That little camera icon on millions of personal and professional websites shows no signs of disappearing, so let’s talk about the possibilities Instagram holds for Indie authors. I’m a huge fan of the platform for author and book promotion because it’s so straightforward and easy to use. Facebook has dozens of features and news stories to compete with; Twitter is insanely fast-paced and not conducive to disappearing for days at a time to meet a writing deadline; Goodreads is fantastic for genre specific book promotion but Instagram…. Instagram is a social media site unicorn that helps you build a brand on captivating visuals and positive vibes.
Instagram is a very positive space to operate in, and while creating visuals can be daunting, doing so can provide great balance for an author typically hyper-focused on the written word. Yes, Instagram images need captions and hashtags, but language plays a supporting role: the visual is the star, and this is something that resonates with so many of us that a smart Indie author should investigate ways to capitalize on what the platform offers.
For this reason, I’d like to offer you eight tips to really make Instagram work for your book promotion. If you’re not on the platform, I strongly encourage you to use this list to determine whether or not Instagram is your speed – if it is, it could be the social media site that changes the game for your author brand and book promotion.
1. Understand your audience.
Instagram has demographics like every other social media platform, so for starters you should make sure it’s a good fit for your brand. That said, Instagram has a lot of potential for most authors. Like the rest of your book promotion efforts, your Instagram content should be driven by who your audience is. What do they gravitate toward, what’s their online vibe, what needs can you address? Remember that needs are emotional, too, and that’s where memes become social media gold. If you haven’t done an audience profile in a while, completing one as part of your Instagramability project is a win-win as it will help you with other book promotion activities as well as your social media decisions and choices.
2. Share experiences.
Experiences are relatable. And your book promotion efforts should focus on making you relatable and accessible. Get in the habit of pulling out your phone to document more of your life and be sure to turn those images into content that gives followers some additional insight into who you are as a person. When you intrigue your followers, you start creating long-term fans who will come back and buy every book you publish. Build loyalty by being a relatable and consistent presence in their lives.
3. Offer unique content.
With 4,000+ books being published every single day, it’s certainly no easy feat to stand out. But there’s one book promotion strategy you can use that no one else can – YOU. You are your brand. A really useful activity is to sit down and commit to paper 10 things that make you stand out from your competition. One bullet point might be something about your characters, another about your story construction; maybe you have a new approach to an old problem, or perhaps you’ve lived a super interesting life and have some amazing stories to tell that have nothing to do with the genre you write in. Use your list as inspiration for content. How can you take those 10+ attributes or life experiences and turn them into images or visuals? Figure that out, and you have brand building content on your hands.
4. Wear your heart on your sleeve.
When you share images that appeal to your followers’ emotions, you show that you’re more than just another person trying to sell them something. This can be as simple as an image of your workspace or a picture from an inspiring recent hike. Maybe you bake when you have writer’s block: before you consume your latest batch of artisanal jamberry scones and prune kreplach, share mouthwatering images of your creations. Even better, post a few photos of your process, the products – and the crumbs left after you’ve devoured them.
Don’t overthink the emotional aspect because you’ll risk losing genuine sais quoi. In fact, a lot of the most successful posts on Instagram are surprisingly simple, and what makes them work so well is simply that they’re relatable. Some of your best book promotion will happen through emotional appeals, not outright selling.
5. Let your followers help you.
Curating content from followers is a fantastic book promotion strategy that every author should try to tap into. Fan art is a really cool option if you’re in a genre that draws a lot of creative individuals. But you can also simply ask fans to submit images of where they’re reading your book (kind of a “where in the world” concept), or you can ask them to submit images of your book in their lives – on a bookshelf next to other titles, peeking out of a backpack, in a stack on a bedside table, sprinkled with sand atop a blanket on the beach. Have some fun with it and milk it for all it’s worth.
6. Tell stories.
I’m a big fan of finding a theme that you return to or a topic for an occasional series of posts because these approaches make brainstorming content that much simpler. It also shows your followers that you’re consistent and gives them something to look forward to – and both of these qualities will keep them coming back for more. If you write fiction, perhaps create a series of character introductions or mic drop worthy quotes. If you write non-fiction, a series of tips that speak to a single topic are a slam-dunk. If you drink coffee or tea while writing and have a large collection of mugs, post an occasional photo of the day’s mug for a series that showcases your work and your collection. You could also document your progress on a project by regularly posting photos of your wall of post-its or towering stacks of research materials.
7. Be relevant.
The more relevant the content, the more engagement it will receive – and engagement leads to more followers. Your book promotion efforts should aim to address culturally relevant events and trending topics or interests as much as possible. This may sound daunting, but I assure you, if you take this approach to your book promotion, you’ll create an environment that supports your book long term, well after you can no longer ride the “new release” wave. So much is happening every day that your struggle here might actually be choosing just two or three from millions of possible topics.
8. Keep the surprises coming.
Your posts should not always be about pushing your products and services; to compete in today’s market, you need to do more for your readers than just publish books. Contests and giveaways are a great way to give back to your followers and to keep them coming back to your profile over and over again. Instagram is pretty much designed to be a lovefest most days, so it’s easy to share the love, and your followers will appreciate your generosity. Using the hashtag #captionthis for a post is a simple way to encourage engagement with your fans, and your prizes don’t have to be extremely complex: signed copies of your books and Amazon gift cards are always a hit.
It’s helpful to have guides on any journey, so I recommend that you choose a few authors, a few celebrities, a few political figures, a few causes, maybe a few chefs or restaurants – you get the idea – and a whole bunch of friends to follow on Instagram. Pay attention to what you like and don’t like about the approaches you see, take notes on the posts that bring you joy or teach you something in a way that feels good. Emulate the best, avoid the worst, take a deep breath, and be yourself.
It really is that simple.
Penny Sansevieri, CEO and founder of Author Marketing Experts, Inc. (AME) and Adjunct Professor at NYU, is a best-selling author and internationally recognized book marketing and media relations expert. Her company is one of the leaders in the publishing industry and has developed some of the most cutting-edge book marketing campaigns. To learn more about Penny and AME, visit www.amarketingexpert.com.