Instagram 101: For Writers

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If you’ve got a book—or anything, really—to sell, you know you need social media. (Groan. I know.) While you might be more familiar with Facebook or Twitter, it’s time to quit ignoring Instagram. Yes, I realize that authors trade in words and Insta is all about pictures, but you need to make it work. It’s the popular platform now. It’s where the kids are. It’s the cool table. If you’re an author with a book to sell, it’s time to start an account. Here’s how writers use Instagram.

To Be Found, Use Hashtags

We all know that Facebook dominates the world with literally billions of users. Facebook owns Instragram, and while that platform has fewer users, it’s still a lot. How are you going to be found amid these countless accounts? How is anyone going to know you exist or where to find your content?

The answer is hashtags (#). Or, as we used to say, the pound sign. (Don’t say that. The kids do not say that! You’ll have to admit that you had a landline, and we know what that makes you. Yes, the “O” word.) If you don’t know, hashtags make content searchable. If I go on Instagram, and I want to find romance novels, I can type “romance novel” in the search box. Instagram will then show me content from users who used that same hashtag. This helps people find what they’re looking for. This helps them potentially find you!

You might have noticed that some people seem to go really crazy with the hashtags. They’ll use, like, twenty different ones for the same topic. For instance, if it’s romance novels they’re talking about, you’ll see: #romance #romancejunkie #romancenovels #romancebooks #romancebook…etc. It’s all variations of the same thing. The reason is to try and capture those searches even if the person searching doesn’t type in the exact key words that would direct them to you.

Think back to the time before Google knew what you meant, even if you misspelled it and even if you didn’t type it in exactly right. That’s Instagram. It’s like Yahoo searches in 1999. You had to know exactly what you were looking for and call it by name. Typing “romance” in the box wouldn’t necessarily get you “romance novels.” By including many hashtag variations on the same theme, you are ensuring that people searching for the topic you’re posting about find you.

Looks Matter

Instagram is all about the look of the post. It’s not a platform for sharing links to other sites like on Facebook or witticisms like on Twitter. For the most part, it’s about the picture. Frankly you’re going to have to get creative when it comes to finding things to post because most of the time, it’s just you in your bathrobe in front of a computer screen. That said, you can post on topics related to your book’s content or whatever else motivates you.

Whatever you decide to post, make sure it is a clear, sharp image. Add a filter. Throw in a caption. Make it something you’d want to see too. Photo editing apps like Filterra or PicLab are either free or a nominal price. They can make ho-hum pics pop, which is what you want. You don’t need to be a graphic designer to make them look good, either.

Don’t forget that Canva, and other graphic design sites do have free pictures that you can use without copyright concerns (don’t use anything that doesn’t belong to you without permission!) if you can’t come up with your own photo. Adding filters or captions can help make these freebies your own. Make sure you resize any image to a 1:1 ratio, which is the proportion for all Instagram pics.

Although this is an advanced move, if you’re just now starting on Instagram, try to make your pictures have a thematic “look” that reflects the type of book you write or who you are. I know that’s a little vague, but if you write historical fiction, maybe sepia tones convey that. If you write Middle Grade, perhaps vibrant colors are more your thing. Don’t sweat it if you don’t have a “look” yet, but it’s certainly worth thinking about.

Stories versus Posts

If you look at anyone’s Instagram account, you’ll see thumbnails of the pictures they’ve taken. In literally one glance, you’re going to get an idea of who this person or product is. No pressure, but the photos you post need to be curated. Instagram is set up to give people an image-driven snapshot of your brand. Go ahead and put in the work (you know, like 60 seconds) to make your images the best they can be.

However, Insta also has “stories,” and this is where you can engage your audience in a more informal way. Stories can be photos or videos. The key is that they “expire” after 24 hours. Because they go away, you don’t have to be as careful with how they look. Many people record live videos (same concept as Facebook Live) that will only live for one day. It’s a great way to reach out, share your life, share what you’re working on, and connect without worrying about that curated look. It’s also a chance to share words, which is what we do.

Another advantage to stories is that if you do a story, your account will appear at the top of your followers’ screen. Just from placement alone, more people are likely to click on your account to see what you had to say or post on your story. Engagement is everything with social media, so if it gets you seen more, it’s probably worth the trouble.

As with all social media, there’s a ton to learn. It changes rapidly. Various platforms fall from favor or gain popularity. Insta won’t always be the cool kid. However, that’s no reason to be intimidated. Post every day, if you can. See what other authors are doing. Engage your audience. Instagram can work for writers too.

Do you have a topic you would like us to cover? Let us know about your suggestion. 


About Author

Mary is a young adult writer and archaeologist. By day she teaches at a local college, and by night she writes about the adventures of adolescence.

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