#Bookstagram is a thing. A real thing. A big thing!
Rewind to early 2018. As an author with a debut novel coming out, I was surprised when my agent told me I should be spending at least an hour a day on social media. Gulp. By all accounts, it sounded like Twitter and Facebook were the biggies. I should have at least a quadruple digit following on Twitter and engage with all my fans regularly on Facebook. All my fans being my mom and dog and cat. My agent, however, told me not to discount Instagram, as it very visual and since I live in Hawaii, it would be perfect for me. At that point, I was comfortable with Facebook and I used Instagram loosely, all personal stuff. I took my agent’s advice and began my investigation into #bookstagram, and my mind was blown.
Books with a cute Great Dane, books with pies, books with blankets, books on the beach, books on dinner trays, books in candlelight, stacks of books, amazing libraries of books, books and coffee, books in hands, books taking a bath. Millions and millions of bookish pictures are curated and plastered across our phones and laptops every day. Not only are there pictures, but there are also thoughtful reviews and five-star ratings. And giveaways. The number of giveaways sent my mind spinning. I began following those who posted about books I liked, those with eye-catching pictures and those who sounded funny and interesting. I also noted how many followers these people have and discovered some in the hundreds of thousands. What?
There is also the matter of #hashtags. Of course, there are the obvious, but other common ones are #bookish #bookworm #bibliophile #bookaholic #TBR #instabook #fortheloveofbooks #amreading #partner and zillions more. What does #partner mean? In this day and age, popular reviewers are sent tons of books every week to read in hopes that they will then post pretty pictures and reviews. Turns out the FTC has recently cracked down and if you receive something free and are sharing about it, you must disclose that. People have to thank the publisher or author for sending them a free book, so as to not mislead people who might otherwise believe they bought it.
I began my foray into taking shots of my novel one fine winter day. I picked a bunch of colorful hibiscus in my yard, waited for the right sunlight and snapped some shots. I was completely absorbed. A little while later, I noticed my neighbor giving me funny looks from across the hedge. “Don’t mind me, just taking some pictures of my...book!” The first time always feels weird, but then you get into the swing of things. I’m not going to lie, my first book, Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers, has a pretty cover (so does my second, The Lieutenant’s Nurse, but it wasn’t born yet). The book is set in Hawaii, and it looks gorgeous with flowers and on the beach, or sitting on a rock by a mountain stream. For a while there, I started taking my book with me everywhere, and sneaking shots. My boyfriend thought I was losing my mind. I flung myself into the #bookstagram world, though I fear I may have been annoying my friends and followers with too many posts at first. How much does one post without becoming repetitive? With Instagram, people say every few days is good, though some reviewers think of it as job and post daily. I like every three or four days, and I post about life and nature between book shots. Mixing it up is key.
To get my book out there (my publisher sent ARCs to the big influencers, but I like a lot of the small ones too), I contacted #bookstagrammers I admired and who might be a good fit for my book and asked if they would be interested in reading my novel. At this point, you have to zip up your thick skin and hope for the best. To my surprise, most of them agreed to, and the results were wonderful. @SheReadsWithCats is an early one that comes to mind, but there are so many. And then I discovered Instagram book tours. An Instagram tour, you say? These tours are growing more popular by the day. TLC and Suzy Approved and Passages to the Past are a few solid ones. Once you set up the tour, they pair you with people who may review your book, but more likely will post a photo and do a giveaway of your book.
Which brings me to my next topic. Giveaways. As a reader, I had never engaged in the social media whirlwind of books. I just read, told a few friends if I loved a book and that was it. But now a days, readers are savvy and passionate and they take their books and book clubs seriously. A great way to share your book and gain new followers is to do a giveaway. Post a pretty pic, ask people to comment and tag a friend or two, and off you go. I learned the hard way that mailing a book from Hawaii to London is not cheap, and thus I limit my giveaway to US and Canada (where my publisher is based). I enjoy giveaways and do them every couple of months. And no need to just give away your book, give away any book. Why not share the love?
My reading is far richer because of #bookstagram, but my #TBR stack is ridiculously high. Social media sometimes gets a bad rap, but I have to say that the #bookstagram community is fun and inspiring and supportive. People genuinely want to know what you are reading, what books you love, and why you love them. They want to get a glimpse into the lives of their favorite authors, and they want to share the joy of reading with the world. I enjoy #bookstagram as both an author and a reader and am thankful to take part. Another thing that arose out of this whole amazing world is that I am writing my favorite dog from Instagram (yes, I follow a few dogs) into my latest novel. I fell in love with Sailor, a Great Dane with one blue eye and one brown, and I asked her mama @love_my_dane_dolly if I could make her a character in my book. She said yes. Sadly, several months in, Sailor suddenly passed away. I was heartbroken for her family, but they gave me their blessing to keep on writing. So, I feel honored to be able to keep her memory alive. That book releases in June of 2020. I see #bookstagram as a journey, one without any real destination. And that is where the magic happens.