Thumb hovering over Instagram app on a smart phone.

Learning the ABCs of Bookstagram

I started my bookstagram page at the end of September 2020. In under half a year, I have amassed 3,400 plus followers, held conversations with some of my favorite authors, and made many bookish friends. There are many tips and tricks only accessible to those engaging with other accounts, consuming a lot of content, and running an actual bookstagram account. Thus, I have gathered my most useful tips and tricks on how to create, operate, and brand a successful bookstagram account.

  1. Realize your definition of success.
    1. What do you want to get out of your account? Do likes matter? Do followers matter?
    2. Know your own value. Likes and followers only hold the weight you place on them. Big or small, this account is ultimately for you!
  2. Develop your content strategy.
    1. Will you be posting book reviews? Do you want your feed to be aesthetically pleasing and uniform in style or color? Will you post other content besides books?
    2. Many followers first engage with your image—this is Instagram, after all. Having good lighting and photo quality are a great first step to running a professional account. Many bookstagrammers use props like fake flowers, bookish merch, and other knickknacks to create a theme, while others use a consistent filter or color scheme.
    3. Your inaugural post is a great way to introduce yourself to the bookstagram community! Why did you choose to begin? What books do you like? Why is your account unique?
  3. Design your profile.
    1. Start with your account name, a.k.a. your @ handle. Making it book related helps alert others to your interests.
    2. Another critical part of your account is the profile picture. Some choose to pay for a designed logo, but you can make your own in many different apps, Adobe Creative Cloud, or even Word. A picture of books or you with books would work, just make sure it is recognizably your account. This is your chance to stand out!
    3. Many times people decide to follow and follow back based on your @ handle, profile picture, and bio. If you choose a random selfie or obscure name, other bookstagrammers may not recognize your account as a book page.
    4. You have the option to switch your account to a “business profile.” It is not required, but it can be worthwhile because you are able to see the best times to post, the demographics of your followers, and engagement rates of your posts.
    5. You can also create highlights on your profile from the Instagram story feature. You are able to further brand your account by creating cover images for different highlights.
  4. Extra tips.
    1. Engage. With. Other. Accounts. If you follow an account, like a few of their photos, and even comment, they are more likely to return the favor! You will also create friendships and start to carve out your own space in the bookstagram community.
    2. A big part of success on Instagram (and beating the algorithm) is consistency. Most recommend posting at least once a day. However, post as much or as little as you can manage. Do not overwhelm yourself!
    3. If you choose to use hashtags on your posts, choose ones with fewer than fifteen thousand posts and more than one thousand. This will help your post be shown to more accounts.
    4. There are many apps you can employ to help you. Instagram layout apps are great for planning your feed, follower apps can help you keep track of any spam accounts or bots, and editing apps can make your images pop!
    5. Follow trains are useful for beginners looking to make new friends and find new accounts to follow; you can often find them under hashtags and around general bookstagram.
    6. Do not follow too many accounts or like too many posts in a short period of time, especially when you have a new Instagram account. They will temporarily block your account. Since the numbers frequently change, you can google the current Instagram algorithm and rules.

Ultimately, successful accounts bring something new to the table! Convey your unique voice via your reviews, use unique props, or just find your people. If you are confused about any steps or features of Instagram, Google will most likely have the answer. You are also free to message me on Instagram, @fringebookreviews, and I will try to address your questions! You can also use my account as an example. Good luck, and happy reading!

Book Subscription Boxes Offer an Alternative to Browsing Bookstore Shelves this Holiday Season (And Beyond)

The holidays are here. Festive city squares are displaying trees lit with tasteful white lights, and our marching band kiddos have asked us to buy pies or wreathes to support their teams. In past holiday seasons I have loved walking, wrapped in a knitted scarf, from the chilly city street or suburban stripmall sidewalk, past a musician strumming a guitar or beating a drum, and through charming glass or wooden doors into the warm space of a bustling retail bookshop, illuminated by soft yellow lights.

And now? Well, now I rarely go inside any stores, opting for delivery and curbside pickup. I tend to wince, seemingly irrationally, when I accidentally walk the wrong direction down a grocery store aisle per the masking tape arrows. Yesterday, I found myself asking the cashier at the liquor store if they had any hand sanitizer I could use. COVID-19 has got me like that.

I buy my groceries online. Every twelve weeks, twenty-four rolls of toilet paper are delivered to my front doorstep. I no longer need to carry the bulky, soft, plastic-wrapped packages through the checkout lane to my car, or through the hilly neighborhood to my second-story apartment. I like that. I’ve also been receiving a new pair of super cute, super soft underwear sent to me monthly since April.

Subscription boxes—the recurring delivery of goods—are, in my opinion, a vital part of the marketing and distribution of a product or service. And. They. Are. Convenient. And fun.

So why not feed readers’ chronic bibliophilia with book subscription boxes? In general, shopping habits have been changing for years, and COVID-19 has greatly amplified this. The book-shopping experience will need to transition into a new realm where local and indie bookstore owners send their bookish vibes into the hands and homes of their customers. Maybe every other month, or four times a year, a reader’s favorite local bookstore ships them a pile of used books, a new hardcover must-read, books from featured or local authors, some cute bookish socks, and a new notebook or a calendar. Maybe they could throw in an old bookstore–scented candle (Is that a thing? Powell’s has made that a thing.), or a traveling poet’s self-published chapbook. The product combinations, I imagine, are endless.

Delivery subscriptions for things like dinner prep kits, sustainable toilet paper, murder mystery games, and even locally roasted coffee beans have become increasingly popular since at least 2003. Forbes reported that in “April 2017, subscription company websites had about 37 million visitors. Since 2014, that number [had] grown by over 800 percent.” I wonder what the numbers are today, in 2020, in the midst of a pandemic, with kids learning from home, many folks working remotely or unemployed altogether, elders isolated from loved ones, and people simply staying away from other people (in the best of circumstances).

COVID-19 continues to change lifestyles and restrict in-person contact. People may not be able to shop at their favorite bookstores (or any stores) without potentially waiting in a line outside the brick and mortar or needing to proactively set an appointment. A box of books and other goodies being delivered right to readers can bring the bookstore vibes to their homes, and can keep us consuming the titles that flood our wish lists and the titles we had no idea we needed.

Some booksellers have been dabbling in book subscription boxes for a while. For about fifty bucks, every six to eight weeks, Powell’s Books will ship subscribers a new title from an independent publisher. Their Indiespensable subscription club is well-reviewed (and out of stock). I am definitely adding their next installment to my wish list! Also, a charming local bookstore in Delaware is running The Book Drop, a monthly book subscription where adult readers get a wrapped, paperback book to pair with coffee, tea, or bubbly, and kids have options too.

I’m into it.

I am expecting to see more (like all my favorite) independent bookstores offering some form of niche subscription boxes for their book-loving readers. Bookstores, small and large, need to get their inventories online and offer more accessibility—as well as some customizable options—for these subscriptions.

A Marketing Tool for Indie Publishers and Authors Alike

“Tell us what titles or genres you’ve enjoyed in the past, and we’ll give you surprisingly insightful recommendations.”

In December 2006, many things were happening around the world. NASA revealed photographs supporting the theory of water on Mars, an adult giant squid was captured on video, and the dress Audrey Hepburn wore in Breakfast at Tiffany’s was auctioned to charity for $923,187. Another notable December 2006 occurrence was the creation of the online book catalog and recommendation resource, Goodreads.

Goodreads allows users to keep track of books they’ve read, books they want to read, and the reading journeys of other registered users. Users are able to interact with each other while getting consistent recommendations from both a Goodreads algorithm and the ever-updating feed from their friends on the website or app. While Goodreads is a wonderful resource for readers, it also houses a very lucrative market for indie publishers and authors. Through the Goodreads author program, Q&A groups, word of mouth, and the Goodreads recommendation engine, indie publishers and authors are able to establish a presence among the bigger five guns in the publishing world.

Goodreads Author Program

Per Goodreads, the author program is “designed for authors to have a profile on the site and interact with fans, and add photos, videos, or events to their profiles.” Using Goodreads as a sort of social media platform, authors are able to cultivate a following and stay connected with their readers. They can even update readers on what they are reading, since most authors are—at a fundamental level—readers too. Authors can post reviews or favorite quotes, or even create lists of favorite books.

Q&A Groups

Authors can also host a Q&A group to answer questions and interact with their fans. Any followers of the author are notified via their inbox to submit a question, promoting the new release. There are seven million users on Goodreads and it is very worthwhile for authors (either publishing independently or through an indie press) to interact with them! Another program, Ask the Authors, allows authors to engage with their readers from their author dashboard.

How do books get discovered? This pie chart distinguishes between the various methods Goodreads members use to find books on the site.

states that they “require such a threshold to guarantee they know enough about a book to be statistically comfortable recommending it.” Ratings and reviews on books, especially indie titles, matter!

Using programs such as LibraryThing and Eidelweiss offer the option to implore early reviewers to review books on websites such as Goodreads. Having a strong baseline of early reviews helps a title tremendously when looking to market it on Goodreads.

Furthermore, Goodreads notes that if there is a strong comparable title to a new release and a publisher or author is able to market their book to the readers of the other title—and the readers respond by adding the new book to their goodreads account—the recommendation engine will notice this correlation and be even more likely to suggest the book to the right readers.

Where do people initially hear about the books they read?

Friends are one of the best methods of new book discovery.

Book Reviews: Dos and Don’ts

Book reviewing as a profession and a literary hobby has evolved over the decades to keep up with the shift in market trends and consumer preferences. Over the last year, we have seen significant changes in the book reviewing process as a result of some major corporate decisions—full-time and part-time book reviewers were let go by retail book chains, and newspapers decided to forego book review columns altogether. While the reading community was initially dismayed, they took it in stride and moved on to other issues faced by the publishing industry in these turbulent times. These changes can be attributed to the dynamically shifting landscape of book marketing and sales.

With e-commerce giants like Amazon overtaking brick-and-mortar stores in terms of book sales, publishing houses are shifting their focus to reach out to more customers through these platforms instead of the deep-rooted traditional platforms like newspapers and book review blogs that prevailed earlier. Digital platforms have also streamlined the process for readers to share their reviews, thereby providing prospective customers with a wide range of opinions instead of having to rely on just one person’s, as is the case in a book review column or a blog.

Reading book reviews often left me with more questions than answers: Why was this book picked among the thousands of books published this week? How can I rely on the reviewer’s opinion about it? Is the review unbiased and transparent? Is the reviewer knowledgeable about the subject matter? Phillipa Chong’s book on book reviewing, Inside the Critics’ Circle, answered all my questions and more. With a logical approach, this book addresses all the ambiguities concerning book reviews and reviewers.

Reviewing books is not a one-person process and involves first choosing the book to be reviewed and finding the right person or platform to review it. There are many aspects that need to be factored in when evaluating the authenticity of a book review. One tiny misstep could result in a biased review, which is detrimental to the author and the sales. An inaccurate review, resulting from lack of interest or lack of subject-matter knowledge, could drive away potential readers, which is a huge disservice on the part of the reviewer.

For example, if a reviewer primarily interested in science fiction is assigned a nonfiction autobiography, or vice versa, the result could be one of two things: an unbiased review which might or might not be accurate since the reviewer is not familiar with the subject, or a biased review that is a result of the reviewer’s disinterest in the subject. Neither of these two scenarios is conducive to a bias-free review.

However, the burden of choosing the right book not only falls on the reviewer but also on the editor or person responsible for assigning the books for reviewing. The person assigning the book should make sure that the reviewer is familiar with the subject matter and genre of the book to ensure unbiased reviews, especially for books that need an authenticity read.

While maintaining a fine balance between being objective and conscientiousness with regard to editorial opinion is the key factor, it is also crucial to provide an honest professional outlook that is unbiased. Reviews play a great role in influencing readers to buy a book, and with this in mind, reviewers should focus on discussing the merits and demerits of a book but leave the choice of deciding its worthiness to the reader.

New Aura: Contemporary Author-Reader Relationships

As students who specialize in book publishing, we encounter the question, what is publicity? In Book Marketing, Professor Juergens states that “publicity is a company’s or a person’s or a book’s or an author’s presence in the media that is driven by relationships, such as author relations, media relations, event management, and brand management.” Considering publicity in terms of relationships is a novel and interesting idea, making me wonder, how do authors, publishers, readers, and content relate to each other? To explore this question, let’s look at the history of literature.
The history of literature may be divided into two eras: the prehistoric era before the invention of writing and the printing era after the introduction of printing by Gutenberg. In the prehistoric era, storytellers handed down folklore and legends orally, which means that the audience “experienced” the story just for that occasion. These stories were therefore divine, ritualistic, and exclusive. Walter Benjamin named such authenticity “aura,” which is “the unique phenomenon of a distance, however close it may be. If, while resting on a summer afternoon, you follow with your eyes a mountain range on the horizon or a branch which casts its shadow over you, you experience the aura of those mountains, of that branch” (1936).
In this era, the actors were the stories, storytellers, and audiences. Notice that there is no author or publisher, of course. Storytellers always recited original and authentic stories. Audiences were intoxicated with the liveliness and togetherness. It is unclear whether stories, storytellers, or audiences were the main actor; perhaps, it was the story itself.
Since the invention of printing, artwork—including literature—has been able to be reproduced. Therefore, artwork became widely distributed and made easily available. Stories appeared in public in the form of “publicity,” rather than the onetime occurrence of oral tradition.
Stories began to belong to someone, mostly the author. Therefore, the relationships became more complex and segmented: First the author creates the story, then it is passed to a publisher. Within the publishing house, each department—such as editing, design, or marketing—refines the story into a book that is presentable for exhibition. Next, the finalized book is sent to warehouses, bookstores, and libraries. Finally, the book makes its way into the hands of readers.
Benjamin describes the printing era as the “decay of the aura”; that is, artwork lost its authenticity and was made to be seen by as many people as possible. Benjamin claims, “With the emancipation of the various art practices from ritual go increasing opportunities for the exhibition of their products.”
I agree with the idea that since the mass production era, new actors began to participate in literature, and their purpose is to make literature works suitable for exhibition. However, does this mean that aura has disappeared? No, aura still exists. It merely changed its host.
In the prehistoric era, aura existed in the story itself. After the printing era, authorship began to matter, so authors became the hosts of aura. Thus, we can experience aura where an author appears.
A signing session for an author is a good example. Despite the internet era, many literature fans are still eager to see the author in person. They are not satisfied with just reading their books or following them on social media. Readers want to see and chat with their favorite author, even if it’s just for a couple of minutes.
Mario Cacciottolo acknowledges the high demand for signing events, saying, “Book market people are passionate about particular authors. No one is going to turn down the opportunity to meet an author who wrote a book they adore. And that’s the one thing websites selling books at cheaper prices can’t ever offer” (2010). In addition, authors also look forward to meeting their fans. Scottish crime author Stuart MacBride states, “It’s not about selling books, it’s about meeting readers. It’s our one opportunity to get out and meet people. And if you have dedicated a book to someone, then you know that person wants that book and loves that book.”
Thus, even though literary works are mass produced, aura still exists in author-reader relationships. We can experience aura where we get together. Marketers should take advantage of the power of aura not only for promotion but also for providing soul-shaking experiences. This will eventually compel publishers to build and maintain good relationships with all concerned.
 

Benjamin, Walter. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Scottsdale: Prism Key Press, 2012.
Cacciottolo, Mario. “Why Book Signings Are Becoming such a Performance.” BBC News. August 13, 2010.