Note from Jane: This post is an excerpt from Social Media for Writers: Marketing Strategies for Building Your Audience and Selling Books (Writer’s Digest Books) by Tee Morris (@TeeMonster) and Pip Ballantine (@PhillipaJane).
When you hear about networking platforms or building a presence on social media, authors generally talk about Facebook, Twitter, and blogging straight away. Sometimes podcasting and Pinterest are mentioned.
We asked our community of writers what questions they had about Instagram. Writer, podcaster, and photographer J.R. Blackwell said point-blank “Should I even bother?” She went on to say she didn’t think Instagram was a bad platform (and as she is a professional photographer, we would have been surprised if she thought it was), but the question was: How would it be a good platform for authors?
Instagram is a social media outlet writers in general do not seriously consider a viable promotion platform. They may try it out for a brief spell, have a bit of fun, and then forget they have the app on their smartphone. With the right approach and application, though, Instagram can provide a treasure trove of visual content for a writer.
Now, before you think that “visual content” for a writer consists of nothing more than a picture of a laptop with a work-in-progress on the screen (which we’ve found that followers on Instagram and elsewhere do respond to!), think again. It’s possible to cast a more imaginative net by including character inspirations, behind-the-scenes research or travel, or even a quick link back to your blog. You must go beyond a writer’s desk or book signings.
1. Author appearances
Book signings can only be so interesting. A snapshot of you with pen at the ready and books arranged neatly is fine, but then what? Depending on the appearance and the location, quite a bit. If you are appearing with other authors on a panel discussion, you can take a photo of the discussion. After the panel, why not snap a candid shot with the other authors or editors attending? (Ask if they are on Instagram so you can tag them accordingly.) You can also post Instagrams that document your travel to various conventions and conferences where you will be presenting. Geotag where each of these moments is taking place and invite readers within driving distance to join you there. You can also repost images or video from other authors’ feeds to boost the signal, provided you know of other Instagram-using writers who are attending the event with you.
2. Upcoming releases, special events, and cover reveals
Do you have a date for your next novel or approval from your publisher to reveal your next book cover? Share artwork pertaining to your upcoming launch. Whether it is an original graphic you create, or a cropped section of your cover, Instagram—with Iconosquare added into the mix—gives you the ability to send out a single post across seven social networks. This post can point back to one central location, whether it’s your blog, a link to pre-order your book, or another place on the Internet. You can also create original artwork publicizing special events—a crowdfunding event, a charity anthology, or an upcoming appearance—where you will be participating. The image you create for Instagram can also serve as your own branded artwork for the event in question.
3. The writer’s life
Photos of what you’re reading, what’s on your computer screen, print resources on the corner of your desk, or where you are drawing inspiration from make for interesting visual content. It’s a peek behind the curtain, a delightful look at what inspires you and what words are filling the page. Depending on how much you want to share, you can also post the sunrise from a morning walk or your view from a writer’s retreat. There’s a lot that goes into writing a book—share it on Instagram.
Competitions are a proven way to increase your number of followers on Instagram, but don’t go this route until you have at least a small following. It’s hard to make a splash if only a few people are following you.
Instagram is nice enough to spell out rules for promotional guidelines. You are responsible for the lawful operation of your contest—this makes sure Instagram isn’t in trouble if you fail to obey local laws. You cannot ask your readers to inaccurately tag content or people in their entries. All promotions must have a note from Instagram that releases the company of responsibility, and all entrants must point out that Instagram is not endorsing, sponsoring, or administering the contest. Instagram will not help out with your promotion nor give you any advice pertaining to it. Finally, you must agree that you are running the contest at your own risk. Keep those guidelines in mind while you design your giveaway.
User-generated content competitions are popular on Instagram and a great way to encourage creativity among your followers. They also have the advantage of not running afoul of any local laws governing sweepstakes.
In order to fit in all the rules, prizes, and directions for entrants, you should create a post or page on your blog or website. You then put this URL in your Instagram post. The hashtag that you are using to keep track of entrants should be included as well.
So what do you ask people to do? Keep it simple, and make sure it involves nothing dangerous or too outrageous. A picture of a participant with your book (“book selfies”), dressed up like a character, or posing with something significant related to the book (an artifact or some related item) are all good choices. Or you could go with something related to your genre that is more open to interpretation.
Before launching the competition, make your own competition graphic to post on Instagram, and make sure it contains the hashtag you have come up with.
Don’t forget to spread the word about your competition through your other social networks.
5. Teasers and motivationals
Selections from your upcoming release are always great teases to get readers excited. In the same way graphic designers use pull quotes from a magazine article to grab a reader’s attention, authors can use juicy character quotes, and small bits of narrative to tantalize readers with what’s to come in their next work. Teasers work here the same way Hollywood entices fans with iconic imagery in a movie poster—you give your readers just a hint of what is coming.
Motivationals are similar to teasers, but they come from advice or essays on your blog. You might wonder: Isn’t it a little arrogant to offer up my inspirational quotes alongside Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and Mark Twain? But consider the motivational you create less of a “Bask in my brilliance!” graphic and more of a “This is what I want you to take away” graphic.
Important caveat: Links are not active on Instagram, but when cross-posted on Facebook and Tumblr, using the http:// lead-in, URLs can take readers from your cross-posting to wherever you want them to go.
For more on social media strategies for writers, check out Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine’s Social Media for Writers, recently released by Writer’s Digest Books.