What They Don’t Tell You About Bookstagram

If you’ve been anywhere on Instagram in the past few years, you’ve probably seen someone post an aesthetically pleasing photo of a book, maybe with a cup of coffee or tea, a perfectly positioned candle, or more bookmarks than any one person would ever need. Welcome to #bookstagram. Whether you’re considering becoming part of this book-loving community or you’ve been posting about books for years—or even if this is the first time you’re hearing about this phenomenon and are a little confused—there are a few things you should know.

The bookstagram community is known for being a welcoming, safe community for book lovers to squeal about their current reads, fangirl about their favorite book boyfriends and/or girlfriends, and gush over the gorgeous editions of the latest releases. It’s a fun place to find and appreciate books, and it can be a creative outlet for those who don’t often create.

But bookstagram isn’t all pretty books and cup after cup of coffee. The aesthetics may look perfect, but there are a few drawbacks that can squeeze the joy out of the community and the enjoyment of participating. So before you put on those rose-colored reading glasses and dive right in, step back and consider what you’re getting into.

There Are So Many Accounts

If you think your bookstagram account is going to be unique and creative, think again. There are so many accounts and so many people posting every day or even multiple times a day. The bookstagram tag on Instagram has over 27 million posts. It’s overwhelming. You can’t follow everybody, everybody can’t follow you. Your words and creativity, no matter how good you are, get lost in the flood of hashtags and endless newsfeed scrolling. What might look like a fun and creative endeavor easily becomes the same thing everybody else is doing. They just look like they are doing it better than you.

It’s definitely possible to be successful. There are people who have a bookstagram account for six months and gain thousands of followers, but they’re the exception. Unless you’ve got a perfect set-up and a lot of free time, you’re likely not going to have more than a couple hundred followers and minimal likes. Because…

It’s a Part-Time Job

For some accounts, bookstagram is a job. They get paid by publishers and authors and small businesses to curate bookish posts and engage with followers. Other bookstagrammers are reps for various subscription boxes and, in exchange for free products, are obligated to post certain photos multiple times a month during their rep period and include a coupon code in their bio. But even for those accounts that aren’t being paid or given free stuff in exchange for photos, bookstagram is time consuming. Because if you want any kind of quality, which you need to become an influencer, you have to work at it like you already are one.

First, you have to take the pictures, which depending on your schedule and how often you post, could take hours to pick the book, organize items to include with the book, capture the perfect angle of lighting, and finally snap the shot (or two or three or fifteen). Then there’s putting everything back on your shelf, editing the photos (and adding watermarks so your photos aren’t stolen), and finally drafting the caption. If you’re participating in bookstagram challenges, you have to double-check hashtags and make sure your post can be somewhat linked to whatever prompts the challenges have listed for the particular day. Not to mention figuring out which hashtags will get you the most views and won’t get your posts shadowbanned.

Once your photo is finally on the internet for all to see, you have to keep up with notifications. If people comment, you should comment back. If people like your photo, you can bask in your awesomeness, or you can be nice and visit their page to find a photo to like in return. You can also engage followers other ways, such as using Instagram stories to announce new posts or give shoutouts to cool accounts.

After all the time you spend taking photos and posting them to your account, it’s a wonder you have time to even read the books you’re spotlighting. So why go through all this effort?

It’s All About the Likes

You will find bookstagrammers in every corner of the world claiming that bookstagram is not about the likes or follower counts and that you should just have fun posting what you enjoy, but they are wrong. If you don’t post every day, if you don’t have well-lit photos, if nobody cares about the book you are posting about, you don’t get likes. You will lose followers. Your photo won’t show up in people’s newsfeeds. The algorithm will get you. Bookstagram, like the rest of Instagram, is all about branding. You have to stick with it and try to come up with creative photos so people will keep following you.

There are some people truly in it solely for the love of books and the community. But those are few and far between. Even if you start a bookstagram account with that goal, sooner or later you’ll probably get swept up in the rep searches and the book blogging and the follower envy. You’ll want to be able to compete with the influencers, you’ll want to get the free stuff.

Should bookstagram be just about the likes? No, it shouldn’t, but it’s hard not to fall into the trap of counting likes and tracking followers. No matter why you start a bookstagram account, you’ll only be able to keep it going if you have a reason to, a goal. A lot of people start because they have a love of literature and stay in it to promote their own book. Most people like the validation of strangers complimenting their creativity. Some people want to feel important by providing reviews or representing brands they like (and getting free stuff for it). If you ever have hope of reaching any of these goals, of making it big on bookstagram where book subscription box companies or publishers or multitudes of fans see your posts, you have to have tons of followers and tons of likes.

If you’re truly in it to express your creativity and talk to a few strangers about books you all love, more power to you. But you should know that for sure, before you get swept up and find yourself a year into a failed endeavor with little to show for it and a ton of books and bookish products you don’t need and don’t even like.

Materialism Is Alive and Thriving

To be a efficient bookstagrammer, you have to have all the bookish things. Special edition copies, art prints, bookish candles, overpriced bookmarks, all the cute etsy products. And if you’re not subscribing to at least one—if not multiple—book boxes, then you’re missing out on story opportunities, a good chunk of the community, and future rep searches. You’ll also need unique props and good lighting and a fancy camera, because your iPhone camera and living room lamp are not good enough to compete with influencers and the sheer number of photos out there.

The longer you’re in the bookstagram community, the easier it is to get wrapped up in the material side. To want to buy several copies of a new book so you can take a picture of all the spines together before it becomes irrelevant or because they are all different editions and they’re all just so pretty. To subscribe to every book box because they all include exclusive items, like unique book covers, sprayed edges, and signed author’s notes. To support all the small bookish shops by purchasing bookish candles and tea and bookmarks and art prints and jewelry and booksleeves.

Suddenly, bookstagram becomes overwhelming for anybody with limited funds and a small house. Who can afford ten copies of a new book or has space on their bookshelves for that many copies? How many bookish candles can you collect before you have too many to even burn, if you burn them at all because it ruins the aesthetic? And do you really need bookmark after bookmark when realistically you can only use one per book you are reading?

Sure, sure, people will say you can do anything you want on bookstagram and take your pictures however you like. You can be minimalist or extravagant, you can have a theme or get away with random, you can even be unique by being just you. They’ll tell you it’s all about having fun and enjoying it. Until you start to look at everybody else’s photos. If you don’t have a house full of books and a photo studio in your library, if your captions aren’t constantly creative and your feed isn’t themed in some way, your photos will just get lost among all the bookstagram posts flooding social media. You might start to wonder if it’s even worth your time. And is it worth your time?

You Have to Figure It Out on Your Own

There are a plethora of bookstagram “how-to” posts floating around the Internet. A quick google search brings up over 9 million hits. But they usually say the same thing and come down to the same point: you have to figure out what works for you (while also keeping likes and follower count in consideration). You have to decide what kind of theme you want to try, what filters to use, what books to feature. You have to decide how often you want to post and what you want your posts to be about. And once you decide, you’re either stuck or you have to re-brand.

You also have to figure out why you are doing it. Do you like creating aesthetically pleasing bookish photos? Do you want to get likes and followers, free stuff and future fans? Do you want to use it as platform for posting book reviews instead of starting a book blog? Do you just need to talk to someone about this amazing book you just read that ripped your fangirl heart to pieces?

If you’re in it for the community, don’t go in thinking just because people like books, they suddenly stop being people. People, especially people on the internet, are judgmental, disappointing, and rude—and being part of the bookstagram community doesn’t automatically change that.

You Either Agree or You’re Wrong

Much of the appeal of bookstagram is the opportunity to talk to fellow book lovers about your favorite books. As long as your favorite books are their favorite books. Unpopular opinions don’t always fly high on bookstagram. If you don’t like Harry Potter or you don’t care about the latest Throne of Glass book, you’ll find less engagement on your posts about a random unknown book series, no matter if it’s your favorite book series ever.

While there are some genuinely wonderful individuals out there, there are still trolls, still bullies, still weird kids and super annoying people. There are people who will judge you for not agreeing with their opinions on audiobooks, there are people who will unfollow you if you say you don’t like a certain popular book or author. There are people who will send you threatening DMs and people who will post irrelevant, annoying comments on every one of your photos. There are people who will tell you that if you haven’t read this book and that book, you aren’t really a book lover. The internet is the internet and people will always be people.

Ultimately, your reason for participating in the bookstagram community has to come from your own desires. You have to have a clear idea of what you want out of it. If you don’t, there’s a good chance you’ll get burnt out and have no inspiration. You’ll stop posting. You’ll lose interest.

Bookstagram can be overwhelming, and what seems like a harmless hobby can suck you into it and steal joy from your life. It’s a worthwhile pursuit and a fun community, if you know what you’re getting into and know what you want out of it. But, like with anything, the key is balance. Boundaries. All the bookstagram how-to posts in the world can’t tell you when you need to stop buying books and go take a bubble bath, when you need to turn off your phone and just go out with friends. They won’t tell you when you need to actually start reading your TBR pile instead of taking pictures of it and adding more books to it until it’s about to crush you. So, in the end, just do what makes you happy. Do whatever keeps your love of books alive.