Warning: I am about to utter one of the most powerful buzz-words in publishing right now… ‘BookTok’ – a cute and classic blend of ‘book’ with the social media platform TikTok. Headlines have praised this as a renaissance in publishing, the industry-saving beam of hope that we’ve all been searching for since the release of the last Harry Potter book. During the first lockdown, BookTok grew to become an enormous force in the publishing, and all we have to do is turn to the phenomenon of Ice Planet Barbarians by Ruby Dixon to see its power.
The Ice Planet Barbarians series started as a self-published serial online, which was later turned into e-books and was eventually picked up by the romance genre’s leading publishing house, Berkley US. As a happy bonus, Berkley commissioned special edition covers that are both colourful and eye-catching, helping them stand out on a scrolling social media feed, or a bookshelf. This last development only occurred after the books spread like wildfire (or more appropriately, like an ice age) across social media, and specifically TikTok. To date, the hashtag #iceplanetbarbarians has been used almost 80 million times on TikTok, the books reviewed and reacted to hundreds of times on YouTube, hundreds of thousands of copies sold. Now, that’s what we call a sensation!
History and BookTok trends aside, why should booksellers be paying attention to the series, and what is it actually about? The series — now over twenty books strong — tells the story of a group of women stranded on an ice planet inhabited by a species of seven foot tall, blue-horned aliens. Each novel looks at a different woman and the alien that they fall in love with. They each face their own challenges and dynamics, as you can imagine there are quite a few of those when you’re a couple comprised of a human woman and a purring, blue alien. Outside of their unique blend of sci-fi and romance, Ruby Dixon’s novels have reached cult status partly thanks to their explicit content, which is neither shy nor inhibited. The sexy side of these books has definitely helped them reach wider audiences, filling a gap left by the Fifty Shades series.
Similar to the that craze, the Ice Planet Barbarians sensation has captured smut-lovers and fiction readers alike; initially spreading through #SpicyBookTok, then to the more general market. Books like these hit the fun and often overlooked romance market, and capture people’s imaginations in unique ways. In addition, the success of the series is a testament to TikTok’s ability to spark curiosity and fuel our love of sharing books — and if 2022 has taught us anything, it’s that it won’t be slowing down any time soon!
At the time of writing this, 4 out of the 20+ books in the series are available in the UK in Berkley’s special editions, all of which you can order through your local sales representative, or as an individual customer on bookshop.org.