Building Your Brand on TikTok Isn’t Curation, It’s Authenticity | Jane Friedman

Building Your Brand on TikTok Isn’t Curation, It’s Authenticity | Jane Friedman

“To Thine Own Self Be True” by futureshape is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Today’s post is by author Kerry Chaput.

Social media algorithms often feel like a rigged game, with authors standing on the sidelines yelling “Pick me!” Fortunately, my relationship with social media changed the moment I decided to create my own space and let readers come to me.

When I joined TikTok in December 2021, I was prepared to hate every second. Young, witty creators and BookTok accounts were killing it at book marketing, and I was a middle-aged mom struggling with anxiety, whose preferred topic of conversation is Eleanor Roosevelt’s contributions to history. 

But I quickly discovered that I ended up right where I belonged. and you belong there too. TikTok, unlike Instagram’s aesthetic values or Twitter’s expectations for witty virality or negativity, is exactly for someone like me.

People crave honesty. So much of our lives is spent pretending to have it all together, when inside we’re crying out for someone to get us. When I shed the idea of “curating” content and started to discuss the things I cared about, my views went up and so did my book sales.

My first viral video was one minute, forty seconds, and put my history nerd status on full display. I discussed the background of my historical fiction series Defying the Crown, and why I cared about the women it highlighted. What I translated to viewers (and readers) was a love for women’s history from a lens of power and success, rather than stories of women’s misery and pain.

It was then I realized the power TikTok holds.

I could shout my beliefs and interests from the rooftops, and find my people, my readers. I could bring attention to the kind of things I write about and value in my young adult novels, and books like them. Fat positivity, inclusivity, sex-positive relationships for young women, self-acceptance, and mental health awareness.

I was inspired to begin a series: Badass Women in History. These are stories of powerful young women who pushed past every barrier to follow their dreams. The videos exist to remind people that history is full of diverse, interesting women who have yet to gain recognition for their incredible lives—and not all their stories are steeped in pain. My second viral video discussed Mileva Einstein’s contributions to science, and my top video celebrates the eccentric Alice Roosevelt, still climbing toward one million views.

There are principles I live by when it comes to TikTok. The most important thing is to always be real. Here is how I honor that realness, and you can too:

1. Focus less on your genre space and more on what stories you identify with.

Hashtags are great to identify genre and age category, so let your video speak to your ideals and the things you care about. Your content should connect viewers with universal experiences. Maybe it’s the struggle of parenthood, or the humor you find in the mundane. Perhaps you have a love for calligraphy or ghost hunting, soap making or watermelon carving. Can you show your hobby while discussing writing? Can you connect your unique interests to the reason you write stories? Discover the meaning of your words outside of genre and tropes. There is something personal attached to your stories. Find it and share it with your viewers.

2. Examine what themes find their way into your writing. What aspects of the human condition baffle and intrigue you?

We tend to lean into the big questions in our lives through books, and I believe that happens for both readers and writers. Look closely, and you’ll probably find something you’ve struggled to understand popping up in your work. It’s okay to ask questions on TikTok, to build community through shared intrigue or discovering new knowledge.

3. Employ the power of a series.

Ask yourself: what can you talk about endlessly, or better yet, what are your obsessions? For me, I honor women in a way history books have failed to do—success, power, bravery. I care immensely about the women I research. My series gives me a chance to celebrate topics I love. You’ll find that if you care about it, other people will too.

4. People want authenticity above all else and TikTok allows us to showcase the messy side of life.

A lifelong struggle with generalized anxiety, social anxiety, and panic disorder has left me committed to breaking stereotypes around this disease. I make a point to highlight mental health in my videos. From author check-ins to vulnerable posts about panic attacks, I stay open about mental health—a topic that finds its way into my stories in one way or another. 

Not everyone needs to be this vulnerable, but are there struggles or quirks that are inherent to you? In other words, our power often lies in the parts we hide from the world. Find a comfort level in the cringe side of life. There’s a reason social media has created so much stress for people. Often, we see perfectly clean houses, success stories, celebrations, and expensive vacations. Our author journey isn’t all agent representation announcements and book deals. Sometimes, it’s crying in your car in the Target parking lot.

5. Discover why you care about your stories.

I want young women to know their voice matters. This one outlook carries me through all my stories and every social media video. Find your mantra. Define your core belief that thumps in the background like a heartbeat, and infuse that into your TikTok. Let viewers know what you stand for. It’s a great introduction to the kind of books your readers can expect.

Passion and authenticity will take you farther than any perfectly scripted monologue. On TikTok, quirkiness and honesty are celebrated. I find that quite refreshing. This is an app that allows you to be perfectly, uniquely you. Here, conformity is out, and individuality is in. Contrary to how it might appear, TikTok success isn’t dependent on age, genre, or physical appearance. You don’t need to be young and beautiful and brilliant. People want to be inspired, and nothing does that more effectively than accepting yourself just as you are, without an ounce of apology.

Kerry Chaput

Kerry Chaput is an award-winning historical fiction author. She believes in the power of stories that highlight young women and found families. Born and raised in California, she now lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, where she can be found on hiking trails and in coffee shops. Connect with her at www.kerrywrites.com.

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