Most authors I know have Twitter accounts and Facebook pages, but few of us have dared to venture beyond, into…
Dun, dun, dunnnnn!
If you don’t already have an Instagram, you might be thinking: isn’t it just pictures? Isn’t that more of, you know, an illustrator thing?
If you do have an Instagram, you may have found yourself wondering how you can best use the platform to promote your writing.
Instagram is pretty popular with the younger crowd. You know… people in their 20s. The parents of some 4 year olds. The future parents of the future kids who will be reading your books.
Even if you don’t have a book out yet, it’s never too early to start networking and growing your following. There are plenty of pre-published people who are mighty popular (not me, but I swear these people exist…) and when they do get published, they’ll be one step ahead with a built-in fan base.
If you’re suddenly thinking, Hmm, maybe I should jump on this Instagram train… Fear not! I’m here to tell you everything you need to know, step by step.
- Keep your author & personal accounts separate- If you already have a personal Instagram, I recommend creating a separate author account. This way, your account can focus specifically on your author platform. (Bonus: if you’re someone who likes privacy, a separate author account keeps any creepy people from peeping on your personal life.) Your author account should be public so that anyone can discover your posts.
- Choose the ‘Business Account’ option– Similar to Twitter, this will allow you to view analytics, such as how many people view your posts and what actions, if any, were taken (i.e. how many people clicked a link or visited your profile). The Business Account option will also let you identify yourself as an author on your profile.
- Stick to your brand- As noted above, this is your author account. It’s great if you’re also a personal trainer who loves to cook (go you!), but your account should have a clear identity, a.k.a., your brand. If you’re posting 1/3 about writing/books, 1/3 about food, and 1/3 about workout routines, your brand is going to feel muddled and confusing.
- Use a consistent filter (or at least adjust the lighting)- A big part of Instagram is, of course, the pictures! Before you start posting, think about what vibe you want for your account. If you write humorous picture books, you might want your photos to be bright, vibrant, and eye-catching. If you write sweet, lyrical picture books, you might want a soft look to your photos. Whatever you do, either stick to the same filter for all posts, or don’t use one at all. Either way, be sure to adjust brightness settings so that users can clearly see each image.
Instagram beginner? Here’s how to add a photo: Click the + at the bottom of your screen. You can either take a picture or select one from your camera roll. Got a picture? Hit ‘Next’. You will see different filters at the bottom, along with an Edit button that allows you to adjust the lighting an add effects to your photos. After making any adjustments, hit ‘Next’ again to add a caption, along with your desired hashtags—more on those below—and post!
- Use hashtags strategically- Let’s talk about hashtags and how to use them. On Instagram, users can follow hashtags to see posts they’re likely to enjoy, based on their personal interests (#bookstagram, for example). Using the right hashtags is a way for users who don’t already follow you to connect with your account; but this only works if you use hashtags your audience already follows. For example, if I post a picture of my daughter reading a favorite picture book, I might use the following hashtags: #childrensliterature #picturebook #raisingreaders. It’s not effective to use your own, made-up hashtags, like #SarahRoseReadsABook #EightYearsOld #ShesSoCute #AppleOfMyEye. These hashtags won’t drive users to follow your account, since they’re likely not hashtags people are following.
- Use the 80/20 rule- If you have a book (or a few books) out, only post about your own work 20% of the time. The rest of the time, post about other writing/bookish things: other books you enjoy, inspirational quotes about writing, your workstation, your favorite literary teacup or coffee mug. The exception: if you’re a super-famous author with a bazillion books, you can probably safely post about them frequently with enough variety that it won’t get monotonous for your followers; but if you have one book coming out (so far!), avoid the temptation to post the cover on repeat, even if it’s just as good as that catchy 500 Miles song by The Proclaimers.
- Use the 80/20 rule again- The same rule applies to writing/book related posts and personal life posts. It’s great to show your followers that you’re a real person, and therefore the occasional picture of yourself, your family, or a non-writing-related hobby you enjoy is fine; but ideally books and writing should be your main focus.
- Post frequently, but not too much- Instagram uses an algorithm to determine how followers see your posts. Posts appear in order of relevance (not chronologically). No one really knows exactly how the secret formula works, but rumor has it that the more frequently you post, the higher up in users’ feeds your posts will appear. The sweet spot seems to be posting once a day, or at least several times per week.
- Think about composition- When you’re looking at a user’s profile, you’re viewing their “grid”—the lineup of their most recent twelve photos. Think of your grid like a gallery exhibit: it should look cohesive in some way. Check out different accounts and see how they play with a mix of images, quotes, and graphics. Decide what vibe you want for your own account, and plan your posts accordingly. (Also, when taking pictures for your Instagram, think about the composition of the photos themselves. Take several photos, and play around with angles. What will make an interesting view?)
- Use stories to your advantage- Instagram stories are a great way to share images that don’t look quite right on your grid, as well as fun videos, promotions for books and blog posts, and more. With analytics, you can also see whether your stories are driving users to visit your account. Check out the stories of popular accounts for inspiration, and don’t be afraid to play around with fun captions, stickers, and gifs.
For beginners: You can add to your Instagram Story—which stays up for 24 hours and then disappears—by tapping the + sign next to your profile picture, or swiping right while viewing your feed. If you want to save your story longer, click the ‘Highlight’ button at the bottom to add the story post to the top of your profile.
- Promote yourself- I use my account to promote my blog posts, book deals, and books I love. Instagram allows you to include a website link on your profile, and I always include the link to my most recent blog post. I also post images that correlate with my blog. For example, while promoting my blog post on top-notch titles, I posted several images of book covers representing different title types (i.e. titles that ask questions, titles based on popular fairytales, alliterative titles, etc.) Use your Instagram account to drive users to connect with you in other ways: your website, Twitter, and Facebook accounts.
- Have fun!- Instagram is honestly my favorite platform. (Ssh… don’t tell Twitter.) Be sure to follow and connect with authors and illustrators you enjoy. (If you decide to start an account or have one already, you can find the link to connect with me below.)