Exclusive: BookTok star Jaysen Headley challenges publishing biases with new imprint

New York, New York - BookTok influencer Jaysen Headley has taken his online impact directly to the publishing world, and he spoke exclusively with TAG24 NEWS about how he's using his platform to tackle the biases of traditional publishing through the power of community.

BookTok creator Jaysen Headley has taken his influence directly to the publishing world with the help of Bindery Books.
BookTok creator Jaysen Headley has taken his influence directly to the publishing world with the help of Bindery Books.  © Courtesy of Jaysen Headley

Headley, best known under the handle @ezeekat, has amassed over a million followers across TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube by sharing his passions through engaging viral videos.

"I think a lot of my community has come from the fact that I make content not just in one niche anymore. So, I still talk about books a lot, but I also talk about board games, and I do scrapbooking," he told TAG24.

"It's all about storytelling and different ways that we can experience stories in our life and different hobbies that pertain to storytelling."

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In September 2023, Headley launched a partnership with Bindery Books, a new membership platform that allows selected influencers, known on the site as "tastemakers," to use the support of their online communities to uplift authors and stories they believe in. Under Bindery, Headley has launched his very own imprint, a micro publishing press called Ezeekat Press, which has already acquired its first title: House of Frank by Kay Synclaire.

"It's pretty incredible because if you had asked me on day one of Bindery to write out a checklist of all the things that I wanted in a book that I was going to publish, this book has literally every single one of them," he said.

House of Frank also met Headley's goal of highlighting authors and stories typically underrepresented within traditional publishing, propelled in part by his own experience as a queer reader.

"It is written by a black author, a black female author. It has so much intersectionality and so much diversity. And it's a book that anybody can love and enjoy and find heart and relate to as far as the story and the characters go."

Jaysen Headley brings diversity to forefront of publishing with Bindery Books

Jaysen Headley's publishing imprint, Ezeekat Press, has acquired House of Frank by Kay Synclaire as its first title.
Jaysen Headley's publishing imprint, Ezeekat Press, has acquired House of Frank by Kay Synclaire as its first title.  © Courtesy of Jaysen Headley

Headley underscored that the emphasis on diversity he has employed with Ezeekat Press goes hand-in-hand with the responsibility he feels as an influential content creator.

"I think sometimes we sort of feel like it's on us [as influencers] to bring that diversity to the table because when you walk into a bookstore, most traditional bookstores, they are not," Headley said.

"They are not making diversity the focus; they are making the big authors who are being pushed with tons of money from their publishers. And in general, most of them, without a doubt, are straight and white, so I think a lot of the book world online feels like it's kind of up to us to show these stories."

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Headley recalled a recent reckoning with his influence after a video he posted about an independently published book he had enjoyed saw over 2,000 new copies sold as a result of the shoutout.

"Knowing that, it becomes even more clear that I need to be very conscious of what I'm sharing on my channel and whose voices I'm uplifting, because it does matter," he said.

With BookTok creators sharing their enthusiasm for novels written by underrepresented authors, traditional publishing has followed suit by promoting such titles, but, as Headley emphasized, this does not mean that the neglect the industry has shown towards these books has been entirely rectified.

BookTok proves its power, but traditional publishing's biases linger

Jaysen Headley has strived to uplift marginalized authors and stories through his online content and new Bindery imprint.
Jaysen Headley has strived to uplift marginalized authors and stories through his online content and new Bindery imprint.  © Courtesy of Jaysen Headley

Amid BookTok's notable impact on print sales, some critics have argued that the platform may be doing more harm than good, even likening the powerful popularity cycles of social media-approved romance titles to the industry of fast fashion.

"At the end of the day, if BookTok was made up of a bunch of straight white men recommending books by straight white men, no one would ever dare to call it fast fashion," he said.

"The fact that young women are making so much change in the publishing world is scary to a corporate business that really has been run by straight white men for a very long time."

While TikTok's particular love of romance is no secret, the app's impact on the overall state of publishing and book sales goes across the board. Barnes and Noble, once on the brink of collapse, has gotten a second life as readers clamor to get their hands on the latest trending titles.

But with the likes of Colleen Hoover and Emily Henry taking the top spots on display tables, the phenomenon has highlighted the underlying prejudices that remain pervasive in literary discourse.

"A lot of it really does just come down to people not taking books that women enjoy as seriously as books that men enjoy," Headley said.

Through pushes for diverse stories like that of Headley's imprint, these biases continue to be challenged by the sheer power – and passion – of today's readers.

Ezeekat Press's first title, House of Frank, will be published in October.

Cover photo: Collage: Courtesy of Jaysen Headley

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