Ok, I’m going to try and do my best with this question. While I wish I can share with you the secrets of Instagram’s algorithm and how to gain more followers on an app that has millions and millions of people using it everyday, I’m also bound to those algorithms and what I can share with you is what’s worked for me. I hope you can use this advice and take the next steps to becoming a bookstagrammer.
I want to first mention that this isn’t easy work. Gaining followers, getting free books, promotions, and engagement require a significant amount of time during your day. I usually set up social media times between chapters. If I need a break from work, I take to Instagram for ten minutes to respond to messages, comments, and generally look at my feed. I also use that time to make my stories. Many of my bookstagram friends have full time jobs and manage their accounts on their nights and weekends. It’s dedication and a lot of hard work to keep this running (which is why some folks aren’t so happy to be doing this all for free. That’s another story for another time).
Also, I want to emphasize that this advice is for anyone who wants to become a “book influencer.” If you’re not into that kind of thing, you are more than welcome to enjoy bookstagram as a viewer. You can follow your favorite authors and bookstagrammers and keep your page just for your own updates. There ‘s a million and one ways you can share your reads on the Internet and I commend you for taking that route!
But if you’re looking to build a following and be a bad ass book person on Instagram, here’s some real advice for you:
Overall, bookstagram is all about consistency. Some people treat bookstagram as a daily blog about their reading life or regular life. Others only post photos of books they’re reading or only book reviews. Figure out how you want to post on Instagram and then be consistent. Keep to a posting schedule. Don’t disappear. When it comes to bookstagram and gaining followers, you need to be present and consistent. Share who you are on stories. Share your thoughts in a respectful manner and you’ll eventually find your audience. But here’s some other things you want to keep in mind when starting out.
Start with the books you own
As a new bookstagrammer, it’s not going to be easy to get a publisher to send you books. Some publishers require you to have a specific number of followers, so you’ll need to start with the books you own. If it’s a new book you’re looking for, try and see if the library has a copy. Check out sites like Book Outlet where you can get books for a much cheaper price than Amazon. While many folks like physical book photos, you can also post Kindle posts. I know accounts dedicated solely to Kindle reads or ebook reads and that’s good too.
There’s no rules on genre or type of book. Many bookstagrammers tend to feature newer books because being a bookstagrammer is basically being a professional book-hype person. You’re promoting new books and new reads to your audience. If you are promoting new books, I strongly encourage you to only promote books you would actually read. This is going to be tough because you’re going to be offered some really different things in the future, but if you keep to who you are and what you believe in, then you might find success.
Work on your photography
You don’t need a fancy degree in photography in order to do well on Bookstagram. Yes, the accounts that only have 200 pictures and over 50k followers may grow a bit faster because their book photos are gorgeous, but they also require a lot of work and editing, and appeal to aesthetically-driven folks. Nothing wrong with that, but I just don’t have time to be James Trevino.
Look for aesthetics that you find pleasing. There’s a lot of choices from flatlays to book stacks to reading casually shots. There’s the sepia toned pictures, the cool colors, the dark contrast, the shadows blurred out. Many people take to bookstagram as a way to express their own personal style, which I love.
You don’t need to have fresh flowers, spend all your money on lattes, or make frequent trips to HomeGoods. Those are great if you want to get a little bit more aesthetic, but it’s not necessarily the end-all-be-all. Sometimes what works is just your book, yourself, and a cup of tea. Sometimes it’s good lighting and a clever quote. Of course you can always grab inspiration from other bookstagrammers, but don’t copy. Don’t copy someone’s aesthetic or use their photos for your page. That’s a surefire way to get called out and reported to Instagram.
I don’t use any fancy equipment. I use my iPhone and VSCO to photograph and edit my pictures. I did follow some basic photography articles to frame the photos better and have more enticing shots, but you can easily Google for some tutorials. Don’t be afraid to go for it!
The biggest benefit you can get from working on your photos is reposts by publishing houses, bookish companies (like Book of the Month, who has the highest number of followers in all of bookstagram), or being featured on a bookstagram feature account (like @booksandbeans or @mybookfeatures). If you can tag and be noticed by these big groups, it’ll widen your reach and maybe put a few followers in your hands. So making sure you have aesthetically pleasing photos will capture those folks’ eyes and hopefully give you the opportunity to be on their page.
Look at your analytics
Not just the numbers. Don’t care about how many followers left or how many you’ve gained. Don’t even look at your likes. Look at your content. Make some overall summations on what your followers like and don’t like about your photos. What photos tend to do better on your page? What doesn’t? How can you improve the photos that don’t? You have to remember that Instagram is still an aesthetics game and sometimes serving what your followers like will help to boost those numbers. While we’re all here for the bookish thoughts and sharing our love of reading, we also have to keep in mind that Instagram on the whole is entirely visually. Folks are scrolling through their feeds casually. Sometimes they don’t even read your captions, so see what captures their eye.
For me, a lot of my followers and outside of my group love photos of open books. They love seeing me in my “natural habitat” reading a book with a cup of coffee in a cozy corner of my home. They always respond to photos where I’m in it. They don’t like just the cover or any of the ones that I put more work into the photo. LOL. This is good for me to know because then I can make content that will engage my followers and make them hit that like button. It makes it easier for me to plan a book photo session and how I want to stage my book.
Play with your tags
If you don’t understand how hashtags work on Instagram, it’s basically an easy way to gain exposure. If you don’t tag your post, it’s likely to get lost in the billions of photos that exist on Instagram. How do you make yourself known?
I personally don’t like tags. It’s a little bit of extra work that you need to do otherwise you might not get the additional exposure outside of your group of friends. The only piece of advice I have for you when it comes to tags is keep them relevant and mix them up.
Apparently Instagram knows when you’re using the same tags everyday. It can tell with its little electronic brain that you’ve just made some quick keys adding 800 hashtags to your post. Don’t abuse the hashtag system because Instagram will bury your post. Just use a relevant handful of tags and mix them up everyday. I tend to use the same 30 or so tags, but mix them up. Some days I’ll use the cozy tags because my photos always invoke a cozy feeling. Other days I’ll be talking about a book review or a bookstack and then I will want to tag appropriately for that. The hashtag game is a little bit exhausting, but as long as you keep them relevant to your post and mix them up every other day, then you’re golden.
TALK TO PEOPLE
I cannot stress how important it is to talk to people. It’s called SOCIAL media for a reasons. It’s called a Book COMMUNITY for a reasons. Engage with people and not just try to get noticed by a big account. Talking to the people who actually follow you allows them to get to know you better. Commenting on posts also helps start those conversations, but you have to be relevant. What you’re trying to do here is build a relationship with people. This is why YouTube stars do so well. You’re talking to someone and sharing a little bit of your life with them.
The book community is quite big and we love to talk. We talk about books, book reviews, bookstagram, new books, reading, reading life, whatever. There are so many topics to choose from, so write about them in your posts, talk to the people who comment and don’t forget to talk to others outside your circle. You can easily expand your reach if you open up.
I strongly advise not asking for shout outs or how to get more followers or how to get free books. These kinds of conversations aren’t genuine and you might be curious as to how that happens, but it’s not the place to do it (unless the bookstagrammer says otherwise).
This has got to be the biggest piece of advice I can provide you. BE RESPECTFUL. There are A LOT of opinions on books here and that stirs a lot of emotions. If you want to get noticed and be a respected member of this community (and most importantly, be respected for your opinions on books), you need to understand that there are going to be a ton of differences in opinion out there. Reading opinions, genre opinions, political opinions, lifestyle opinions –it’s all going to be different, but the only way for our community to thrive is through respect.
If you don’t agree with a review, let them know privately or discuss the book in an adult way together. Do not call someone out for not liking a book and in return, do not call someone out for calling you out.
I feel like this is unique to bookstagram because we’re not trying out some yoga pants or a new matcha drink and sharing our opinions on it. These are BOOKS; they take time to read, time to process, and then time to actually come up with something to say about them. A lot of effort goes into forming these opinions, so speak to people in the same manner you want to be spoken to. Share your thoughts and feelings in a respectful way. Don’t shame anyone for the kinds of books they choose to read or their opinions on it.
You don’t have to love every book that comes out. You’re more than welcome to hate on books, but there’s a way to criticize a book you didn’t like that doesn’t upset others or the author. Books take a lot of hard work and dedication to write and authors appreciate feedback that critiques the book but doesn’t bash it to death with a sledgehammer. Bashing a book doesn’t explain at all why the book didn’t work for you. It doesn’t give other readers a sense of how they’ll feel before they read the book. Reviews are meant to be informative and critical, not hateful.
Something else to keep in mind is that not all bookstagrammers are alike. There are bookstagrammers dedicated to solely YA, fantasy, romance, literary fiction, diverse fiction, or LGBTQ fiction to name a few. There’s non-fiction accounts. There’s accounts dedicated to only reading library books. There’s even folks who write notes in the margins, bend back their covers, or even dog-ear their pages. There’s so many variants that it makes it easy for anyone with a very specific interest in books to find their people. However, none of these groups are invalid for their interest. No person should shame another for only reading romance or dog-earing their pages or only borrowing from the library. Like I said before, there’s a lot of differences in our group and if we want to keep bookstagram a community where everyone is welcome, then we need to keep these in mind.
And yeah, perhaps stirring the pot gets you followers and likes and all that, but do you really want to be remembered as the person who calls out folks who don’t like the books you like? To me, that doesn’t feel like a good PR move.
This is a marathon not a sprint
I think the final piece of advice I can give you is that this will take time. Unless you’re a whiz at social media (and even then, I think you’ll have trouble), it will take time for you to be noticed. It will take time to build your following. It will take time to create your content. I’ve been doing this for close to four years now and while I love the book community and participating on Bookstagram, I still don’t make money on my blog. I have four part-time jobs (Instagram and blog content for myself, and then two part-time paid book positions). But don’t worry. Patience is always rewarded, so don’t give up. The community is growing ever so slowly and eventually the work we’ve put into creating our content will have its rewards. Keep going!