So you want to start a Bookstagram. For anyone unfamiliar with the term, a Bookstagram is an Instagram account dedicated to books. You can find a roundup of some of our favorite accounts here. I created my personal Bookstagram almost a year ago and have learned a lot in that time. Here’s a breakdown of some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way to help as you start your own.
Setting up your account
The first thing you want to do is decide on an account name. If you already have a book blog, Booktube channel, or active bookish Twitter, you’ll want to use that name for consistency—like utopia.state.of.mind, which reflects the blog of the same name. If this will be your first book-focused channel, take some time to think about what you plan on sharing. For example channels like tomesandtextiles and booksandmargs use a name that indicates their channels will pair books with clothing and cocktails respectively. Alternatively, you can keep it simple and straightforward like mine: bookish.kelly simply reflects who I am and the fact that this channel will be for books.
Once you have a name, fill in your profile. You don’t have much room so it’s best to keep it simple. Mine includes that I work for NetGalley, the hashtag of a summer readalong I’m hosting, and my pronouns. You can also talk about your favorite genres or passions!
All profiles have room for a single link. I’d recommend creating a free Campsite account, which creates a landing page where you can include multiple links. Here’s a look at mine as an example.
We can’t talk about Bookstagram without talking about the books themselves. When considering your username, you likely already thought about the kinds of books you’ll feature and whether you’re focusing on a specific genre or simply sharing whatever you’re reading. You probably already own a lot of books, which is a great place to start. Some readers prefer to focus on their current reads, but if you’re new to Bookstagram that means there are books you loved that you read in the past that are still well-worth sharing!
You’ll see a lot of ARCs and digital review copies on Bookstagram, and if you’re reading this blog, chances are you’re already a member of NetGalley (though if you’re a newbie I’ve got some tips for you here!). Readers who enjoy reviewing ARCs can also check out BookishFirst, our giveaway platform for consumer reviewers.
There are also a lot of responsibilities that come with requesting and accepting ARCs. I’d recommend focusing on the books you’re most passionate about or are most relevant to your profession. After all, ARCs aren’t the only free books available to you: Goodreads hosts tons of giveaways, and your library and Little Free Library are also good options. See if you have a used bookstore in town and pick up some discounted titles. You don’t need access to ARCs or tons of disposable income to be an active Bookstagrammer. While Bookstagram can sometimes feel like it’s all about those ARCs, the truth is that there is more than enough room for backlist books too!
I’ve never been much of a photographer, so that’s been my biggest challenge on Bookstagram. But it’s also been a lot of fun and a chance to stretch different creative muscles! When taking pictures, don’t just snap a single photo. Instead, try experimenting with different angles, locations, and more. As you practice, you’ll find it starts to get easier. Consistently featuring locations or compositions that you feel good about is a great way to create a cohesive theme on your account when you’re just starting out.
My biggest tip for newbies is using natural light. Find a place in your home or outside, and don’t be afraid to test photos at different times of the day to see how it impacts your pictures. I take pictures using my iPhone. In Settings, under Camera, I’ve enabled the Grid. I find this helps me when I’m framing my shot. I also always use the Square option (to the right of Photo when your Camera is open) to ensure that my Bookstagram photos are all the same size and won’t be cut off (as rectangle photos are) in your profile’s grid.
I also often draw inspiration from the Bookstagrammers I follow—taking mental notes of layouts that catch my eye and the composition of the photo. When I noticed many other Bookstagrammers using book sleeves in their photos, it inspired me to try that out in my own.
Sometimes you’ll see a Bookstagrammer featuring a layout you’d like to try yourself. For example, I love the way utopia.state.of.mind shows off her enamel pins in photos. I created an enamel pin-focused shot of my own and made sure to credit her in the caption!
Here are more tips for how to stage, shoot, and share e-reader photos to help NetGalley members who want to talk about the e-arcs they’re reading and reviewing on Bookstagram.
When it comes to equipment I recommend waiting before you purchase anything because what works for one Bookstagrammer, might not work for you. Start with the basics: some natural lighting and your phone/camera. As you use your account more, you’ll discover what you need and can ask other bookworms for their advice on what works for them.
Similarly, Bookstagrammers love a good prop. From Funkos to candles to flowers, photos often feature a lot more than a book. But don’t feel pressured to have your photos match what you’re seeing in your feed. Start with what you have on hand and develop your own style. For example, my absolute favorite prop to use is a scarf!
As you grow more comfortable with your photography skills, you may want to start doing more to photos than simply adding a filter. The free editing apps that I use most frequently are VSCO (which includes filter options that I like better than Instagram’s), Snapseed (which has great tools that help you fix the exposure, saturation, and temperature of specific parts of your photo), and Canva (where you can create fun Instagram story templates and is ideal for adding book covers to Kindle or iPhone screens, which can be tricky to photograph). If you enjoy VSCO, they offer a free trial of their paid membership program so you can test out their advanced features. There are more editing tools you can pay for, but I’d suggest starting with the free versions.
Captions are another place to let your creativity shine. For one of your first posts, consider a #MeetTheBookstagrammer caption to share a little about yourself with your followers. Many of your posts will feature reviews and recommendations, but captions can also be a place to participate in challenges, talk about events you attend, and share your life.
When writing book reviews in your caption, you want to make your opinion clear and concise since your space is limited. I’ve written tips on writing reviews and critical reviews, and Bookstagrammer Lili offered some advice on writing Instagram reviews in my interview with her here. You’ll also want to be mindful of what you can and cannot share: It’s always wise to give a clear warning if you’ll be sharing spoilers and when discussing ARCs in particular, publishers ask that you not share direct quotes or artwork, which may change before the book is published.
If the book you’re featuring was given to you for the purpose of review by a publisher, legally it must be disclosed. A simple “Thank you for the ARC” followed by the tagged publisher account is perfect.
One of the joys of Bookstagram is connecting with other readers, but when you first start out it can sometimes feel like you’re the new kid in a school. One of the keys to strong and consistent engagement is being genuine. Share who you are in your captions, your comments to others, and your replies—it won’t be long before like-minded readers start reaching out.
A simple and easy way to drive engagement to your posts is to ask a question. In this post, toallthenerdygirls asks readers about their favorite beach read romances, which also nicely segues into her review of the book pictured.
Don’t forget that engagement is a two-way street. Reply to the comments you receive and make sure to leave comments yourself on others’ posts.
When it comes to hashtags, you’ll want to include the book titles and author names of any titles featured in your photo. This makes it easy for publishers to find your picture. You can also include the genre of the books, and many genres have specific hashtags for subgenres (for example sci-fi’s #SpaceOpera). There’s a seemingly endless list of book-related hashtags, which means you can experiment with the ones that work best for you and your account. Take a look at the hashtags your favorite Bookstagrammers are using and browse the hashtag search page to see what photos under that hashtag look like. Some readers include hashtags in their captions, and others leave them as a comment instead. Find what works for you.
As you explore, you’ll also find hashtags such as #MapMonday or #SockSaturday, which can help inspire the content in your feed.
A final note on hashtags: Capitalizing the first letter of each word within a hashtag make them more accessible for people who use screen readers, dyslexic readers, and more.
When it comes to posting, the key is to find a schedule that works best for you. Some Bookstagrammers post every single day, while others share something whenever the inspiration strikes. If you’re looking to build up your channel, I’d recommend starting small with 2-3 posts per week a few days apart. This gives you time to plan out what you’re going to post.
I use a spreadsheet with rows for the dates and columns for the kind of content I’m sharing, my caption, the hashtags I’m using, and a few other items I like to track, such as genre. This has helped me to stay consistent and enabled me to plan in advance which books I’m going to share.
My final tip here is to pay attention to publication dates of any new books you’re featuring. Publication dates are incredibly important to publishers and authors, and many prefer for readers to share reviews around those dates.
It’s always a good idea to tag the book’s publisher—whether you received the book directly from them, checked it out from the library, or bought it. If the publisher gave you access through NetGalley or a giveaway site like BookishFirst, you can tag those platforms too!
Every author has their own preference when it comes to tagging, but they generally all agree that they don’t want to be tagged in negative reviews. If your post is positive, feel free to tag them.
Personally, I only tag authors into photos where I’m specifically talking about their book. For example, I tagged authors in this anthology review, but not in this book stack purchase from an indie bookstore.
Seek out advice
Unsure about the proper Bookstagram etiquette in a certain situation? Don’t know how to make your photos look the way you envision them in your mind? Just ask for help! The Bookstagram community is filled with readers who love nothing more than sharing their passions with each other. Many accounts, such as tomesandtextiles, even create free videos or hold Q&As to answer questions about how to use the platform.
If you’re not sure who to ask, head over to Google. Since many Bookstagrammers are also bloggers, you’ll find plenty of posts about camera angles, hashtags, and more!