Social media can be a pretty powerful method of marketing and engaging readers. As much as some writers and authors refuse to believe it (or participate at all), social media is quickly becoming a necessity for communicating with your readers and building your fanbase. It is also, in marketing speak, an integral part of the “sales funnel,” which can drive traffic to your website and/or booksellers.
But most important of all is using it to let people see who you are and what you're about, with a smattering of shameless self-promotion thrown in for good measure.
This is all very well and good for sites like Twitter—where a gift for words can come in handy. And Facebook (despite its aggravating algorithms) is straightforward as well. But when it comes to more visual-based social media sites like Instagram (images and video) and even TikTok (video), what's a writer to do?
As it turns out…a lot.
Writers and authors can absolutely use Instagram for both engagement and self-promotion. In fact, if you have the time and inclination, it's well worth adding it to your social media profiles. Not only is Instagram a different medium—which will challenge you to come up with some fresh ideas—but it also has the potential to put you in front of a different audience. Sure, there may be some crossover, but it's a chance to reach readers you might not have otherwise encountered on Twitter or Facebook.
A lot of people prefer Instagram to the more antagonistic, world-on-fire, free-for-all assault of words on other platforms. “I find it more relaxing to just look at pictures,” a friend told me. This means it can be considered a safer, less aggressive place for those who are, well, just looking.
But if you're promoting a book, how do you market with pictures?
Create your own memes
Whether you use an image or create a text-only meme, memes can grab your audience's attention. Does it need to be related to your writing or your book specifically? Absolutely not, although you may occasionally find the opportunity to combine something that's trending with your current project. But be yourself; be more than just an author trying to sell books. Create memes about writing, about books, about caffeine, about working at your computer, and just about life in general. Have fun with it, and see what you can come up with that other people will relate to or find entertaining. And remember to keep a healthy level of expectation about the possibility of going viral. (It never happens when you want it to.)
Invite people into your world
Sure, writing is all about words on the page (or rather, your screen). But it's also about your writing desk, where you work, your environment. Have a dog that likes to curl up on your desk or lap? Or a cat that wants to parade its bum in your face? What are you eating and/or drinking? These are all small pieces of your daily life, and they can make for fun and compelling images and photos. Let people be part of your day, and not just through work. On a writing break? Take a photo of something beautiful while you're outside, or even a photo of the weather and how it's affecting you.
Don't be afraid to include snapshots and images from your life (especially pets), so long as the images don't compromise your privacy (or anyone else's) or potentially harm your reputation.
Turn a simple image into an opportunity for good writing
Regardless of your photography skills, sometimes it can be effective to take or post a photo, and then write about it, its significance, or even make up a little story. Friends and followers may quickly discover that while your photos don't come with exactly a thousand words, they can come with some brilliant writing. Some Instagram users will even go out of their way to post provocative images in the hope that their message will reach a wider audience, but make sure that the approach you do use is in keeping with who you are, your voice, your books, and most of all, your target audience.
Post images that relate to your book
New York Times bestselling author Katee Robert writes very sexy romances. Hilariously, while she's working out the logistics of certain complicated “encounters,” she uses Barbie dolls to figure out the, er, positions. Then she'll post photos of the dolls on Instagram. It's a clever means of capturing her audience's attention, making them laugh, giving them some insight into her process, and then getting them thinking about reading the book merely to see how it all turns out. Now, that's not to say you're going to have that same kind of inspiration. However, there are always opportunities to find visual representations of what you're doing, whether it's a screencap of some odd Google search you're doing for research, an image of background reading material (make sure you tag the author if you can!), or even a pic of your wall of Post-its to track your plot. The trick is to get creative.
Throw in the occasional promotion
Already have books available for purchase? Is your book ready for pre-order? Create a snazzy promotional ad that will link to a bookseller or your website. This is your chance to also offer limited-time deals and sales, such as “Save $1” or “Buy this bundle of books for $10.” You obviously need to be sparing with these kinds of posts. Remember that the benefits of social media don't come from direct sales but rather from engagement, increasing your visibility, and inviting people on your writing journey.
Take a selfie to promote other authors
A great way to engage with readers (and authors) is to help other authors. One of the best ways you can do this is simply taking a selfie of yourself reading their book (and the more picturesque the background, the better) and tagging the author in it. Not thrilled about your mug being in that shot? Take a photo and let the book be the star, whether on a sunny beach, a hammock, a table with your favorite reading snacks, or even positioned on your bookshelf. Don't shy away from letting your followers know you love books and support authors.
You can also do this with your book as well. You could even take your book on an adventure or trip, and document it seeing the sights.
Talk directly to your readers
You don't have to just stick to using photos on Instagram. Step up and take a video of yourself, either talking briefly about your writing process, reading from your manuscript, or even giving writing advice. Let your personality shine through while you are sharing great content!
Post a book trailer
If you're on the verge of releasing a book and have a little extra money in your budget, you might want to think about creating a book trailer. Similar to a movie trailer—and even using actors, animation, and special effects—a well-crafted book trailer can be a powerful marketing tool across all your social media channels. But because it is a video, it will lend itself exceptionally well to social media sites like Instagram and TikTok. It will not only increase interest and anticipation but stir up a little attention.
Create your own video book reviews
If you love reading and always seem to have the latest books (or even advance copies), try making some short video reviews to share with your followers. If reviewing books on camera is something you enjoy, it could open you up to a whole host of new opportunities, increase your engagement, and widen your audience. And it might even get you some free review copies of those new books you were hoping to buy.
Hannah Guy lives in Toronto and is a professional writer and copywriter who specializes in books, books, and more books. Follow her on Twitter at @hannorg.