The other day, a high school freshman walked up to my book signing. When I asked if she had a Facebook account, she said, “No, Instagram.”
I should’ve known. For a while now, I’ve heard that Instagram is the new social media place for writers, but it felt confirmed in that moment. Younger generations (and even some older ones!) flock to Instagram for its feed of beautiful pictures.
So how can writers use Instagram to their benefit? Here are some easy things to keep in mind to find and engage your target readership on Instagram.
1. Use Hashtags Strategically
Hashtags help your Instagram posts be seen by people not following you. There are countless numbers of hashtags you can add to your post, but if you add more than 30, Instagram deletes your caption entirely—so keep below that limit.
To find the hashtags where your readers are hanging out, looking through #bookstagram is a good place to start. If nothing else, find authors with books similar to yours and see what writing hashtags they’re using and copy those.
Here’s an example of a post where I’ve added hashtags.
2. Run Giveaways
Giveaways help you gain followers while marketing your book at the same time. I’ve found my most successful giveaways include signed copies of books or bigger prizes. I also love pairing a signed copy of my book with a signed copy of an even more well-known author in a genre similar to my own. That way, I can draw on that author’s established fanbase. Plus, more people will want that more well-known book and enter.
I set up the giveaway so that entrants have to tag a certain number of friends (I’ve found two to three to be a good number) in the comments section to enter. Thus, those friends see the giveaway and hopefully enter too.
Note: There is some official language you need to include in your giveaway, which you can find out about here.
3. Stick to the 80/20 Rule
There’s a marketing rule that says you should promote your own work 20% of the time and post other things 80% of the time. If you simply self-promote over and over again, people will get bored with your content and unfollow.
Instead, share engaging, new content that relates to what you write—maybe fan art of your character, an idyllic setting that could appear in your books, you sitting at your computer writing. Figure out what posts get the most interaction and lean on those.
4. Engage Engage Engage
Find out what other Instagrammers your ideal reader follows and engage with their posts. Strike up conversations with fans about shared passions, and you might just find yourself with new followers.
5. Make Opportunities
Make anything into an Instagram opportunity—especially something you were already using for marketing purposes. Did you just get some cool new swag or bookmarks—either for your book or someone else’s? Post that! And tag the authors/creators/gifters/whomever, so they might see it and comment.
When I had my book launch party, I had a massive book-themed cake. Not only was it delicious, but it made for a great picture—a picture that had my book placed front and center as the cake topper!
6. Post Often
Don’t go weeks (or even a week!) without posting. Try to post every day if you can. This will keep you top of mind and show Instagram that you’re an active user.
Experiment to see what times of day get you the most engagement. If your target market is teens, posting at 9 a.m. on a Tuesday may not be great because they’re most likely in school. Try to think like your target market to see when they might be online. Again, when in doubt, copy the authors you follow and post when they do.
7. Ask Questions
Asking questions in your caption gives people something to comment on, and the more comments your post gets, the more likely the Instagram algorithm will think it’s engaging content and push it to more feeds.
You can ask followers what they’re reading, what their favorite book is, or what they plan to read this weekend. For example, two days before A Touch of Gold launched, I posted this photo asking followers what they would turn to gold if they had the power.
8. Don’t Buy Followers
While it may be tempting to spend a few dollars to increase your following quickly, those fake followers aren’t going to be liking your content, commenting on your posts, or buying your books. It’s best to build your following organically so you know you have followers who actually like what you do.
9. Sponsor a Post
Using Facebook, you can create ads that run on Instagram, and boosting a post can be a great way to target your readers. Just keep in mind that if you’re cross-promoting across Facebook and Instagram with the same ad, a whole bunch of hashtags don’t look good on a Facebook ad—and no hashtags means your discoverability on Instagram won’t be as good. So create a good balance. I recommend hiding hashtags below text so they can’t be seen on Facebook if you’re promoting the ad on both.
10. Study and Experiment
No one will look at your pictures if they’re out of focus, boring, or uninteresting. Study what other authors and bookstagrammers are doing in their photos and copy them. Use interesting props (some of which you can find at the Dollar Store!). Experiment with lighting and angles. Use good backdrops. A sheet can work in a pinch, but I’ve found regular black or white poster boards provide a good, clean backdrop.
For more inspiration
Check out some of my favorite Instagrammers:
Additionally, Instagrammer mybookfeatures curates great book content from all over Instagram. Whatever photos you post, try to keep consistent themes throughout so people will start to recognize them as yours!
Annie Sullivan is the author of A Touch of Gold (Blink/HarperCollins, 2018), about the cursed daughter of King Midas. She grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana, and received her master’s degree in Creative Writing from Butler University. She loves fairytales, everything Jane Austen, and traveling. Her wanderlust has taken her to every continent, where she’s walked on the Great Wall of China, found four-leaf clovers in Ireland, waddled with penguins in Antarctica, and cage dived with great white sharks in South Africa. You can follow her adventures on Twitter (@annsulliva) or her blog.