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How Writers Can Use Instagram to Promote Books

An Introduction to Instagram, Hashtags, and Book Reviewers

Guest Blogger: Kristin Durfee

It may seem counterintuitive—photographs to sell books? But if the idea sounds crazy to you, then you are missing out on an entire community of readers, bloggers, and reviewers that call Instagram home.

First things first: if you don’t have an Instagram account, sign up for one now. It’s easy and free. I’ll wait…

Okay, great! Now, don’t get overwhelmed with connecting with a million friends and getting a bunch of followers, it isn’t necessary at this moment. Those connections will come. For right now, I want to introduce you to hashtags and how they can be your friend.

You may call this a pound sign but, now dubbed the hashtag, this symbol is your window to connection in this world: #

A hashtag is a way to connect your photos with other people that have posted on a similar topic. In the example below, I was at an event put on by a store called The Lovely. I mention (the term used for when you specifically call out another Instagram user) as well as use the hashtag #readlocal.

Once I post that picture, I can then click on that hashtag, which becomes a hyperlink, and it will show me all the other people that have also posted about “reading local.” My picture will also show in the mix. Some hashtags, like the read local one, will have thousands of photos, other less popular ones may only have a few. Your goal, though, is to try to connect, so you don’t have to be concerned with making your hashtags clever like #ohgoshlookwhatsillythingijustdidtoday; you’re better off trying to find a more mainstream hashtag, or if you want to include a funny one, that is okay, just make sure you have a more common one as well.

For connecting with readers and reviewers specifically, you’ll want to know the shorthand for your genre. Here are some examples:

#NA — New Adult
#FanFic — Fan Fiction
#MGLit — Middle Grade Lit

The list continues—feel free to do a quick internet search to make sure you are using the correct genre-specific one for you.

[Editor’s Note: #CSpecFic is woefully underused, with only 6 posts.]

Now to find reviewers.

The hashtag #bookreview is a good place to start. With almost a half a million posts, you are sure to find someone who reads your genre. Start clicking on pictures of books that you recognize as a similar genre to yours. At the top of the picture will show you the person’s username, which you then want to click on; this will bring you from the single image to their page. If they do reviews, which most of them do, under their profile picture but above where all their posts are, will be that person’s information, including their website/blog. I have used my account as an example; I don’t do reviews, but feel free to friend me!

 

Clicking on that link will take you to their page where they will post how to get in touch with them for a review. I find it also helpful to first follow that person and maybe like or comment on a few of their pictures. Also, make sure they review your type of books! Sure they may do the broader genre of YA, but do their posts mainly have to do with fantasy or sci-fi? If your book is romance or contemporary, they may not be interested.

It is also a good idea to see how many followers they have. This way, if that person agrees to review your book, you’ll have an idea of how many people your post will get in front of. Ideally you want to find someone that has at least a few hundred followers, though on the other end of that scale, if someone has, say over 100,000 followers, it may be difficult if not impossible to get them to review a book for you (chances are they are working directly with publishers for their content). Again, a review of their posts should give you a clue about this, especially if they only review big name ARCs (advance reader copies given by the publishers for early reviews).

Also, take a moment to see who else has commented and followed this person. The reviewing community is a tight-knit group. You should be able to find other similar reviewers by looking through and seeing who has “liked” or commented on a picture, then click on their name (everything that shows up in blue is “click-able”), look at their information and through their list of people. It’s like a web of connectivity that you can certainly spend HOURS on, so make sure you diligently block yourself a set amount of time, or a goal of a set amount of reviewers, say ten, that you want to connect with.

Okay, so you’ve found a few people who take great pictures, write compelling reviews, and have a few hundred or couple thousand followers, now what? First and foremost, you most likely will need to have physical copies of your books that you can send out. I know this can be costly and simply impossible if your book is ebook only, but the huge draw of these reviewers is to also take a pretty picture with your book. While some may offer this in ebook (again, look at their pictures and see if they take any using an e-reader), if they only post picture with real books, chances are that’s what you’ll need to send.

Following whatever contact rules they have put in place (which will be outlined on their website), send the person an email. Make sure to mention that you follow them and mention a post or picture or two that you found very compelling. Then introduce that you are interested in having them consider your book for a review/post. Put your elevator pitch in here about your book plus links to it as well as your website and Instagram name so they can find you.

Tell them if they are interested, you have both ebook or physical books copies (that is to say if you have both) and would love to send it if they are willing to review.

This is where their website or context information can be helpful, as these reviewers can be all over the world. Just because someone is overseas, don’t necessarily discount them, but realize that international shipping can be VERY expensive, so if they do ebooks, great, mention that you can send them an ARC or gift them a copy. Otherwise, be prepared to mail out a book (just mention to the post office that it is media mail for a reduced shipping rate). I find that people in countries other than the US tend to put their countries flag at the end of their bio. If you see a flag, it’s a good bet that they are from overseas.

Now, once you have been in contact with the person, they have agreed to look at your book, and you’ve sent it off to them, the wait begins. Unfortunately you can’t MAKE someone review it and post it. Maybe they started the book and it wasn’t up their alley and they only post positive reviews (some are like this). Some reviewers may be of high school or college age and life gets in the way. I would send a follow-up email in about a month asking if they have an estimate on when they may be posting so you can make sure to tag and share it. If more time has gone by and you still haven’t heard from them, unfortunately you may have just given away a free copy of your book. Mark it as a tax write off and keep looking.

It can be disappointing to have a review fall through, but there are lots of reviewers that take their job very seriously, so try not to get discourage, but also be realistic about how many free copies you can afford to give away. That number may be twenty, ten, five, or two, but be honest with yourself so an emotional disappointment doesn’t also become a financial one that will add a level of stress that you don’t need.

But all in all, there is a huge community of book lovers out there that would love nothing more than to discover a new favorite author and share that information with their followers. Have fun connecting with them and discovering a whole new world of readers out there!

 

Kristin Durfee grew up outside Philadelphia where an initial struggle with reading blossomed into a love and passion for the written word. She has been a writer ever since, penning short stories and poems, though now focused on longer works. Kristin resides outside of Orlando, FL, and is a member of the Florida Writers Association. When not enjoying the theme parks or Florida sun, she spends most of her time with her husband and their quirky dogs. She is the author of Four Corners and Two Worlds, and is currently working on the final book in the Four Corners Trilogy, a Young Adult fantasy. Visit her website.

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