Two months ago, mentions of TikTok flooded my online writers groups, all due to a New York Times headline: How Crying on TikTok Sells Books.
Yes, it’s true, TikTok does have the remarkable power to sell books. Ever since I started marketing and promoting my memoir, sales have correlated to the popularity of my videos on TikTok. Visitors who come to my website from TikTok are ten times more likely to click through to purchase my book than those who come through targeted (and expensive) Facebook ads.
TikTok has also driven the increase in my Instagram audience (+33k in eight months) and my newsletter sign-ups (+3k in eight months).
How in the world am I getting people interested in my writing (and actually buying my book) by using a video-only app?
TikTok doesn’t care if you’re popular.
Whereas Instagram can feel like a meadow overgrown with Momfluencer Clones (duck—wide-brimmed hat!), TikTok is more like a house party with witty and intelligent conversation in every corner. This app, created with the singular focus of easily creating lip-sync videos, has evolved into an entertainment and educational hub.
Want to hear teenagers on the spectrum talk about the misconceptions about autism? TikTok’s got that. Want to see a sneaker artist transform a pair of Air Force Ones into a masterpiece with a couple sharpies in thirty seconds? TikTok’s got that. Want to hear how to keep monogamy hot from the world’s worst attempted swinger? That’s where I come in.
I had five followers (two of my kids and three of their friends) when my first video took off. It was called My Favorite Way to Stay Not Pregnant. I stood in front of a lunar phase calendar that I used to track my menstrual cycle. I explained that we do not have intercourse around ovulation. Instead we, well … it’s sort of like Taco Tuesday … but he eats taco and I have burrito. It got 250k views in two days.
It doesn’t matter if you have zero followers. TikTok will show your video to a few people, maybe five to start. If some of those five people do not swipe away and watch at least a few seconds, you’re on your way. Then TikTok will push it out to a few more people. If any of those users watch the whole thing, watch it more than once, click like, comment, start conversations with others in the comments, share it, or click on your profile to see if you have any other great videos, the algorithm shouts “PRAISE BE” and makes plans for you to go viral.
As your video is pumped out to more accounts, the algorithm continues to assess if your video is good or if it is boring. For this reason, you cannot effectively trick TikTok into making your video go viral by asking friends to engage on it early.
How to make something good on TikTok
Okay, this sounds obvious, but for a video to do well on TikTok it has to be REALLY GOOD. TikTok users are generous with their time—spending an average of 89 minutes a day on the app, but they will not think twice about swiping off your video if you do not hook them in the first second. By “second” I don’t mean quickly or somewhere in the first third of the video. I mean you have less than a literal second to grab their attention. Then you have to keep it.
If you make something entertaining or engaging it will get views. If it’s not getting views (1k–10k in the first day) think about it like you would an essay that doesn’t get picked up on the first pitch. Is it the concept or is it the execution? Usually, it’s the execution.
How would you sum up a 1,000-word essay in 30 seconds? Now tell it to me so I am on the edge of my seat. Break it into four evenly balanced sections, or strategically imbalanced sections, whatever will hold the attention, because I firmly believe the best performing videos have impeccable pacing. Now you have your first good TikTok.
Know how to use titles on TikTok.
Videos do not need titles, and most users never use titles. But I think one of the reasons I’m closing in on 170k followers on TikTok is because of the way I use titles.
Reading is faster than speaking. Remember that we have less than one second to convince viewers to stick around? Well, it takes me about three seconds to announce the title of each of my videos. I’m guessing it takes most people less than a second to read it. For this reason I start every video with a face to camera shot and the title of the video.
One of my very first videos was called “How to Keep Monogamy Hot – Part 1.” I had no idea what I would make for Part 2, but titling it this way made me think quickly about the second installment, and had users clicking like crazy to my profile to see similar content.
My other regular video series are Before You Get a Divorce and How I Get My Kids to Clean the House. Additionally, I’ve done a set on Intimacy and Enneagram Types, Intimacy and Astrology Signs, Love Languages, How I Talk to My Kids About Sex, and How I Talk to My Kids about Politics.
Well, you must write a bit in the captions, right?
Nope. TikTok limits captions to 100 characters, so it’s wise to fill it with hashtags.
I use hashtags not to categorize my videos, but strategically to attract my target viewer. I don’t try to target people searching for my kind of videos—I want to delight people who didn’t even know they needed my kind of videos.
Here are my usual hashtags for TikTok and the reasoning behind using them.
- #fam – Fertility Awareness Method (won’t shy away from details about sex, as half of this method is saying hi to your cervix everyday)
- #nfp – Natural Family Planning (same as above)
- #enm – Ethical Non-Monogamy (practicing/curious individuals or couples, sex-positive, open to or looking for conversations about intimacy)
- #mykonmari – Marie Kondo tidying method (who’s tidying? Women 25–55, who’s my target reader? Women 25–55)
- #intimacytips, #intimacytiktok – sex positive, looking for improvement in sex life
- #beating50percent – Christian operation: stay married movement (many Christian couples follow me for sex advice)
- #marriagegoals – usually looking for something sappy or cute (then they stumble across me and are like, holy, wow, I am actually on the verge of divorce I am so grateful I found you)
All video delivery is not created equal (aka you don’t need to buy friends).
I’m investing a lot in Facebook ads to drive awareness of my book, and I’m using many of the same videos that have performed well on TikTok. So why are users on TikTok ten times more likely to click on a purchase button when they come to my website?
The Facebook ad is one video. Then they are asked, “Do you want to buy this book?”
On TikTok, very often users find me because one of my videos comes up on their For You Page. They watch it, click like, visit my profile, like another one of my videos every 30 seconds for five minutes, then follow me. By the time they click on my link in the bio and land on my site they feel like we’ve already hung out. We’ve enjoyed witty and intelligent conversation. Maybe they’ve even shared one of my videos with a friend.
And how would you introduce a new friend you had just met at a house party?
I’m guessing it might be something like, “You just have to meet Ashleigh. Did you know she just wrote a book?”
Ashleigh Renard is a former figure skating coach and choreographer who coaches writers on building platform and connecting with their readers. She is the co-host of the biweekly Zoom platform chat The Writers’ Bridge.