BOOK REVIEW: SMALL FAVORS BY ERIN A. CRAIG

Enter not the forest deep. Beyond the bells, the dark fiends keep.

Summer is slowly winding down. The changing of the seasons brings with it the chill of autumn, ripe with spooky tales and creepy crawlies. Who doesn’t like a twisted tale that makes you glance over your shoulder?

Small Favors is the perfect book to read during the tail-end of summer, when nights are starting to become longer and colder. This is author Erin A. Craig’s second novel. Her first book, House of Salt and Sorrows, was a NYT bestseller and one of my personal favorite reads this year. You can check out that review here.

Here’s the synopsis for Small Favors:

Ellerie Downing lives in the quiet town of Amity Falls in the Blackspire Mountain range–five narrow peaks stretching into the sky like a grasping hand, bordered by a nearly impenetrable forest from which the early townsfolk fought off the devils in the woods. To this day, visitors are few and rare. But when a supply party goes missing, some worry that the monsters that once stalked the region have returned.

As fall turns to winter, more strange activities plague the town. They point to a tribe of devilish and mystical creatures who promise to fulfill the residents’ deepest desires, however grand and impossible, for just a small favor. But their true intentions are much more sinister, and Ellerie finds herself in a race against time before all of Amity Falls, her family, and the boy she loves go up in flames.

Craig draws upon the same elements in Small Favors that made House of Salt and Sorrows such a riveting success: creepy vibes, strangers with dark secrets, and a young girl trying to save her family from destruction.

One of the main themes in the book is the sense of community, of family, and how painful it can be when the bonds that hold us all together begin to fray. It also touches on the chaos that inevitably comes after a community implodes into itself, when people who were once viewed as friends are suddenly regarded upon as strangers, or worse: enemies with a familiar face.

The pace of the storytelling and drama increases gradually throughout the book, the tension mounting and building up until the very last page. There is mystery upon mystery, and the town seems to be the epicenter of it all. The tension in the story slowly becomes more taut as the narrative progresses, until everything becomes so tightly woven that something has to give. Which, of course, it eventually does. The last arc of the book, where everything gets resolved, are complete page-turners. I don’t recommend starting the final few chapters just before bed, unless you don’t have to wake up early the next day!

What I also appreciated about Small Favors is that not all of the characters are redeemable. I genuinely believe this is a strength to Craig’s storytelling. Not everyone can have a happily ever after. And frankly, not everyone deserves to be forgiven for their terrible sins and choices.

Overall, the book has just the right amount of claustrophobia that is reminiscent of stories with spooky vibes and undercurrents of mystery and horror. As things begin to crumble around Ellerie and her family, the feeling of being stuck with nowhere to go becomes stronger.

If you enjoy stories with a single point-of-view, that are slow-burning and heavily lean into unsolved mysteries and family secrets, then I highly recommend this book. Hopefully Craig writes another one soon!

Book Review: The Gilded Ones

What if your blood ran gold?

In The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna, girls who are found to have golden blood are sentenced to death for being impure. Except, as sixteen-year old Deka will find out, there’s more to her golden blood than has been shared with her.

This is Forna’s debut novel. Initially, it was supposed to be published last year, but due to the pandemic the publishing house opted to wait. The Gilded Ones is a good debut novel, but it felt clunky and clumsy at times. I wanted to like this book, I really did. It had some strong aspects to it that I found particularly interesting, but ultimately, there were some aspects that I couldn’t move past.

Here’s a quick synopsis:

Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, Deka prays for red blood so she can finally feel like she belongs. But on the day of the ceremony, her blood runs gold, the color of impurity–and Deka knows she will face a consequence worse than death.

Then a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. They are called alaki–near-immortals with rare gifts. And they are the only ones who can stop the empire’s greatest threat.

Knowing the dangers that lie ahead yet yearning for acceptance, Deka decides to leave the only life she’s ever known. But as she journeys to the capital to train for the biggest battle of her life, she will discover that the great walled city holds many surprises. Nothing and no one are quite what they seem to be–not even Deka herself.

THE WORLDBUILDING

One of the strongest aspects of The Gilded Ones was the worldbuilding. Forna built a beautifully diverse world with creatures that are both fantastical and terrifying, with an intricate culture and belief system that guides the character’s actions in their everyday lives.

Forna clearly spent a lot of time delving into the culture and fleshing out what this world would look like. It is rich, and complicated, and interesting, with all the hallmarks of high fantasy writing. However, it happened a few times where things were mentioned and spoken about, only to never be mentioned again. As a reader, this made it difficult to decipher what information was important to the plot, and what was only a passing element that we wouldn’t see again.

The world of The Gilded Ones is an intensely patriarchal society that is unabashedly misogynist. Girls are tested for their purity, and are forced to always be accompanied by a male relative after reaching adult age. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with including this in a story. However, what is odd is that The Gilded Ones is often touted as a feminist work. Although a case can be made as such, seeing as there are quite a few strong female characters, the story reads more as a dystopia akin to the Handmaid’s tale.

CHARACTERS

Whereas the worldbuilding was one of the strong suites of the book, I found that the characters were one of the story’s weaknesses.

The main character, Deka, was very two-dimensional, which is interesting considering the story was entirely told from her perspective. I found Deka’s character arc was not nearly as pronounced as it could have been. For a long time she remained stagnant as the narrative moved forward. It’s really only in the very few last pages that suddenly, her character flourishes in a surprising way that would have been nice to see earlier in the story. Ultimately though, I found it difficult to care for her, and never really got the impression that the reader got to actually know her very well. Her struggles through training were only glanced upon, which is a shame.

The book also bounced around between being so slow and introspective that it didn’t feel like anything was happening, to so fast that it was difficult to understand what was going on.

AIMED FOR THE RIGHT AUDIENCE?

The Gilded Ones was a very brutal and violent book. Although violence isn’t outside of the scope of YA literature, the violence in The Gilded Ones was often of a sexual nature that seems at odds with the YA genre.

Frankly, with a few changes to the quality of the dialogue, and with slightly older protagonists, this would have made a really great New Adult book. And with an older, more mature audience in mind, the dark themes of this work could have been thoroughly explored without the constraints of the YA genre.

Ultimately, I’m so far divided on this book. On the one hand it was refreshing and interesting to read a book with so many cultures and diverse characters. But then again, it also fell into many of the pitfalls that YA is critiqued for, and clumsily at that.

It’s a book worth reading, and I’m not giving up on the series just yet. But I think there are other books who deal with these very serious issues in a better manner.

Book review: Project Hail Mary

With a title like ‘Project Hail Mary’, you figure that whatever stakes there are in the story, they must be high. And for this story in particular, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Our sun is dying. Energy – the literal light is being leeched by an interstellar bacteria dubbed astrophage, feeding off of our star’s light. The sun dims at the same rate as astrophage brightens. No one knows anything about this new threat. How does it feed? How does it breed, and most importantly: where did it come from?

Only one thing is certain: the consequences of the sun’s dimming will be devastating. Global collapse of the world’s agricultural systems. Ecological devastation. War. Civil unrest. Pestilence.

The only way to have a fighting chance at saving Earth is to follow the astrophage back to their home planet, study it, and see what its weakness is. It’s a one-way journey. Here’s the synopsis:

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission–and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish. Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, he realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Alone on this tiny ship that’s been cobbled together by every government and space agency on the planet and hurled into the depths of space, it’s up to him to conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.

And thanks to an unexpected ally, he just might have a chance.

Part scientific mystery, part dazzling interstellar journey, Project Hail Mary is a tale of discovery, speculation, and survival to rival The Martian–while taking us to places it never dreamed of going.

THE PROS

One of the (many) successes of this book is that regardless of what is going on in the story, there is a constant sense of dread. Weir is particularly gifted at making it very clear how many ways this mission will likely go sideways, either on Earth or out in space. Every second that Grace takes to determine his surroundings means one more second of potential chaos on Earth. And time is running out quickly.

Project Hail Mary was very difficult to put down, as there was always something new and exciting that made me want to read more. The stakes were unbelievably high (saving the Earth and all human kind? No biggie). And reading about the science was really interesting.

Now, as a non-science person myself, I really appreciated how Weir explained very difficult concepts (well, difficult to me at least) in a really approachable way. Weir is a devout space nerd and hobbyist, and it shows in the quality of the writing that he indeed did a lot of research to make this book seems as fluid as it is. It made the story that much more realistic, and even if I didn’t grasp every scientific concept brushed upon in the book, I understood enough to follow along with the story and see the impact.

This book was an automatic five-star read for me. The story is told in two timelines: the present, where Grace is on the Hail Mary, and the past, which come in the form of burst of his memories. These memories also happen to contextualize what is happening in the present, and I found it a brilliant way to show the reader what happened, without telling them outright. The back and forth also did a great job in cranking up the tension, especially as it becomes clear that Earth’s position is even more dire than initially thought.

And, without giving any spoilers…the ending of the book was one of the most beautiful I’ve read in a long time. I teared up a bit reading those last few pages, and was completely taken by surprise.

THE CONS

Now, ‘cons’ is a strong word for me being really nitpicky about a few things in an otherwise fantastic book. But every work has parts that aren’t as strong as the whole.

Ryland Grace is a multi-dimensional character, and the flashbacks peel away aspects of his personality in a really elegant and thoughtfully executed way. One of Weir’s strengths as a writer is creating main characters that are easy to relate to.

Now, on to the ‘but’: For all of Ryland Grace’s personality traits, he reads very much like Mark Watney, the main character of Weir’s debut science fiction novel The Martian. They share near identical types of humour and react very similarly to different situations. Personally, I didn’t care much, since I enjoyed reading The Martian and liked the humor injected into the story. But I do concede that it might annoy readers.

Another nitpicky thing with some of the tertiary characters from Earth in the story is that they sometimes come across as a little one-dimensional according to their nationality. For example, Russians enjoying vodka, or Canadians being unabashedly positive. These are characters who do not appear for very long, and for whom it wouldn’t make sense to delve into their backstories for longer than necessary. But, it’s something important to mention.

If you enjoy science fiction stories, dystopias, or epic adventures, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Project Hail Mary ASAP. You won’t regret it!

Book review: House of Salt and Sorrows

Oh, I liked this book.

House of Salt and Sorrows (HoSS) is a Young Adult fantasy novel written by Erin A. Craig. It is a dark and twisted fairy tale retelling, with elements of mystery and horror woven through that keep you wondering what’s really going on the whole time.

Annaleigh lives a sheltered life at Highmoor, a manor by the sea, with her sisters, their father, and stepmother. Once they were twelve, but loneliness fills the grand halls now that four of the girls’ lives have been cut short. Each death was more tragic than the last—the plague, a plummeting fall, a drowning, a slippery plunge—and there are whispers throughout the surrounding villages that the family is cursed by the gods.

Disturbed by a series of ghostly visions, Annaleigh becomes increasingly suspicious that the deaths were no accidents. Her sisters have been sneaking out every night to attend glittering balls, dancing until dawn in silk gowns and shimmering slippers, and Annaleigh isn’t sure whether to try to stop them or to join their forbidden trysts. Because who—or what—are they really dancing with?

When Annaleigh’s involvement with a mysterious stranger who has secrets of his own intensifies, it’s a race to unravel the darkness that has fallen over her family—before it claims her next.

HoSS is one of the best standalone YA Fantasy books I’ve read, and is one of my top picks so far for this year. Unsurprisingly, I was first drawn to the book because of the title and the beautiful cover. The blurb also had me hooked – it seemed full of mystery and intrigue, and I immediately wanted to know more.

I had high expectations for this story for a few reasons, mainly because of the amount of positive reviews on Goodreads, but also because I’d heard so much about it from other fans in the genre. I’m very happy to say I was not disappointed. HoSS is a beautiful read that incorporates elements of magic effortlessly. These elements become so infused with the story as your progress that it’s easy to miss when this book goes from a creepy thriller to a full-on low fantasy novel, with mischievous forces hovering nearby, wreaking havoc.

Even if the novel is aimed at a YA audience, it deals with very real and very raw issues, such as the loss of a sibling (or rather, several siblings), the death of a parent, and what to do when the remaining parent remarries.

Craig masterfully created tension, friction and emotion through the character of Morella, new wife of Orton Thaumas and now stepmother to his collection of daughters. Morella instantly ignites frustration within the reader, after co-opting the funeral of one of Annaleigh’s recently deceased sisters to announce the happy news that she is pregnant with Orton’s child. She then continues to spark ire when she assumes that her son – as she is positive she is pregnant with a boy – will inherit the Thaumas fortune and estate.

Morella becomes an early target of dislike, however, as tragedy strikes the Thaumas household over and over again, it becomes apparent that there is more to this tale than just an evil stepmother. Soon, Annaleigh finds herself at the center of a high-stakes game played by mischievous divinities, where the veil between what is real and what is imagined wears thinner and thinner.

And as Annaleighs comes closer to solving the mystery of what evil is beseeching her family, her grip on reality also begins to loosen, leaving the reader confused as to what is actually happening. This is emphasized by the fact that Annaleigh is the only character through which we see the story – meaning her perceived reality, be it true or false, is the only one we are subjected to.

As mentioned, HoSS is a wonderfully crafted story with a plot that will keep you on the edge of your seat. One note, however, is that is can sometimes be confusing to remember which sister is which, and distinguish between their personalities. But even with this confusion, it isn’t terribly difficult to keep the characters separate from one another.

What would you do if you lost your imagination?

Have you pre-ordered your copy of The Imagination Machine yet? The Imagination Machine is a tale of friendship, adventure, and creativity. 

Sam thinks he has lost his imagination. When his friend Ophelia finds out, she offers to help him find it using the Imagination Machine! The machine has the power to bring you anywhere you can imagine. All you need to do is draw where you want to go.

I had so much fun putting this story together. As a young girl, I often worked on elaborate drawings and thinking up stories that went along with them. That creative streak is still with me today, and fuels my writing.

You can now pre-order your digital or hardcover copy of The Imagination Machine via kickstarter

By backing us, not only will you help in bringing this project to life, but you’ll also have the opportunity to get your copy of The Imagination Machine before anyone else. And to sweeten the deal, you’ll also have access to exclusive goodies like activity pages, a coloring book, and stickers!

Review: A Lair of Bones by Helen Scheuerer

How far would you go to follow your ambitions, regardless of how grand?

That’s the question that Roh, a cyren in Saddoriel, must ask herself after hearing that there will be another Queen’s Tournament, the first in 50 years. The tournaments are deadly, ruthless. But the winner – should anyone survive – will be crowned the next ruler.

A Lair of Bones (YA fantasy) by Helen Scheuerer is the first story in the upcoming Curse of the Cyren Queen Quartet. I had the absolute pleasure of reading an ARC in exchange for an honest review of the story. Here’s the synopsis:

A deadly contest. A vaulting ambition. How far will one cyren go to win?

Mighty cyrens have ruled the ancient lair of Saddoriel for centuries. A cavernous fortress, a subterranean labyrinth of tunnels and levels, powered by magic and music…

From the moment she was born, Roh, the daughter of an infamous criminal, has been despised by her own kind. Restricted to the Lower Sector and forced to work as a common bone cleaner, she has always believed she belongs above: where lies adventure… and power.

Opportunity arises in the form of the Queen’s Tournament, a treacherous set of trials that could see the victor crowned ruler of the entire lair. Up against the most cunning, dangerous cyrens in all the realms, does Roh stand a chance?

THE REVIEW

I absolutely loved this story, and had a hard time putting it down. It is dark, delicious, and filled with intricate culture and lore. One of the aspects that I enjoyed the most was that sirens (referred to as cyrens in the book) were the focus of the story. The beginning of the book was a tad slow, as there was a lot of information that needed to be conveyed to readers on the hierarchy, culture and society of the cyren characters portrayed. But the story quickly picked up, and as soon as the action ramped up, I raced through the rest.

These creatures, portrayed in Greek mythology as being half human and half bird, would lure sailors to their deaths through their song. The cyrens in A Lair of Bones are equally as ruthless, except that instead of being half bird they have more aquatic traits, such as the ability to breathe underwater and scales that appear on their skin. I’d never read a story featuring cyrens as the main characters before, and so it was very interesting to have them be the focus of the story.

Roh and her cyren folk are cunning and ambitious, with a deep appreciation for music and melody. They also have a healthy distaste of humans. Their lust for music and song often send members of Talon’s Reach up to the surface, to kidnap humans that display particularly gifted musical ability so they can play for them.

A Lair of Bones focuses on Roh and her ambition to win in the Queen’s Tournament. Roh wants nothing more than to don the coral crown and lead her people. She is the lowest of the low – the daughter of one of the worst criminals in history. Roh hopes that winning the crown will bring her the respect and appreciation she wants so badly. But to win the crown, Roh will need to be more cunning, ruthless, and brutal than all of the other competitors, who want the crown just as much as she does. The trials are designed to test participants in the most brutal ways possible, both physically and mentally. And for this edition, the designers of the trial have thrown in an extra twist by giving each cyren a human to take care of. Should the human die or become injured, then that means expulsion for the cyren.

At first, Roh is loath to take care of Odi, her designated human. She, as all cyrens, views humans as weak. Inferior. Easily dupped by the magic that surrounds the Lair. She grudgingly protects Odi from the wrath of other contestants. But with time, Roh comes to appreciate Odi’s presence – and his surprising insight.

One of the aspects that I appreciated the most about A Lair of Bones was the intricate culture and world that author Helen Scheuerer created. The cyrens have an intricate class system, a rich and vibrant culture, and an appreciation for music that runs so deep that it heavily impacts how cyrens live their lives and form their societies.

I highly recommend this story to readers who enjoy stories with fantastical creatures, dark storylines, and strong female characters. Roh is a well-rounded protagonist who is cunning, ambitious, and willing to do anything to achieve her goal. But she is also empathetic and kind, even though she doesn’t necessarily want to be.

A Lair of Bones will be available on Amazon as of July 20. You won’t want to miss the epic Dark Fantasy story!

Review: Throne of Glass series

There’s no rulebook for what to do once you finish a series that’s so epic that you question your abilities as a writer. At least, that’s how I felt earlier this week after finishing Kingdom of Ash, and therefore, finishing the entire Throne of Glass series for the first time. And let me tell you, it has been a wild ride.

Warning: this series review has spoilers. So if you haven’t read every book, from The Assassin’s Blade to Kingdom of Ash, I strongly recommend you stop reading this review, and instead read the series. Then make sure to tell me once you did, so I can talk to someone about it!

I’ve been very open about the fact that I had a ten-year long reading slump while I was finishing school, and that finally, mercifully, ended last year once I dove head-first into the publishing world and saw the wonderful books, especially in young adult fantasy, that had come out while I wasn’t paying attention.

Throne of Glass was one of the fantasy series that immediately caught my eye, for many reasons. The covers were neat. I heard good things about a strong female lead, whispers of a romantic interest, and a very good friend of mine confirmed it was one of the best series she’d ever read. And that for me was the final push I needed. Plus, the hardcover set was on deep discount, so…

The memory of reading the first book brings back a chuckle, because although I was fairly confident the story would be good, based on the hype I’d noticed for the series, I really had no idea of what to expect. An assassin? A king’s tournament? Alright, fine.

Now here’s an important point I want to clarify. As much as the series was amazing, it wasn’t perfect. But I truly believe that the merits of this series far outweigh any negative points. And the progression of Maas’s writing was something that was also really interesting to see.

It would be impossible to write a fully comprehensible review of the entire series while only having read it once. But there are several aspects that I really enjoyed that I want to focus on, so let’s do that.

The first is a little obvious, but let’s talk about the story for a minute.

THE STORY

The series begins with Celeana Sardothien imprisoned in Endovier, where she undergoes forced labor and whippings for bad behaviour – which is often. It ends with Aelin Galathynius Whitethorn Ashryver, in her palace in Orynth, overlooking a field of Kingsflame flowers – a divine approval of her as ruler of Terrasen.

And there’s a lot that happens in between.

The story, from start to finish, was always engaging and interesting. And it was really refreshing that the series had an ever-evolving goal, that changed with the information that was made available to the reader. It made sense for the goal to change, because our understanding of the world of Erilea changed. And while the goals themselves were lofty and grand (killing the king, bringing magic back, wiping Erawan out of existence), the obstacles that were in the way of the goals were equally just as insurmountable.

One thing I also appreciated about the series is how everything tied in together. Characters that we met in passing in The Assassin’s Blade suddenly became really important in Empire of Storms. Conversations and threads that were spun in Throne of Glass kept re-appearing throughout the series, such as the Wyrdmarks, Wyrdstone, or tales of great shadows and evils of the past.  

So yes, the story remained fresh over the course of eight books, which is a huge undertaking. And each book was its own self-contained narrative, while also fitting into the broader series ecosystem. The planning that author Sarah J. Maas had to do before even laying pen to paper must have been incredible to see.

Now on to the second part of what made this series so awesome: the characters.

THE CHARACTERS

As with most fantasy stories, there are a ton of characters in the Throne of Glass series. Some are part of each book, some only make a brief appearance. And then some come to play a much larger role than anyone would have thought. But there are two particular strengths that applies to all of these characters that I was to draw attention to.

For one, each of these characters is vastly different. Aelin is a much different person than Sorscha or Elide, for example. And Chaol is different from Aedion and Rowan. This is really a testament to Maas’s character-building skills. It’s difficult to write so many characters and have each one feel like a real person with goals and aspirations. And in a world with as many characters as the Throne of Glass series, it can be difficult to remember each of their names. But if each of these characters feels like its own unique person, then it’s easier to distinguish them.

For example: I cannot remember each name of the Khagan’s children. But I recognize their personalities enough to know who the Ruk-rider one is versus the horse-rider one. And that in itself is an important accomplishment, because it is difficult to make an entire cast of characters all feel different from one another. Some characters are deeply flawed, but those flaws make them who they are and help in turn to advance the narrative.

Secondly, nearly every single important character goes through a change. If characters did not change over the course of eight books, then the series would have been stagnant. But miraculously, every single character goes through a drastic arc, some even going through multiple changes over the course of the series.

This development, to me, was crucial in keeping me glued to the series and reading as fast as I could. Character arcs like Manon’s, for example, made me feel invested in the series. And her redemption arc, if you will, was one of the strongest. Even Aelin goes through a host of changes, some brought about by internal goals, some by external circumstances. These character arcs kept the reading fresh and went hand in hand with what they were experiencing around them in the story.

So what does one do, after reading an epic series of this magnitude?

I’m asking for myself, because I’m not sure what the answer is. As a reader, the series was incredible in ways I never could have anticipated. But as a writer, a not insignificant part of me is jealous. Jealous of how this series came together, and concerned that I might never be able to tell as good a story.

Oh well. Brooding on that point won’t accomplish anything. I’m better off honing my craft and sharpening my skills.

On to the next read, right?

If you’re curious, I did find that Maas’s writing style, and mine, are similar. So if you’re looking for a high fantasy read, consider giving the Sapeiro Chronicles: A Forgotten Past a try!

Pre-Order your copy of The Imagination Machine today!

What would you do if you lost your imagination?

Today is a very exciting day. After months and months of hard work planning, writing, and illustrating, my latest illustrated children’s book is finally open to pre-orders!

The Imagination Machine is a tale of friendship, adventure, and creativity. 

Sam thinks he has lost his imagination. When his friend Ophelia finds out, she offers to help him find it using the Imagination Machine! The machine has the power to bring you anywhere you can imagine. All you need to do is draw where you want to go.

You can now pre-order your digital or hardcover copy of The Imagination Machine via kickstarter

By backing us, not only will you help in bringing this project to life, but you’ll also have the opportunity to get your copy of The Imagination Machine before anyone else. And to sweeten the deal, you’ll also have access to exclusive goodies like activity pages, a coloring book, and stickers!

HOW TO LEVERAGE INSTAGRAM TO PROMOTE YOUR BOOK

Question time: how many platforms should authors have to promote their books?

Answer: it’s up to the author, and what you’re comfortable with. But whatever you do decide to do, make sure to do it well. It’s better to have two or three channels that are updated frequently than six or seven channels that you barely use.

My book, The Sapeiro Chronicles: A Forgotten Past, officially launched in June 2020. To prepare, I had my newsletter with a growing number of subscribers, a Facebook page that was active and updated often, and my website. I was comfortable with those channels and didn’t particularly see a reason to add anything else.

Then my brother, who works in marketing, suggested I add Instagram to my repertoire. I dug my heels in at first. Social media engagement doesn’t come naturally to me, and I’m much happier lurking on all these different platforms, rather than engaging with them. I had a hard time wrapping my head around it and didn’t really see the point of adding another platform.

But then a conundrum that I was facing became apparent. Most of the people following me on Facebook were friends and family. It was very difficult to reach out of my social circle without paying for ads, so the reach I had was limited.

I revisited my brother’s advice and took a closer look at Instagram. Finally, in August last year, I bit the bullet and started a page. And boy am I happy that I did!

Just like with any social media platform, Instagram has different communities where people with like-minded interests can gather and peruse each other’s content. There are audiences for cooking, home improvement, cats, dogs, and of course: books!

The book community, affectionally referred to as Bookstagram, boasts tens of thousands of user who are exceptionally active and engaged. It’s a thriving and supportive community of book lovers who share their interests and favorite reads. Since joining Bookstagram, I’ve made friends with people around the world and added more books than I will ever have time to read to my To Be Read (TBR) pile.

The platform is wonderful for many reasons. From a reader’s perspective, there are recommendations galore, beautiful bookish posts that draw the eye, and honest reviews of the hottest picks. If you curate your followers well, you can build a nice bubble of like-minded readers who also enjoy the same genres as you.

So here’s the thing: Bookstagram is a fantastic resource for readers, therefore, as an author, you can leverage the platform to reach an audience of hungry bookish individuals in the specific niche that you write in. With a little time and effort, you can build an audience that has an interest in your specific genre and market to them over time. As well, you can exponentially increase visibility of your book, meet with other authors in the same genre as you, and help find ARC readers for your next bit hit!

Here are a few things to keep in mind when starting your bookstagram, and tips on building engagement.

Learn how to use hashtags

First thing’s first: Instagram’s main draw over other platforms like Facebook is that it uses hashtags, like Twitter. Unless you specifically set your profile to ‘private’, your content can be viewed by anyone, without needed to be ‘friended’. This means that users can tailor their feed by subscribing to specific hashtags, or using said hashtags to find people sharing the content they want to see more of.

For example: someone interested in bookish things can follow #Bookstagram, which is a high-volume hashtag with billions of tagged photos. Now let’s say you want to see bookish content, but only for fantasy books. All you need to do is add in #fantasy.

By appropriately using hashtags on your images, you’re increasing the likelihood of reaching an audience that is interested and already engaged on the specific topic you are promoting. Not to mention that by following these hashtags yourself, you can connect with readers and other content creators in your genre, and maybe find opportunities to collaborate.

Instagram only allows you to use 30 hashtags per photo. This may seem like a lot, but it’s fairly easy to use them all up quite quickly! So choose carefully.

Engage with your audience

Posting a well-curated Bookstagram feed is one good step in fostering engagement and building a following. But what really makes a difference is how much you engage with other people. This means one of two things: either commenting on other people’s photos, or responding to comments on your own.  

The more you engage with other users, the more likely it is they will follow your page and engage with your own content. And that, more than anything, is what you want on your page. It’s one thing to have a ton of people following your page. It’s another thing entirely to have an engaged audience that interacts with your content.

In the fight between having a large following or an engaged audience, always opt for an engaged audience. A large audience that doesn’t interact with you isn’t worth much, and won’t help you in promoting your book.

Participate in engagement-building activities

There are plenty of opportunities to participate in engagement-building activities that allow you to meet awesome people around the world. Some are public, some are private, and some ask you to forward information.

Personally, I prefer the public ones, also known as follow loops, follow chains, or follow trains. Whatever the name attached, those are where I have met the most awesome bookstagrammers and have made the most friends.

Not all engagement-building activities are built the same. I’ve found the ones where I was invited to join in complicated follow chains to be largely not worth the effort, and not resulting in any actual engagement.

Ultimately, you need to decide what types of activities you enjoy the most and stick to what you feel most comfortable with. I regularly participate in, and host my own follow trains. It allows me to gain and meet bookish users, interact with an already engaged audience, and helps from an analytics point of view, to ensure my content is seen by the people I want to see it.

Plan your content, post frequently

The one downside (or upside, depending on how you look at it!) of any social media platform is that you need to make sure you post frequently to stay relevant. The more you post, the more likely it is people will interact with your page, and therefore the more likely that you’ll continue to be featured in people’s feeds.

When you create a Bookstagram account, I highly recommend that you pick a ‘creator’ account. It comes at no additional cost, but the major benefit is that it allows you to see your audience insights and see when your following is most active. Pick the three or four most active days, along with the times where your audience is most active and keep posting religiously.

It might seem like a headache, but the more frequently you post, the more likely you are to stay relevant. I find it helps to plan my posts in advance so I’m not scrambling at the last minute.

Obviously, there’s a whole lot more that goes into managing a bookstagram account than what I’ve included here. But consider it a baseline of knowledge to start from! And hey, if you do end up on Bookstagram, make sure to give me a shout.

Sapeiro Chronicles wins Silver in Literary Titan Book Awards

Some good news for 2021…The Sapeiro Chronicles: A Forgotten Past has officially won Silver in the Literary Titan Book Award!

This award makes my little Author heart ever so happy. It’s a small recognition, but one I am very proud of nonetheless. Not to mention that it starts the year off wonderfully!

You can read their full review here, as well as an author interview I did here.

Have you read A Forgotten Past yet? Get your copy on Amazon today: https://amzn.to/2V79PPO