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“It’s Gay and It Slaps”: TikTok’s Favorite LGBTQ Books

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There’s a sound on TikTok (audio that is used and repurposed by multiple creators) of the amazing queer BookTok creator Laynie Rose that says, “Literally the only book review you actually need, the only requirements I have for a book is: it’s gay and it slaps.” Following this are a bunch of LGBTQ books presented with some variation of the refrain “It’s gay and it slaps.” There are hundreds of TikToks that use this audio. (“It slaps” means it’s good, if that helps.) As I often do while watching or discussing TikTok, I already feel about 107, but I had a lot of fun putting together The Most Popular Books On TikTok, so I thought I’d repeat the experiment, but in the corner of TikTok I spend the most time on: queer BookTok. (Yes, since the last post I have become a proper TikTok watcher, not just researcher.)

I looked through 50 of the most-viewed queer BookToks and noted down which titles were mentioned. I did this by looking at the top 15 results in the following tags: #LGBTBooks, #QueerBooks, and #LGBTQBooks, which as far as I can tell are the most popular tags for this corner of BookTok (they each have over 10 million views). To round it out to an even 50, I also took the top 5 videos that use the “It’s gay and it slaps” sound. I counted any books that were featured (not just quickly panned by on a shelf). Of course, this is just the TikToks that were the most-viewed at the time of writing, so they will likely have changed by now.

It was interesting to do this next to my previous, more general BookTok examination, because I got to confirm a few of my suspicions of trends on queer BookTok. For one, there are a lot more rapid-fire recommendations/lists, including lots of videos with no description of the book at all. It’s just a bunch of covers of books with a certain kind of representation (often just generally queer), with no distinction between genre, tone, topic, premise, etc. Heartbreaking and deeply unsettling books will be side by side with fluffy, fun middle grade comics with no context given.

These rapid-fire recommendations, unsurprisingly, added up a whole lot more titles being given in the same space. In my original overview of the top BookToks, I looked at 50 videos and got 79 total titles. In this one, for the same number of videos, I ended up with 156 distinct titles: almost double!

Before we dive into the specific statistics (and charts!), a few more details on my data-gathering methods: I did not count a TikTok that included a link to a list of 74 LGBTQ books and a quick pan over shelves. I didn’t include videos in a language other than English, unless I could easily recognize the book. I also excluded some TikToks that didn’t focus on LGBTQ books, despite being tagged that way. (This was a gut check: if there was significant queer content without being 100% queer, it was included. This didn’t come up much.) I also left off any books that don’t have a queer main character (specifically, Legendborn).

Finally, I would be remiss not to mention that a whole lot of these videos are from Laynie Rose herself, so although some books are mentioned several times, it may have been one creator mentioning it in multiple videos.

Enough preamble: on to the stats! If you’d like to check out the whole spreadsheet, you can see it here.

The Most Popular LGBTQ Books On TikTok

Of the 156 titles (with series counting as one unit) mentioned in 50 videos, 48 were mentioned more than once. Not only are more individual titles shared on queer BookTok, but there’s also more of a variety of books that get mentioned multiple times: only 14 books/series got this honor when looking at the most popular BookTok videos overall.

Let’s start with the runners-up:

Tied for 9th place, with 2 mentions each: Wilder Girls by Rory Power, Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, The Falling In Love Montage by Ciara Smyth, Wolfsong by TJ Klune, The Extraordinaries by TJ Klune, You Should See Me In a Crown by Leah Johnson, We Are Okay by Nina LaCour, The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar, Hani and Ishu’s Guide To Fake Dating by Adiba Jaigirdar, Perfect On Paper by Sophie Gonzalez, Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales, Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu, Bloom by Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau, Not My Problem by Ciara Smyth, She Drives Me Crazy by Kelly Quindlen

Tied for 8th place, with 3 mentions each: The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta, Autoboyography by Christina Lauren, Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzie Lee, Always Human by Ari North, Love, Simon by Becky Albertalli, The House In the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune, Everything Leads To You by Nina LaCour, Something to Talk About by Meryl Wilsner, The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie

Tied for 7th place, with 4 mentions each: Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall, Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust, Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan, These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling, Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid, Bonds of Brass by Emily Skrutskie, Tell Me How You Really Feel by Amina Mae Safi, Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst

Tied for 6th place, with 5 mentions each: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers, The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon, I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver, Heartstopper by Alice Oseman, Her Royal Highness by Rachel Hawkins, Written In the Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur

Tied for 5th place, with 6 mentions each: They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera, Felix Ever After by Kacen Callendar, The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz book cover

4th Place, With 8 Mentions: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

One of the few books on this list that isn’t from the last few years, Aristotle and Dante was published in 2014 — though the sequel comes out this year! This a beautifully written coming-of-age story with a melancholic tone, but it’s also a hopeful novel about friendship. (Content warnings for violent homophobia and transphobia)

Cemetery Boys cover

3rd Place, With 9 Mentions: Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

This one just came out last year. 2020 was a big boom year for BookTok and queer BookTok in particular: a lot of people staying home picked this up as a new hobby, and some people even came out as queer or trans after having this time to themselves to think. Many queer BookTokers got started during the pandemic. This title is a YA fantasy starring a Latinx trans boy whose attempt to prove his gender to his family by doing brujo magic accidentally ends up summoning a ghost. It also has an M/M romance.

Crier's War book cover

2nd Place, With 10 Mentions: Crier’s War by Nina Varela

YA fantasy is one of the most popular BookTok genres, so it’s not surprising to see two of the top four titles fit that criteria. This also has an enemies-to-lovers romance between two girls on opposite sides of the Automae (robot) wars. Crier is Made, a perfect princess for the Automae. Ayla is a human servant looking for revenge. They end up unlikely allies, and then their relationship becomes something more. The sequel, Iron Heart, comes out in September!

Red, White and Royal Blue Book Cover

1st Place, With 18 Mentions: Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

And finally, the undisputed king of queer BookTok books. This is a new adult romance (a genre much more popular on BookTok than anywhere else) between the son of the U.S. president and the prince of Wales. I have to note two things about this #1 spot: first, for a long time Laynie Rose ended every book recommendation list with this title, so that accounts for a lot. Second, this title is so ubiquitous on BookTok that 3 of these mentions are derogatory; these weren’t homophobic TikToks, they just were satirizing the idea of “LGBT” BookTok videos being just this title and Song of Achilles — though, as we’ll see, M/M books are not actually as overrepresented on BookTok as that would suggest.

Do these align with what you would have predicted? I have to admit, there are some surprises in here for me. As we’ll see going into the stats, this is FAR more diverse than the general most-viewed BookToks in almost every way. There are still areas of improvement, of course, especially in how low the proportion of trans and asexual or aromantic books are. Also, there aren’t a lot of M/M books by queer men represented here in comparison to the M/M books by other demographics — but that’s a whole other essay!

Let’s break these books down a little bit. Looking at just the books mentioned in multiple videos, here are the statistics.

Genres pie chart
The genres of the books mentioned more than once in the top 50 queer BookTok videos.

As mentioned, fantasy romance is a big draw on BookTok, so it’s no surprise that romance and fantasy together make up about 50%. I counted contemporary YA as fiction, which is another quarter of the total. The rest are split between a title or two in horror, sci fi, historical fiction, and — I know this is flawed — comics. I wanted to separate out comics and manga, even though they’re a format and not a genre. The biggest change from the general BookTok breakdown is the presence of the romance genre! Which makes sense: plenty of people looking for queer books want to read romances.

Audience pie chart
The intended audience of the books mentioned more than once in the top 50 queer BookTok videos.

Since the audience for TikTok is mostly teens, more than 70% of the books mentioned being YA makes a lot of sense.

Authors pie chart
The percentage of the books mentioned more than once in the top 50 queer BookTok videos that are by authors of color.

I have to give this pie chart the biggest of caveats: most of the time, I did not know how the author identified. I do think it’s worth looking at general trends, but this is not meant to be an exact number or a statement about any particular author. That being said, this is a big jump from the general BookTok numbers: the percentage of authors of color on this list is almost double! This was a surprise to me, because overall, queer books are often just as disproportionately white as any other book category (and sometimes even more so). This suggests that queer BookTokers are making deliberate efforts to make their reading intersectional, promoting not just queer books but all kinds of diverse books, which is heartening.

Bat graph of publication years, with most in 2020 and 2021
The publication year of the books mentioned more than once in the top 50 queer BookTok videos.

As you can see, the vast majority of books came out in the last three years: 13% are from 2021, 29% are from 2020, 23% are from 2019, and only 13% are from prior to 2017. These are far more current than the general most popular BookTok books. On the one hand, I’m glad that queer BookTok is aware of new releases and not just recommending the same books that BookTube was five years ago. On the other hand, there are great queer books published prior to 2017 that also deserve attention! How can The Miseducation of Cameron Post not be on this list? Or, I don’t know, The Color Purple?

Representation pie chart
The queer identities represented in the books mentioned more than once in the top 50 queer BookTok videos.

Now here are the stats that really surprised me, and you’ll need some context for why. I’ve been blogging about queer women books for more than a decade, and sapphic books have always gotten less attention than M/M books. They’re said not to sell as well, not as many are published, and they don’t get talked about as much online. EXCEPT, it seems, on BookTok! There are more WLW (women loving women, AKA sapphic) books being talked about than MLM (men loving men, AKA achillean) ones, and by a pretty significant margin.

A note on categories: I did not break down specific representation — such as bisexual, pansexual, lesbian, gay, etc. — and instead grouped them into the WLW and MLM umbrellas, which was simply for practicality. Looking at more than 100 titles, it would have taken a ton of research time to figure out how the main characters identify, and often that’s not even specified by the book.

Red, White, and Royal Blue may be the most talked about queer book on TikTok, but it’s not representative. Looking at individual titles, there are actually fewer MLM books than WLW. This, I think, comes down to all the excellent sapphic BookTokers out there!

Unfortunately, any rep outside of MLM or WLW has to split 10% of the attention, and that’s including books with both trans and MLM rep. (Those would be counted towards both categories.) In fact, the nonbinary books are also being counted in the trans category, so it’s an even smaller wedge than it looks. There also isn’t a single asexual or aromantic book that was mentioned more than once in the top 50 queer BookTok videos, as far as I was able to tell.

So those are the top queer books on BookTok, the ones mentioned multiple times in the most viewed queer BookToks. They’re mostly YA fantasy, romance, and fiction that came out in the last few years. They are more likely to be sapphic than achillean, and they’re unlikely to be trans, ace, or aro.

Of course, those are just the books mentioned more than once. Let’s look at the stats of all of the books mentioned in these top 50 videos and see if that changes anything.

The Rest of the Most Popular LGBTQ Books on BookTok

Genres pie chart
The genres of all the books mentioned in the top 50 queer BookTok videos.

We definitely see a larger range of genres represented when we look at all 156 titles, but fantasy, fiction, and romance hold pretty steady at about 70% of the whole. I also wanted to mention that some of the diversity of this longer list, both in terms of genre and the percentage by authors of color, is accounted for by a couple of TikToks in the “It’s gay and it slaps” sound, including one just devoted to M/M manga. (Which, again, I realize shouldn’t really be in genre.)

Audience pie chart
The intended audience of all the books mentioned in the top 50 queer BookTok videos.

While the majority of books in this longer list are YA, there are almost more adult books represented — and even a handful of children’s titles! This is about the same proportion that I saw in the general BookTok results, and it lines up with the demographics of TikTok.

Authors pie chart
The percentage of the books mentioned in the top 50 queer BookTok videos that are by authors of color.

The complete list has even more authors of color, though again, this is mostly due to just a few TikToks that had fewer views than the others. Still, this is very different to the general BookTok stats, where only about 11% of the books mentioned in the top 50 TikToks were by authors of color!

Publication Year of queer booktok books in bar chart form
The publication years of all the books mentioned in the top 50 queer BookTok videos.

A more adept Google Sheets user could make this a better chart, but you get the idea. While there are a few books mentioned with publication dates like 1872 (Carmilla) or 1978 (The Black Unicorn), overall this sticks with the trend we already saw: the vast majority of books mentioned are from the last three or so years.

Pie chart of types of queer representation
The queer identities represented in all of the books mentioned in the top 50 queer BookTok videos.

Finally, the full list at least includes three asexual books (Every Heart a Doorway, Loveless, and Let’s Talk About Love), but it still follows the same pattern we already saw: there are about nine cis queer books mentioned for every one trans book. This likely also has to do with publishing, though: I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s an improvement over the proportion of queer books published that have trans rep.

Conclusion

While there are always ways to improve, and a lot of the results here are from a few creators who are doing a ton of the work, I’m pretty impressed with what I see! Although I may get frustrated by rapid-fire recommendation videos that don’t bother to tell me why I should read a book or what it’s about (other than that it’s queer), the books being lobbed around are fairly diverse, and there are a lot more authors getting promoted than on general BookTok, where the same author gets talked about over and over again.

I was able to confirm some suspicions I have (queer BookTok does have more quick lists than BookTok in general) and quash some assumptions (that M/M books get the most attention). If you like queer books, especially if you’re not sure where to start with queer YA, I’d recommend poking around BookTok! Kudos to these young creators who are doing good work.

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