Every time I launched a book prior to Star Shattered, I did so with blogging. Posts on my own blog, blog tours, blog hops, etc. There’s just one problem — I am not a fan of blogging. I find it draining. So when it came time to launch Star Shattered, I decided I was going to take a route that would bring me more joy: bookstagram.

What is Bookstagram, and why should I care?

Bookstagram is the Instagram niche focused on love of books and reading. Many active and influential bookstagrammers work with large publishers to promote upcoming and new releases, and may use their Instagram accounts adjacent to blogs, YouTube channels, and other social media.

Bookstagrammers can be powerful visual influencers, and the bar to joining this online community is very low. All you need is an internet connection and a device capable of taking/posting photos.

As an author, there are ways to leverage bookstagram trends and events in order to promote the launch of a new book. Many bookstagram accounts host monthly challenges, inviting participants to post one photo per day (or week) on a specific theme. The hashtags associated with these challenges get highly targeted traffic from people who are interested in books and specific genres. Many of them are also book bloggers, who have advanced reach and would be a solid addition to any author’s street team.

Finding Instagram Challenge Hashtags

I highly recommend following @bookstagram_photochallenges, @bookstagram.challenges, and @bookstachallenges on Instagram. These are accounts that promote book-related Instagram challenges hosted by other users. At the end of each month, you’ll see a lot of posts from them, spreading the word about next month’s challenges.

I combed through the bookstagram challenges happening in May, my pre-launch month, and found over a dozen I could use to promote Star Shattered. I created a Google calendar and added an event with the hashtag and theme for every day I thought I could produce a photo.

Now, here’s the key to doing this as part of book promotion: highlight the days that present an opportunity for you to promote your book(s), and prioritize the creation of that content. However, you still have to create content that isn’t all about your book for other days of the month.

Why? A few good reasons:

  1. Bookstagram is a community of book lovers. The way to get the most leverage out of participating in this community is to share your love of books in general, not just promote your own.
  2. Focusing solely on self-promotion comes off as spammy, and you may find that your posts gain less traction as the month goes on and people get sick of looking at nothing but posts about your book. It also stifles the conversation around your posts, because anyone who hasn’t read it will have nothing to contribute to the comments. Starting genuine conversations about love of books and genre can be the first step to building relationships with review bloggers and influencers.
  3. Keeping traffic flowing to your account on days that you don’t promote your book will allow you to build your following and increase the reach of posts that do promote your work.

When I created my calendar, I had at least 3 challenge photos per day. I highlighted the ones that I could use to promote Star Shattered, and I created those images first.

The problem? I didn’t have my book yet. I had a cover and a preorder page on Amazon, but no physical proof copy of which to take photos.

My solution: Mockupworld. This is a site that distributes links to free design assets such as iPad and book mockups. I downloaded a few of these free images and used Photoshop to edit my book’s cover into them. I also created inspiration boards to share using templates from Creative Market. It took me roughly 5 hours to photograph, edit, caption, and schedule all my other book-related posts using Photoshop and Snapseed (available for iOS and Android).

I scheduled my posts and captions using an app called Later. This app works on desktop, iOS and Android and will tell you when to post according to your predesigned schedule. There are payment tiers of Later that will post without you having to manually send the content over to Instagram. Other apps are doing this now too, since Instagram made the scheduling option for posts available through their API.

Marketing with Instagram Challenges

As I mentioned earlier, challenge-related hashtags get a lot of targeted traffic from people who are interested in books or genres. This is where your audience community is gathering. To reach them, you have to participate in the challenge(s) fully.

That doesn’t necessarily mean posting a photo every single day. If you can’t do a few days, that’s fine. I posted every day throughout May, at least two times per day, but I didn’t necessarily participate in the same challenges every day. Over the course of the month, I used 23 challenge hashtags in my posts. Was I producing 23 photos per day? No way!

Here’s what I did: I focused on the daily themes that related to my book, and then to themes that I knew I could do using the books on my shelf. Several times, the daily themes of multiple challenges aligned. I could produce a single photo and hashtag multiple challenges in that one post.

Here’s an example:

On the first day of the month, almost every challenge invited participants to share their To Be Read pile for May. With just one post, I put my account on the map with 14 different challenges. At the time I only had 6 followers on my young account, but that post generated 43 likes, 5 comments, and doubled my follower count in a day.

How I Expanded My Instagram Reach

Later works best when you manually send the content over to Instagram. It takes a little more time and effort, but it’s worth it. In order to get the most out of Instagram challenges, you need to participate.

Take just 5 minutes after each post to scroll through the other posts using the challenge hashtag. Use this time to comment on photos and build relationships with other book lovers. People are more likely to follow an active and engaging user, which increases the reach of your marketing efforts.

Target people who are looking at the app now. When you post a photo, within a few minutes you will probably see interaction with that post in the form of likes, comments, follows, etc. Those people are looking at Instagram right now, which means that right now is the best time to interact with them. Use the time signature on these activities to determine who is likely still active in the app, and head over to their account to interact with their content. You can start slow by doing things such as liking their photos in return, but the best response tends to come from commenting on others’ photos when you know they are available to reply. This way, you can build a relationship in real time and keep them focused on the conversation, rather than waiting hours for them to pick up their phone again.

Keep Track of Your Results

I used a spreadsheet to chart which hashtags I was using each day, how many interactions my posts received, and any change to my follower numbers. Within a week, I’d identified the challenge hashtags that produced the most traffic and interaction for my posts, and I knew I should focus on them to build my reach. Charting also reveals which days of the week are most active and if there is an ideal time of day to post photos.

Since I was posting multiple times a day, I focused on two specific time slots: between 5 and 7 am, so my post would be visible to people who check Instagram when they wake up, and between 3 and 5 pm, for those who check the app after work or school.

You can also keep track of a hashtag’s popularity using Later. When you type in a hashtag, Later will let you know how many times that hashtag has been used to date. The tags associated with monthly challenges will start out with just a few posts, but if you get to the midpoint in the month and notice that hardly anybody else is participating in that challenge, you might decide that it isn’t worth your time to continue.

Keep the Momentum Going

This is where I really fell off the wagon. I picked my book’s launch date well in advance, and then life crowded up around it. I had posts scheduled up until a few days after my book launch — and then had no time to create new content after that. I ended up falling off the face of the planet, as far as Instagram is concerned, just a few days after my book came out.

Ideally, you should continue to promote your book and build relationships on Instagram throughout the launch period and even after. I screwed this up big time. After things calmed down in my life, I also struggled to get that momentum back. I’d been away from Instagram for so long, it was hard to get back into the groove of it.

But that’s why Instagram challenges are so awesome — they give you a deadline, a set of themes, and a community to join. When you participate in an Instagram challenge, you don’t have to invent the wheel first. It’s like taking a shortcut to online engagement.

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