I'm so excited to talk about one of my favourite online spaces, Bookstagram! It's a wonderful place to be for both writers and readers, and I've made so many friends there who I adore and cherish. Bookstagram has been the source of my beta and ARC readers, a place to promote my books and my clients' books, and has so many other benefits.
What is Bookstagram?
Bookstagram (a mash-up of “books” and “Instagram”) is the name of the reading community on Instagram. Readers create book-dedicated accounts through which they follow each other’s reading updates and share photos of books, book reviews, and other book-related content such as reels. They can participate in trends, giveaways and more. Bookstagram accounts typically find each other through the hashtag #bookstagram (a great place to start to familiarise yourself with the community).
Bookstagram is a fantastic place for authors to circulate and promote advanced reader copies (ARCs) to reviewers and influencers, who in turn share book reviews to their followers and expand the book’s audience. Between the power of social media and word-of-mouth recommendations from trusted reviewers, Bookstagram is a powerful publicity tool for the publishing world.
Within Bookstagram there are even more sub-communities. I, for example, mostly post about young adult (YA) books, and I wouldn’t follow someone who posts about a genre I dislike, such as horror. Fantasy readers tend to connect with other fantasy readers, romance readers with other romance readers, and so on.
Why should writers use Bookstagram?
Writers can use Bookstagram to gain up-to-the-minute insights into book-lovers’ preferences, and emerging trends.
By observing and engaging with the Bookstagram community, you can futureproof your writing by keeping your finger on the pulse of reader appetites and expectations. It also affords you the opportunity to directly connect with your target audiences, build a following and promote work that you’ve published.
However, before I continue, I want to provide the caveat that Bookstagram isn’t for every author. This is because not all readers are using it. Bookstagram is predominantly for fiction, although popular non-fiction does slip through occasionally. Also, Bookstagram caters more towards a younger audience (millennials and Gen Z particularly), and if you mostly write books for older readers, Bookstagram may not help you. Bookstagram is predominantly female, so if most books you edit tend to have a male audience, you might struggle. And remember: you shouldn’t feel pressured to do and try everything – maybe you’re already doing well on Twitter or TikTok, or stay up to date in other ways, and adding Bookstagram to the mix will just take too much time and energy. That’s okay!
However, if you are an author whose ideal readers use Bookstagram, you should at least make it a habit to watch and interact in the community. Why? Because as an author you need to know what is happening in your genre – what people like, what they don’t, what’s most popular, what people are tired of, what people are asking for, etc. You should also know where a book you’re working on will sit in the market compared to competition, who its readers are, and its comparative titles. Without this information, you can’t give the book the best marketing.
For example, you might think the use of a certain cliché is fine but if you spend some time on social media, you might find that readers dislike the use of it (e.g. “She released a breath she didn’t realise she was holding,” a cliche famously made fun of online by YA readers but still used in many new books). You might find that a trope you have relied on is no longer favoured by readers, or identify upcoming trending tropes that would work better for your book and be more enjoyed by current readers. In this way, Bookstagram has the potential to influence future approaches to writing.
Bookstagram is also an ideal place for many authors to connect with the readers of their books. It is very diverse and a great way to connect with people and interact with them. This is how you can source information on trends, such as in the above examples – by connecting directly with relevant readers and seeing what they think. I often see books that have won prestigious awards that are mostly disliked by readers, while books with no recognition are loved. Books that are popular might not be objectively “good” and books that fly under the radar might be brilliant, but just don’t hit the right tropes and the right market at the right time. If I wasn't in spaces like Bookstagram, I wouldn't be aware of these things.
Bookstagram is a tool you can add to your author toolbox for free. All it takes is time, but there is so much reward. It’s another form of networking, and you’ll be authentically connecting with and making friends with the target audience of your books.
Here are four ways authors can use Bookstagram to stay up-to-date on reading trends.
Create a Bookstagram-specific account
You might choose to create a new account just for Bookstagram, or use your business or personal Instagram account to interact. However, I recommend starting a new account and keeping the two separate, if you can manage it. This allows you to create Bookstagram-specific content and interact more effectively with readers – if you’re not creating content, you’ll be alienated. (And several of my tips below are for Bookstagram accounts only.)
I use both of my Instagram accounts to grow each other. I promote my business account on my Bookstagram, which has double the following, meaning that my business account grows and gets higher engagement when I share its posts to my Bookstagram. I can reach two audiences instead of one; both readers (Bookstagram) and writers/publishing professionals (business). You might find the same benefits by crossposting with your personal accounts or other platforms.
I created my Bookstagram account before ever thinking of it as a tool for my business, but it quickly became one. I just wanted a fun place to talk about books and share reviews and photos! Then I started meeting writers and editors, learning what people liked and didn’t like about books, and was also given the opportunity to read ARCs and review them on my page, allowing me to stay updated on what’s being published in YA. All of this made me an expert on my genre, despite not having decades of publishing experience – I know my audience deeply, and I know what they want; therefore I can help my clients at a better level (and have guidance for my own books). Are you convinced to join yet?
Bookstagram gives authors another social media profile and space to market themselves. Connecting with book influencers is networking. Making this personal connection with them is much more likely to turn them into a reader who supports you than simply advertising to them or writing them a cold email.
Connect with readers
Well, this is the entire point of using Bookstagram as a writer, but I feel it needs to be extra clear. There is no use being on social media if you’re not going to be social. You can lurk and stalk, certainly, and you’ll learn from that. But without creating content for yourself, building a following and talking directly to readers, you’re not going to be part of the community. You won’t understand it as well, you won’t have that personal connection with the people you’re trying to learn from, and you won't be able to use it as a marketing platform.
To be successful writers in today's publishing climate, we need to study books and study the genres and audiences we write in. Whether it’s Bookstagram or another platform, being social online and being part of the readership you want to learn about is some of the best market research you can do.
You can connect with Bookstagram accounts in all the usual ways – following, liking, commenting, and direct messaging. There are also other more creative and fun ways to connect, like creating polls, posting reviews, posting about your books, hosting Q&As and live videos, and sharing writing and publishing tips.
Knowing the market of the books you write helps you as an author because you can understand where your books are positioned in the market. By searching the hashtags of comparative titles to the books you’re editing, you can see what people think and get a better idea of what readers might want out of your books. You can even look at reviews of books you have published to get a good sense of readers’ reactions.
You should also trawl hashtags to find new people to follow in your genre. You might look up #urbanfantasy or #LoveOzYA, or even more specific tags, to find the exact type of readers you want to be connected with. Also look out for the style of photos and captions and see how different age groups post differently. This helps you distinguish your target audience.
Finally, don’t forget to use hashtags on your own content to broaden its reach. Of course #bookstagram is the main one, but you can use up to 30 tags – so use them! It’s best to use a mix of popular tags and smaller, more niche tags. Do some research into hashtags that might be relevant to you, and make a few lists for different types of content. Copy and paste them into your posts to simplify the process. This helps readers find you!