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

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.

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