By young adult fiction editor Poppy Solomon, of Poppy’s Pages (previously All Write)
Young adult fiction editor Poppy Solomon shares how book editors can gain the latest commercial insights on readers’ likes, dislikes and favourite tropes and emerging trends; connect with readers themselves; network with potential clients; and promote books they’ve edited – by engaging with niche (and growing) reading communities on Instagram.
What is Bookstagram?
Bookstagram (a mash-up of “books” and “Instagram”) is the name of the reading community on Instagram. Readers create book-dedicated accounts through which they follow each other’s reading updates and share photos of books, book reviews, other book-related content such as reels; participate in trends, giveaways and more. Bookstagram accounts typically find each other through the hashtag #bookstagram (a great place to start to familiarise yourself with the community).
Bookstagram is a fantastic place for publishers and indie authors to circulate and promote advanced reader copies (ARCs) to reviewers and influencers, who in turn share book reviews to their followers and expand the book’s audience. Between the power of social media and word-of-mouth recommendations from trusted reviewers, Bookstagram is a powerful publicity tool for the publishing world.
Within Bookstagram there are even more sub-communities. I, for example, mostly post about young adult (YA) books, and I wouldn’t follow someone who posts about a genre I dislike, such as horror. Fantasy readers tend to connect with other fantasy readers, romance readers with other romance readers, and so on.
Why should editors use Bookstagram?
Editors can use Bookstagram to gain up-to-the-minute insights into book-lovers’ preferences and emerging trends.
By observing and engaging with the Bookstagram community, you can futureproof your own editing practices by keeping your finger on the pulse of reader appetites and expectations. It also affords you the opportunity to directly connect with your target audiences, build a following and promote work that you’ve edited.
However, before I continue further, I want to provide the caveat that Bookstagram isn’t for every editor. This is because not all readers are using it. Bookstagram is predominantly for fiction, although popular non-fiction does slip through occasionally. Also, Bookstagram caters more towards a younger audience (millennials and Gen Z particularly), and if you mostly work with books for older readers, Bookstagram may not help you. Bookstagram is also predominantly female, so if most books you edit tend to have a male audience, you might struggle. And remember: you shouldn’t feel pressured to do and try everything – maybe you’re already doing well on Twitter or TikTok, or stay up to date in other ways, and adding Bookstagram to the mix will just take too much time and energy. That’s okay!
However, if you are an editor who works with books whose readers use Bookstagram, you should at least make it a habit to watch and interact in the community. Why? Because as an editor it’s your job to know what is happening in your genre – what people like, what they don’t, what’s most popular, what people are tired of, what people are asking for, etc. You should also know where a book you’re working on will sit in the market compared to competition, who its readers are and comparative titles. Without this information, you can’t give the book the best edit. For example, you might think the use of a certain cliché is fine but if you spend some time on social media, you might find that readers dislike the use of it (e.g. “She released a breath she didn’t realise she was holding,” a cliche famously made fun of online by YA readers but still used in many new books). You might find that a trope an author has relied on is no longer favoured by readers, or identify upcoming trending tropes that would work better for a book and be more enjoyed by current readers. In this way, Bookstagram has the potential to influence future approaches to editing.
Bookstagram is also an ideal place for many publishing professionals to connect with the readers of the books they work on. It is very diverse and a great way to connect with people and interact with them. This is how you can source information on trends, such as in the above examples – by connecting directly with the relevant readers and seeing what they think. I often see books that have won prestigious awards that are mostly disliked by readers, while books with no recognition are loved. Books that are popular might not be objectively “good” and books that fly under the radar might be brilliant, but just don’t hit the right tropes and the right market at the right time.
Bookstagram is a tool you can add to your editing toolbox for free. All it takes is time, but there is so much reward. It’s another form of networking, but you’ll be authentically connecting with and making friends with the target audience of your clients’ books.
Here are four ways editors can use Bookstagram to stay up-to-date on reading trends.
Create a Bookstagram-specific account
You might choose to create a new account just for Bookstagram, or use your business Instagram account to interact. However, I recommend starting a new account and keeping the two separate, if you can manage it. This allows you to create Bookstagram-specific content and interact more effectively with readers – if you’re not creating content, you’ll be alienated. (And several of my tips below are for Bookstagram accounts only.)
I use both of my Instagram accounts to grow each other. I promote my business account on my Bookstagram, which has double the following, meaning that my business account grows and gets higher engagement when I share it and its posts to my Bookstagram. I can reach two audiences instead of one; both readers (Bookstagram) and writers/publishing professionals (business).
I created my Bookstagram account before ever thinking of it as a tool for my business, but it quickly became one. I just wanted a fun place to talk about books and share reviews and photos! Then I started meeting writers and editors, learning what people liked and didn’t like about books, and was also given the opportunity to read ARCs and review them on my page, allowing me to stay updated on what’s being published in YA. All of this made me an expert on my genre, despite not having decades of publishing experience – I know my audience deeply, and I know what they want; therefore I can help my clients at a better level.
Bookstagram gives editors another social media profile and space to market themselves. Many readers are also writers, so connecting with them is networking. Making this personal connection with them is much more likely to turn them into future clients than simply advertising to them. Also, having a following in a space frequented by your clients’ audiences means you can offer promotions for clients. Because I have a loyal following of YA readers, and I work with YA authors, I can help connect readers with my clients’ books – this improves my credibility as an editor and helps my clients with promotion.
Connect with readers
Well, this is the entire point of using Bookstagram as an editor, but I feel it needs to be extra clear. There is no use being on social media if you’re not going to be social. You can lurk and stalk, certainly, and you’ll learn from that. But without creating content for yourself, building a following and talking directly to readers, you’re not going to be part of the community. You won’t understand it as well, and you won’t have that personal connection with the people you’re trying to learn from.
Some may disagree, but I believe you can’t be a writer if you’re not a reader. It’s the same for editors. We need to study books and study the genres and audiences we specialise in. To go even further to increase our knowledge and how effectively we edit, we can learn and study our genre’s audience as well. Whether it’s Bookstagram or another platform, being social online and being part of the readership you want to learn about is some of the best market research you can do.
You can connect with Bookstagram accounts in all the usual ways – following, liking, commenting, direct messaging. There are also other more creative and fun ways to connect, like creating polls, posting your own photos and reviews, posting about your clients’ books, hosting Q&As and live videos, and sharing writing and publishing tips.
Knowing the market of the books you edit helps you as an editor because you can understand where the books you work on are positioned in the market. By searching the hashtags of comparative titles to the books you’re editing, you can see what people think and get a better idea of what readers might want out of your clients’ books. You can even look at reviews of books you have edited to get a good sense of readers’ reactions.
You should also trawl hashtags to find new people to follow in your genre. You might look up #urbanfantasy or #LoveOzYA, or even more specific tags, to find the exact type of readers you want to be connected with. Also look out for the style of photos and captions and see how different age groups post differently. This helps you distinguish your target audience.
Don’t forget to use hashtags on your own content to broaden its reach. Of course #bookstagram is the main one, but you can use up to 30 tags – so use them! It’s best to use a mix of popular tags and smaller, more niche tags. Do some research into hashtags that might be relevant to you, and make a few lists for different types of content. Copy and paste them into your posts to simplify the process. This helps readers find you!
Poppy Solomon is a Sunshine Coast, Queensland-based editor and author assistant specialising in YA fiction through her business Poppy’s Pages. On her blog, she shares writing and publishing advice and frequently hosts author guest bloggers. For more, find her website and blog here: poppyspagesediting.com.
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Please note, this blog post series has been written by the members of the volunteer writing team for the 2023 IPEd Conference. The content does not necessarily reflect the views of IPEd.