SPS-294: How to Sell More Books Using TikTok – with Lila Dubois and Jayne Rylon
Is TikTok just another social media time suck? Jayne Rylon and Lila Dubois don’t think so. On this episode, they share where they think TikTok’s value lies and how authors can benefit from the early days of the platform.
- How TIkTok for books (BookTok) is different than other areas of the platform
- The basics on how TikTok works as a consumer of content
- Why this is the moment to get onto TikTok
- Thoughts on security concerns
- Why sincerity works on TikTok
- Tips for being more comfortable on video
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
FREE WEBINAR: Jayne and Lila will offer a TikTok webinar to SPF listeners. Learn more and enrol here.
TIKTOK CLASS with SPF DISCOUNT: Jayne and Lila also offer a 10-day class specifically aimed at authors. Use the following code to secure your special SPF discount of $50: TTSBspf50 (the code is not case sensitive!)
MERCH: Are you a ligneous beetle or a yawning hippopotamus? Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the brand new SPF Store.
SPS-294: How to Sell More Books Using TikTok - with Lila Dubois and Jayne Rylon
Voiceover: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show.
Lila Dubois: I think the medium, this video format, the rhythm of the way TikToks are produced, this is going to be non-optional, this is the way content needs to be presented now and for however long TikTok is the up-and-coming format.
Voiceover: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers, no more barriers, no one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing, join indie bestseller Mark Dawson and first-time author James Blatch as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is The Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Hello and welcome to The Self-Publishing Show with my, James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: And me, Mark Dawson.
James Blatch: Hello Mark Dawson, how are you?
Mark Dawson: Yeah, I'm all right. I haven't told you this, I had an accident yesterday.
James Blatch: Oh. Well, you look like you're in one piece, or maybe your legs are missing, I don't know, I can't see your legs.
Mark Dawson: No, I'm fine. I was quite lucky. I was on my bicycle and just going into the office in the afternoon. It was quite a narrow path near the house and on the left hand side is a great big bank of nettles and they were quite close. So I thought okay, I'm just going to steer over to the right, I don't want to run into the nettles or anything like that. I had shorts on.
Went slightly too far to the right and caught my handlebars on a fence post, which then kind of sent me back to the left. And I came completely off, fell off the bike completely. Luckily, the good news was I had a soft landing. The bad news was, it was in the bank of nettle I was trying to avoid. So I've never been stung like that before. I can still feel it on my arm. But for all of yesterday, my arm and my leg were just stung to buggery, basically.
James Blatch: Did your mother not come over with some dock leaves?
Mark Dawson: Well, I looked. Of course, that is psychosomatic isn't it?
James Blatch: Yeah. It's placebo.
Mark Dawson: It's a placebo, yes. I was actually kind of lying in the nettles thinking I'm in the nettles, so I better get up. I didn't think of dock leaves but I did go and have an antihistamine tablet which helped a little bit. I think the main thing is washing it with soap and water to try and get the bits off. But it was quite painful.
James Blatch: You get the odd sting. The time I get the odd sting is playing golf, which says a lot about my golf.
Mark Dawson: Because you're so slow the insects land on you.
James Blatch: No, stingers. I end up searching for my ball in the undergrowth. The odd stinger you can brush off but I think when you get a big wad of them in one go. I don't really know why they sting. Why are they trying to keep us away from them? What do we want with nettles?
Mark Dawson: I don't know. They're quite nice in soups, apparently, not that I've ever had nettle soup. But yeah, I'll be a bit more careful next time. It wasn't pleasant.
James Blatch: Your brush with death, well stinging nettles.
Mark Dawson: That's a first world brush with death isn't it? Oh I've had lots of nettle stings.
James Blatch: It is.
Mark Dawson: I know it sounds pathetic.
James Blatch: I almost made a bad taste joke, but I refrained. Okay, I'll make it afterwards to you privately. Now, oh, I've got a little Fuze books. Oh, what's the word? I was going to say bloat. What do you say when you show off?
Mark Dawson: Gloat.
James Blatch: Gloat! You don't bloat, you gloat. But we've got a bestseller tag on one of the books this week, we did a big blast last weekend, sort of offer stacked or whatever you call it, promotion stacked using our five days free, and then had a big sales spike in the week that followed.
We've also been tweaking the Facebook ads but anyway yes, the number one in the series, I think it's down to 106 in the Kindle store this morning but it's been high.
Mark Dawson: Is it paid now?
James Blatch: That was paid, yeah, it's paid now.
Mark Dawson: That's very good.
James Blatch: Yeah, really good. And the number one bestseller tag in military thrillers, which is a proper category, right? This is not woodworking with that... Do you remember the example we had of the romance guy holding a chisel or something on the front of a romance book and she put it into a woodworking category for fun and it got number one tag there. This is a genuine number one tag.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, see I've actually just clicked on one of our ads because I'm too lazy to find it without the ad.
James Blatch: Oh, that's cost us money.
Mark Dawson: Sorry about that. But yeah, that's 200 in the store today, that's pretty good. At 1.99. Yeah, no, that's very good. That will be making decent money at that level.
James Blatch: Yeah. So we're really pleased with that. We've worked hard on these books. None of this is fire and forget. We talk about, I mean there was this whole movement of passive income, Pat Flynn and all of that, but the reality is you work every couple of days on Facebook campaigns, you check on them. I do the stat once a week, and we're now working with a partner on these, which is great, and yeah.
But we're looking forward to launching a couple of new series in the next month with Fuze, so another series from Kerry, a detective series, covers look great for that. Then a new author, Ian W. Sainsbury, contract signed with Ian. Kindle Storyteller Award, and a series from him that'll be sort of new. The first book's been out as a three-parter before but we're looking forward to doing that. We'll perhaps talk about the strategy for that on the podcast as well, it'll be interesting to decide.
I did have a little blip this week with my own book. So I did what you suggested, so this is all your fault this is, which is to go wide for a week and then go exclusive. This will give the market a chance to buy it all over the place and then it went exclusive.
Mark Dawson: This is for an existing book? I've never said that before.
James Blatch: This is for The Final Flight.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, I've never said that before.
James Blatch: For a new book, when I launched it you said go wide for a week and then-
Mark Dawson: No, no, no. I said go wide at your prelaunch. It's fine to launch wide and then go exclusive. Don't go the other way around.
James Blatch: No, that's the way I did it. I launched wide then went exclusive.
Mark Dawson: Oh right. So you were wide.
James Blatch: Yes.
Mark Dawson: I see, okay.
James Blatch: So for a week or so I was wide, and I used PublishDrive.
Mark Dawson: Hang on, hang on. You released it longer than a week ago?
James Blatch: No, not a week ago. I did this in April. But the blip was this week.
So I did that, I was wide for a bit using PublishDrive. That's the only other place I used that, is one aggregator. Could have used Draft2Digital, we used that for the other business, but I used PublishDrive, I wanted to try it out.
And then I withdrew it on PublishDrive, I left obviously the paperbacks up through Ingram. Oh yeah, that's the other place I do it, Ingram for distribution. I actually made 99 pence today from Ingram, got a check. So that's whoa. And then enrolled in KDP Select.
This week I noticed the book was at £1.33, not 2.99, which is what I priced it at. I couldn't see why and I wasn't promoting it, wasn't doing anything. I contacted KDP and they said to me, "We've price matched it." They helpfully didn't tell me with what. I went straight to PublishDrive to make sure it wasn't... and it wasn't for sale anywhere. And I looked on Kobo and Apple and Google and all the obvious places and it wasn't for sale anywhere, the ebook anyway.
So I emailed them back and said, "Where?" And they sent me a link to hive.co.uk, which is a retailer I'm not very familiar with in the UK, and it was through PublishDrive. So even though I withdrew it, it was still being listed then. It was a problem, I think, at the Hive end or the partner that they distribute through. But it's a problem not just because the price went down, although my sales went up and actually it's an interesting little experiment. So as a result of this I may actually reprice the book, I'll have to do the math on that.
But the main thing is, I'm in breach of KDP Select, because I don't want to upset... It's a contract you sign and you don't want to be a bad actor in this field. So I have contacted PublishDrive, they're investigating, haven't got back to me. They've got back to me to say they're investigating and they can see what happened and they're trying to get it sorted. I guess that can happen but it's just a little warning out there.
Mark Dawson: So what I would do, and I've never had that. I use Drive2Digital and I've never used PublishDrive. So although we know Kinga quite well, it's a good service, I've never had that problem with Drive2Digital, and the way I limit that is by only telling them to send it to a very select number of retailers. So I don't pick any of the smaller ones. So I'll just go to Barnes & Noble if I'm feeling very lazy Kobo and Apple. Obviously I've done it before but it's not worth my time to put those books up myself for a couple of weeks and then to take them down again.
I have heard it happen where some of the smaller retailers don't take the book down when asked. You can't easily check them all. But Amazon will find them. And I've never even heard of Hive but obviously their bots are scraping everything. So yeah, you've been caught.
James Blatch: Yes, well, they've done nothing about KDP Select, I haven't had a you're in breach email yet.
Mark Dawson: No, you'll get a warning.
James Blatch: Yeah, I haven't even had a warning, all I've had so far is they've just price matched it. I don't know how they're discounting it either, it's a bit weird. Anyway.
Mark Dawson: They'll discount it to the price and I think you'll get 70% of that.
James Blatch: Yeah, okay.
Mark Dawson: So weirdly-
James Blatch: It's not bad.
Mark Dawson: It was probably making money but it's not... Yeah, you can't do it. So even if it's making money you would be in breach so you'll need to get that fixed.
James Blatch: Yeah. So anyway, thought I'd say that. But yeah, an interesting thing would be to see... do the math on the sales. They've definitely spiked since the price went down. There was a correlation, who knew that? Something to do with supply and demand.
Okay, now we are talking TikTok in this episode. So if you're trying to listen just to this episode to talk about TikTok, I know it's a huge thing, we'll put somewhere in the notes that the TikTok bit starts here because I know a lot of authors are interested in TikTok.
Now, I'm quite excited about TikTok, for two reasons. First of all, I weirdly really like the platform, find it very fun and amusing and enjoy it from that point of view. And secondly, because we've seen a few of these come and go, Instagram and others and Twitter, and I've been heavily involved in Twitter, a little bit involved in Instagram. But I know enough to know that they have not worked out in terms... So at least so far, maybe those platforms will change, as being reliable, commercially worthwhile enterprises for authors. Neither of those.
Mark Dawson: I wouldn't say that about Instagram, I would certain say it about Twitter. I know plenty of authors who do very well on Instagram.
James Blatch: Some authors do but it's not that widespread I don't think, and certainly I've not been able to do that. Have you been able to do that on Instagram?
Mark Dawson: Yeah.
James Blatch: You've made money on Instagram?
Mark Dawson: Yeah, of course. Absolutely. I advertise on Instagram all the time.
James Blatch: Oh do you? Oh okay.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. Twitter, that certainly is the case, it's very... Twitter ads, we tried there before, it didn't work very well. Twitter's good for lots of things.
James Blatch: Are you talking about your paid ads on Instagram or organic?
Mark Dawson: A bit of both, really, but mostly ads on Instagram.
James Blatch: Okay. But the early indications from TikTok, from multiple sources around the place, is that it is a place that shifts books and moves the needle for authors, which is really interesting. It's a very different feeling platform from everything else, works in a very different way, and it's not particularly accessible when you first look at it, takes a bit of getting used to.
But there are a couple of authors in our community who are fans of our courses and they are people who are starting to teach how to do this. They are Lila, I think Lila's how to pronounce it, and Jayne.
So we've got them on today to talk about this, we are going to get them in to do a webinar to go into much more detail and teach you how to do a lot of this stuff. That will be on September the 6th and you can sign up for free as we're a free webinar of course, selfpublishingformula.com/tiktok, T-I-K-T-O-K.
There's also some stuff going on in the background. You might be able to guess what we're talking to them about, but we won't announce that until we've signed something with them. So, let's have this interview, let's talk about TikTok with Lila and Jayne and then Mark and I will be back.
Lila and Jayne, the indie author TikTokers, welcome to The Self Publishing Show.
Jayne Rylon: Thank you, thanks for having us.
Lila Dubois: Thank you so much for having us.
James Blatch: Now, I don't know how we ended up with a screen flow of a presentation you did. I found it compelling right from the beginning. I love TikTok, let me take it from there, because most people glaze over, don't understand it, don't like it. Especially 54 year old men. But, I'm into it. From a long time ago I saw that it was inventive.
I loved Vine before and I found it creative and joyous and fun and Twitter can be quite a toxic place, I think. And for me, although I'm sure there's stuff on TikTok I wouldn't like, but lots of people, even if it's just dancing or doing a little comedy skit, I love it. So I can happily lose a couple hours of my life scrolling on TikTok.
So, from that point of view, I'm a bit of a consumer and every time someone had talked about using it to sell books I've been a bit cynical because we haven't had a lot of success with Instagram, certainly not with Instagram ads, although I know some authors are big on Instagram but I hadn't seen necessarily the evidence that it was translating into sales.
But you were talking about it in such a businesslike way, such a serious application, that it seems to me there's something there, particularly in the romance genre. So that's why you're here to, I think, probably we need to keep it relatively high level for this interview.
Your experience might be the same as mine, that most of my friends are not on TikTok and don't really understand it?
Jayne Rylon: Yeah, we actually, we've only been on TikTok for four months.
James Blatch: Okay.
Jayne Rylon: That's actually one of the points that we like to make a lot of the time is that this is a platform where you can grow really quickly. I just hit 10,000 followers yesterday and Lila's right behind me, she'll be there today or tomorrow.
So those were actually my exact feelings as well. In our relationship, Lila and I have been friends for like 15 years. In my relationship I am 100% the tortoise and she is the hare. So I'm like, "I've been hearing about TikTok, we should look into this. I don't know though if I'm ready to be on camera, I don't do dancing." And she's like, "Oh I just made a video." So then I'm like, "Oh well now I've got to do it."
Lila Dubois: One of the things we talk about in our presentations is that Jayne and I are both full-time authors, we did that by choice, we left good paying white collar jobs. Jayne did financial planning analysis for a Fortune 500 company, and I was the operations manager for an academic research centre at the University of Southern California.
So we joke that whenever we approach anything we take a collaborative approach, if either one of us want to try anything we say, "We'll do it together." Like, "Hey, let's explore audiobooks," or something like that. So we did that with TikTok and our joke is that I bring in overly researched and she brings in overly analytical approach to anything we do, and that's what we did with TikTok, which is why after only a few weeks we had so much information about it, and that's why we've said we're going to help other authors, because right now TikTok is a little bit of the wild west as far as being for books.
There's tonnes of tutorials and information and videos about making TikToks, but it's aimed at that classic TikTok video, the sync to dance, the lip sync, something like that. And the part of TikTok that is for authors and readers, which is the shorthand reference for it is BookTok, pretty much TikTok anything ending in -Tok. There is AuthorTok and then there's everything else, MovieTok, ConstructionTok, MomTok, but BookTok is really a very different place than main TikTok and the content that you see there is very different than that classic TikTok content that you think about a 15 year old making.
I think that that's the information that people need to know, that you're not going to be going on TikTok and attempting to badly do a choreographed dance, that's really not what BookTok is about.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Jayne Rylon: No, and really like you said, we approach things from a scientific perspective. I was in corporate finance, I have a master's degree in business. So that is how we approach everything, because if I'm going to spend time on something, it needs to be something that's going to pay back. And for me, TikTok has been so much so that that I left Instagram, I haven't posted in Instagram in a long time.
The growth is phenomenal on TikTok and it's not just growth in terms of followers and in terms of likes and shares, but actual conversion. Lila and I ran a tonne of experiments and that's probably what you saw in the presentation.
But even continuing as recently as two days ago, I ran an experiment where I did a video promoting a book called Four Money. The video only has 2000 views, so don't think this only works for people who are viral, that's not the case at all. With 2000 views that book increased its average daily sales from its 90 day average fivefold, and that's continued from the day I posted the video yesterday and so far today.
James Blatch: Wow, okay.
Jayne Rylon: So it really works. That's just one example. As you saw in the presentation, we've done many different ways to target specific things that we can track, even though we feel like TikTok influences all of our sales across all retailers and all formats, there were specific things that we could run experiments on to identify those effects, and we went after that.
For example, I gave a coupon code to my direct shop on TikTok and that resulted in $500 in sales in one weekend. And again, this is not from a viral video, this is from an average number of views.
James Blatch: A much higher conversion rate than you might find in other areas of online marketing?
Jayne Rylon: Yes.
James Blatch: So let me ask you about the bit you started with there, Lila, that the sort of goofy TikTok or whatever you want to call it. I mean they are sometimes brilliantly creative and talented people who have just found an outlet, it's not all goof. Some of it's people falling over.
But that, like all social media platforms, I'm seeing what I want to see and getting more of the type of things that I've been looking at, so that's why I see that. My daughter often says, "Oh you don't see dark TikTok or this TikTok or that..." She actually thought at some point there were different TikToks and I was saying to her, "No, that's how the algorithm works. You're just seeing stuff because it's skewing to you."
Are you saying that the people who are most responsive to you for this, for selling books, are basically people looking for that type of content, or can you penetrate my For You stream, which we'll explain in a minute what that means.
Can you penetrate to people who might be romance readers but aren't necessarily following that on TikTok, if you get what I mean by that question?
Lila Dubois: I do. So you could make sure that you diversify it a little bit in what you're posting, what sounds you're using, and what hashtags you're following. Like, all the algorithms, TikTok hasn't come out and explained how it works but based on our experiments and what other people have put together, predominantly the TikTok algorithm is going to funnel you based on common people you follow, common sounds you use, and the hashtags that you follow, as well as the videos you watch all the way through.
So, I could try and get to a broader TikTok audience by expanding from what I have now, which is I am very focused on following and watching within the TikTok algorithm bubble. But right now I don't need to. There is such a large community on BookTok that I have not hit saturation on, I have no need to go outside of it, and I'm not going to waste my watch time or potentially confuse the algorithm by straying outside of BookTok, at least at this point.
James Blatch: Okay. Do you know what, I think we should probably explain what TikTok is. Because people have heard of it but they don't really know what it is, and I didn't know what it was.
Jayne Rylon: I didn't either.
James Blatch: Like for a long time. So, who wants to have a go at explaining it.
Jayne Rylon: I'll tell you that one. TikTok is an app made by Chinese company ByteDance, they just updated their numbers in their last quarterly report, they have over a billion active monthly users now. So while TikTok was originally aimed at younger crowds, and this is a common misconception we hear, the app is no longer just for younger people. With a billion people there's an audience for everyone.
The app is an unusual piece of software because it contains both a video creation side and a content consumption side. So that's something that makes it a little different than some of the other apps that we use. That's also, I think, what makes it a little less intuitive for some people and certainly was for us.
When Lila and I first started doing this I was like, "I think I'm the stupidest person on earth. I am too old for this, I cannot do this." And Lila's like, "No, we're going to do it, we're going to do it." And she'll press all the buttons and figure out what everything is, and she drags me along with her.
So it can be a little overwhelming but it is both a content creation and consumption platform, and other than that that's really what it is. You'll scroll through a feed of videos and you'll find hours and hours draining away, like you said.
James Blatch: Yeah. So you can sit there, you just fire it up and start following the first... It has what's called Following and For You are the main two streams you can look at, think of them as news streams... What do you call them in Facebook?
Lila Dubois: Newsfeed.
Jayne Rylon: Newsfeed, yeah.
James Blatch: Newsfeed, there you go, that's the word I'm looking for. Think of them as having two alternate ones. So one is specifically to people you're following but the other one is the algorithm really at work suggesting things to you and that's how you find new people to follow or block.
I think getting on people's For You page is quite a big deal, isn't it? Because that's TikTok doing its work for you.
Jayne Rylon: One of the really awesome things about TikTok from a creator perspective, if you're using a Pro Creator account, which is what we recommend to everyone, you have robust analytics. So you can see what percentage of your traffic comes from the For You page versus what comes from your followers or even hashtags, people you've sent with a direct link maybe from another social media outlet, like maybe if you sent people from Facebook, you can see all of that.
We recommend you want to be aiming for a For You page percentage that's higher than 50% and as high as possible, as some of our best videos have like 97, 98% For You page representation. Obviously that's where you're going to find new people. Which is what we love about TikTok, it's not the same people that I talk to on Facebook who come over and see me on TikTok, they're new people, and that's exactly what I want.
James Blatch: And Lila, is this a stage where people should be involved, because a bit like Facebook, it's going to get more difficult down the line the bigger, more organised the platform is, and eventually it's probably going to be pay to play like Facebook basically is, you can't do much organically anymore.
I get the feeling TikTok is ripe at the moment and open for people.
Lila Dubois: I absolutely think so. I think we're a little bit past the point of saying anybody who's joining now is an early adopter but I think in six months it's going to become semi-mandatory. It's simply going to be one of those places where an author has to have a presence. At the very least you need to have a username and an account so people can tag you.
I think that it's simply not something that people are going to be able to ignore. One of the reasons I say this is we run a class called Romancing BookTok, and we had a class member who was doing a really good job creating videos, followed everything, and she created a TikTok and she sent us, she said, "Hey look at my graph, I got such great sales from this."
We noticed that she had taken the video and reposted it on her other social media. So it wasn't the kind of controlled test that we had done where we could say it was only TikTok. But, she got so much more play on a TikTok video on other platforms, far more so than she would have with a still image or a book trailer on Facebook.
So I think even if you are thinking I can't do TikTok, I think the medium, this video format, the rhythm of the way TikToks are produced, this is going to be non-optional. This is the way content needs to be presented, now and for however long TikTok is the up and coming format. I also have seen reposted TikToks on Facebook and to a lesser extent on Instagram, because Instagram is throttling back anything with the TikTok logo branded on it.
But they are getting far better play than even videos I am making directly, even better than my Facebook Live videos when they repost. Those are supposed to be gold because Facebook is supposed to push those. But my TikTok videos do better there. I simply download them and upload them on Facebook as if they were a separate video. And something about the format, maybe the link.
TikTok is sort of forcing you to work in certain parameters and I think those parameters are what people are responding to right now. So yes, I think now is the time to get on before it gets huge, at this time sponsored ads in TikTok are an absolute no-go, and one of the reasons is that TikTok still is serving ads no matter what you select as your geographic location, is serving them locally.
We are both romance authors, there are quite a few romance authors who are in essentially deep cover, they are unable to talk about their penname because they would be ostracised or what we write is not as well respected as it should be. And an author in a TikTok group we talked to, she did a sponsored ad and it served to her local town and it was her face with her penname. So we have not touched sponsored ads because of that.
I'm sure, you are right, eventually TikTok will figure out how to make it so that they can get everybody playing the ads game the way Facebook does, but right now we're selling books with Pro Creator accounts but we are not paying TikTok.
James Blatch: Okay.
Jayne Rylon: I think there's some other hangups too, like if we just want to talk about the ad platform for a minute. The targeting isn't as sophisticated as Facebook ads yet, so it's very broad. So you can't really drill down, and so especially other fellow romance writers that we know have gotten mostly just negative comments when they advertise. So we haven't found it necessary to go into the paid realm yet. Of course that will probably change down the road but for right now the organic reach and the organic conversion is so good that we don't need to do that yet.
James Blatch: Yeah. And we don't know much about the finance side of things but if it's a traditional startup, because it's Chinese, a bit hidden behind that, but if it's a traditional startup they will just be in the growth phase now. So they'll be happy for you finding followers without having to pay anything, as Facebook was for 10 years before it slowly started introducing restrictions on how much its algorithm is going to work and pushing you towards the paid side of things.
Just on the Chinese note, it is one of those things that occasionally somebody says to you, "Oh, don't go on there, no, no, they'll track your movements and they know everything about you." I do know a couple of people have said that to me early on and I've said, "Yes, but it's funny and I want to be on there."
Jayne Rylon: Exactly.
James Blatch: Are there any concerns people should have, security wise, over TikTok?
Jayne Rylon: Lila and I don't tend to be tinfoil hat people so we probably just go for it. Maybe we should be more careful than we are, but for us that hasn't been a major concern. Lila, you mentioned about how you don't like to repost TikToks because it has the watermark on. Just for people listening out there, there are third party apps you can remove that watermark from. One of them is called CapCut, and then you can upload to, say, for example, probably the most effective would be Instagram Reels. And I know people who do that but then you have some copyright issues with the sound because it's not necessarily cleared on Instagram the way it is on TikTok, so just to say that. But I do think it can be effective.
James Blatch: You were saying you got a really good response to the TikTok videos where you posted elsewhere. Instagram may be blocking the TikTok logo but I wonder if the TikTok logo is part of the allure because it's a bit of a thing at the moment and people are interested in it.
Lila, might this be one of the reasons why people are clicking on those videos more on other platforms?
Lila Dubois: It absolutely could be, and I think especially the format, that heavy portrait video format. That's made for Stories and Reels is where they really work. So, I mean absolutely, it makes it very easy. TikTok is integrated with the other apps. You can directly post from TikTok into your Facebook Stories, and you can post directly to your Facebook wall.
Now, if you don't want it to be a link that drives people back over to TikTok you need to download it and move it over, but the format, as you say, possibly it is people are just interested because they're seeing TikTok and maybe that is a part of it but I also think that there's something about the rhythm and the way the culture of TikTok and the culture of BookTok that forces you to produce a type of video, almost like a format of a video that I think people are responding to.
I think it's really interesting because TikTok is a very organic, and particularly BookTok, it's developed cultural norms and it's very organic, it's not being curated in any kind of way. I think that's maybe some of what we lost as Facebook kind of locked everything down, is there is less of an organic culture, especially around books and readers developing because it simply can't have that organic reach. But we do have that over on BookTok.
I think that's one of the reasons it is so entertaining, is it is very creative people. You're talking about readers, you're talking about authors. We're almost by default very creative, clever people. So give us this app with these tools and it's going to be really great content and it's not going to just be lip syncing and dances.
Jayne Rylon: And that's exactly what I was thinking too, like what I think makes it popular and what makes it successful on all platforms is that it doesn't look like a commercial. It doesn't look like a commercial product. The less you are done up, the more you're a hot mess, the more you're genuinely interacting with people, the more successful it is.
That's something that I've had to get over. Another question we get asked a lot, is like do I have to be on camera? I don't feel real comfort with that. Like I wear a wig and makeup and all kinds of stuff but I'm kind of slowly getting away from that because I don't think that's what people respond to, they don't want a commercial. They certainly don't want a book trailer. I mean, I'm saying that, there are exceptions, we know that people have done well with those style of videos. But generally I don't think that's what people are looking for and I don't think that's what they respond to the best.
James Blatch: It's a platform that works with sincerity.
Jayne Rylon: Right.
James Blatch: And if it's insincere, I think it stands out very quickly, doesn't it?
Jayne Rylon: Yes.
James Blatch: I do look at the adverts, of course, professionally interested in some of those adverts, I let them run longer than I would normally. You get two types, you get the ones that look like adverts, which I think are probably okay, and then the ones that are trying to look like a viral TikTok video but you know it's a bloody advert, and sometimes they're companies that should know better doing that because it just makes you roll your eyes, it's insincere, that's the problem.
You were going to say something, Lila, and then I do want to talk about content creation. Why don't you go first?
Lila Dubois: I was just going to speak to the sincerity and the authenticity issue. So there's two things there. One is that, let's say that you're trying to drive engagement. If I had a Facebook post and I ended the Facebook post with a question, what's the best book you read last week, as sincere as I was typing that, I feel on Facebook it sounds insincere. What was the best book you read last week?
However, on TikTok, if I'm sitting there and I'm looking at the camera and I say, "Hey everybody, I just need a good book, what's the best book you read last week?" Those are the same questions delivered in very different ways and one of them is very sincere, and one of them gets people to come out of the woodwork giving me recommendations and telling me about great books, telling about books they hated but I should read them.
So I think that's where there's a sincerity issue and it can be the same words delivered in person, essentially, have a very, very different feel. So that is that level of authenticity, that engagement or that authenticity. But I do want to acknowledge that as authors, it can be very, very hard to say it's okay to not be professional. I think there are a lot of us who are almost a little defensive of our profession, because there can be this dismissiveness about us sitting around in our pyjamas all day writing. And you have to say, "No, I am the CEO and creative director of a small business. I am also the marketing department and the art department and all these things."
So, a lot of us, we work very hard to be very professional in our social media, so there is this little catch of hesitation as you have to let that go a little bit over on TikTok to be authentic with people.
I want to acknowledge that, and as I said Jayne and I might be hyper aware of it because we do write romance, we write erotic romance, so it's a genre that is traditionally and we have experienced it quite a bit, people are very dismissive of.
So to say that it's okay for me to make a video where I am not put together and I sound like I'm not quite sure what I'm doing because I'm asking a question or I made one saying, "I don't know what to title this book," and asking people to throw out titles, that was kind of like no, I should never say I don't know what to title a book because I should have all this market research about it and there should be focus groups or something behind it, that's what a professional author should do. So if I put out there that I don't know what to title it, am I diminishing my author brand?
But I got massive engagement and I got a lot of people saying, "I'm so excited to read this, let me know what you title it." So I want to acknowledge that there is this uneasy feeling for authors.
James Blatch: Yeah. Informality and sincerity works. I can remember, I worked in video production after I left the BBC and of course with that background, we told every CEO we worked with and the companies, this is Volvo or whatever company we work with, you've got to look professional.
It was the time of the growth of personal social media video, which was inaccessible before from equipment wise. And we would say, "You don't want that on your website, it's going to look awful." And very quickly we worked out that's what was drawing people in, and actually yes the front page of the Volvo website should be professional, but click on the CEO's bit, what a fantastic thing to have just in his whatever clothes talking, and that's going to engage, and was already changing minds about how people engage with stuff. We're a bit fed up with the polished brochure image now.
Okay, that's great, and it's a perfect platform. It is the most informal platform I think there is, TikTok. It feels that way.
Now, I want to talk content creation. Jayne, you've referred to this a couple of times that you weren't necessarily the most comfort person at the idea of appearing on video and hosting your own videos. I think a lot of people will resonate with that, they'll be thinking there's no way I'm going to do that.
Tell us how you went from somebody who was probably thinking there's no way I'm going to do that, to regularly doing that?
Jayne Rylon: The transition for me really was using just a simple trick of creating an author character for myself. Not somebody who is inauthentic to the things that I love, like the kinds of books I like to read, the stuff I write. All authentic in that but my appearance was different, so I wear a wig in my videos, I wear makeup which I clearly do not do ever, Lila sent me a whole bunch of lipstick and was like, "Wear this."
I used a lot of the filters that are inherent in the app, so they have beauty filters, they have makeup filters. I played a lot with those kinds of things to make myself feel comfort, but now I've reached a place where I'm going to start stripping that back, I think. It's prohibitive for making spur of the moment videos, because if I have to get on and get all ready to feel comfort. Now I'm at the point where I just want to share something and I want to do it spontaneously.
I'm getting away from that now but that's how I did make myself comfort at first. If you're playing into the trends of TikTok for example, there's a filter that just uses your eyes and your mouth and then you can put your features on an inanimate object. So for example, I did some where I put my face on my bookshelf and I was like, "Oh I guess I have enough books now." Then my bookshelf was like, "Oh you're full of it." So kind of talking to myself in the videos but in a way that didn't really show my appearance.
There are a lot of different tips and tricks you can do to disguise your appearance or to lesson that hurdle at first, and then I think you get more and more effective the less you let that go.
James Blatch: Yeah. So you had a bit of a barrier to help you. Do you enjoy doing it now, Jayne?
Jayne Rylon: Oh yeah. At first I felt like I had to do this, this was something that I could see the potential of. That first maybe week or two that Lila we're on there struggling, well honestly it was probably the first week. By the end of the first week both her and I had 1000 followers already and we were like completely committed. You can instantly feel the difference.
I think I got addicted to it and then now it's fun, now every time... I even think in TikToks, I think in the video, like when I hear the music of something I'm like oh, that would be a perfect TikTok. And nobody else in my life knows what I'm talking about except for Lila because she's the only one who TikToks with me.
James Blatch: I know what you're talking about. So Lila, I want to talk to you about the technical side of things. Jayne said you are the more technical of the two. So I don't want to cast dispersions.
Jayne Rylon: No, for sure.
James Blatch: How technically competent do we need to be to be competent at TikTok?
Lila Dubois: You don't need to have any sort of prior video editing experience or anything like that. But, it is not going to be the same as simply recording a video on your iPhone. The reason for that is that TikTok, aside from the social media platform aspect, like the home screen, which is your two, starting to be three feeds, because there is a live feed they're bringing out. But the little plus button, if anybody's looking at their TikTok app right now, the little plus button.
Once you hit that and it opens the video window, you're actually in a fairly advanced piece of video editing software, which has very advanced integrations to the point that you can bring in popular sounds and those have all been licensed.
There are a lot of different tools and effects that are built into the TikTok app that are unique to TikTok. Maybe not the concept but how they're implemented and what they look like in TikTok can be very unique.
So there's things like, there's a common sound and it's called the Intro to BookTok. There's actually several sounds. It means at some point, some content creator made a sound, sometimes they're sort of half singing it, and it's a chance for you to introduce yourself, and it'll ask questions like what's your name, what's your favourite colour, what's your favourite book, who's your favourite author?
And to respond to that you make a video. We're talking about very short clips of sound that you need to respond to. And the first time I tried that I thought I needed to be just listening and doing all those things at once. Then you realise that TikTok has a built in tool, it just looks like a timer button, like the timer button you'd use so that you could run and get in front of the camera, you know that ten second or three second timer. So it looks like that button but when you explore that function you realise that it allows you to set an end recording time so that you can say I only have this four second clip during which the audio I'm using is asking me for my favourite book. So I'm going to use the timer to start it but also use the stop or the end timer to stop it, so that it will automatically stop recording when I'm done with that sound.
It gives me a chance to start the recording, I've got ten or three seconds to grab the book that I'm going to hold up, then hold up my book during the four second recording window, and it has automatically stopped so that I can then go and prep whatever it is I'm going to do next.
So that's the kind of thing that it took a long time for us to figure out in TikTok. Because, as I said, so many of the instructional videos are really geared towards that more traditional TikTok dancing advanced video transactions that have a playful feel, we didn't really find tutorials that told us how to do what we were seeing on BookTok.
So that is where I think the difficulty came in. Also of course, we unknowingly, for our first few videos, picked the most difficult kind of videos to do. Now, we tell people the first TikTok video you're going to make is there is a sound that is simply, it's about seven seconds and it's an audio of somebody saying, "What's this person reading right now? This, this is what they're reading."
All it is is you hold a book up side on so you see the pages and then when they say, "This," you flip it flat so you see the cover. You might think to yourself why wouldn't I just make a video where I'm saying, "Hey this is what I'm reading"? Because that shared sound, because TikTok is all about that lip sync and dance, you can follow a sound and sounds that have been used over and over bump that video to be played more often.
So a video where I'm using a sound that's been used hundreds of thousands of time by BookTok to show off a book is automatically going to get me that play that simply creating a video from scratch wouldn't. So those are the kinds of technical aspects of the app that are very challenging.
Jayne Rylon: I just don't want people to hear that though and think that that's the only kind of videos that you can make. Like everything else you can make it as simple or complicated as you want, right?
When Lila jumped in and made her first video she did the Intro to BookTok, and I'm like I can't do that. So I did something super simple, I showed my office. I literally panned the camera and then I was like, "This is where I work," and I said something about, "Has a fancy office, ends up writing on the couch." Then I showed a picture of my laptop couch where I was actually writing.
So it can be as simple or as complicated as you want, and that doesn't mean it's going to be less effective. We had a student in our class, so the video Lila was telling you about is a first assignment in our class, we have an assignment every day. One of the assignments is called a character confession video, which is another style of video which is extraordinarily popular and has gone viral for a lot of people. So we had a student in our class, Tonya Kappes, who is a cosy mystery author. So just going back to something you said earlier, this works for all genres, this is not just romance.
James Blatch: I was going to ask that, it does work for all genres?
Jayne Rylon: All genres. She writes cosy mystery, there's not a speck of romance in there. And she did a video, one take, un-prepped, just her talking to the camera where she said something like, "You know, I can't believe it, my husband was such a dirt bag and he ran this Ponzi scheme, I didn't know anything, now he's escaped from jail and turned up dead right here in my campground lake." Like, acting all annoyed. And at the end she holds up her book and is like, "If you want to find out what happens, do this."
That's an extraordinarily effective type of video content that we teach in our class. That video got over 180,000 views for her and she ascribed 400 sales of her first book in her 22 book series to that. So for five minutes of your time and no editing at all, that is an amazing marketing tool. So it can be as simple or as complicated as you want. Obviously the more you go in you'll start to see the potential and you'll want to do more and more. But it doesn't have to start that way.
James Blatch: When I watched your presentation what it opened my eyes to was the video editing aspect of TikTok. Because of my background, I've done five TikToks and then gave up. I did five TikToks just for fun and I edited them all off in my own video editing, Premier Pro, then I think maybe I used the graphics in one of them but I don't think even that, I think I put everything then just uploaded them.
But what I'm excited to, and I've started to plan this. I'm quite inspired by this, to do a sort of cold war, which is my background and my book's background, a cold war kind of series on the best spies and stuff like that and try and build an audience that way. But I need to understand how the video editing works.
Even for somebody with my background it scares me slightly, especially fiddling about with a phone. As I get older I prefer things to be bigger. But I think this is all doable, and I think we're going to have a conversation probably off-air after this and hopefully at the time this interview goes out we can announce it, but we would love to do more with you on this subject because we have 150,000 authors in the SPF community who are usually eager to learn new things and learn where they should be. So I suspect, if you guys are up for it, there's probably a live webinar in the offering soon where you can teach us. Because you're very, very good at that, at teaching how to approach TikTok and how to do it right.
Jayne Rylon: Thank you.
James Blatch: And you took us through, you did it live didn't you? You actually had your phone doing your webinar live, which terrifies me also.
Jayne Rylon: Well, to be honest, that is just a small taste of what we do in our actual class. Lila has made all of these tutorial videos where she hooked her camera to her computer and then she's able to edit a little circle, like click this, click this. And she has... I mean, she probably did, what, 25 minute videos on some of these assignments? It's a lot.
Lila Dubois: As Jayne said, absolutely you can open that video editing app and you can just record a video and you can post it and not worry about it. Absolutely, there are tonnes of people who do that and have been effective doing that. You can learn all of the options and things that you can use and you can get as advance or as simple with it as you want.
You can use the built-in TikTok effects and make that a gimmick that's very much a part of what you're doing on TikTok, or you can just ignore most of the effects unless you want to slap a pair of fake eyelashes on because you didn't do your makeup or you want to put a dashing moustache on because you're pretending to be a villain for a hot minute.
It's really up to you what you want to do. What I don't want is I don't want any author to say, "I cannot do it." No. You can do it. Saying, "I will not because I don't have time, I am not interested." That is absolutely valid and please do that, protect your time as an author. But I will not hear cannot.
You absolutely can, and if you don't know how to do it, we'll show you how to do it. But don't say can't, don't say TikTok isn't for you, don't say your genre isn't on there, don't say you're too old for it. Absolutely not.
One of the things we do in the class is we try and help people come up with an idea to adapt their brand, and like James, I was totally thinking for you, there's this guy who is a spy. Do you know who I'm talking about, Jayne? He is, he's ex-CIA, and his daughter interviews him on TikTok.
Jayne Rylon: Yeah, it's fantastic. It's amazing.
Lila Dubois: I was like, you should duet those videos and if there's one that has an aspect or something he's talking about that's in one of your books, because he has a lot of cold war stuff. So I was like, that, come on and duet. And I just love that it's his daughter interviewing him and he's retired and he's just totally straight faced, like a little terrifying because you can definitely tell he's seen some stuff. He has some really difficult questions.
Jayne Rylon: And she asks him all the questions. Like she's asked him how long will democracy last? How long is democracy going to last in our world today?
James Blatch: I think I've seen this guy.
Jayne Rylon: Yeah, it's very good.
Lila Dubois: There's a lot like that. So whatever it is you do, at the very least you could get on and silently duet them, which is putting your video up next to theirs. You're silent on the screen and you can just pop up your book cover using the sticker function in the video editing app.
So there is something absolutely, I think, for everyone on TikTok. And like I said before, I do think it's going to become non-optional here in a little bit.
Jayne Rylon: I think two things you said were really valuable. I don't know if you got this from our presentation but we do absolutely suggest that when people translate their author brand into TikTok content that they focus on a series, because you get people coming back all the time. It works for the same reason it works in books.
I do a series called Hero Material where I find videos on my For You Page of guys doing things that are hero-worthy. Easiest one would be thirst traps. But also if they do something kind or something funny or something like that and then I duet them. Most of the time I hold my books as if I'm reading and then I look up like oh what's going on here, you know?
My book is still in there and I try to relate the video to my book character in some way. So if it was like a cowboy doing a lasso trick or something, I would use one of my western erotic romances. Or along those lines, right? So there's a way to adapt your brand.
Lila is especially good at this, she's so good. She has a series called Character Protective Services, where she runs a fake hotline and people can call in and report authors for doing terrible things to characters in their books.
Those videos have been very successful for her. Her Outlander one I think is coming up close to what, 175,000 views or something like that, and led to like 4000 followers in a single week. So that is a super good strategy.
James Blatch: Tell us about the course that you've created then, or the tutorials?
Lila Dubois: It's a class we call Romancing BookTok. It's not just for romance authors, we called it that because it was a funny pun on Romancing the Stone, and it was late at night when we came up with the name.
We took everything that we had learned about TikTok and all the things that we found a bit difficult, and we took the answers to those and we put them into a class. It is a hands-on class where it's half the strategy of TikTok in the high level, and the other half is actual hands-on how to work the app.
Jayne and I give individual feedback every day on the 10 days of the course, we asked everyone to create a specific video and then we give feedback on those videos. The videos that we've asked people to make walk you through the most common skills that you will need so that you know how to use all of the top things that we see on BookTok, from different effects to using a trending sound to that stop motion, or sort of the stop capture timing function that we talked about.
We have this class that is very hands-on and we're doing that because, as I said, we really think that this is very important for authors, and it's about a 10 day class, it is run live, and we have one coming up I think August 14th we're starting our next one, and we'll probably do one again in October.
It's fairly limited in size because Jayne and I do give individual feedback every single day to every single class participant and we also hold live office hours where I hook up my phone. If you have any question, I'll show you how to do it live and on Zoom on my phone.
But that's the idea of our class and it's called Romancing BookTok but it is open for all genres, all authors. We've had people come from all different genres in. Some people are a little bit overwhelmed by the class because it can be overwhelming, essentially learning a piece of software, and some people have really been ready and hit the ground running, but the people who were overwhelmed the first time, just like in SPF, if you were an early signup person you're still getting access to the new course materials.
We're doing the same thing, so people from our first round of our class, they're coming back and we'll keep adapting and improving content as TikTok improves because it's also a very dynamic and fluid platform, they're constantly rolling out new features.
James Blatch: Superb. Where can people find the course? I did google Romancing the TikTok, but TikTok is a bit ubiquitous on my Google returns, it came up with quite a lot of other stuff. But I found, is it readertees.com? Is that you?
Jayne Rylon: Yeah, so that's the actual product listing. If they want more information about the class they can go to jaynerylon.com/romancing-tiktok. Or they can just navigate from my site, it's jaynerylon.com, Author Services, and then you'll find it there.
James Blatch: Okay, we'll put those links.
Lila Dubois: But yeah, Jayne has ReaderTees.
James Blatch: Oh okay, right.
Lila Dubois: I was going to say, that is Jayne's site, ReaderTees, Jayne sells really fun tees for readers, so we simply use that for the product listing. That is Jayne's site.
Jayne Rylon: That's my shop, yeah. That's where I sell all my ebooks and audiobooks and stuff too, it just has a weird name because it started out with T-shirts.
James Blatch: I'm very excited about this and we have to have some conversations I think because this seems to be an area that we need to be on top of and I think you guys will help us with... Probably best to have those off-air. I think my greatest TikTok moment actually was introducing... I'm trying to remember his name, but Lucy Score. I post in a little WhatsApp group and Lucy Score is one of my friends, and there's a guy on TikTok who does these romantic story pictures, you've probably seen him. I can't remember his name, but he says, "Here's the idea, there's a chef working in a small town."
Then he plays the editor going, "This is amazing," and he gets hyperbole all over the place and he gets very carried away and excited and there's a funny payoff. Anyway, she loved them, contact him and he did a trailer for her.
So he quite rightly didn't want to push her book on his channel, he doesn't do that, which is great, I like that integrity. But he was more than happy to... for a bottle of champagne or 100 bucks or something, to do one of those specifically for her book, for her readers, and that was brilliant. For me, he was like a big star on TikTok. But there are, it's a place where people are emerging talent all over the place.
Jayne Rylon: That's the really cool thing, everyone interacts on TikTok. Even big stars. I see Lizzo respond to people on TikTok all the time. There's just a different culture around engagement.
So you should expect as an author that you should be doing the same for your readers, right? This isn't a place where you post a video and walk away. You really need to be replying to every single comment that comes in and just building that rapport with your followers, and you can even answer questions with another video.
Engagement is everything on TikTok.
James Blatch: Yeah, it should be on all social media platforms. I think Twitter's one of the worst for seeing people who do what you talked about earlier, Lila, tell me what book you're reading? And you just think okay, fine, so I've fallen for this a couple of times. Then you see 200 people have responded and they haven't even liked or responded to anyone's comments, so you think well what was that about? You just typed that and then went off and forgot about it? That's not engagement. So TikTok I think 100% you get... I'm sure you get back what you put in.
Look, we're out of time for this chatter, and I hope it's whetted people's appetite and we've kept it reasonably high level. There's a load more behind the scenes and we're going to hopefully work with you and try and make TikTok more accessible to as many people as possible, but look, thanks very much indeed for coming on and starting to demystify this hallowed TikTok we all hear about.
Jayne Rylon: Thank you so much. And I wanted to give a quick shout-out too, if I could, to Tricia O'malley and her fiancé Allen. Allen is an avid listener of the podcast and he actually gave us the heads up when you guys were talking about TikTok that day. So that is how everything came full circle.
James Blatch: Brilliant, Tricia and Allen. Thank you for listening.
Lila Dubois: Yes, thank you so much for having us, thank you for responding to our random email. I was like no, Mark and James, they've got to do TikTok.
James Blatch: There you go. Have you dabbled at all in TikTok, Mark? Have you been on the platform?
Mark Dawson: Yeah, I have a little bit. Only very recently, over the last week or so I've uploaded a couple of trailers. It's not really the kind of content that most authors who are using, but I just wanted to get an idea of how the platform works.
It's interesting. I'm certainly interested in learning more. I don't know anywhere near enough to talk about it with any kind of qualification at the moment, so I'm certainly interested in coming to that webinar. I think it's going to be a very good one.
James Blatch: I'll tell you who's embraced it and has got a face for it, is Ernie Dempsey. He's very witty on TikTok and doing some good stuff. Cecelia Mecca as well is very good, she's embracing it and doing some good stuff. It's an interesting one because it does look to me like it's personality driven, which terrifies a lot of us and a lot of authors, the idea of it being you engaging but it's very interesting listening to Lila and Jayne, both of whom would not have put themselves forward as people who wanted to be in front of camera. Both of whom have found ways of doing it that they're comfort with and are starting to really relax into it. So you don't have to be a television presenter to do TikTok, you just have to be a sincere person talking about something that's of interest, and it seems to work really well.
TikTok, we have that webinar if you want to learn how to do it in much more detail than we were able to go into in that interview, you can sign up for free at selfpublishingformula.com/tiktok. It'll be an hour and a half or so with Lila and Jayne, and if you've registered for it you'll get a recording of it as well, so you can go through it in slow time, and there's more stuff to come out about TikTok in the coming months.
And a few people won't touch it because it's Chinese and I was told that by a couple of authors in America that you must absolutely not go to TikTok because they'll know everything about you. I know that's also a feeling some people have but I don't care. So that's fine with me.
Mark Dawson: The Chinese don't care about us.
James Blatch: They don't care about me and you. They've got bigger fish to fry. Good, okay, look. On that frivolous note, thank you very much indeed to Lila and Jayne, thank you very much indeed to you Mark. You're off to Tenerife so we're going to record another episode in just a moment, but until then all that remains for me to say is it's goodbye from him.
Mark Dawson: And goodbye from me.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
Mark Dawson: Bye-bye.
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