Instagram has become one of my favorite social media platforms to be on as an indie author. I find it great for crafting a multidimensional author business — because writing is about so much more than pushing books. During the early stages of building my readership on Instagram, I never expected it to sell books — and it didn’t for a while. But with a little patience and a lot of (enjoyable) work, Instagram can connect authors with lifelong readers.
I recently asked some of them: What do you love about following authors on Instagram? Overwhelmingly — and unsurprisingly — the responses centered around personal connection. That’s a good approach to take, but what about growing a business at the same time? As a full-time self-published author with over 14,000 followers accrued over seven years and 1,300+ posts, below are some tips I’ve gathered with one caveat: It’s imperative to view everything through a lens of authenticity since that’s the essence of Instagram’s magic. If any tip feels uncomfortable or insincere to you, skip it.
1. Get creative about your content
On Instagram, readers want a glimpse into our lives, writing process, and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of our books. Don’t be afraid to vary your feed to include content outside of the finished product — because your book release is more than one epic event; it’s a behind-the-scenes journey.
Consider the excitement of watching a movie star in the weeks leading up to an event like the Academy Awards. The gown fittings, hair and makeup, limo and red-carpet experience, backstage access. You probably don’t follow a movie star for one film release. Rather, you want a peek into their life year-round. Readers crave the same of their favorite authors.
Here are some ways I share content unique to my author business:
- “The End.” Let readers share in your excitement over finishing a book. Post a picture of your screen when you write “The End.”
- User-generated content. There are many readers out there way more talented at flat-lay images than I am. I’ll often share their images of my books with credit to them.
- Your books. Readers respond to visuals of what they love — your books! A selfie with your paperback, a home library shelfie, or a bookish flat-lay are easy and popular posts. If you live alone like I do, invest in a tripod with a remote.
- Your writing life. Consider booking a local photographer to shoot you in one of your favorite writing spots (coffee shop, library, backyard). If money’s tight, some photographers may be willing to do it for credit. If it’s not, support a freelancer!
- Works in progress. I’ll take a picture of my workspace and blur out the manuscript on my laptop. Readers love to see my work in progress… and secretly love to hate being teased!
- Book cover behind-the-scenes. For my last two series, I did a custom photo shoot for the covers and got extra “promotional” images to share. I’ve also attended a shoot myself so readers could see things from my perspective.
- Audiobook behind-the-scenes. Enlist narrators to show the making of an audiobook, such as footage from inside their recording booth or insight into their process for a caption.
- Work space. Show off your desk or funny coffee mugs during late-night writing sprints.
- Themed holiday posts. Stage your book with a red, white, and blue cupcake on Independence Day or a gift-wrapped stack of paperbacks during Christmas.
- Other authors’ books. Make book recommendations or #currentlyreading posts.
- Bloopers. Balled up napkins and spilled coffee are a regular for me when I’m trying to get the right shot!
- Pets. Post a pic of your cat parked on your keyboard, plotting to derail your deadline.
- Travel pics. I visited Dubrovnik, Croatia years ago, so during the final season of Game of Thrones (which was partly filmed there), I shared throwback images of that trip.
- Themed hashtags. Use #throwbackthursday or #flashbackfriday as an opportunity to draw attention to backlist titles.
- Create your own weekly hashtag. One of my book’s heroes loves Dunkin’ Donuts, so I might share a colorful box of donuts with #SebastianSaturday. Get creative!
- Quote graphics. Posting a quote or a question of the day are fun, simple posts.
- Anticipation or countdown. The day before a cover reveal, post a video that says “Cover Loading” or a caption with “Currently Publishing” to get readers excited. Instead of saying “tomorrow,” use a date or keep the language vague since content may be viewed for days after the post.
- Giveaways. Run a giveaway for something special like a signed paperback or bookmark.
- Awards or nominations. If your book or audio has been recognized, share that moment and thank the readers who helped get you there.
2. Done is better than perfect
Though I love photography, I’m just OK at it. Initially, I froze up thinking every Instagram photo had to be perfect. But rarely does that happen on the first try.
Authors tend to be perfectionists — we wouldn’t put out a less-than-perfect manuscript, of course — but don’t let the elusive “perfect shot” hold you back. Is your goal to connect with more readers? To sell books? To supplement your author platform? Those matter more than profile perfection.
Determine early on how much time to spend on each post. Find an editing program you enjoy (I love VSCO), a couple of filters that suit you to keep your feed branded, and get that sucker posted with a great caption from your writerly brain, which can be just as crucial to engagement as a good shot.
3. Engagement over follower count
I can’t stress this enough: Don’t worry about follower count; focus on engagement. Are people liking and commenting on your photos? Having conversations with each other and with you? One hundred active followers are more valuable than 10,000 who couldn’t care less what you have to say.
To maximize engagement, ask a question (if appropriate). A couple of years ago, I lived near one of the most Instagram-worthy spots ever — the Manhattan Bridge in Dumbo, Brooklyn. One morning, I woke up early and snapped a pic before tourists flooded the area, then posted it asking where my followers were located. People commented from New Jersey to Sydney to the Philippines, and it ended up being one of my most popular posts of that year.
I also reply to most of the comments I get. Authentic, sincere conversations with your readers translate into engagement that Instagram algorithms read as positive, and in turn increases reach for your post. Plus, you’ll get to learn more about your readers!
4. Don’t let a fear of self-promotion get in your way
It’s easier to connect with readers when they see and hear you, but if you freeze every time a camera lens is on you, or your identity is private for personal reasons, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a strong Instagram presence. There are many ways to show who you are — after all, we invent entire worlds for a living!
Tap your interests, hobbies, causes, and books to craft a comprehensive online presence. When I’m having a bad hair day or I’m not in the mood to get in front of the camera, I rely on things I’ve incorporated into my brand: coffee mugs, cafés, my laptop, my German Shepherd, or New York City. For you, it could be crocheting, restoring vintage cars, or writing in your garden. Anything to do with reading or book recommendations is always a win.
5. Take every opportunity to show off your book baby
One of the coolest things about finishing a book is seeing it in different formats — and readers think so, too! Remember, there are people out there whose favorite way to read is different than yours. Maybe it’s by holding a hardcover, listening to audio, curling up with an ereader, or on a phone in line at the DMV. Be sure to show off your books in all of these formats so readers are aware of all the ways it’s available.
Also share the covers of your foreign translation editions! Instagram is an extremely international platform with readers tuning in from all over the world.
6. Tell your story with Stories
Instagram stories and IGTV are sometimes underutilized tools that can help authors form an even more personal connection to readers.
If you’re going for a coordinated, curated profile feed, then stories are the place to let loose. They disappear after 24 hours, and they’re addicting to both watch and create. Some ideas:
- Post reveals. I’ll record an unboxing video when I receive my paperbacks for the first time.
- Promote an audiobook. People click on stories to watch/listen so I’ll put excerpts from my audiobooks over images or video.
- Chat with readers. Talk more in-depth on a certain topic, like the inspiration behind a current series.
- Gamify your stories. Ask trivia questions about your books or have readers guess which book a specific quote is from.
- Go live. Cover an event such as a book signing, writing retreat, or convention.
- Chat with authors. Share expertise on a topic, such as self-publishing advice or motivation for new writers.
- Share GIFs. I’ve had my designer create GIF versions of my teasers to share as interactive stories.
- Use the countdown sticker. When I have a release coming up, I post a story with the countdown sticker a few times a week. It will notify readers who signed up when it’s release day, and they can also add the countdown to their own stories!
- Post timely news. Share time-sensitive information such as a sale or a BookBub Featured Deal.
- Share pet videos. Everyone loves to see other people’s pets!
- Host a Q&A. The questions sticker helps me get a pulse on which topics followers want to hear about from me based on their questions and gives me a chance to interact with readers.
- Use highlights. Highlights keep your “24-hour” stories from expiring and makes them viewable anytime from your profile page.
- Use IGTV. Even creating 5–10 minutes of weekly content for an “episode” can get your readers tuning in on a schedule. You don’t have to talk books, but when you do have a new release, they’ll show up!
7. Let readers read
I find photographs tend to perform best, so I keep text on images to a minimum (usually zero) since it typically doesn’t jive with the interface. However, there are some instances when text-heavy graphics are a great tool to draw readers in and sell books.
- Instagram lets us share up to 10 images per post. Pair a text-heavy graphic with something aesthetically pleasing. An obvious example is a cover reveal. I’ll make image #1 the cover, then have readers swipe right to read the blurb.
- I’ve also shared full passages over several Instagram stories. I’ll paste text into a stories template on PicMonkey, arrange it so it’s readable, then sometimes add a graphic. This is a great way to debut the first chapter of your upcoming release, but if that’s too big of a commitment, try it with a 3–5 page excerpt. If you have the “swipe up” capability in stories, definitely use it here.
- Create a #kindlequote in the Kindle app. Highlight a favorite quote from your book and turn it into a pretty graphic. (Note that this app is only available on iOS.)
8. Use the insights tool
Instagram gives business accounts “insights” for each post or story, and it’s a great way to gauge what your followers respond to. Pay attention to types of posts that do or don’t perform well, along with the times of day and week your readers are most active.
Hashtags and location tags are one of the best ways for readers to discover an author. I keep a list of hashtags in my Notes app, and every time I post, I’ll choose up to 30 of the most relevant ones (e.g., #becauseofreading or #contemporaryromance). I usually employ a mix of semi-broad and specific hashtags. If you go too broad (such as #books), your post will get lost in the feed. Too specific, and you won’t reach anyone. With my latest trilogy, I hashtagged the series name with every post as well as my author name.
While promoting a book set in Newport Beach, I tagged my location since I’d written a pivotal scene at the Balboa Park Fun Zone. That way people browsing the location on Instagram could see this post.
10. Share the love (and other people’s books)
Follow a few publishing-related hashtags to regularly interact with industry posts — like #librarylove, #authorlife, or #bookbub. It’s a great way to engage with bookstagrammers (Instagram book bloggers), discover fan-made content, and support peers. I often share other authors’ new releases or sales to my stories — it helps author friends and followers looking for their next read.
To go a step further, take a cue from Kandi Steiner and invite another author in your genre to take over your Instagram stories. They’ll sign into your account and spend a day with your readers — then you can swap for your own release. I’ve done this with Kandi’s Instagram, and it’s a great way for each author to reach new, like-minded readers.
11. Your bio is valuable real estate; use it
Make sure your profile tab is always up to date with announcements (maybe a new release or newsletter sign up) and a current link since links aren’t active in posts or comments. Many businesses use a link extender like Linktree or linkin.bio by Later to display multiple links and drive traffic where they want.
12. Encourage readers to bookmark your posts
Scroll through your Instagram feed. Are you using the oft-missed bookmark function in the bottom right-hand corner? This allows users to categorize posts they want to come back to or reference later. I encourage my readers to add my books to their “TBR” collection. When they’re inevitably looking for their next great read, they can pull up that collection and see what strikes their interest.
13. Don’t forget to sell
I’ve hammered home the importance of personal connection, but at the end of the day, it’s part of the job to sell books. Make sure to hype up your new release and backlist. Don’t forget to create posts or stories with a direct ask or call to action such as “bookmark this post,” “visit the link in my bio,” or “swipe up to buy now.”
Share stories with intriguing pull-quotes and tell readers why and where they should get the book now. Balance these posts with personal ones, but don’t leave either on the table. Instagram is a slow and steady approach to selling books, but one that can gain you lifelong readers.
Now, I’d love to hear from you! What do you like to see on Instagram from fellow authors and are there any must-follow accounts you recommend? Let me know in the comments below.
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