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June 18, 2020

Cracking the Bookstagram Code

by Donna Huber

Instagram is probably my favorite social media platform. It's filled with pretty pictures and very little negativity. But it is also the social media platform that has me most stumped as to leverage it to promote books and reading. I just can't seem to crack the bookstagram code.

I see bookstagrammers (people who post about books on Instagram) getting 1,000+ likes and several comments. I'm doing well if I get 20 likes and usually there are no comments, even when I ask a question. What am I doing wrong?

After realizing I haven't taken many pictures of late - just not feeling inspired, I decided to take part in a Bookstagram Photo Challenge. I've done photo challenges in the past that have boosted my regularity of posting images. Having prompts helps me figure out pictures. My likes are up and I've even gotten some comments. So what am I learning about Instagram through the photo challenge?


In the past, I have done some elaborate "photoshoots" with a lot of props and some editing. Those photos do well and have typically been my most liked posts. But they are also time-consuming. I know one blogger that I follow (and probably most Instagrammers who have elaborate photos) sets aside a day (or weekend) to take photos for the week (or maybe the month). I've tried that, especially when it is a for a sponsored post or when I did the April A to Z challenge. But I'm not organized enough to keep it up longterm. Also, I like to take advantage of my mood and where I am when I take the picture. 

However, knowing that these more elaborate photos do better than pictures that are taken off the cuff, I should probably aim for one or two photos a month that I put real thought and effort into. Though there is still time this month, I might make it my goal for July. 

Buffer is a tool I use that allows me to edit photos on my computer and then schedule when it will post to Instagram. It is what I use for the graphics I post to my story each day announcing that day's new post. I've also used it with the "photoshoot" photos since I usually do some touchup editing. I just use the free version. So if you are looking for a tool to allow you to send photos from your computer to Instagram, I recommend it.

What photos have done well for you? Do you just take pictures when you feel like it or do you have a plan?



While on Twitter, it is recommended that you limit the number of hashtags you use with each tweet. Some of that might be because of the character limit but also hashtags can make a tweet harder to read. On Instagram, though, you can proudly show off your hashtag love. It is kind of a more the merrier situation. I once read an article that said that 9 hashtags seemed to be the sweet spot, but I kind of think the more hashtags you use the better your post will do. 

I suck at hashtags.

I have the typical ones like #bookstagram #Ilovebooks #booklover. But I have trouble branching out. And then sometimes I just forget hashtags. I have been using #allthebooks and #booksmakemeahappy this month. They are hashtags that I follow on Instagram, but I've rarely remembered to use them. 

Some of the Bookstagram challenges will have a hashtag for the day in addition to the challenge's hashtag. Like #mapMonday and #ShelfieSunday. So I've used them on the appropriate photos as well as a few other hashtags that I think of based on that day's prompt, i.e. #thebookwasbetter when the photo was about book vs movie. 

Also, to help come up with hashtags that I might not think of I've used a hashtag generator. Sometimes it just reminds me of hashtags I've used in the past that have seemed to do well with my pictures. Other times, I use hashtags I've not used before in hopes that it will boost my photo.

Do you have a favorite or go-to hashtag? Have you found one (or more) that has done really well for you?


Be social

As with any social media platform, it is important to be social. While Instagram is my favorite platform, it is probably the one I use the least. I don't really like using a cell phone. I basically only have it for emergency purposes so I don't always know where it is when I'm at home. And where have I been since March 16? At home. At least when I go to the office my phone is usually near my desk so I might peruse Instagram when I'm taking a break or waiting for a meeting. That's not happening at home where my phone is left in my bedroom while I work on the couch downstairs or in my home office across the hall. I think my lack of being social in April and May really caused my likes to decrease (in combination with posting less).

So I've been trying to be more social. At least once a day I skim through my feed and like photos. Occasionally I've commented on a post if I particularly liked the book featured or I have an answer to the question being asked.  I've also followed a few new people. 

Do you notice a relationship between how social (liking, commenting, and following) you are on Instagram and the number of likes, comments, and follows you get?

Asking questions

I have occasionally asked questions with my posts, but this month I'm trying to ask a question each time I post a picture instead of just "explaining" the photo. The questions are too deep - do you read the book before watching the movie? Do you prefer to buy new or used books. But they are getting answered.

Sometimes the question is based on one of the bookstagram challenges I'm participating in, particularly when I do the This or That challenge.
View this post on Instagram

Do you read one book straight through before picking up another or do you read multiple books? I'm currently reading/listening to 3 books. BECOMING MRS. LEWIS is my pool book and I only read the prologue last Sunday because I don't like stopping in the middle of a chapter and didn't have time to read all of chapter 1. While I'm working I'm listening to THE LAST TOWN ON EARTH (about the Spanish flu) and I finished chapter 3 of part 2 today. And I'm on chapter 24 of THE GIRL FROM WIDOW HILLS and will finish it tonight (I highly recommend it). ⠀ . . . #Bookstagram #bookphotochallenge #audiobooks #currentlyreading #historicalfiction #pandemicreading #AmpersAndJune20 #LanJenBooksJun20 #TumblesOverBooks #bookstagramchallenges #TotJune20 #bookhaul #SummerReads2020 #TrappedInJuneStories20 #summerreading #allthebooks #booksmakemehappy

A post shared by Girl Who Reads (@girl_who_reads) on



I've mentioned a few times about participating in Bookstagram Challenges. I like doing them as the prompts give me ideas so I'm taking pictures of more than just my current read. Also, it challenges me to be more creative - how to fit the books I have into the prompt for the day.

In the past, I've just done one challenge per day (it may be a different challenge list each day, but for a particular day it is just one). I use the Bookstagram Challenge account to find the challenge lists. It went on hiatus earlier this year, but lucky for me just as I decided to do a photo challenge she started posting again. 

A number of the challenges will have the same or similar prompts on a given day (like #ShelfieSunday), so I decided to participate in several challenges each day with one photo whenever possible. Some days I have to be more creative than others to make the book(s) fit the various challenges. Sometimes I don't think my photo is self-explanatory with how it fits into the challenge so I try to use the question to clarify and if need be elaborate after the question with a statement. 

For example, the photo I took Tuesday fit the following challenge prompts:
  • Movie Adaptation for #TrappedinJuneStories20 as the book featured has been made into a movie
  • Most tattered book I own for #FireFiction
  • Book I read in school for #THRBookPhoto
  • #MentalHealthAwareness for #StarsintheDark since it is set in a mental hospital
By participating in multiple challenges, I add more hashtags to my post. 

Do you participate in photo challenges? Where do you find your challenges? Do you host one?

Have I cracked the bookstagram code?

As you can see from the posts I've embedded here I'm not getting 1,000+ likes. I'm not even getting 100, which with nearly 340 followers you would think I would get more likes. But I have seen an increase in likes and comments. I'm averaging 30 likes per post and 1 comment. It is an improvement over the last month. 

I think if I keep posting regularly, be a bit more social, remember the hashtags, and perhaps plan a few elaborate photos each month that I will continue to see an increase in likes and comments.

Are you struggling to crack the code, too? If you have been successful, what tips do you have for me?

Of course, I would love it if you would follow me on Instagram. Drop a link to you in the comments and I will follow.

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

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  1. I've struggled for ages to crack the Bookstagram code. Sometimes I think I'm getting closer, but I inevitably start to let things slide and then I go back to my old numbers again. I've decided not to stress myself about it though because there's already too many things to stress about!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction