How to do Instagram if you’re an author or writer

The boathouse on the Tamar, Fiona Stocker's ideal reading spot.

I’ve been on Instagram for a couple of years and posted all sorts of stuff: pics from my farm, food I’ve eaten, and ‘Author Shots’ – a series in which I recreate shots of great writers using myself as… err… the model.

'Jeanette Winterson', from the Author Shots series by Fiona Stocker

But lately I’ve focused my account more on what I love – books and reading. There’s a whole world of people out there doing the same and talking to each other: bookstagrammers. If you’re an author, you could do well to tap into this community. As ever, the first and biggest tip is to do it authentically, enjoy your time on Instagram, and try not to flog your book overtly at every turn.

I’m not an expert but I love it. Here are a few of the things I’ve picked up. My first tip: it’s not as hard as it might sound! Keep Instagram open on your phone as you read this and try some stuff out!

Your Profile

Try to update it every so often, so it’s a quick, catchy precis of who you are and has a mention of your book(s). Starting each line with an emoji is a thing, and makes it look a bit more interesting. I’m still thinking about location: my book sells well in the UK and I’m Englishwoman living in Australia, so I’ve got both places in my profile.

Fiona Stocker Writer Instagram profile

Your Link

Instagram allows you one link in your profile. Use a linktree for this. It’s free, and creates a single link which comes up with an index of your content – wherever you want to direct people: your website, your blog, your books on Amazon, your crowdfunding page. Don’t post any links in your Instagram posts. They won’t be live, Insta doesn’t work that way. Even more reason to get a linktree for your profile. Here’s mine. linktr.ee/fionastockerwriter

What sort of pics to post?

If you’re a writer, and you want to join in the #bookstagram fun, it needs to be relevant in some way. There’s a rich community of #bookstagrammers on Instagram – just look up either of those two hashtags. Some are writers, librarians and booksellers, but most are avid, insatiable readers. And as authors, that’s our market, right? And you’re probably a big reader yourself.

Some examples of bookstagram images that people post on Instagram.

Pics of books stacks – your latest library haul, bookshop buys, or your current to-be-read pile.

An image of a book you’ve read and a few thoughts on it. Or review it on your blog, and remind people they can find this through the linktree in your bio! Maybe show your hand holding the book, or a cup of coffee – it’s a thing. And include the name of the author or the book as a hashtag at the bottom. People will look them up, and they may stumble across your post in this way. If you’ve just read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, hashtag it for sure – on trend books will get you noticed.

If you love books, you might be reviewing them already on Goodreads. Compared to Instagram, that’s like shouting into a black hole. Switch to Instagram and people will actually read what you’ve written, and respond!

Pics of books with a cup of coffee. It’s a thing, a big thing – try looking up #coffeeandbooks. Pics of books with food, that’s a thing too – try #foodandbooks, #readingandeating. It may seem silly, but with every post you hashtag #booksandfood you stand the chance of being seen by someone with similar tastes to you, who might enjoy your posts – and your books.

Pics of your legs with a book sitting on them. Zoe Lea Writer does this, lots of people do it, featuring their funky socks. It makes for a great eye-catching pic. Pics of your desk. Helen Redfern Writer posts a pic of her desk every time, for an intriguing feed and seventeen thousand followers! Pics of your bedroom with an open book in it – #readinginbed. Pics of your reading room, reading spot, library. Pics of a view on the walk you took earlier, with your hand holding an open book in the foreground – #openbooklandscape.

Dogs and cats are, of course, gold. Got a cat that sits on your knee while you read? Keep your phone handy, Insta fame is yours for the taking.

What to write?

On Instagram, the text is called your caption. While some are short and snappy, there are people posting long book reviews, and there’s everything in between. People write as the muse takes them, and it’s good to develop your own style. Look up #bookstagram and see what appeals to you. One thing’s for sure, a long screed of text jumbled with hashtags and @ tags is messy and unreadable, and you’re wasting your time. I favour a few paragraphs separated by a full stop on an otherwise empty line to create some white space. Try to keep the writing good, as sometimes this makes an impression.

Hashtags

They’re the key to Instagram. You must use them to be found, and search on them to find other accounts you like. Look at the hashtags other Instagrammers use (try any of the ones I’m mentioning to get you started) and keep a list or two in ‘notes’ on your smartphone. You can then copy and paste them into your Insta posts. Vary them a bit with each post. It’s worth tapping them into Insta individually as the app suggests other similar ones worth exploring.

Post your hashtags well below your caption. Try doing five line spaces with a full stop on each of them, to create space and ‘hide’ the hashtags a little.

Don’t post with more than thirty hashtags, Instagram doesn’t allow it, and will post just the pic and none of your text. Avoid hashtags that are used millions of times, such as #bookstagram, as your post will just get lost. Look for hashtags whose useage is thousands not millions – #bookcrazy, #alwaysreading.

Comment and engage

Comment on other people’s posts – it’s just as important as posting. Search the hashtags you’ve used, visit the other accounts that come up, and comment. Follow people whose accounts you enjoy. Find a few whose posts have fewer comments, and join in.

Post meaningful comments, not just ‘ooh lovely pic’. Post your thoughts about their books. Don’t spend too long agonizing over one person’s feed unless you really love their content.

Avoid older posts as people may have moved on. If you comment on huge bloggers’ posts, you’ll likely just be lost in the noise.

Look for people you’d get along with in real life. I search out people posting about books and authors I like myself (pics of books and bookstacks are great for this). I don’t spend any time at all on twenty-somethings who read about dragons. Those aren’t my kind of book, and they’re not my readers. Somebody posting about Maggie O’Farrell’s memoir or fiction is a different story, as I love her books, and I write memoir myself.

Connect

The BBC Radio 4 program and podcast A Good Read has its own Instagram account and they love you to tag them and comment. @agoodreadbbc.

A great books podcast based in Australia is Diving In at @diving_in_podcast.

Lots of book bloggers are on Instagram. If you have a blog tour organized for you, interact with the ones who review your book. One particular blogger wrote a lovely review of my book and really ‘got’ it. A year later we have a beautiful Instagram friendship which I really enjoy.

How often to post

You’ll see advice saying once or twice daily, but you don’t want to live on Instagram! I follow successful ‘grammers who post just once every few days. This allows time for people to discover your posts. It helps if there is activity on your feed – people liking and commenting, and you replying. If that’s happening, the Instagram algorithm keeps your post current, (I’m guessing here but I think this is how it works) and you don’t really have a reason to post another pic, as this one’s working hard for you.

Repetition

If you’ve got a successful post, I’ve seen advice saying post the same kind of pic again. Zoe Lea Writer does this with her blue sofa. But then it is a very handsome blue sofa.

Insights

If you’ve got an up-to-date phone or tablet, click on the ‘burger’ at top right and it takes you to insights about how your account is working. This is gold. Look out for the days of the week when you get more traction, and consider posting more on those. I sometimes post morning and evening on those days. You can also see the times of day that work for you. I do a lot of calculating what time it is in the UK and Australia, and posting for when everybody’s awake…

Consider using filters

If you really want to improve the look of your feed, filters are the go. You can of course use the Instagram filters (although that makes my graphic designer shiver), but to go one step better, try the VSCO app. Import your pics into it and select from the twelve free filters. Use the same one with each pic and it gives your feed a consistent look. I like C2, which makes the colours pop. A faded vintage look is very current right now – try F2.

Where VSCO really comes into its own is that is has a ‘sharpen’ and ‘clarity’ function as well. You can take a half-baked smart phone shot and make it look like David Bailey took it. This is handy, as you really want your photos to stand out.

Emojis

Use them! If you’re over forty and went to a grammar school, you’ll find this hard at first. You get over it.

Everything is easier on a recent model smartphone. My iPad is outdated and I can’t ‘heart’ people’s comments. That shit is important. If you ‘like’ somebody’s comment, they get a notification about it. That’s your name appearing in front of them one more little time. Call me cynical, but that’s a touchpoint.

Addiction warning!

Be careful you don’t get addicted. Sometimes I think about Instagram more than my current writing projects. Time to refocus!

Some favourite bookstagrammers

Check out some of my favourite Instagrammers who aren’t too ginormous: @sarahtebb @zoeleawriter @helenredfernwriter @sweptawaybybooks @ab_reads @podsticles @hayaisreading @thebookishglow @virginia_reads

Post to Facebook from Instagram

Connect your account to your Facebook page or profile. Each time you post on Instagram, the same post goes automatically to Facebook. You should, ideally, open up Facebook every so often and reply to comments there. I find Facebook useful for the groups, but am there less and less for anything else. On Instagram it’s much easier for people to find you, and I’m having way more fun there.

Go public

Make sure your account is set to a ‘business’ or public account; otherwise only your mates can see you.

When you’re ready, investigate ‘Stories’ – the next step!!

Does it work?

Does this all convert to book sales? All I can say is that in the two months I’ve focused on posting with more book content, my listings on Amazon are ranking higher, and I’m not doing much else.

Happy posting! If you like what you’ve read here, follow along with me on Instagram – Fiona Stocker Writer. Leave a comment letting me know you’ve read this post, and I’ll follow you back.

If you REALLY like what you’ve read here, try my book! Apple Island Wife: what happens when you move to the country with an alpaca-whispering husband and a feral cockerel for company. It’s a little like River Cottage but with better hair and glasses. Steven Lamb, author and presenter at the Cottage, says it’s ‘heartwarming and hilarious … compulsive reading for anyone who thinks they’re not living the life they should.’ Guaranteed to take your mind off Instagram.


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