- Alex Aster is a 26-year-old YA author with 730,000 TikTok followers.
- After becoming popular on “BookTok,” she used her audience to gain support for a plot idea.
- That helped her land a six-figure deal and sent her book to the top of the best-seller list.
For writer Alex Aster, the so-called BookTok phenomenon, which has sent book sales surging, has turned out to be more than a fun TikTok trend.
Since she joined the platform in 2018, the 26-year-old young-adult author has built a following of about 730,000 followers. And that following recently helped her pen a book deal worth nearly $500,000.
She started her account after signing her first book deal with a small publishing house. The marketing budget was limited, she said, so she decided to go directly to her Gen-Z audience on TikTok in hopes of drawing more attention to and anticipation for her debut YA novel, 2020’s “Emblem Island: Curse of the Night Witch,” and its sequel, “Emblem Island: Curse of the Forgotten City.”
At first, Aster focused on growing an audience by conducting viral dances and challenges, and making comedy and lifestyle videos.
Then, in late 2020, she noticed that TikTok users were becoming increasingly interested in books and the hashtag #BookTok began to gain momentum.
Since it appeared during the first wave of the pandemic, the hashtag has amassed 47 billion views — more than other common hashtags like #unboxing or #recipe — and is considered to be a driver of the highest US book sales since 2004.
Aster knew this was the moment to focus on promoting her work on TikTok. Her ultimate goal was to score a book deal that would allow her to pay the bills, she said.
“My first deal had a very small advance, less than $10,000 for each book,” she said. “It wasn’t enough to live off of or really compensate for the years of work.”
She was particularly interested in selling a project she’d been working on for years: a novel called “Lightlark” about an island that emerges once every 100 years to host a competition between the island’s six rulers. Aster describes it as a cross between the “Hunger Games” and “A Court of Thorns and Roses” by Sarah J. Maas, another fantasy bestseller.
Aster was so set on “Lightlark” that in early 2020 her literary agent dropped her, thinking she was being too stubborn about the novel. It took Aster almost a year to find an agent who would help her fine-tune the story and pitch the project to publishers.
“We got 16 rejections,” Aster said. “The publishers said they liked it, but the market was super saturated.”
So in March 2021, she decided to take the idea straight to her audience.
“Would you read a book about this?” she asked in a TikTok video about “LightLark.”
“I was desperate. I just wanted to show publishing that there was a market for this book,” she said. “I thought, I’m not crazy. People want this book.”
In the first few hours, the video only got about a thousand views, Aster said, and she thought the audience was proving that publishers were right in rejecting her book.
“The next morning I woke up, I opened TikTok, and I saw that I had over a million views and thousands of comments and thousands of shares of people going crazy over this idea,” she said.
The video, which now has 1.6 million views, caught the attention of Abrams Children’s Books. A week later, “Lightlark” was sold at auction as part of a three-book deal.
Between the original contract and the foreign rights sales Aster is set to make over $460,000. Insider verified this with documentation provided.
Even though Aster snagged the deal, she’s not done on TikTok. In February, she posted a video poll on TikTok asking her followers to choose between two designs for the book cover. The video got almost 10,000 comments from people voting for their favorite cover, which was later revealed on a billboard in Times Square.
And successes keep coming. The book made the Barnes & Noble top 10 bestsellers list in March, five months before publication, and the bookstore chain will be printing an exclusive edition of the book with a bonus chapter. Aster has also signed with two film agents from CAA to represent the book’s film rights.
“People joke and ask me if I’m a boy band because of how passionate my fans are,” Aster said. “And I’m equally shocked, I’ve been writing for over 10 years and I’ve never seen this before. TikTok literally changed my life.”