Since I posted this big blog of bookstagram tips, I decided to split each topic up into its own blog post. Keep reading for everything you need in one place, or, click these links to go to their individual blog posts!
- How to get free Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs)
- Ten Bookstagram engagement and hashtag tips
- Bookstagram photo tips
- How to write book reviews for bookstagram
I have been on Bookstagram for a little over year now. I’ve made several virtual-turned-real-life local friends that I don’t go a day without talking to. I’ve had a blast joining buddy reads and chatting with new virtual friends. I’ve picked up books from genres I used to avoid. I’ve slowly grown my little corner of the Internet from 300 followers to over 2,300 in the last year.
That didn’t happen overnight. It’s taken a lot of trial and error to find a photo and editing style that works for me. I’ve spent a lot of time learning what brings me joy on bookstagram and what doesn’t in this space. I’ve learned many tips from friends who’ve been here longer and were willing to share their advice with me. I want to pass that on to anyone who needs it.
What I’ll be covering (click to jump to each section):
- Level-setting: finding your joy on Bookstagram
- Ways to get free books/ arcs (advanced reader copies)
- Contacting publishers
- Photo tips
- Bookstagram engagement/ hashtag tips
- Reviews, very briefly, because I think this is personal
Warning: This post is very, very long. I will split each of these sections up into separate blogs later, but I also think it’s valuable to have just one spot for everything.
First, some level-setting
I want to start off with two quick things. First, I want to acknowledge that my ability to grow on bookstagram has certainly been easier thanks to my privilege as a white reader and reviewer, who has both the money to buy new and popular books and the time to invest in taking/editing photos and engaging with others in various ways. I also have the privilege of a new house with a style my husband and I had picked because it’s a space that brings us joy and calmness—but which makes my photos a lot easier to take since it’s on trend with what’s “popular” right now.
Second, I firmly believe that there is no one “right” way to do bookstagram. You should do what brings you joy in this space. Post the photos that make you happy. Find a style that works for you personally. Not what you think others will love, what you love – because that’s where the fun is here.
I will be sharing things that worked for me personally. But know that your ability to get arcs or the speed at which you gain followers does not have any bearing on your worth or relevance as a bookstagrammer. I am glad you’re on bookstagram whether you have 10 or 100 or 10,000 followers. What you have to share is equally important and valid as what I have to share, or anyone else.
If you are feeling any pressure in this space – to gain followers so you have a “big” account or so you can get free arcs to review, to get arcs because you see people posting them all the time and feel like you’re missing out, etc., I’d encourage you to pause and ask yourself “what am I doing this for?” I have felt all of those feelings at some point in the last year. Asking myself “what am I doing this for?” was very clarifying and helped me re-focus my priorities with bookstagram and was extremely freeing.
I am by no means an expert. But I want to share the things that work for me in case it helps anyone else.
Arc tips and ways to get free books/ arcs
There are a variety of ways to get free books to read and review.
Physical, eBooks, and audiobooks from your local library
The easiest way to get free books that you’ve already paid for with your tax money. You are still supporting your favorite authors by checking out their books from the library. Increased demand means libraries buy more copies, and publishers do gauge library interest when they look at marketing future books.
If you aren’t a huge fan of physically going to the library, double check what digital resources they offer. I am able to check out eBooks and audiobooks through both the Libby app and Hoopla. I often have to wait weeks for very popular books (a test on my nonexistent patience) but they are always worth the wait.
I am a huge fan of Libro.fm, and recently learned they have an Audiobook Listening Copy program. I am not sure what criteria they consider when approving people or what their follower threshold is. But, I was able to get access this week after requesting it. My tips: share why you’re interested, whether you already share audiobooks/ how you’d plan to share them, and a little about you. I already have a paid Libro account since it’s where I buy audiobooks. They have the best sales, and you support a local bookstore of your choice by purchasing through them vs. Audible but you can apply with a free Libro.FM account. And if you know you love audiobooks, you can get your first month of Libro.FM free using my referral code (I do get a referral credit if you sign up through my link—so we both get free books!).
Digital books (eBooks)
There are more options here since they’re cheaper and publishers have more flexibility. My personal favorite is Netgalley. It’s a very easy place to start if you are looking for arcs, and where I’d recommend focusing your time if you’re going to go for arcs. You don’t have to have a huge following to start getting approved for books here. You’ll see a lot of arc reviews on bookstagram with Netgalley reads.
Every publisher has different criteria of what they’re looking for, but they all have profiles where they share them. Netgalley also shares lots of getting started tips to help set yourself up for success.
My general tips for Netgalley:
- Share your insights on your profile. Include your follower count and engagement/ impressions prominently. You can find both in the insights area if your account is set to a creator or business account.
- Follow that with some personal information—what genres you love to read, what makes you unique
- Include links to where you share reviews in the links section—Instagram, Twitter, Goodreads, your blog if you have one, etc.
- Start with a few “read now” books to get your percentage up right away. There are usually several in every genre.
- Don’t go request crazy all at once. I repeat, don’t go request crazy all at once. Most likely, you will get approved for more books than you expect, and that is overwhelming. Almost every new person makes this mistake despite everyone saying it. I did it, and you probably will too, but at least I tried to warn you! It’s so tempting with how many options there are and how long you sometimes have to wait to be approved. But I highly recommend you just pick a few to request and wait it out.
- Post reviews when you are done to Netgalley. This is how you get your review percentage up, when you send your opinions to publishers. If you didn’t like a book, it’s better to still share a review and include why it wasn’t the book for you. Avoid using the “decline to review” option if possible since it brings down your score.
- If you’re a white reviewer, consider not requesting #OwnVoices books so there are more copies for Own Voices reviewers. Watch for those reviews instead. Support them by sharing the reviews, and then go check the book out from your library or buy it instead. I recently became aware of the large disparity in arcs and who receives them. I hadn’t seen much since I primarily use Netgalley vs. requesting physical arcs. So this is new advice I’m following for myself moving forward.
- Don’t be discouraged if you get declined for books you really wanted. Like I mentioned above, some publishers (especially big ones) have very strict criteria they follow for reviewers. You may not be the reviewer for them. Or, they may have reached the quantity of books they had to give out. And that’s okay!
Edelweiss is another site similar to Netgalley, and works similarly. I don’t personally use it because I don’t find their website as user friendly and Netgalley gives me the opportunity to review plenty of books. But it’s a great site to visit when you’re trying to see what books different publishers have coming out, so it’s worth a mention.
Other places to get digital arcs:
- Individual authors who might reach out to you
- The ShelfAwareness newsletter
- Publisher newsletters—for example, Simon & Schuster sends an email with free eBook downloads each week to subscribers. Other publishers will share opportunities to request arcs directly from them via their email lists.
There are many ways to get physical arcs without directly reaching out to publishers.
My personal favorite is BookishFirst. It’s a free site that allows you to read previews of books and enter for a chance to win an arc if you liked it. You read anywhere from 10-50ish pages before writing your first impression and being given the option to enter to win. You earn points for writing that first impression, for coming back and writing a full review, and for sharing reviews. When you have 2,000 points, you can trade them in for an arc (some go more quickly than others). I have won two BookishFirst giveaways, traded in points for another, and already have enough points for a second trade in—after about six months of interacting as I have time.
If you’re interested in joining BookishFirst, you can use this referral code for 100 extra points (I get the same amount of points if you use my code: 2bcc96e592ac7cd9b).
Quick tips for success with BookishFirst:
- Get specific in your reviews and first impressions. Share what you like so far and why, what makes you dying to read it, who you’d share it with if you read, etc. If you didn’t love it, don’t drag it or rate it 1 star. I usually give it 3 stars and just say it wasn’t meant for me and why. It’s the right book for someone even if it’s not meant for you.
- Go back and check to see if there are books you’ve read on their site. After books are published, you can go back and write reviews for them to earn points. Even if you didn’t win a giveaway for it! This is a great way to get some extra points right when you join.
These are another way to win physical arcs (and sometimes eArcs). I didn’t have any success with Goodreads giveaways for a long time. I never won until I made sure every book I’ve rated has a review of at least a few sentences. Since then, I’ve won three. So, if you have a lot of star ratings but no text reviews on your Goodreads “read” shelf, spend some time adding reviews in before you dive into giveaways.
Other tips for getting arcs through goodreads giveaways:
- Don’t enter for books you don’t actually want to read, because you are expected to review them after winning
- Use the sorting features to see different genres or find giveaways that may have less people entered
- It’s a lot easier to view and move around on a computer vs. a phone. You need to be in a browser on your phone to open the giveaways page, which will then open in your app.
Tips for contacting publishers for arcs
Sometimes there may be a specific book that you’d love to early review. You may want to request it directly from the publisher if so. This is the area where I have by far the least experience, because I don’t request many arcs from publishers. I don’t find it to be worth my time and have plenty to read already.
I’m going to point you to resources I’ve found helpful rather than share a ton of tips. I have only requested two arcs and thus am no expert here. One showed up from St. Martin’s Press a few weeks after I asked for it. The other didn’t, and that’s okay! So my success rate is 50/50.
Resources for working with publishers I’ve found helpful
- I stumbled upon a blog by Zakiya N. Jamal when I was first looking for arc tips. It’s a great resource, so definitely check it out for more.
- This book publicity contacts directory compiles the contacts for a ton of different publishers. Their contact information is all publicly available on their websites. But you have to hunt for it on some. You can find a book’s publisher in the details listed on any retail site too. And often it’ll pull up when you google the book. Go to that publisher’s website and you’ll want to find the press or marketing contact in their contact page. That’s who to reach out to! Some have a specific contact for review copies as well – defer to that always.
One of the things most people struggle with is what to put in their emails for publishers. As a communicator by day, I can help you with that!
Here is the general format I used when I reached out to those publishers. Each bullet point is its own paragraph, but keep each short and sweet:
- Greeting + introduction. Share a bit about who you are and why you’re reaching out. Ex: “Hello, My name is Allie, and I run a book blog and bookstagram called Allie Mikenna Reads. I am inquiring about a review copy of X book by X author on sale X date, with X ISBN number.”
- Share why the book caught your attention/ why you’re interested in it, specifically. Go beyond “I’m really excited about it/ I love this genre.” Also share what qualities the book has that make you want to read.
- Include why you think you’re a good reviewer. Maybe you frequently review that genre, have a unique perspective on the topic the book covers, love the author and read everything by them, etc.
- Share where you’d promote the book, including the followers/ engagement you have on each of those places
- Share your information to make it easy for publishers to act on your request and see your reviews. Include all the places you review books, with links. You can include reviews of other books by the author you have shared in the past (if you used that as one of the reasons you’re requesting). And don’t forget to add your address!
- Close with a thank you
Bookstagram photography tips
I think what makes a “good” photo on bookstagram is extremely subjective. If you love it and it looks good to you, then do your thing. This should go without saying but the first thing I want to point out is that you should always take your own photos – don’t ever take a photo from another person’s Instagram account and post it as if it were your own.
People put a lot of time and creativity into their posts and you should, too!
My top tips for taking bookstagram photos:
- It’s 90% the lighting. Find your lighting and put it behind what you’re taking a picture of so the light isn’t overwhelming the colors. Preferably, find a natural source of light. Or, take the photo outdoors if you don’t have natural light in your home.
- Find your angles. I only take pictures with my phone, not a professional camera. I use the grid feature of my camera to help line up shots and find angles I like. Especially for things like book stacks, because I have shaky hands and generally bad eyesight. You can turn the grid on in your camera settings.
- For digital books, lower the brightness on your e-reader/phone if you’re photographing something on screen in a bright room. This helps minimize the glare and any mirror effects your screen might be giving you.
- Vary your backgrounds. This is my personal preference. Plenty of people have the same color background in everything and that works really well for them. Personally, I get bored taking the same photo and like to switch it up. So when I post, I may have one day where my fireplace stone was the background. The next day I might have my white kitchen counter or grey wall in the background. The next day I might have my grey wall in the background. I try not to have two of the same background back to back. Doing this creates variation in your feed, but your photos will still feel like they “go” together. I don’t always plan posts in advance, so sometimes I do have back to back. I’ve made my peace with it because ultimately this should be fun.
- Use the style that inspires you and have fun. Use props. Don’t use props. Use your flooring. Hold books up in front of your walls. Use your backyard. Add your pet in the mix.This should feel like a fun hobby, not work.
Photo tools I use:
- Lightroom Mobile app –I do all my photo editing here. I have a few filters I’ve purchased (my favorite is from this set). But usually I just use the auto feature and then manually change the brightness/ color settings to my liking. You can easily find free mobile presets on Google if you don’t want to pay for them. Lots of photographers offer them complimentary and there are tons of different styles. Just make sure they’re for Lightroom Mobile vs. the desktop platform.
- I finish editing in the Instagram app
- If you want to make a text graphic or story template, I highly recommend Canva – it’s free and super easy. It’s a great way to make story highlights too. Wordswag is another app that lets you add text to backgrounds or photos.
- Usually for eBooks and audiobooks, I just take a photo of the cover pulled up on my phone. If you are struggling to get the lighting right, you can use this cover tool to make a mockup. Then use the free app PicsArt to overlay that on top of the photo you have taken.
- If I’m doing this, I typically skip that tool and just use an image of the book’s cover only and do the same process. But some people find it useful. My e-reader/ phone just don’t match up with the templates on the site.
- In PicsArt, use the freestyle collage feature. Drag your photo into the background and size it full screen. Send it to the back. Add the book photo on top, adjusting the sizes as needed to line them up.
- Take time to include alt text with your photos. Instagram auto-generates it, but the auto text isn’t very descriptive. I usually include the title of the book and a bit about the photo’s composition. “A hardcover of the book Red, White, and Royal Blue sits on a white counter with a mug of iced coffee to the right.” Taking the time to add alt text will make your post more accessible for readers who use screen readers. You can also include a photo description at the end of your photo caption if you prefer.
Bookstagram engagement and hashtag tips
My goal with bookstagram is to make genuine friends to chat books with, and share my love of books. But it is so easy to put pressure on yourself to grow. I’ll own that there was a period of where I felt like I needed to focus on growing my followers. To the point where I was spending more time (still genuinely) engaging with others to try and grow posts than I was actually reading, reviewing, and chatting with others. And then I asked myself “what am I doing this for?” When the answer was “to grow followers,” I asked myself again. And the answer was “so I might be more likely to get a free arc or two?” and that really put into perspective that I was mostly wasting my time.
My view is: you do you. I don’t think followers matter unless your goal is to be an influencer or you’re only on bookstagram to get free books. And again, you do you—there’s no “right” way to be in this space. But for me, the appeal of bookstagram is the community and the various ways to chat and share about books. At this point, that’s all I care about. Here’s the deal. It’s highly unlikely that the number of books you will receive for free will outweigh the amount of time you spend trying to grow to get those free books. So put your energy in the place that makes you happy.
I just have a few engagement and hashtag tips to share with you. These are the things that helped me grow from 300 to almost 2,000 followers in less than a year.
- Hashtags. Choose a mix of 10-15 relevant hashtags for each of your posts, and vary your hashtags from post to post. Try to pick one that’s unique to you, a few in the 100s-1,000s range, and some in the 50-100,000 range. You can add the big ones with millions, but these won’t help you much most likely. According to an Instagram webinar I attended years ago, this will help your posts be seen by more people. If you get a lot of engagement quickly, it will rise up higher in the “top” posts of those hashtags. And you’re more likely to rise in a hashtag with fewer people than millions. But you also want it to be a hashtag that people are following/seeing, if that makes sense. If you need hashtag ideas, I love this hashtag resource of bookstagram hashtags when I’m feeling stuck.
- Capitalize words in hashtags when you’re sharing multi-word hashtags. This is more accessible for screen readers since it indicates separate words vs. words smashed together. Ex: #BookstagramMadeMeDoIt instead of #Bookstagrammademedoit. This extra bit of effort makes bookstagram more inclusive for all readers.
- Include image descriptions. You can do this in the caption itself, or by editing the alt text to be more specific to your photo. This makes your post more accessible to people who use screen readers.
- Having a regular cadence to your posts helps. A lot of people post daily. I found that too much to keep up with. My advice is to find the balance that works for you. The Insights feature helps you understand the best times each day to share your posts based on when they’re seen. Again, that’s available in Creator and Business accounts, not personal accounts.
- Make your posts readable. Wondering how people get line breaks and bold text/ italics in their post? Instagram now allows you to do this right in the app. Simply hit enter/ return 5 times in a row after finishing a sentence, and when you post the photo, you’ll have a line break there instead.
- Tag publishers in positive reviews you post. It gets you noticed, and they might re-share your post if they like your review.
- Include a question at the end of your post. It gives people an opportunity to respond and connect with you in a genuine way, and starts a conversation.
- Spend time genuinely connecting with others. If you see a new bookstagram account you love, like a few of their photos and follow them. Consider leaving a genuine comment on a recent post, too. If there’s a review you’ve seen that you really loved, a question in someone’s post that resonates with you, or a person you want to connect with—comment a genuine comment of 4+ words (not including emojis) on their post. Don’t just say “love the photo” or “nice photo” – that doesn’t start a conversation. Instead, share why you also loved the book, etc. You can also respond to peoples’ stories when the resonate with you. Be you, and be genuine. This is how you build connections and how I’ve found some really fabulous book friends through bookstagram. This takes time, but it’s the best way to organically grow.
- Participate in photo challenges. You’ll see these in your feed or being shared by people you follow from time to time. Photo challenges are a fun way to shake up your feed. And sometimes people hosting the challenge will share posts they love with their followers.
- Join a buddy read (or host one!). This gives you an opportunity to read and chat about books—what we’re all really here to do! And can be a great way to make new book friends. If someone you follow shares a book they can’t wait to read that’s on your TBR, don’t be afraid to reach out to them and ask if they’re interested in a buddy read. Just don’t be offended if they aren’t – some people read at their own pace and don’t like buddy reads). Some of my favorite buddy reads have been spontaneous ones.
How to write reviews
One caveat. I’m sharing what works well for me, but that won’t necessarily be what works for you. I think reviews are extremely subjective and personal. What works for me might not work for you, and vice versa. For example, I don’t like synopsis in reviews because I’d rather just read the book blurb from the publisher. Other people love to read and write quick synopsis. So ultimately, do what works for you!
I do have a star rating system but I am currently moving away from it outside of Goodreads. I’d rather use it to personally to track how I felt about books vs. as a judgment I’m putting out there for others.
Generally, my reviews are broken out like this:
- Overview. My quick take on what I felt about the book/ a summary of what’s to come
- What I liked/ loved. Even if it’s a book that wasn’t for me, I try to find qualities that I liked to highlight. Sometimes this section is really long and other times it’s really short.
- What didn’t work for me. Sometimes I don’t have this section if I have a rave review. But usually I highlight anything that kept me from raving about the book here.
- Who I’d recommend it to. Even if a book wasn’t meant for me, I try to share who may enjoy it. I usually compare it to books it reminded me of as well here.
- Content warnings, if needed – so people have a heads up going in. I put this at the end because some people find them spoiler-y.
I used to just openly share all my opinions in reviews. I’m trying to be more thoughtful especially in my negative reviews of making sure my reviews add value to other readers. Especially books that are sharing perspectives different from my own. I think it’s important to be balanced and recognize that those books weren’t written with me in mind. I may not connect as strongly immediately, but that doesn’t make them bad. The caveat is if a book has problematic content (is racist, uses stereotypes, etc.) I absolutely will call that out.
Phew! If you’ve stuck with me through all 4,000+ words in here then I hope you learned something helpful for you here. If you have any tips I missed, feel free to drop them in the comments below!
Happy reading! And if you’re new to bookstagram, welcome!