Bookstagram for Beginners
I get several DMs daily asking me every type of bookstagram question that you can possibly imagine. So last week, I put up the question box in my stories and invited everyone to ask any and every thing that they wanted to know about bookstagram. I got so many responses that I am breaking it down in to three separate posts. Today’s post will be geared more to the basics of Bookstagram. The second post will be about content creation/pictures and what goes on behind the scenes. A little tea may be spilled, because let’s face it, we all know not everything is rainbows and unicorns 24/7 in our lovely land of books - but no one really talks about that part. The last post will be geared towards authors and the do’s and don’ts that you need to be aware of. I reached out to several of my favorite writers and am still going through their feedback about what they would love to see more of from us. I am by no means an expert, and everyone’s experience on this platform is different, but I am happy to share what I have learned from my time here on Instagram.
So let’s get right to it! Hands down, the number one question that I am asked has always been:
How do I get lots of followers?
If you are only here for a high follower count at the top of your page, then this is not the article for you. You can always buy followers (don’t do it!) or you can join a Facebook or Insta pod, and unfortunately I can’t help you there. For those of you scratching your heads wondering what on earth a pod is — a pod is a group usually set up on Facebook that consists of a large number of accounts, (some numbering in the thousands). Every time someone posts, they go to the pod, say they posted and then all of those accounts go to their post and comment on it and like it. This drives up the initial engagement, tricking the algorithm and pushing that post up. If you are in a large pod, the interaction and follower shout outs can drive your numbers up insanely high in a very short period of time. These accounts are very easy to spot, so if it’s big numbers you want, then do a little digging on google (there are tons of articles out there on this topic).
How did you begin?
I started my book account a little over two years ago after following Crime By the Book from my personal Instagram account for months. I loved her pictures, I loved her reviews and I wanted to be a part of the amazing community that I saw on her posts every day. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I can remember being nervous and intimidated because I had no clue what I was doing or how to go about doing it. Luckily, I stumbled across Chandra @wherethereadergrows and Jessica of @jessicamap and we clicked. They were kind enough to take me under their wing and they were always willing to answer the questions I had. They blew my mind by introducing me to the wonderful website that is Netgalley. Netgalley has almost ALL OF THE ARCS that you see in hard copy on Instagram on their website in digital form. Yes, you read that right. ALL THE BOOKS. All you need is to set up an account, and start requesting titles. This is where I started. I would request a book, read it and review it and so on. The publicists read the feedback that you put on Netgalley and this is how I made my first connections with publishers. From there, I began to research titles to see what was coming out and started emailing and requesting ARCs.
How do I ask publishers for ARCS?
This is the second most frequently asked question that pops up in my DMs. I have worked in a business environment for almost 20 years, so I thought about what I would want to see if I was a publicist getting hundreds of book request emails a day and that’s the approach I took when I began requesting advanced copies. If someone sent me an email that said “hey I want a free copy of such and such”, I probably would not answer that. But, if someone sent me an email introducing themselves and talked about an upcoming title and why they wanted to review it and included links to their social media accounts and showed passion for the book instead of just a blanket statement about getting free books, then I would absolutely respond to that. The publishers are in the business of marketing, so pitch yourself and market your account to them. Will you always get a response? No. Will a publisher say they would love to send you a copy and then they never do? Yes, this happens fairly frequently. Please know that big follower numbers do not guarantee you all the ARCS. When I was requesting ARCS, I would get denied all the time.
There is currently a movement on Bookstagram called #ownvoicesreviews and it is a very important one. It addresses the lack of diversity within the publishing world when it comes to the distribution of advanced copies. Obviously, a bookstagram account has no control over a publishers selection process or who they choose to send ARCs to. However, we do have the power to recommend other POC accounts when a diverse title comes across our path. Seji, who runs @theartisangeek, is the one who has spearheaded this movement and I have linked her video here. I encourage you to watch it to learn more about what is taking place.
What are the rules for posting ARCS?
This is a hot topic on bookstagram and people tend to get very preachy and shouty about this. It is my rule of thumb to always go straight to the source. Ask the publicist what their posting requirements are regarding ARCs. Often times, a paper will be enclosed along with the book you receive and it will give you an exact example of what they want you to say. I have worked with some publishers who require absolutely nothing, and then others require several specific sentences. Always check with your contact and you can’t go wrong.
Photo Challenges, Hashtags and Themes
Instagram can be a very intimidating place when you are just getting started. A great way to meet and engage with other accounts is to participate in photo challenges. A photo challenge is something that an account will host monthly and every day you have a prompt for your post. These prompts are awesome because they can help you with inspiration for a picture and it’s also a fun way to keep your content fresh. All you need to do is search #bookchallenge, #bookchallenges and down the rabbit hole you go.
This is a perfect example of why hashtags on your post are important - it makes it so much easier to find things. I hashtag the title of the book that I am reading, I include my account name in my hashtags and any other relevant tag that I can think of that applies to my post. I do not know the magic number of hashtags to use to beat the algorithm beast, but I do change up some of my tags every day. Which tags should you use? That all depends on the content of your post. Hop on to Instagram and start researching. There is a hashtag for almost every thing.
I also am asked frequently about themes. Should you have one? The great thing about bookstagram is it’s your account. Go crazy! Get creative! You can do whatever you want! If you want to try a theme for a little while to see if it suits you, go for it! If you prefer a more random and casual approach to things, then run your account that way. The options are endless and you get to call the shots. No one starts their account and it is instantly gorgeous and all the images flow and everything is perfect. It takes a while to find your groove and your style. Play around with filters, play with props, try different angles… eventually you will figure out what you like and what works best for your aesthetic.
Taking Other People’s Pictures or the Writing from their Posts Without Their Consent
Don’t do it. Just. No. Bookstagram is a notoriously friendly and encouraging community. BUT, take somebody’s picture or their written work without asking them and the claws come out real fast. And rightly so. Everyone works very hard on the images that they post. A lot of time and effort goes in to every photograph. I will never understand why some accounts take something that someone else created and try and pass it off as their own. The same goes for reviews and the written body of posts. Now, for me, if I tag an author or a publisher in a post, then they can repost that image with credit all day long. Several authors use the repost app (which is awesome) because it basically does everything for you. If you have not been tagged in a picture and want to use it, ALWAYS reach out to the account and ask them if you can first.
This is another thing I just don’t understand. Now, I will say that occasionally, Instagram gets glitchy and you log on and you are no longer following people that you know you have been following forever. This is not the same thing as that author that follows you, then unfollows you, every other day for three straight months. Perhaps they are not aware of the apps that track this activity and show the accounts that do this. Perhaps they are aware of these apps and they don’t care. If this is happening to you and it bothers you, there is a wonderful little tool called the Block button. I highly recommend trying it out if you find yourself in this situation.
How do you balance the time you spend reading vs. the time you spend on Bookstagram?
Balance is key with social media and it is something that I think every single account struggles with from time to time. This past January I made some significant changes to how I run things and it has helped me tremendously. I post early in the morning so I am able to respond to comments before I go in to work. I jump back on during my lunch break and catch up with any other comments and DMs at that time. And then I hop back on late in the evening after the homework is done and everyone is in bed. That’s it. I work 50+ hour weeks, I am a wife and a mother and I try to have a social life as much as I can, so it is just not realistic for me to live on my phone. Also, I would rather be reading! When I find myself spending more time curating my account about books then actually reading the books then I know it’s time to step back and make some adjustments.
Regarding how I get my reading done -I carry books with me everywhere! They are in my car, in my purse, in tote bags, on my desk at work and everywhere in my house. If I get even five spare minutes of free time during the day, I pull a book out and read. You would be surprised how quickly that time adds up. I am a night owl, so I do most of my reading at night after everyone has gone to sleep and I will also say that I do read very fast.
Engage! Engage! Engage! Jump in and do the thing. If you are a newer account, I know it can be daunting to open up the app, see all the posts, and just start commenting. Do it any way! This community is like no other. We are all so different in so many ways, but we are all united by our love for the written word, discovering new authors and shouting about our favorite reads from the roof tops. My TBR has quadrupled since starting Instagram. HOORAY!!! I have had more amazing conversations with authors that I admire through this platform and I am a better reader and person because of it. The possibilities here truly are endless, so take a deep breath and just dive in.
And lastly, my best tip is BE YOU. No one else brings the perspective and creativity that you are bringing to this platform. Bookstagram would be very boring if we all posted the exact same thing. Don’t go in thinking you will never have “x” amount of followers or your pictures will never look like so and so’s. You do you. Also, don’t fall in to the trap of thinking that what you see here is real life because it is not. This is the internet. It is not real. You are seeing a staged, curated snap shot set up to promote and highlight a book. That’s it. Bookstagram is not a competition and every single person started out the same way. You will not build your account over night, it does takes time, but I promise you if you actively engage, this platform will connect you to an incredible community. You will discover so many amazing titles and people that it will change your reading life forever.