Book marketing on Instagram for authors (swag, ARCs, book boxes and more)

Author Jessica Pierce does some amazing Instagram promotion and wrote this awesome post about it.

I often get asked questions such as, “Jess, what the heck is this Instagram stuff and how can I use it to sell my YA book?” or “Plz halp me because I don’t get Bookstagram.” Have no fear! I’m not the end-all-be-all expert, but I have done really well on this platform both with my main home business and my books (so far, knock on wood and pray to the social media gods). Hopefully it helps!

 

  

 

So, for those of you new to Instagram, I’ll just do a quick breakdown. There exists a sub-community on this social media outlet affectionately known as Bookstagram. It consists of mostly YA readers, therefore my tips cater mostly to YA authors. However, the majority of these users are aged 20-45 (and mostly female), so they’re definitely adult YA readers who may still be interested in your books if you write something marketable with crossover appeal for these demographics.

What does this community do? I’m so glad you asked, fellow author searching the internet for answers! These users are incredibly talented and very unique. Essentially, the idea is to take stunningly aesthetic photos of books and share them with others. The caption of said photos ranges from how you’re feeling that day, what you’re currently reading, a quote from the book in the photo, or even a full book review. Think of it as a polaroid book blog that married Facebook and had a beautiful unicorn baby. The photo I’ve included is just a sample of what you’ll find if you go to Instagram and search for #Bookstagram.

But how can I sell my books? Great question! The first thing I will say is that Instagram is NOT a selling platform (which sounds strange given my previous comment about the business side of things). It’s a SOCIAL platform, which means BUY MY BOOK posts will make a potential reader massively eye roll and block you. To really be successful in this community, you have to put in a decent chunk of time first building genuine relationships. Comment on people’s photos. Ask questions in your captions. Talk positively about books you’re reading. Once you’ve gained a following, it’s time for MISSION MILLIONAIRE AUTHOR.

*Cue Mission Impossible Theme*

Now that you have, say, a few hundred followers, you can start sending out five paperbacks to Bookstagrammers with over 1k (preferably 3k-7k) followers. As with any business, the more awards/accolades/leverage you have, the bigger brand rep you can snag. The deal for this relationship is that, in exchange for receiving paperbacks for free, they have to post at least ten **different** photos of your book. Be sure to pick a Bookstagrammer with gorgeous photo skills, because here’s the trick: You will now have fifty (five Bookstagrammers times ten photos each) stunning photos of your book cover that you can repost to your own author Instagram, post to your website, use in ads, and especially share in your newsletters and author content platforms. Rinse and repeat every so often, and you have an endless source of fabulous imagery to use at your disposal. Just make sure that it’s clear to the Bookstagrammer you’ll be using their photos for these things.

But what about selling? Now that you have a community, you can **gently** ease into the occasional sales pitch post. I’ve found that the most effective IG sales pitches do not contain marketing graphics such as book mockups or graphics that have a lot of text. Just use a normal Bookstagram photo with a sales pitch caption. At the most, you can get away with “Now $0.99!” or something similar that has been included in the actual photo, but steer clear of paragraph pitches (in my opinion, but you obviously can do what you want).

How do I make the most of my Bookstagram in terms of sales?

Hashtags are the lifeblood of your efforts on Instagram. At the back of my e-books, as well as my hardbacks and paperbacks, I actually include a list of the official hashtags for my series. This lets Bookstagrammers know a branding exists for this series, and you can best believe they’re eager to post their photos of my book under those hashtags, because not only does it help them connect with other fans, it also gives them an organized way to try to attract those other fans to become their own followers.

 

 

THE BEST MARKETING TOOL ON BOOKSTAGRAM IS READER WORD-OF-MOUTH

Since that is the case, I want to give my readers the easiest way forward in sharing my book. Promoting unique, branded hashtags for your series is a great way to do this. It also allows you to easily search for any posts having to do with your books. Feel free to repost fan photos, but ALWAYS credit the original Bookstagrammer.

Yes, this takes time. However, up until two weeks ago, I wasn’t running any FB or AMS ads and still managed to sell 300-500 copies per month solely through word-of-mouth on Instagram. Since FB ads and AMS ads also take time, using Instagram just centers on the idea that I reallocate that time to a different marketing tool. This won’t be for everyone, and that’s okay! You do what is best for your brand, you majestic land mermaid!

How do I boost follower counts?

Giveaways are great! Physical copies are beloved on Instagram, but I do see more and more users taking photos of color Kindles. Having said that, swag giveaways are always popular, as are larger prizes such as a free month of Owlcrate/Fairyloot.

*******YOU WANT TO GIVE BOOKSTAGRAMMERS THE “SOCIAL SNIFFLES” AND SPREAD YOUR BRAND LIKE A COLD***********

Here’s how to get the most out of an Instagram giveaway:

-This is an exception to the “No words on sales pitch posts” rule. Create a simple eye-catching graphic that contains the word GIVEAWAY with a photo of the prizes (or at the very least, a photo of your book cover if the prize involves your book).
-***For users with a following, gather 5-20 fellow Bookstagrammers who will repost your giveaway graphic to spread the word. If you’re just starting out, ask some fellow authors to repost along with you newsletter-swap style.
-Post to your IG account explaining the giveaway and rules. Be sure to mention whether or not your giveaway is international or country-based.

RULES THEY MUST FOLLOW:

-They must follow your Instagram account.
-They must repost your graphic to their own page (where it will reach their own followers)
-They must use your unique, giveaway-specific hashtag (so you can find their entries later)
-Optional, but encouraged: Allow them to tag people in the comments of your original post to receive additional entry points. (This accomplishes two things—notifies new potential followers, spreading your brand like a cold, and gives your post a ton of social proof, which boosts you within the IG algorithm so you’ll get shown to more people)

Let’s talk about social proof.

Everyone needs a tribe. We authors thrive on tribes (heck, that’s why we’re in this Facebook group). To really maximize your exposure, I advise you to make two groups chats—one for Bookstagrammers and one for fellow authors. When you’re just starting out, this will probably be only authors until you gain a following. The idea is that whenever anyone in the group chat posts, you “like” and comment on that post, giving its author that necessary social proof. You scratch their back, they scratch yours.

HOW DO I START A BOOKSTAGRAM FOR, LIKE, ZERO DOLLARS?

Um, hello fellow Budget Bookstagrammer. Pull up a potted plant and some gorgeous book covers, because this is a lot easier than you think. Yes, I realize that a ton of Bookstagrams feature props, glam lighting, and the occasional exotic animal. Have no fear! Since Bookstagram feeds revolved around themes (such as dark and cozy, brightly colored, flowers, etc) you can simply start with a minimalist theme. Here are some ideas as to things you probably have in your home that make for a great first Bookstagram post under a minimalist theme (don’t use all of these, but choose a few): white sheet, cup of coffee/tea, glasses, potted plant or fake flower, lit candle, pens, pretty notebook, YA book with pretty cover, beads, vintage scarf, purse, backpack.

-ALWAYS USE NATURAL LIGHT 
-Place white sheet over table near windows with lots of natural light and use as neutral background
-Center YA book cover
-Select a few objects from the list above and arrange around the book cover.
-Snap a pic
-Share to your author IG account

Which hashtags work best?

Using hashtags in your caption will help your post get noticed by potential followers. Here are some choices to get you started:

#bookstagram #bookstagrammer #books #reading #bibliophile #booklover#book #bookdragon #shelfie #goodreads #bookreview #bookblogger

 

A LAST BIT OF WARNING

Bookstagrammers work hard on their feeds. Always respect that. Be professional. Never talk badly about another author or book. Make sure to use a headshot-y photo as your profile pic, not your book. Link to your Amazon page, website page, or Goodreads page in bio. NEVER EVER EVER follow a Bookstagrammer and then unfollow them. It’s an easy way to find yourself blacklisted, especially since many users track their followers with apps that notify them when you do.

Made is this far in the post? AWESOME! You’ve earned a steaming cup of coffee or a stiff drink. Or probably both. Have a question that I didn’t answer here? Drop it in the comments and I’ll tack on anything I need to as I go. Hope this helped!

Check out Jessica’s website or Instagram Feed.

About Derek Murphy

Derek Murphy is a book editor turned book designer with a Ph.D. in Literature. He's been featured on CNN and spoken at dozens of writing conferences around the world. These days he mostly writes young adult fantasy and science fiction, while helping authors write and publish bestselling books. FREE GUIDE: Sell your work without selling out.