If you’re an author who wants to use Instagram to grow your audience, great! It’s one of the best social media platforms of 2020 according to Adobe.

There’s a massive community of both readers and writers on Instagram, and it’s important that you’re focusing your attention in the right place. If not, your posts may not be seen by the right people, or by anyone at all!

Using Instagram as an Author

If you aren’t already on Instagram, you may be wondering how you can use a largely visual platform when you’re a writer. After all, you probably like words more than you like taking photos or creating graphics!

You can share all kinds of images on Instagram as an author, and you get 2200 characters in each caption to share your thoughts, ideas, and news. Share photos of your book, mockups you create (or hire a designer to help with), moodboards, and even selfies to engage with your following.

Growing Your Instagram

I’m not a marketing wizard, but I do know my way around Instagram. I’ve grown my Instagram by 42% in the last four or five months using a simple system. That may not sound like a lot, but I’ve built an active community, not just inflated my follower count.

First, I engage with other accounts for five to ten minutes each day. More specifically, I engage with authors, writers, and other editors since I’m an editing and publishing account. Those are the people I’d like to connect with, so I reach out and engage! Sometimes I do this while I have my morning coffee, and other days, I spread my activity out.

Engagement can be likes, comments, and watching/reacting to stories. Instagram actually rewards you for engaging by boosting your posts in the algorithm. It knows you’re active on the app and can tell when you’re being spammy or more authentic. 

I’ve learned a lot about engagement from YouTuber Katie Steckly. She’s got some amazing advice, and I highly recommend you watch some of her videos.

Second, I try to follow two or three new accounts each week. This gives you a chance to connect with new accounts you really like! Which, again, feeds back into engagement. But don’t follow people just to follow them–only follow accounts you want to see posts from. 

Third, I post to my feed a few days each week, and I update my stories almost every day. Maintaining a steady presence helps the right audience find and engage with my account. Posting to similar hashtags regularly, sharing story updates that people can see, and generally being an active member of the community means I’m more visible.

If you aren’t already using any of these strategies, try them out!

Author Instagram Mistakes to Avoid

Of course, developing my own Instagram engagement practice didn’t come to me in the middle of the night in a fit of genius. I’ve not only learned from resources online but also my own mistakes.

Let’s dive into nine mistakes you should avoid when growing your author Instagram account.

Note: As with most things in writing, some of the ‘mistakes’ listed here are more guidelines than hard rules. Use your best judgment about what content and strategies fit with your brand and audience.

#1 Not knowing your ideal reader and audience

I’ve talked about this before on the blog, on my Instagram account, and in the Indie Author Roadmap series. 

You need to know your ideal reader. Not just for your book but for your marketing efforts!

As I mention in this 2020 post about identifying your ideal reader, knowing your audience means you can create the content your audience will want to see. Just as that applies for books, it applies for social media and websites, too!

Not everyone is going to read your book. That’s okay! While you probably want a sizable audience and long-term fans, you don’t need every reader to pick up a copy of your book. 

This extends to platforms like Instagram. If you’ve written a fantasy novel, you don’t want to use hashtags like #sexyromancenovel. Readers scrolling through that hashtag will probably be confused by your post and not engage. This may not harm your sales, but it also doesn’t help them. Make your efforts to connect with readers accurate and meaningful.

#2 Not using hashtags

Hashtags are essentially key words your audience can use to find your content. You need to be using hashtags to increase your visibility and gain new followers.

What hashtags do you want to use? You should focus on your book and readers. If you’re writing a fantasy novel, this might be something like #fantasynovel or #YAfantasy.

Brainstorm some ideas for hashtags, then search those hashtags on Instagram. You can see how popular they are, and Instagram will also suggest related hashtags. You can have up to 30 in a post, so try to mix hashtags with fewer posts with the more popular tags.

#3 Creating content for other writers

This is probably the biggest mistake I see writers making on their author Instagram accounts Many readers are also writers, yes, and writers love to read. But if you only target other writers, you’re missing a HUGE chunk of your potential audience.

What does targeting other writers look like?

  1. Sharing “how to write” content as your focus. This may be interesting to some of your ideal readers, but making this a focus of your account detracts from your actual books. You go from ‘author account’ to ‘writing tips account’ quickly. This is great if you write nonfiction about writing craft, but if you’re a fiction author, this isn’t where your attention should be.
  2. Using hashtags for writers, not readers. You need to use hashtags to get your posts seen, yes, but you also need to use relevant hashtags. Tagging all of your posts with “#writer #author #writingtips” is going to draw more writers in. Readers are probably searching for genre-specific hashtags, not ones about ‘writers.’
  3. Author follow loops. This one might be controversial because follow loops can be really popular and get you a lot of followers. But again, it goes back to the quality of your follower and if they’re in your ideal audience. A bunch of romance writers following you doesn’t sell your books to your YA fantasy fans. It’s better to have 500 mega-fans who want to buy your books than 3,500 followers who aren’t that interested in your content.

And I’m not saying that you can never share some writing tips and tricks. But when it becomes the focus of your content, and you’re a novelist, you risk alienating potential readers.

#4 Creating low-quality, unrelated content

Hate the idea of sharing pictures, so you take grainy photos of your cat and post them as #caturday? This isn’t going to catch a reader’s eye.

This isn’t to say you need magazine-worthy photography, but you do need to put effort into both your image and your caption.

If you don’t like taking photos or just aren’t good at it, use a stock photo site like Unsplash for some lovely (and free, licensed) photos. You can also create graphics from templates on Canva or Adobe Spark

As for your content, think about what readers might like to see from you. Ask yourself:

  1. Is this somehow related to me or my book?
  2. Would I like to see this from my favorite author?
  3. If I saw this on my feed, would I actually engage with the post?

Speaking of…

#5 Not building or engaging with the community

If you don’t care about your followers, even a little, they’re going to know. It’s going to feel like a cold space where you try to sell them books.

Nobody wants that!

I’m not saying you need to become BFFs with your Instagram followers, but be kind and authentic. You don’t have to follow all of your followers back, but you could occasionally go to their accounts and engage with their content in return. You can also ask them what kind of posts they want to see from you.

#6 Not engaging in a meaningful way

If you’re engaging with the larger community to try to grow your audience, you need to do so meaningfully. Just commenting an emoji on someone’s post doesn’t make them want to engage with you. They’ll probably view you as a little spammy or not authentic.

Take the time to read someone’s caption or comment before you respond. Even one real and relevant sentence is so much better than an emoji.

#7 Not responding to comments or DMs

Instagram is a two-way platform. People will, hopefully, be commenting on your posts and/or sending you DMs. If you want to make the most out of your Instagram, you need to respond to these.

Even if someone comments, “I love your book,” be sure to take the time to reply with a simple, “Thank you!” People like to be seen and heard.

And if someone posts a comment that you like but aren’t sure how to engage with, even just ‘liking’ the comment is better than ignoring it. Let your audience know you appreciate them and want to engage, too.

Of course, if your account gets very popular, you may not have time to respond to EVERY comment or DM. That’s okay. Do what you can, but definitely don’t ignore them all. It’s a social media platform, and being social is part of the experience for both audience and creator.

#8 Only talking about your book

Just as you don’t want to only talk about your cat, you also don’t want to only post about your book(s). That’s going to feel like an advertisement 24/7, and people just don’t care to see that.

Not every post needs to be selling your book to your audience. Instead, you should try to create content that shows both your human side and your books. A cute picture of your cat will make your readers smile, and a glimpse into your daily life can help create that sense of community and friendship you’re aiming for.

For example, let’s say you write cowboy romance novels. Let’s also say you live in Texas. You can talk about your life in the south. Or maybe you write cowboy romance novels but you live in NYC. Readers might like seeing the contrast between your novels and where you live!

Or if your cat always sleeps on your desk while you write (like mine do), you could share this with your audience.

Work in facts about yourself as well as information about your books. Having a balance makes you seem human.

#9 Not treating your audience like humans

And while you want to be viewed as human by your audience, you also need to remember they’re people too. Selling your book is great–you deserve to be paid for your art. But as you engage on Instagram and create your own content to share, remember that the people on the other side of your phone screen are people. Be kind, be open to discussion, and have fun.

Wrapping It Up

Instagram is one of the most popular social media platforms around. There’s a major community of readers and writers on it, and you have an opportunity to connect with your ideal readers.

But to grow your author Instagram account, you need to engage with others and be authentic in your time on the platform. Putting in just a few minutes of time and effort every day is a low-cost way to grow your audience and get your books in front of potential readers.

Questions? Comments? Leave a comment here or send me a DM on my Instagram!

Nine Mistakes to Avoid on Your Author Instagram | Between the Lines Editorial
Nine Mistakes to Avoid on Your Author Instagram | Between the Lines Editorial
Nine Mistakes to Avoid on Your Author Instagram | Between the Lines Editorial