Elizabeth Cayouette does crunches at a gym and stares directly into the camera as she speaks: “OK, so I’m here to befriend this girl who has literally everything. But soon I’ll have her husband and all her money. All I have to do is make sure no one finds out about my own past.”
This is how Cayouette introduces 2017 thriller “The Last Mrs. Parrish” by Liv Constantine on her TikTok account, @bettysbooklist. Each video follows a similar formula: Cayouette talks directly to the camera and describes her current dilemma. Topics range from developing feelings for a co-worker to suspecting a friend is a murderer. After a few seconds, a book cover flashes on the screen and viewers learn that she’s speaking as a character from a book and not actually divulging titillating details from her real life.
“I work in video marketing in my day job and was rather strategic with it,” said Cayouette, the 23-year-old Salem native and Brandeis University alumna behind the account. “I think I cultivated a perfect storm of videos that are the right length.”
A videographer and editor for the fashion brand Aerie, Cayouette has spent a lot of time studying what the modern viewer finds appealing on social media. When she started her TikTok passion project, she made sure to keep her videos short, engaging, and direct.
“People think it’s a real story at first,” she explained. “That obviously draws them in as well.”
Cayouette began posting videos daily to @bettysbooklist in April and has attracted more than 258,000 followers. She spotlights a wide range of books, from long-established bestsellers like Gillian Flynn’s twisty Satanic Panic thriller “Dark Places” to recent releases, including Catherine Steadman’s Hollywood mystery “The Disappearing Act” and Morgan Rogers’s one-night-in-Vegas romance “Honey Girl.” More often than not, the account features work by women and nonbinary authors. The stories are frequently female-driven and fall into the thriller or romance categories.
“I really enjoy reading books with female protagonists and I love reading books that are queer stories and feature interesting people,” Cayouette said. “These are just what I have been reading organically. I created this a little bit spur-of-the-moment.”
The idea for the account stemmed from an interest in book promotion. Cayouette wrote a book during the pandemic and wants a means to eventually be able to market it. She was also looking for a way to promote her friend’s book, Boston local Hanna Halperin’s novel “Something Wild,” and began posting ahead of time to make sure that she had an audience. Within days, Cayouette’s account gained a following.
People were immediately intrigued. Early comments lauded the bait-and-switch of believing Cayouette was confessing to a real problem she was having. Commenters reported being “hooked” and “so invested” in the stories.
“If books were explained like this, reading is all I’d do,” wrote one viewer. “This is literally the best way to recommend a book,” said another.
Since the account’s creation, Cayouette has started featuring additional narrators. Sometimes the videos are collaborations; other times, Cayouette hands over the reins entirely. She collaborates with friends when stories feature protagonists who are male or people of color, in an effort to ensure she’s “not inauthentically portraying characters” that don’t look like her. She’ll send over a couple of script ideas for books and have them pick what they’re interested in, so that everyone is excited about the project.
Cayouette said that she’s also begun to hear from publishing houses in response to her videos, which excites her because she thinks that book publicity needs to catch up to modern demands.
“Publishing is a bit of an old-school industry, where TikTok and short form video content is not yet the focus, even though that is the future,” she said.
Meryl Wilsner, author of queer romance novel “Something to Talk About,” noted the merit in these types of videos last month. Their debut novel follows a Hollywood bigwig and her assistant as they navigate their jobs (and growing feelings) after tabloids falsely claim the two are dating. Cayouette made a video, wherein she voiced the assistant, and Wilsner shared it on Twitter with the caption: “Not sure what counts as viral but can confirm this tiktok literally tripled my sales last week. God bless ppl who talk about books they love.”
Cayouette shared that all of the books featured are stories that she genuinely likes, and many of the publications predate 2021 because she goes back through her reading history for inspiration.
“As I go on, there will be a new [book] sprinkled in here and there,” she said. “But it really is just what I’ve read and enjoyed.”