Talia Hibbert was watching a Spider-Man movie and having a meal in her living room when she received some life-changing news. Her Act Your Age romance novel, Eve Brown, which she wrote at the start of the pandemic, entered the New York Times bestseller list.
The upbeat romantic comedy, released this year, follows the escapades of a young black British woman who crashes into the life of a tense B&B owner.
Hibbert didn’t expect readers outside of her established fan base to be interested in the book, which she describes as the most ridiculous yet. But it reached a much larger audience, in part thanks to the large book-loving communities on Instagram, YouTube and, most importantly, TikTok.
These communities, known as Bookstagram, BookTube, and Booktok, aren’t just spaces for people to share their passion for whatever they read. They also have enormous marketing power, propelling books like Hibbert to bestseller charts and reshaping the world of publishing.
The phenomenon is acutely felt in romance novels, especially those with diverse characters and storylines, which previously struggled to break through through traditional publishing channels.
Hibbert, 25, started reading romance novels at the age of 12. At the time, the books available in the genre were not very diverse.
“I didn’t even think about trying to be published traditionally because I really had the idea that it wouldn’t happen for someone like me who wrote characters like mine,” she said. declared.
“I knew that if I had a chance to be published traditionally, I had to be better than the best. And I didn’t think I was. I thought I was good, but I didn’t think I was good enough to get over not being white, basically.
She first self-published and built a loyal fan base. In addition to having prominent black characters, Hibbert also explores chronic disease and other forms of disability in several of his novels. “I’m really glad I did because it allowed me to figure out what kind of writer I wanted to be and develop my own platform on my own terms,” she said.
She managed to find an agent and sold the three-part Brown Sisters trilogy to American publisher Avon. Books have exploded on social media. Readers of all races and ages have raved about the series and found their way to its other books.
Among them was Tolu Akingbade, a 22-year-old master’s student at Cambridge University, who started posting on TikTok earlier this year. It now has more than 31,000 subscribers. She said many were people of color and / or LGBTQ +, who often thanked her for the various romance recommendations.
“It’s really important to be able to see yourself and to understand that you are not invisible,” Akingbade said. “Exploding writers like Talia Hibbert have shown people that Black Britons exist, which I know sounds silly, but at the same time it’s not their fault because when were we shown? “
She loves books that simply show “black girls in love” and have happy stories. “I love love stories that also focus on community and talk about a founded family. I think this is something that we can really see in the black community, especially in the UK. “
Soniya Ganvir, who is half of the Brown Girls Read Books Instagram account, says accounts like hers show publishers there is a demand for these kinds of books from readers of all races.
“Over the past year or so, I’ve read more books with black and brown characters in the romance industry than I’ve ever read,” said the 32-year-old. “And, increasingly, white romance writers include characters who are not white.”
While she applauded the increase, she says some of these books came out in a hurry, and many authors of color romance novels are still disappointed with their publishers or marketing teams.
Sumayyah Malna, 32, the other half of the account, said: “And so part of growing our account is to specifically feature and promote writers of color and books that don’t get the attention they need. ‘they deserve.
“We read pretty extensively, and we don’t just read writers of color. We read amazing books by white authors, but there’s no point in us promoting them because they get promoted.
They are both hungry for new changes and specifically ask for more books where women of color are at the center of a “pure romance” storyline.
Ganvir said, “I think it’s great for people of color to be in stories without their race being a part of it. They can be characters who fall in love, they can be characters to whom beautiful, joyful things happen to them.