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Instagram For Indie Authors: Boosting Engagement, Followers, And Book Sales

Instagram for Indie Authors: Boosting Engagement, Followers, and Book Sales

Instagram not only is the perfect place to find and grow your audience, but it is an incredibly useful platform to connect with other authors across the world. In today's article, the Alliance of Independent Authors welcomes Suzie Speaks, social media manager to discuss Instagram for indie authors: how to boost your reader engagement.

Suzie Speaks, Social Media Manager

Suzie Speaks is a blogger and social media manager. She lives in Birmingham with her husband and offers everything from social media services to blog consultation and has recently launched a photography service for authors. Find out more about her services on her website and Twitter.

How to Build Your Author Instagram

Instagram not only is the perfect place to find and grow your audience, but it is an incredibly useful platform to connect with other authors across the world.

As authors the mere thought of using an image-sharing platform to promote words seems contradictory. While Instagram is fun, fast-paced and exciting it can also be incredibly confusing, with plenty of conflicting advice available that is often based on personal successes. Similarly to the process of self-publishing, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to social media platforms – much of it involves trial and error, the type of audience you want to build and getting creative in how you promote yourself, your brand and most importantly, your books.

As of October 2021, there were over 1.3 BILLION recorded active users on Instagram. For authors this is a ready-made audience of people who are just waiting to buy your books – you just have to find them!

Instagram for authors isn’t about posting pretty pictures of yourself or your dog while standing in front of jaw-dropping scenery and looking wistful into the distance. Author Instagram gives you the opportunity to showcase what you love and allows you to share more about your books, yourself as an author and the process in which you have been through in order to self-publish. It is a great networking tool for connecting with everyone involved in the industry – editors, cover designers, bookstore owners and most importantly, readers!

How to Optimise Your Author Instagram

Your profile needs to explain, at a glance, who you are and what you do. Give yourself a name that makes sense – preferably your pen name – and include relevant details about your books (and you) in the bio. You can be creative with this, but be aware that you only have a limited number of characters. Include the link to your Amazon page or author website (or set up a LinkTree in which you can include multiple links), and choose a suitable, high-quality profile picture.

How to Build Your Audience

Instagram for indie authors image of Sacha Black's profile and reels

Sacha Black Reels

Create reels. Instagram is quickly becoming a video sharing platform, and while reels may appear to be intimidating for those who have never created them before, they are far more effective at reaching a much larger audience. The content of your reels can be anything related to your topic – quick book recommendations, your favourite reads, a visit to your local bookstore etc. For advice on how to create a reel, visit here.

Post regularly. This will depend on how much time you have and how creative you may be feeling, but the more consistently you post, the more likely your audience is going to seek you out. If you post once a day, try and post at the same time each day as this will help the Instagram algorithm.

Post high-quality, relevant content. A blurry picture of your cat isn’t going to help you win followers – make sure that any pictures and videos you upload are as high resolution and clear as possible so your audience can see the subject.

Share on your stories. Stories are great for sharing not just your content, but photos and videos from others too! Stories only last for 24 hours, but you can incorporate effects, questions, polls, music, links and animations to make them really interesting and encourage engagement from your audience.

Create a theme. Remember that Instagram is aesthetic – a potential follower will subconsciously make an instant decision on how much your content appeals to them based on how aesthetically pleasing it is. This is subject to your own personal tastes, but a consistent theme, whether it is through a general colour palette or filter which you can edit inside Instagram will create a feeling of cohesion across your profile. Just remember not to be too repetitive in what you post.

Be creative in your captions. Use your writing skills to make the written content as interesting as the visual. Where possible, add in some humour too!

Use hashtags. Hashtags are a way to essentially categorise the content of your posts and by using hashtags you can reach an audience that is relevant to you. Hashtags like #author, #authorlife and #writingcommunity are popular, and if you’re sharing a book layout then #bookstagram is useful. Are you a historical fiction author? Use #historicalfiction or #histfic. YA author? #ya is a simple hashtag to use. To find out how popular a hashtag is, type it into the search engine and see how many posts are available that have used it. You're looking for hashtags that have tens to hundreds of thousands of posts for optimal impressions. While hashtags with millions of posts are great, they're also oversaturated and you won't stay top of the algorithm for long.

For further ideas on hashtags that you should use, look at the hashtags that your favourite instagrammers are also using. Or, why not create your own? This could include the title of your book or series, and this can be used by readers in their posts too!

Engage, engage, engage. Like, save, and comment on Instagram posts that are within your genre and make you smile. Make the engagement meaningful – simply leaving an emoji won’t spark a meaningful conversation or encourage others to follow you back. Make sure that you reply to all the comments you receive on your own Instagram too! Don’t mass follow people and expect that they will all follow you back and remain as a follower – the follow/unfollow game on Instagram is a huge problem when trying to maintain and grow follower numbers.

Use influencer marketing. When done correctly, influencers can be a really effective way of marketing your books to a wider audience. To find potential influencers, search for your genre and see who has posted reviews, then approach them by sending a respectful message in their DM’s. Be aware that some with larger followings may expect payment, but you may be surprised at how many of the smaller influencers are happy to review books just for the love of reading!

Use paid advertising. There are advertising options available on Instagram to promote your content, which can be fairly inexpensive and not as complicated as it may appear. However, while ads will indeed promote your posts to a much wider audience, they may not be as effective as building a core audience of readers who are dedicated to your books. To find out more about advertising on Instagram, visit here.

Instagram Content Ideas for Authors

Your books! If you don’t share your work, how is anyone going to know that it is there? Don’t just share your book covers repeatedly, try and include different themes that can be found within the books too. This can be as creative as you like – include characters, locations and any world-building research trips you may have done. Try not to be too spammy about this – repeatedly yelling BUY MY BOOKS! is not going to bring in any extra sales.

Cover art. If you’re at the stage where you’re designing your latest cover, why not post up a few different versions and ask your audience on which one they prefer? Create a poll in your stories too!

Promotions. Are you having a flash sale for a limited period of time? Let your audience know about it!

Your author journey. How did you become an author? What inspired you to write your first book? What are the processes of self-publishing a book from start to finish?

Your writing process.This is a great way of connecting with other authors and gives an insight into your creative mind.

Books that you are reading. Many showcase their favourite reads in front of bookcases, or on a coffee table. Some include their pets, or flowers, or objects that suit the theme of the book itself. Check out the #bookstagram hashtag for some gorgeous ideas. Consider too sharing your love of books that fall into specific tropes or genres. Like “three fantasy romance books I loved in 2022”.

Special events. If you have been to a networking event, met a fellow author or reader for coffee, held a book launch or signing, share some videos and photos!

Ask the audience. Asking questions will encourage people to participate. What are they reading? What is their favourite read of the year so far? What new books have they bought?

Reviews. Has someone left a 5* review of your latest book on Amazon? Share it with your readers!

Snippets and teasers. Have you appeared on a podcast or have a new video out of your latest release? Share a short snippet to get your audience interested!

Collaborations. Instagram now offers the opportunity to team up with other instagrammers as a collaboration, where you can share collective thoughts and the post will appear on the profiles of whoever is participating. Collaborating with someone with a much higher following and engagement rate may give your profile a boost too!

A useful tip when creating content for your author Instagram is to always share what interests you, is relevant to yourself and your books and makes you smile. If you like what you are posting, others will too.

Creating a Instagram Content Strategy

A content strategy for an author Instagram is a really effective way of being able to take charge of the content you want to share on the platform. A content strategy generally consists of:

  • What you wish to post
  • What you want it to look like
  • The audience you want to reach
  • When you wish to post it

By working out what you are posting and when you are posting it you can establish a clear outline of your content in advance. Remember that Instagram is all about the aesthetics, so you want to create a feed that looks pleasing to the eye, and by planning your content you can avoid repetition and post targeted content on specific days. For example, Thursdays are popular for ‘Throwback Thursday’ posts – sharing older memories or ‘throwbacks’ to something that happened a while ago. This could be anything eg. the first 5* review you received, your first book or an event from a few years ago in which you met your favourite author. By using your content strategy you can plan for sharing a throwback post and use the hashtag #throwbackthursday. Using an app like VisRef can help you map out your images in advance and move them around for a better visual effect.

Orna Ross screen shot of indie author instagram profile

Poet Orna Ross Instagram Profile

A Note on Following Versus Engagement

Often the number of followers that someone has is considered to represent their level of authority and popularity in a subject – a person with thousands of followers as opposed to fifty must certainly know more, have written higher-quality books and must be making lots in terms of sales, right?

Not necessarily…

When looking at follower numbers, it is important to consider several factors:

  • How long the account has been open and active
  • Followers can be easily obtained through following, then unfollowing lots of people a few days later
  • Followers can be bought, and this is more common practice than you may think.

When looking at an Instagram account take note of the engagement levels (ie. how many likes, comments and Reel views) on the individual posts. While Instagram doesn’t publish specific numbers in terms of what is a ‘good’ engagement rate, it is generally considered within industry experts that a decent level of engagement is approximately 2%-5%, and 6% and above is excellent. If someone has 10K followers and receives 10 likes per post, it’s clear that they aren’t engaging their audience or may have bought followers. How fast your own follower numbers grow will depend on how often you post, how interesting your content is and how much you engage with others. Try not to be swayed or intimidated by the numbers – look at the content and how much it peaks your interest.

When used correctly, Instagram for authors can be a wonderful marketing tool for connecting with your already existing audience and connecting with a whole range of new readers!

How to Collaborate with Influencers and Book Reviewers on Instagram

Influencers and book reviewers are a very effective way to promote your books to a wider audience.

To find influencers and book reviewers, use hashtags like #bookstagram and #bookreview in the search and these will provide you with thousands of potential people that may be willing to collaborate.

The easiest way to approach an influencer or book reviewer is the send them a direct message. Be polite, explain more about your book (don’t feel the need to give the entire blurb, but make it is interesting as possible) and ask if they would be interested in reviewing a copy of your book.

Be clear on the type of promotion that you want in their review – do you want a reel, story or will a simple grid post be effective? Be aware that influencers with thousands of followers may expect monetary compensation in return.

Another option is to check on their profile to see if they have a link to “email” as above on Orna's profile image. When you email, you have more flexibility with what you can say and send. Be sure to try and hunt down their first name either by investigating their profile or checking if they have a website link. This makes your pitch far more personal. In addition, check to see whether they have any rules or requirements regarding reviews. Some only review certain genres, others only certain formats.

To understand more on influencer marketing, how to pitch and approach, and how to engage with them, you can read our ultimate guide to influencer marketing here. Alternatively, we also have an ultimate guide on pitching here.

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