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.