UPDATED September 2023
I love the escape TikTok offers me. I turn to it for laughs — full belly laughs — and deeply love the comical way TikTok-ers highlight our flaws as human beings. People are creative, funny and often generous. And, when carefully curated (as is the case with all social platforms), I find it delightful.
After downloading the app and joining a couple years ago, I enjoyed TikTok exclusively from the sidelines, scrolling but never posting. However, in August I took a huge leap and published (gasp!) several videos. You can check out my profile here: @caroleebennett_poet.
At age 50, I’m ancient for the platform, so why (dear god, why LOL) did I do it? One word: community. As with this blog and my other social media accounts, I was interested in creating and supporting literary community — and having a little fun along the way. In that same spirit, I want to share some intel with you, including what I’ve found there (so far) in terms of writing community and how I personally use the platform.
Here’s a quick list of what you’ll find in this post (click on any item if you want to skip ahead):
- literary profiles on TikTok
- types of poetry posts on TikTok
- using TikTok to sell a poetry book
- TikTok tips for poets and other writers
poetry on tiktok: poets, writing community, lit mags and presses
There’s quite a bit of poetry on TikTok: lit mags and professors, “literary poets” and “Instagram poets,” book stores and presses.
With thousands of posts and over 5 million views, #spokenword seems to be the most popular type of poetry on TikTok. It’s not surprising, considering spoken word’s appeal to big audiences, how easily it lends itself to video and how a compelling stage presence has long been part of spoken word performance. This isn’t a stage vs. page post (not at all), but the contrast is helpful here. Poets who focus on publishing instead of performance may find it more difficult to translate what they’re doing to TikTok, and the current community sizes for each reflect that.
However, there’s an opportunity for any type of poetry (video poetry comes to mind immediately) or poetry community to flourish, as well. (But for some of that to work, more of you need to join me over there LOL; visit my personal approach to TikTok below to see how that’s going.)
LITERARY PROFILES ON TIKTOK
Here are some examples of literary TikTok profiles, specifically those representing poets, book stores, writing communities and publishers. Note that these selections are from accounts I’m following (vs. a comprehensive list of what’s out there). In addition, not all of these accounts are actively posting:
Poets I’m following
- Kelli Agodon (@kelliagodon)
- Lisa Marie Basile (@lisamariebasile_poet)
- Molly McCully Brown (@mollymccullybrown)
- Taylor Byas (@taylorbyaspoetry)
- Jill Crammond (@jilly_poet)
- Jason Crane (@jasondcrane)
- Annie Finch (@anniefinchpoetrywitch)
- Oliver de la Paz (@odeladog27)
- Jeannine Hall Gailey (@webbish6)
- Jenn Givhan (@jenngivhan)
- Tresha Faye Haefner/ The Poetry Salon (@poettresha)
- Allison Joseph (@allisonjpoet)
- Amy King (@amykingpoet)
- Ruben Quesada (@rubenqueue)
- Katie Richards (@katierichardspoet)
- Lee Ann Roripaugh (@heartichoke)
- Rebecca Schumejda (@rebeccaschumejda7)
- Melissa Studdard (@melissastuddard)
- Enzo Silon Surin (@enzothepoet)
- Leah Umansky (@leahumansky)
- Han Vanderhart (@bookishbeast)
- Mat Wenzel (@matwenzel)
- Crystal Wilkinson (@crystalwilki729)
Book stores on TikTok
- Book House (@bookhouseny)
- Grolier Poetry (@grolierpoetry)
- Parnassus Books (@parnassusbooksnashville)
- Powell’s Books (@powellsbooks)
- White Whale Bookstore (@whitewhalebks)
Communities of writers on TikTok
- Academy of American Poets (@poetsorg)
- Button Poetry (@buttonpoetry)
- Hudson Valley Writers Center (@writerscenter)
- Write About Now (@wanpoetry)
Literary press, publications and other publishers on TikTok
- Boa Editions, Ltd. (@boaeditions)
- Black Lawrence Press (@blacklawrencepress)
- Finishing Line Press (@flpbooks)
- Kirkus Reviews (@kirkus_reviews)
- Los Angeles Review of Books (@lareviewofbooks)
- Lucid House Publishing (@lucidhousepublishing)
- Penguin Random House (@penguinandrandomhouse)
- Princeton University Press (@princetonupress)
- Random House Books (@randomhousebooks)
- Scribner Books (@scribnerbooks)
- Seven Stories Press (@sevenstories)
- Slapering Hol Press (@slaperingholpress)
- Sundress Publications (@sundresspublications)
- Tin House (@tin.house)
- Tupelo Press (@tupelo_press)
- W.W. Norton (@w.w.norton
If I’ve missed anything you recommend, let me know in the comments!
types of poetry posts on tiktok
Anything goes on TikTok, really, but I’ve found these types of poetry posts to be most common on the app:
- narratives and memes about process and writing life
- tips for writing, publishing, community, etc.
- technical guides/how-to’s
- requests for connection/finding your people
In my short time on TikTok, I’ve found myself inspired to celebrate other poets, create poetry memes and offer some tips. Here’s a meme (lip sync style) about the labor-intensive process of submitting to literary journals:
Here’s an original video I posted about the value of writing community:
And here’s another lip sync meme, this one about trying to write a sestina:
can tiktok help you sell a poetry book?
There’s lots of chatter about how #BookTok — a large, active faction of book lovers on TikTok — is helping authors gain notoriety:
The hashtag #BookTok has become a sustained and powerful force in the world of books, helping to create some of the biggest sellers on the market.How TikTok Became a Best-Seller Machine
The trend has many authors salivating at the possibilities and asking themselves if they need a TikTok profile to sell books or become a famous writer. I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know two things:
- Like with so much else in the literary world, prosperity and “fame” doesn’t necessarily trickle down to poetry books and poets.
- A TikTok presence isn’t for everyone.
Currently, most of the TikTok literary love — at least where book sales are concerned — seems to be aimed at fiction writers, especially those who write romance novels and books for young adults. I do think it’s possible that TikTok helps these authors sell books. However, it’s far less likely (right now) for poetry. That said, there *are* stories of TikTok helping poets sell poetry books, like this fascinating tale of how TikTok-er Ohmani made a poetry collection by Russell Thornton extremely popular. (The attention it got on TikTok drove a reprint of the small press poetry book.)
While there are some tactics you can use (see the TikTok tips for poets below) to help fellow poets or other interested readers find your work, my assessment is that the type of success described above is a little bit like getting hit by lightning or winning the lottery: It’s unlikely. I think it’s far better for most writers and poets to join TikTok for other reasons — like writing community or just plain fun — instead of investing in it for the purpose of selling books.
my personal approach to tiktok
You won’t be surprised to hear that TikTok has all the usual pitfalls of social media: time suck, comparison, addictive scrolling, bots, spam, etc.). It’s really easy for it to become a distraction from actual writing. Whatever tools and tricks you have to limit your screen time for other apps, you’ll need X10 for TikTok. Due to its engaging and entertaining style, I’ve found it to be the easiest social platform to get lost in. I’ve had to create strict rules for myself to avoid “wasting” my writing time.
I started my own profile during a creative dry spell, and so I had time to post every day for a while. I was having a blast, but I admit I got caught up — chasing views and feeling competitive. As a result, I quickly burned out. The huge burst of creativity and excitement that helped me start fizzled out, and I lost interest.
I’m happy to say that I’m in a much happier place with it now, scrolling for maybe 10 minutes/day and posting rarely. It’s part of my overall attempt to redefine what I want out of any of my social media accounts, and I’m using this as a guidepost:
I’m still proud of the videos I’ve published and plan to keep posting, though I’ll likely only be dabbling from here on out. So far, I’ve found it more effective as a source of entertainment than for building poetry community or promoting writing endeavors. Of course, things change rapidly in social media, and I’m still very open to connecting with writers and lit mags on TikTok.
tiktok tips for poets and other writers
The tips here are *not* about filters, lighting, editing or any of the technical aspects of TikTok — though you’ll *definitely* want to record vertically. Instead, these are some personal practices I’ve found helpful and important as I try to both have fun and find poetry community on TikTok.
TIKTOK POSTING TIPS
- Trending content / Consume enough content on the platform so that you know what’s popular, including memes, styles and sounds. It’s fun to participate in these trends and finding a thread of connection between a funny quote and the creative life.
- Authenticity / As life advice goes, I know it’s obnoxious to say “be yourself.” But turning the camera on yourself and capturing video is vulnerable enough without making it harder by stretching or going for something that doesn’t feel natural. Find a style that works for you. Be silly only if you’re actually silly, for example. In addition, if you’re more comfortable speaking off the cuff — do that. But if you prefer to plan your video, go ahead and make a loose script.
- 80-20 rule / It’s best practice on all social media platforms to follow the 80-20 rule, which means you share helpful, interesting information that has value for your audience in 80% of your posts. Limit self promotion to a maximum of 1 in 5 posts. Social media aside, this is also a best practice for nurturing community. Nobody wants to hang out with a blowhard.
- Closed captions / Take advantage of automated closed captions for your videos. You’ll want to edit the text that’s auto-generated, but they’re important for accessibility and discovery.
- Hashtags / Use hashtags in all your posts to help your content be found and also to help the TikTok algorithm know what to do with your videos.
- You can search TikTok hashtags to see what’s common based on words that are important to you.
- Here are some I’ve been using on my own posts and in search to find content that interests me: amreading #amwriting #booktok #currentwip #dailywriting #favoritepoems #innercritic #keepgoing #literature #literarymagazine #litmag #keepgoing #manuscript #momswhowrite #poets #poetry #poetrybook #poetrycollection #poetsoftiktok #poetrycommunity #poetrycommunityoftiktok #poetrytiktok #poetrytok #poettok #tiktokpoetry #poemtalk #poetryworkshop #supportingwriters #writeaboutit #writersblock #writingabook #writinginspiration #writinglife #writingpoems #writingpoetry #writingworkshop #writingadvice #writingtips
- I also often tag posts with my own hashtag — #caroleebennett — since it’s a common way to find people.
- On-screen text / The type you place on your videos adds both interest and context. You can use them for information, humor or for keywords (again, to help the algorithm know what to do with your videos).
- Test and learn / Experiment with what you like to make but also note what seems to be successful. If visibility is important to why you’re on the platform, make more content like it.
And here are some tips that others have shared for writers on TikTok:
- 5 fun ways to be part of the poetry community on TikTok (Read Poetry)
- How to use TikTok as a writer (The Writing Cooperative)
- 5 mistakes authors should avoid on TikTok (Writers Digest)
- Using TikTok to cultivate new audiences (Penguin Random House)
What’s your experience been on the app? Any TikTok tips to share for writers and poets?