Brief Art Lesson on the Bookstagram

Bookstagrams are a form of art. Fact.

Bookstagrams are also a form of great marketing, and as such, a source of revenue. Also fact.

Why is it that the bookstagram community has worked so well for publishers and bloggers alike? Why is #bookstagram currently at over 19 million hits on Instagram? It’s because of both of those above facts. People like to see art. And in posting this art, they are unknowingly marketing a publisher while simultaneously marketing themselves. It’s brilliant. And there are no signs of it slowing down.

Bookstagrams, like all other forms of art, can be tricky to learn how to make. All it takes, though, is an honest feed, intentional artistic arrangement, and, most importantly, consistent branding.

What exactly goes into a bookstagram? The short answer: ANYTHING WITH A BOOK. It really is that simple. For me, I like to use props that go well with the themes of the book as well as the cover design. Some people just take pictures of pages. Some people take pictures of endless stacks of books surrounded by hundreds of colorful props so large you actually can’t read any of the titles on the books.

When starting an account, you have to understand who you’re trying to reach and what your basic brand will be. I want to be a very personal and trusted reviewer. I want people to feel like they know me. So, I only post pictures of books I’ve read and only post honest things about those books. That’s my brand. (This also makes it much easier to pick out themes in the book I can match with props.)

For my picture, I arrange the props against a consistent white background. It’s actually just a shelf I have at home. A really popular background right now is monochrome sheets.

For my props in my example of The Ocean in My Ears, I used SweeTarts because they’re relevant in the book itself and also pair very well with the cover.

After I take the picture, I edit it. All of my photos are edited to have the same lighting, the same fade, the same vibrancy. This is all part of the brand. I’ve yet to see a successful bookstagram that doesn’t use some kind of consistent photo editing. People want to see similar styles of photographs.

Keeping a consistent brand, no matter how personal the account, is so important. People want to follow accounts they can trust will post fairly similar art because they like that art. You wouldn’t commission an artist who gave out a different-styled piece every time someone requested their services; in a similar way, people will not give you that follow if you remain inconsistent and unpredictable. According to Forbes, “The best brand strategies are ones that are unique, ones that get users involved directly, and ones that remain true to the brand (preferably all three). If you can do this, and maintain a steady stream of content over the course of months and years, you can build a similarly massive, engaged following with your Instagram account.”

You heard it from the rich people’s magazine itself. Stay consistent, and your bookstagram will reach more people. When you reach more people, the books make more money, and you get more followers. It’s a win-win.

The Business of Bookstagram

Search for books on Instagram, and your screen will be flooded with pictures of books in various settings, from sitting next to hot cups of coffee, to being surrounded by objects that represent the contents of said book. Often referred to as bookstagram, the bibliophile’s side of Instagram is filled with aesthetic pictures of books and hashtags like #bookstagram and #shelfie, and is used by many a book blogger and average bibliophile to show off their favorite books and current reads. The custom has become so popular that publishing professionals have taken note and use their own Instagrams to show off pictures of their books. But are publishers’ Instagram accounts as artistic and effective as those of bookstagrammers, or are they doing something different?

Two big publishers, HarperCollins and PenguinTeen, both have Instagrams featuring pictures of books they have published. And yet, this is the only similar thing about them. A quick glance through HarperCollin’s account (@harpercollinsus) and it’s evident that they do not have an overarching aesthetic. The colors are all over the place, and posts range from books to authors to drawings. However, the individual bookstagram posts do well to represent the colors of the books’ covers, such as in a post celebrating Beverly Cleary’s 102nd birthday. The spines on her books are striped in a rainbow of colors and have been stacked upon one another, and stand out against a pale yellow and white striped background. PenguinTeen (@penguinteen), on the other hand, has a love of bright colors evident in all of their posts, and the vast majority of them feature books and little else. Their book posts range from simplistic books by themselves to elaborately arranged books and objects. One particularly effective post for Undead Girl Gang features the book wrapped in a jean jacket and surrounded by pins, which mimics the cover image. Interestingly, HarperCollins hardly ever uses hashtags to promote their posts, and when they do, never use #bookstagram or #shelfie. PeguinTeen, on the other hand, frequently uses both of these hashtags and many others, resulting in more interactions with their posts.

While I was searching through other publishers on Instagram, I also came across literary agent Carly Watters (@carlywatters) and her #bookstagram posts. Her posts have a clear aesthetic of soft greys, blues, and light browns. Her book posts feature books in various settings; held up against a textured backdrop, nestled on a bed or armchair, next to many, many cups of coffee, and more. Each bookstagram is appropriately tagged as such along with various other book-related hashtags. In an interview with Huffington Post, Watters said that she used her bookstagram as a way to connect with potential clients and promote current ones, and to announce exciting book deals. What a clever way to make use of Instagram for a literary agent!

So it’s not just bibliophiles who are making the most of the bookstagram side of Instagram. Publishers and other publishing professions have seen the potential of a great book pictures and are now using them to promote their own brands. It would also appear that the power of hashtags has a great effect on the visibility of said posts, and publishing professionals would do well to make the most of #bookstagram.