If you’ve been on BookTok, a subgenre of TikTok dedicated to books and authors, you’ve probably heard of “Fourth Wing,” a book published last year by Rebecca Yarros. The novel was published on May 2 and its sequel, “Iron Flame,” following just six months later on Nov. 7, garnered Yarros fame and fortune. Yarros was able to publish the first two installments quicker because she had written some of “Iron Flame” beforehand. However, Yarros planned to release the rest of the series in a slower manner. The release of “Fourth Wing” came with skyrocketing hype around the “romantasy” genre — a mix between romance and fantasy.
But along with it came a new question brewing in the reading community: Are publishers and authors publishing books too quickly, and does this affect the quality of the writing?
On the day of the sequel release, Yarros and Barnes & Noble hosted a premiere featuring a Q&A where Yarros apologized for her attempts at pronouncing the Scottish Gaelic words and names mentioned in her novel. Yarros and her publisher, Red Tower Books, were met with much criticism about this misuse of Gaelic grammar, with many contending that the mistakes could have been avoided if the publishers had hired someone to proofread the Gaelic used in the book and had better prepared Yarros for interviews.
So what does BookTok have to do with this? It was one of the reasons why within the first week of “Fourth Wing” being published, the book shot up to the top of the New York Times’ Best Sellers List almost instantaneously despite criticism. The whole ordeal highlighted similarities between the modern publishing world and another contemporary industry: fast fashion.
Like fashion trends, BookTok generates temporary hype around a particular genre or set of tropes. In her book series’ premiere, Yarros managed to appeal to many of BookTok’s beloved tropes while also blending two of BookTok’s favorite genres. This, combined with the fast-paced plot of the book, caught the eye of many readers.
With a readership surge, it isn’t uncommon for both publishers and authors to use that hype to their advantage, cranking out more when it’s still popular. Even a quiet announcement by the publisher (which turned out to just be a special edition of “Fourth Wing”) was enough to sell out the book even before the cover or any details were revealed. This hype was likely a reason why the series, originally a trilogy, was dragged into a five-book series.
This is kind of what fast fashion is all about. Fast fashion refers to the process of clothing manufacturing that moves from production/design to stores quickly to keep up with current trends. These pieces are often cheap and low-quality, sent to retail stores with the hope of selling out quickly thanks to current trends. This same approach emerging in the publishing world, thanks partially to BookTok, could lead to diminishing book quality when writing and edits aren’t able to reach their maximum potential.
This isn’t to say that books like “Fourth Wing” are bad just because they are hyped up so much. For many readers, a book not meeting expectations can create disappointment, especially when the potential is there. But ditching developed work for cranking out crowd-pleasers doesn’t do all readers justice.
It’s important for authors to understand the material and history they incorporate into their books. I love to see authors using the history and languages of minority groups as inspirations for books, and to expose their readers to these wonderful cultures. But with publishers hurrying to print to capitalize on the hype period, less effort is put into the things that make books appreciable to people beyond basic elements like plot, characters, and story arcs.
These qualms about the quick turnover in the publishing industry, much like in the fashion industry, aren’t directed towards indie authors who write, edit, and publish themselves, but rather towards those who disregard the importance of everything that goes into the writing process. Thorough research and editing are just as important as the characters, plots, and arcs of a book. But, these are just some small thoughts in the minds of many readers like myself, and it doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate a novel that’s well-loved by BookTok. Read what you love because, in the end, sometimes a good BookTok paperback is all you need.