Instagram for Writers

I didn’t think this was ever going to happen, but it’s happening. I am touching a marketing topic–not with a ten-foot pole, but with my grubby little fingers. INSTAGRAM!

There’s a ton of info out there on how to market on Instagram, but most of it isn’t for writers. How can a writer use Instagram??? We’re word people. We write in dimly lit cave dwellings that don’t photograph well. We lead boring lives shackled to our computers.

I have bad news. If you’re self-promoting, no one cares anyway. I love this Delilah Devlin post on the topic of self-promotion. No one cares about your book (or my book) and you can’t use social media to interact with your fans when your only fan is your mother (thanks for reading my blogs, Mom). Everyone has a book. Everyone is writing a book. Many of the writing/reading hashtags on Instagram are filled with people self-promoting. They might follow you, but odds are they’ll unfollow if you don’t follow back because they’re just trying to sell their own books or services. That’s not helpful to anyone.

How do you get Instagram famous? Already be famous. Or be pretty and post a lot of selfies. It can be a really superficial platform if you let it. At least fifty of my followers are ghosts, and most of my likes are from bots. If I wanted to boost my ego, I could go ahead and buy a few thousand followers. Or pay for a bot to follow and unfollow accounts and inflate my numbers that way. But that’s wicked fake.

(Obligatory post soundtrack. Jason Derulo CAN make you famous on Instagram.)

So why bother? You might not want to. I just really like Instagram. I like playing with the filters and sharing pics of my noodle bowls and where I’m traveling. Someday I’d love to use it to repost fan-generated collages and #bookstgram posts, but until then, I like it as it is. It’s fun to see what the bloggers I’ve made friends with are reading and up to. It’s fun to browse through the writing memes. It’s fun to follow Etsy shops and foodies in my city and look at things that have nothing to do with being an author.

Instagram as a beginning/mid-career writer is all about making connections. That’s it. That’s the secret.

When most people talk about marketing books on Instagram, they go straight to photography. Take better photos. Learn composition. Use editing software. That’s great if you’re a photographer and/or interested in photography, but I’m not. I don’t want you to like my pictures. I want you to like my books and the more time I spend learning to take photos, the less time I have to write and improve myself as a writer.

Here’s the best news in this post. If you’re an author, the quality of your photos makes close to zero difference. Look at John Green’s Instagram. He’s already a big name, but I don’t see him posting from a photo shoot. It’s selfies, movie stars, vacations–a slice of his life.

Look at Colleen Hoover’s Instagram. It’s her kids, her life, and the action is in the captions where she shows her sense of humor, which is why we read her books in the first place. 

Five people at this table. Someone’s getting shafted.

A photo posted by Colleen Hoover (@colleenhoover) on

For these big names (and all us writers) followers are readers–not photography fans.

If you want to play in #bookstagram, that’s a whole different ballgame. You’re gonna need some white bookshelves, twinkle lights, a crate of Funko vinyls, and a studio-quality lighting setup. The pictures on there are fun and beautiful, but incredibly staged. It’s mostly where the readers party. If staging photos plays to your strengths and you enjoy doing it, then go to town! It’s definitely one way to build a following and I will for sure like your pics.

Unfortunately, a following doesn’t sell books. Neither do double-taps. The equation is much more complicated than that.

When we talk about writers who are killing it on Instagram, the examples people give are always their favorite writers. Is Colleen Hoover killing it on Instagram? Absolutely, and she gets a ton of credit for putting so much of her personality into her photos. She’s also a break-away success and at this point in her career, she has a bajillion loyal fans who’d probably make her successful on most other platforms, too.

Which writers are specifically good at Instagram?

Adriana Locke is a perfect example. I have never met or interacted with her so there is zero bias when I say that she has got this Instagram thing Locked down (no pun intended?). I found her account through bloggers–in one of her book acknowledgments, she thanked her loyal Insta-followers by their handles and the bloggers were freaking out with appreciation and love. Isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t that perfect? Sure it was also a marketing move, but it felt totally authentic because Adriana’s account is REAL. It’s her life. It’s pictures of her kids, book quotes, memes, fan reposts. Nothing about it feels staged. She’s just interacting with fans and living her life, and that’s exactly what I want from an author on Instagram.

He reminds me of Cane Alexander here. 😍 #repost @charliehunnamforever

A photo posted by Adriana Locke (@authoradrianalocke) on

Another case study is Nicole Peeler. And this one is definitely biased because Nicole was my MFA mentor, but still, I love her posts. They’re all booze, humor, and her adventures (and foodventures) through Pittsburgh–and that matches perfectly with the content of her books. It’s marketing in one way and yet it feels totally natural. You like looking at this stuff? You’re going to love my stories. Boom.

#sexbomb #winterwalkies

A photo posted by Nicole Peeler (@nicolepeeler) on

Or Simone Pond. I have no connection to her, but I love her feed. It’s like, this is my dog, this is my desk, this my exasperated face when some dude is talking at the cafe. Plus reposts of other people’s pretty #bookstagram posts. It’s real. It’s doesn’t feel like anyone is forcing her to Instagram for marketing purposes, but it’s also not trying to image craft some glamorous picture of writing life that I don’t believe. It’s just the writer trying to do this whole writing thing, and I respect that. I will follow that.

Bottom line:

Readers (especially book bloggers) are tired of having books shoved in their faces. If you use millions of hashtags you look like a spammer. If you’re all BUY MY BOOK, FOLLOW ME, GIVE ME ATTENTION, people will block you. Even being good at Instagram doesn’t sell books–but being a PERSON–showing that you’re not a marketing bot–makes you a lot more likable, approachable, and interesting as a writer among so many other aspiring and working writers. In this over-saturated ebook world, that’s the best you can do.

It’s a paradox. Social media can be a great tool for putting yourself out there… And yet it can also be a huge, useless time suck. So here are my tips for using Instagram as a writer:

  • Interact. Don’t be a snob who doesn’t follow anyone. Also don’t be obnoxiously posting follow for follow requests (I will block you so hard), but if you’re going to use the Instagram, use it as a platform to make connections. Until you already have a legion of fans, that means geeking out over books that aren’t yours and showing your other interests. Yes, share news if you have a book on sale or a special blog post you want to pimp, but that shouldn’t be the focus of your feed.
  • Be authentic (not Socality Barbie authentic). I don’t want to follow staged. I want your version of authentic whether that’s a blurry photo of your fourth cup of coffee on deadline or a perfect pastel shot of your workspace. Although fair warning, we’re all going to know if you don’t really have a perfect pastel workspace ; ) (See Jenny Han or R.S. Grey for examples of photo-savvy authors who are believably authentic). The reasons people will like you are probably the reasons they’ll like your books, so show yourself and your style, whether you’re perky or macabre or a sarcastic mess.
  • Have reasonable expectations. You will not get 10k followers overnight (unless you pay for them). You will get followers one at a time, and if you’re doing it right, you probably have to get to know them first. Have a little romance, y’know? Don’t elevator pitch on a first date. Even if you do get five million followers and ten million hearts, you’re not going to sell fifteen million books, so take a step back. Don’t obsess over followers and likes that mean nothing. Wouldn’t your time be better spent writing??
  • Be practical. If you don’t like Instagram, don’t use it. You don’t have to be on every social media platform and Instagram is no exception. If you take terrible photos and you think it’s a stupid platform, then stop wasting your time because anything you post is going to smack of I’m just doing this to market myself because everyone says I have to do this to market myself. Experiment with something else if you must. Try vlogging, Vine, Bubbly, Periscope, or the million other platforms that are so new and cool that I haven’t heard of them yet. Find what helps you showcase your talents, but doesn’t feel like a chore.
  • Be a writer. You are not a photographer. You are a writer. I repeat. You are a writer. You are not using Instagram to connect with photographers or food bloggers or to become a celebrity. You are using Instagram to connect with readers. Readers will follow you because they like you and/or because they like your books. Not because they like pictures of your books. Not because you have a slick brand.
  • Have fun. Post your dinner. Post selfies. Post your bookshelves. What is much less important than how. Tell me a story in the captions. Share excerpts in your handwriting. Share videos. If you’re a great photographer, then use those skills. If not, do something else that only you can do. Because if it’s not fun and it’s not selling books, then why are you bothering?

And now it’s your turn. Who are your favorite authors on Instagram? Who do you think we should all follow for Instagram knowledge? Please share in the comments!

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