titles are also selling well on Amazon, there are an inordinate number of older kid’s books populating this list. One explanation might be the desire older generations have to share the books they grew up on:
Reviews often talk about these books as gifts for children and grandchildren, or classics that are essential for any young reader. Regardless, it’s clear that older, nostalgic favorites still carry immense value in the children’s book market.
It’s well-known that popular books are often adapted into equally popular films or television shows. Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Life of Pi, and Game of Thrones are just a few examples of smash hits that stemmed from already successful novels.
Among Amazon’s bestselling books of 2022, there are plenty of titles that fit this pattern. Examples include The Summer I Turned Pretty, by Jenny Han, and Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens. Both found enormous success off the page this year: The Summer I Turned Pretty was the number one show on Amazon Prime upon its release in June, and Where the Crawdads Sing grossed more than 136 million at the box office this summer.
What’s interesting about the on-screen and off-screen success of these novels is that they’re both more than a few years old by now: The Summer I Turned Pretty is from 2009, and Where the Crawdads Sing is from 2018. Both books are actually on best seller lists for the second time because of their successful adaptations.
These aren’t the only two older titles that are benefiting from a recent adaptation. Other examples include Fire and Blood (adapted into House of the Dragon on HBO), My Policeman (adapted into a film starring Harry Styles), and Blonde (adapted into a film by Netflix).
The implication is that the book-to-screen pipeline can go both ways; Popular film and television can bring attention back onto the books that they are sourced from.
Sometimes, though, this brings newfound expectations.
Written by Joyce Carol Oates, Blonde was a finalist for the National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize when it was published back in 2000. But after a widely reviled Netflix adaptation in 2022 that many viewers found difficult to watch, the book has come under reevaluation from readers:
The film adaptation of Blonde was criticized by many for exploiting the life of Marilyn Monroe and promoting troubling perceptions of her character and behavior. All the negative attention brought by those problems with the movie has been extended to the book on Amazon:
Fire and Blood is another book that has come under more scrutiny after the release of its adaptation (HBO’s House of the Dragon):
George R.R. Martin’s history of the Targaryen family failed to meet the expectations of some readers after its exciting HBO adaptation debuted. Many Amazon reviewers cited the book’s format as an unexpected departure from the show. Namely, it reads a little more like a class assignment than a riveting drama:
TV and film adaptations can be a boon to book sales — even for novels that came out years ago. But in 2022, renewed attention can also bring renewed criticism.
2022’s bestselling books represent a diverse array of readers and genres. They demonstrate the power of #BookTok in book sales and the staying power of children’s fiction. They also show how a relatable author or a hit TV show can take a book’s sales through the roof. However, more than anything else, they show the instrumental role that the internet plays in buying, reading, and publishing books.
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