Exclusive: BookTok's Kevin Norman brings LGBTQ+ stories to the forefront

New York, New York - BookTok influencer Kevin Norman sat down with TAG24 NEWS to discuss why TikTok has become a vital space for LGBTQ+ readers and how he's mobilizing his online community to uplift queer voices in literature.

Kevin Norman spoke exclusively with TAG24 NEWS abut his experience on BookTok and his new partnership with Bindery Books.
Kevin Norman spoke exclusively with TAG24 NEWS abut his experience on BookTok and his new partnership with Bindery Books.  © Courtesy of Kevin Norman

Norman first dove into the bookish side of TikTok in 2020 and has since earned a following of more than 250,000 thanks to his charismatic presence and engaging approach to literary discussions.

"I made a video and thought, 'What kind of books would I want to talk about or see?'" Norman told TAG24 of his early days on the platform.

The question motivated him to highlight LGBTQ+ reads – stories that traditional literary outlets far too often overlook.

"I wanted to show those to people and be kind of like this online resource where people can go to my page and find these types of stories," he said.

As BookTok has grown, this online interest has increasingly impacted the real-world publishing industry, and content creators like Norman have greatly influenced what titles pick up steam on bestseller lists.

"I think what was really interesting about TikTok is that it became a resource for publishers to utilize in a way they finally saw the market that wanted these types of stories," Norman said. "Before, they always thought there wasn't really a market there. They're like, 'No one really wants queer books' or 'Queer books won't sell' or 'Books by authors of color are harder to market' and things like that."

The market interest generated by readers online has helped push LGBTQ+ reads to the mainstream, scoring them top spots on bookstores' front shelves and notable commercial success. Thanks to this newly-established market power, these reads have been able to evolve past the constraints of early expectations for queer literature.

How TikTok has created a safe space for LGBTQ+ readers

Kevin Norman has helped spotlight LGBTQ+ literature with his TikTok platform.
Kevin Norman has helped spotlight LGBTQ+ literature with his TikTok platform.  © Courtesy of Kevin Norman

"We're seeing a lot more positive queer stories than we kind of got in the past," Norman told TAG24.

"I think a lot of older queer books kind of just dealt with the trauma of being queer, and now we get love stories. We get young adult books with happy endings. We have romances and fantasy.

"Not to say they didn't exist before, but we just have so much more for people to consume, and I love it."

Norman recalled author David Levithan, a pioneer of young adult queer literature, thanking him for shouting out his novel, The Lover's Dictionary, in a viral TikTok video.

"People would come up to him at signings and be like, 'Oh, I discovered this book because I saw it online in this video," Norman said. "It was such a full circle moment for me about how impactful online communities are in even promoting older titles."

Books like Levithan's Boy Meets Boy, published in 2003, were fiercely opposed by conservative groups upon publication and often struggled to find a mainstream audience. Thanks to communities like Norman's, queer novels have found a protected space for readers to share them which has, in turn, provided a viral sense of safety for those queer readers themselves.

"Being on TikTok was the first time I embraced my queer identity online, and so the book community has become a really safe space for me to authentically be myself and talk about the things I love," he said. "Of course, judgment comes once things get outside that little bubble, but the community has been the first safe space I ever really, truly felt online, and I think that's just a lot to do with the types of stories people are now reading and the type of people who are consuming them."

Though book bans continue to unjustly target such titles, readers have helped to protect their existence by proving the market demand through online conversation, and Norman has taken the fight into his own hands by entering the publishing space himself.

Kevin Norman takes on the publishing world with Violeatear Books

Kevin Norman has partnered with Bindery Books to create his own imprint, Violetear Books.
Kevin Norman has partnered with Bindery Books to create his own imprint, Violetear Books.  © Courtesy of Kevin Norman

Norman has rallied his online community to generate meaningful change in the publishing world through a partnership with Bindery Books. The membership platform allows selected influencers, known on the site as "tastemakers," to use the support of their online communities to publish stories they believe in.

Through the partnership, Norman has created his own imprint, Violetear Books, which has already acquired its first title, Inferno's Heir by Tiffany Wang.

"It's funny because it was actually the first manuscript I read, and it just kind of stuck with me," Norman said. "I loved the premise of a girl who is an outcast in her own kingdom and has to essentially betray the people she finally becomes friends with in order to survive."

The "morally gray" protagonist was a strong factor in his decision to pick the manuscript, as the trope has hit home in an unexpected way.

"She's fighting for a place in a world that says she doesn't belong, and I think as a queer person, I really relate to that," he said.

Being able to uplift underrepresented authors and often-overlooked stories through Bindery, Norman says, will allow the titles to find the right audience in a way traditional publishing cannot.

"Bindery has immediate access to the people who will be buying the books, whereas traditional publishers kind of just send it out and hope that influencer will talk about it or it gets picked up somewhere," Norman said.

Subscribers of Violetear Books have the opportunity to follow along at every step of the publishing process for Inferno's Heir – even having the chance to provide feedback on elements such as the cover design or the title – making the venture a true community effort.

Norman joins fellow BookTok stars Meg Hood, Jaysen Headley, and more on the trailblazing new platform.

Cover photo: Courtesy of Kevin Norman

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