Image: Matthew Loffhagen
How do you use a photo-based platform to advertise your written work? Good question, and seeing as Instagram boasts over 500,000,000 users who spend nearly an hour a day (on average) perusing the site, one that’s well worth answering.
Now may be a good time to make your move, too, since the market isn’t flooded with authors vying for users’ attention. If you want to learn how to make Instagram work for you as an author, today’s article is for you.
Be part of the community
For starters, don’t go into this with the idea that you can promote yourself and to heck with everybody else. People can tell if you’re only in it for yourself. To be a good member of the ‘Insta’ community, set up a friendly, informative profile. Use your bio to connect to your ideal reading community – the people you wouldn’t mind starting a book club with. Don’t try to please or impress everyone on the whole wide web.
Engage with others. Follow them, comment on the posts you like, and learn to use hashtags to connect people to content they’ll enjoy. Post attractive images and unique links (not just to your work), and do it often. If you’re rarely active on the site, you lose the potential to influence.
Think of your time on Instagram as a chance to meet people, find interesting blogs, indulge in some eye candy, and share what you find with your new community. It’s like the show-and-tell of the internet. You have to let the other kids show their frogs and sock puppets before you can brag on your knot-tying skills, and the other kids will pay attention (and like you better) if you care about their frogs and sock puppets.
When you’re part of a community, the give-and-take should feel natural, like friends trading stories over IPAs. It shouldn’t be like the brother who thinks the whole family wants to spend their reunion looking at 900 photos of his vacation in Nantucket. One self-promoting post for every ten is a good rule of thumb. Other posts can relate to your life and work, but #buymybookhere shouldn’t be your tag line.
Since Instagram has a narrow platform (you post photos; that’s about it), the most obvious way to share your work is through external links. Your author bio can include a link to your blog/website. Update the bio regularly with news blurbs like ‘I’m humbled and thrilled to have published my second book with So-and-so Publishers. You can read a chapter for free [here].’
Include links in posts, too, just not all of them or you’ll rub people the wrong way. Linking to other people’s content is also fine. Share links to other authors’ short stories or blog posts that really wowed you. If you’ve found a great online book club, let people know about it. You want other Instagram users to feel like your page is a great resource – a place where they always discover something new, laugh out loud, or tear up a little. If you achieve this, you’ll build enough trust to link people to your own work without anybody rolling their eyes and scrolling down to ogle somebody’s bacon-encrusted salted-caramel crème brûlée.
Have amazing content
So. Down to the nitty-gritty. What do you actually post on Instagram if you want to use the site to grow yourself as an author?
First things first: I almost hate to say it, but don’t plagiarize. Don’t even mimic. Be original, truly unique. The best way to do this is to – drum roll, please – just be yourself. Let your own quirky weirdo inner self come out and chances are that the raw, unfiltered you will resonate with people, surprise them, intrigue them, and keep them coming back for more.
If you’re not ready for that kind of exposure (or if you think the world’s not ready), still be honest, but you may want to derive your novelty by assessing what’s missing on the platform. Spend some quality time exploring Instagram through hashtags that are interesting to you, and look for what no-one’s doing. Then, do that.
You can post content that tells your story as an author – here’s me with a nitro coffee, the only way I can write. Or: here’s Chow-Mow, my 25-pound Maine Coon, sleeping on my keyboard. Or: curled up with Mark Twain this morning; laughter always takes the edge off! Take pictures of the places and people and objects that inspire you. Use creative fonts and backgrounds to feature quotes that you like (occasionally your own), and give a shout-out to authors that you love by snapping pictures of their books next to your latte or green tea or old fashioned or whatever your personal reading juice is. Upload a shot of your mom reading your newly minted book: proud first reader! These tender, real-life moments connect people to the author behind the dust jacket.
While we’re on the topic of taking pictures, play up your own natural talents. If photography isn’t one of them, don’t try for the perfect Instagram photo – lace and burlap on a reclaimed barn door with a sprig of daylilies might look amazing if you’ve got the eye for it. It may also look contrived and, let’s be honest, stupid. So if photography isn’t your strong suit, don’t sweat it. Focus on variety and pictures that are interesting for their content rather than their craft.
Another interesting tack might be to tell the story of your book in photos through pictures of the setting or various objects that play an important role in the story. You can include short passages from your book as captions and let your prose do the talking, so to speak.
Okay, so you don’t want to do this too often, but you do want to do it. When you hit a milestone, feel free to snap a picture and talk about it. If you have a promo event, link to it. Come up with a photo contest, caption contest, or flash prose contest and give away your book as the prize. Take a picture of your cover and compliment the designer. Or take a picture of your book without a cover and try to find a designer.
If you’ve been offering great content and engaging in genuine conversations, people will be excited to see you succeed and they’ll be happy to jump in and grab a copy of your book.
With a little creative thinking and a commitment to being part of the community, Instagram can be a solid resource for authors. The main thing to consider is whether you have the time and creative energy to invest in the account. It doesn’t take a lot, but you don’t want to start it and then post so infrequently that you can’t maintain subscribers. Consider if you will realistically keep up with the account if you open it, and also consider whether your own perfectionism might get in the way. If you decide to go for it, commit to regular posts but allow yourself some freedom. The site doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to be a creative expression of who you are and what your work represents. With Instagram, as in life: if you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.
Do you have an Instagram author profile, or are you thinking about making one? I’d love to hear from you in the comments. You can also check out Why Images Should Be Part Of Your Book Marketing Strategy and How To Create A Visual Brand As An Author for more great advice on this subject.