WHO: An Army veteran trying to promote his debut novel, and a good neighbor who stepped in to help.
WHAT: A TikTok—now viewed by over 18 million people—that shot Leigh Howard and the Ghosts of Simmons-Pierce Manor to the top of Amazon’s best-seller list in less than a week.
WHY IT’S SO GREAT:
“I don’t know this guy and this isn’t a sponsorship,” says Jerrad Swearenjin in the on-screen text of his now-viral TikTok. “I just wanted to show a stranger some kindness.” Last week the Fort Worth man was shopping in his local Kroger when he encountered Arlington author Shawn Warner. Warner was there to promote his debut novel, Leigh Howard and the Ghosts of Simmons-Pierce Manor, but, as Swearenjin describes, he seemed “super defeated” from the lack of interest in his display. As Swearenjin explains in his video, the situation made him think of “all the times I worked so hard and never got any recognition.” So before leaving the Kroger, he got to work ensuring that wouldn’t happen to his neighbor.
In the ninety-second video posted to his TikTok a few hours later, Swearenjin conducts a makeshift interview, asking Warner about his inspirations and discussing the premise of Leigh Howard, a young adult supernatural murder mystery. Explaining, “I do a little bit of TikTok,” Swearenjin decides to purchase an extra signed copy to give away to anyone with over a thousand followers willing to post their own review. It was a break in typical content from the creator, whose viewers averaged in the low thousands for videos that primarily featured his home renovation projects. “I honestly dont even read books nowadays,” he writes in the caption. “But something just told me to get a couple.”
As Warner later explained in a TikTok of his own, when Swearenjin approached him, “I was just so eager to talk to anybody.” Warner, an Army veteran who has worked as a child therapist and later as a software engineer, had only recently decided to pursue his dream of writing full-time. Leigh Howard, his debut novel, was released in November, but by this summer sales had hit a lull. By the time he encountered Swearenjin in Kroger, he was indeed feeling defeated.
“It was just supposed to be, ‘Hey, here’s a fellow neighbor who’s just struggling and I wanted to help him out,’ ” Swearenjin later told Dallas’s WFAA. His goal was certainly achieved—within three days, the video had amassed over 17 million views and received comments from people around the world interested in purchasing Warner’s novel. Within a week, Leigh Howard was number one on the Amazon Best Sellers list. By popular demand, Warner’s publisher is now working to release both hardcover and audiobook versions of the novel. The signed copies sold exclusively by Pantego Books, an indie bookstore in Arlington, have been on back order ever since.
While TikTok may have helped Leigh Howard jump to the top of the charts, its reviews are keeping it there. Targeted at young adults, the novel follows Leigh Howard, a teen girl sent to live with her überwealthy relatives after her parents are murdered. When the police tell her they have no leads in the case, she decides to take matters into her own hands, turning to a ghostly friend for help. Warner’s readers, like his millions of newfound TikTok viewers, can’t seem to get enough. For his part, Warner admits that though he’s a—now best-selling—writer, he’s struggling to find the words to describe this past week.