For now, ByteDance seems focused on fantasy, romance and mystery, genres that are popular on the platform.
Tricia O’Malley, a best-selling romance author who has self-published about 40 novels, received an offer from ByteDance in April to buy the rights to two of her books. The deal included a social media marketing campaign, royalties and an advance of $3,500 per book — less than the titles earn every month, O’Malley said.
The company was interested in fantasy and romance, old books and new ones, stories that were “wholesome, fun and sexy, but nothing too steamy or dark,” she said.
She turned down the offer, but she said she was tempted: “The reality is that BookTok is selling books.”
For others, the company’s promise to provide robust online marketing for its authors could be hard to resist.
Ella Fox, a self-published romance author and advertising consultant who runs ad campaigns for other writers on TikTok, said that, presumably, ByteDance could make sure the algorithm prioritized their own books. “People would give their eye teeth to get in front of that audience and to be pushed in that way,” she said.
Some in the industry are dubious that ByteDance can carve out a sizeable chunk of the market, in part because publishing remains a stubbornly analog and relationship-driven business. Print sales still account for more than 70 percent of trade publishers’ revenues, according to the Association of American Publishers; any new major new publishing company would need printing and distribution capabilities, and relationships with booksellers.