Mills & Boon introduces the “spicy” Afterglow series in an attempt to attract book enthusiasts on TikTok.
Mills & Boon plans to release a new selection of titles targeted towards TikTok users and readers who are 35 years old or younger, in order to appeal to a younger audience of romance enthusiasts.
According to their website, the publisher of romantic fiction has been selling a book every 10 seconds in the UK for a long time. However, there is currently not a high demand for Mills & Boon titles among TikTok users.
According to Edel Flood, the head of lifestyle and education at TikTok UK, romance is the most popular genre on the app.
If you search for the TikTok hashtag #BookTok, you will probably receive suggestions for steamy books by romance writers Colleen Hoover and Emily Henry, or a mix of fantasy and romance by authors such as Rebecca Yarros or Sarah J Maas.
The publisher has recently introduced Mills & Boon Afterglow, which will release two books per month starting in January 2024. This new imprint will join the six other existing imprints, which offer a variety of genres from steamy and passionate sagas (Mills & Boon Desire) to romantic tales featuring successful doctors (Mills & Boon Medical). According to Katie Barnes-Wallis, marketing director at Mills & Boon, Afterglow will feature books that follow current trends and include relatable characters, with a touch of spice in every story.
Tropes – for example: enemies to lovers; small-town settings; grumpy versus sunshine – are key to the way younger romance fans choose books and talk about them on TikTok. “People know what they want from their books and if someone can promise that before they even open the pages then it’s job done,” says Abby Parker, known online as abbysbooks.
Barnes-Wallis and her team have made a commitment to include a wide range of popular storytelling devices in their Afterglow books. They are also looking to leverage the current trends on BookTok. The initial releases from the new imprint showcase a strong emphasis on representing the LGBT+ community: According to the publisher, Timothy Janovsky’s The (Fake) Dating Game is a charming and steamy romance between two men that puts a unique spin on the “fake dating” trope. Meanwhile, Steven Salvatore’s novel, The Boyfriend Subscription, is being promoted as a queer version of Pretty Woman.
According to Flood, books with queer themes like Song of Achilles, Red, White and Royal Blue, and the Heartstopper series are well-liked by BookTokers. While traditional romance remains relevant, there is also room for smaller sub-genres and new authors to gain a following.
A study conducted by the Publishers Association revealed that 59% of individuals aged 16 to 25 credit BookTok for sparking their interest in reading. Additionally, Mills & Boon openly acknowledges their efforts to gain a presence on TikTok.
According to Barnes-Wallis, the hashtag #SpicyTok has received a staggering 4.5 billion views, indicating a large group of eager readers searching for their next romantic read. Author Jenny Colgan adds that it is logical for the UK’s most well-known romance publisher, Mills & Boon, to cater to a variety of romance fans. Colgan acknowledges the significant role that Mills & Boon plays in British culture, particularly for women, and praises their extensive publication portfolio which puts them in a prime position to cater to a wider range of readers.
Although #BookTok’s success is driven by the community’s love for literature, TikTok’s team, led by Flood, recognizes the potential for collaboration with the books industry. In fact, the app has joined forces with the Hay festival and recently introduced its own book awards. Flood explains, “Publishers can use TikTok as a valuable tool to gauge the popularity of specific books, genres, or authors in the moment and participate in those discussions.”
However, there are TikTokers who are doubtful about how the publishing industry has embraced TikTok as a means of promoting and selling books. One TikToker, Parker, believes that publishers should exercise caution when labeling books as the “next big BookTok sensation” as this may discourage people. Parker emphasizes that BookTok is a community of individuals who share a love for books and enjoy discussing them. The true strength of BookTok lies in the genuine and unbiased opinions of reviewers, which should not be disregarded.
The BookTok community may not be convinced by Afterglow’s use of buzzwords like “spice” and “tropes”. It remains to be seen if Mills & Boon will successfully connect with this community and achieve their happily-ever-after.