From the Wire

The Latest Viral TikTok Hit is a Self-Published Self-Help Book

Welcome to Today in Books, where we report on literary headlines at the intersection of politics, culture, media, and more.

TikTok Turns Self-Published Journal Into Million-Copy Hit

Here is the TikTok feedback loop in action. (If you haven’t already read Kyle Chayka’s Filterworld, you’re gonna want to after this story.)

In 2021, after coming across Carl Jung’s theories about the shadow self and finding them helpful for managing her anxiety, Keila Shaheen self-published The Shadow Work Journal to share the concepts with others. Shaheen is not a licensed therapist, but she does have a background in marketing, and she seems to have put it to good use.

In 2023, Kohn Glay (on TikTok as @girldadsos) saw a TikTok ad for the journal and bought it. He went on to share it with his followers, creating a whole series of videos about it before eventually offering online classes to guide others through it. In the process, he sold more than 40,000 copies of the book, for which he received more than $150,000 in commission. (An inside baseball note: while the standard Amazon affiliate rate is 3-4% of a sale, the TikTok shop allows retailers to set their own rates, which are often significantly higher. Shaheen’s company Zenfulnote offers influencers 15%.)

Glay’s videos went viral, sparking more TikTok users to order the journal. Many of them went on to make videos about it, leading their audiences to buy the book. You see where this is going. Lather, rinse, repeat through the self-peretuating cycle in which the influenced become the influencers, motivated by the dual incentives of possible internet stardom and sizable affiliate commissions. TikTok is a casino, and these are the slots.

Today, Shaheen has sold more than a million (!) copies of The Shadow Work Journal, landed an agent, and signed a major deal with Simon & Schuster that includes two follow-up titles. Not too shabby for a DIY project she didn’t even put her name on initially.

Shaheen acknowledges mental health professionals’ concerns about her lack of training and says “The journal is meant to be a bridge,” not a replacement for therapy, and I can’t help but think that this is the double-edged sword of the internet’s democratizing effect on culture. It is amazing that we can connect with people all over the world and have access to resources and ideas we wouldn’t have otherwise been exposed to, and one of the risks, when anyone can have a platform and present themselves as an authority, is that anyone can have a platform and present themselves as an authority. Be careful out there.

New Ta-Nehisi Coates Coming in October

Nearly a decade after his powerful award-winning memoir Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates is returning to nonfiction. The Message, due out October 1, blends reporting, memoir, and literary and social history to explore the question: “In a time of growing strife and injustice, why do stories matter?” Coates is one of the most interesting, provocative public thinkers of our time, and longform nonfiction is where he really shines. His voice will be a welcome ballast, especially amid the noise of the final days of election season.

🎶 This is the Sound…of Sandworms 🎶

This weekend, I became the last person in publishing media to finally see Dune. In addition to confirming my long-held theory that it’s really just Tremors in space, it sent me down a wormhole (see what I did there?) of content about the production and special effects. Perfect timing, then, for Jason Kottke (an OG blogger who continues to do terrific work) to share this fascinating video about the film’s sound design. Everyone who told me not to watch it on a plane was right. You really do want a big screen and bigger speakers.

5 Books to Better Understand Queer & Trans Identities and Issues

Why do pronouns matter? What’s the difference between transgender, gender-queer, and nonbinary? What can you read or recommend to the well-meaning person in your life who just doesn’t quite get it? We’ve got you covered.