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Author Branding and Instagram

I love Instagram.

That doesn't necessarily mean I am good at it.

For me, all of social media has become about marketing. I mean, I really like relationship building. I love that on Facebook I can talk for free to friends I went to high school with who now live four hundred kilometres away. I can keep in touch with Rachel in England, and Lynne in Australia, and the Carruthers in Africa -- and it doesn't cost me a dime. Also, I like that on Twitter I have a writing community which inspires me plus free access to the political and religious ideas du jour of intriguing minds. But, still, I want to sell books. For that, there's something about Instagram, where pictures speak a thousand words, and where, theoretically, I depict what my novels are about in captioned images rather than sentences.

I've been using Instagram for over a year now, and in that time, I've noticed some trends. First, there are some challenges to marketing books on Instagram. For example, a single book is a project months (at minimum) in the making. When you are first starting out as an author, it takes some time to build up your repertoire. Where Instagram is concerned, then, how do you regularly post about only a few items without being completely redundant and -- in a word -- boring?

To answer this, I took a course offered by LinkedIn. And, it taught me stuff. Things like, colour coding, for example. In other words, some Instagram users pick one or two colour themes, and stick to those for all their posts. Not my thing. To me, that only works for a little while before it becomes a blur. Other people post in patterns. A ratio. For every five marketing posts, throw in one personal post. Or something like that. In theory, I like this idea. I've tried, loosely, to consider this idea. But again, with limited product, my ratio tends to be inverse -- five personal posts to one professional post. Or such. And so my pictures are kind of all over the place. One minute a picture of the scenery I live nearby, one minute a picture of dinner, one minute a picture of my dog snagging all the room in the bed, one minute a selfie of the author hard at work, or the author at play with her children. Does this work? Maybe. But not, I think, without room for improvement.

And so, I began to study the pages of other authors and how they manage to add brand to their Instagram accounts without monotony or boredom.

The slideshow to the left features screenshots of the Instagram accounts of six romance writers. In order of appearance: Nora Roberts, Gena Showalter, Janet Evanovich, Nana Malone, Lana Pecherczyk, and Jill Shalvis. Of all these authors, I have to admit, I have not to date read Nana Malone. I'm not one hundred percent certain how I ended up following her, although I follow her on Twitter as well, so likely she said something I liked and I went searching for her elsewhere. There is a reason I keep following her, though, which I will talk about. Let's take each author in order for a moment.

Nora Roberts needs no introduction to any romance reader. Perhaps that is why her Instagram content is almost exclusively book quotes. Nora tends to take one book and publish new quotes from that same story for multiple posts in a row. For me, it has the effect of creating an interest in that story. In fact, I have gone into my personal copies of her books and selected a book to re-read because of these posts. So, success for her! She also, of these authors, has the largest Instagram following. While this sample is visually appealing, when I see her posts, she is the author on this list who excites me least. This makes me think her Instagram numbers may have more to do with her pre-existing following and less with her marketing strategy. Still, if the goal is to interest people in her books, what she is doing has worked with me. For any author with a substantial catalogue, quotes and nothing but the quotes could be an effective way to go.

In contrast, the sample from Gena Showalter doesn't look nearly as visually appealing here. However, my personal opinion is that Gena is a brilliant marketer. Or, whomever is doing her marketing is. What I notice about Gena's posts is that they largely feature dark colours -- which makes sense given her series is Lords of the Underworld. Taken as a unit like in this collage, that is not fully appealing. On an individual basis, Gena's posts pop. They are visually identifiable as hers, they stick to character (so to speak), they are creative, sexy, and the text is always easy to read. The quotes she uses really captures the nature of the characters and stories. As well, Gena tends to utilize Instagram stories regularly and with a lot of success. She also has interesting merchandise ideas. Occasionally Gena throws in a photo of herself on her feed, but only in context of the books. She even photoshopped herself into one of her covers. Her posts are fun and immediately identifiable. In other words, when it comes to Instagram, Be Like Gena. The only problem I see for beginning authors is that her marketing strikes me as being fairly expensive. She appears to use actual models to create her characters, and that is simply beyond the beginner's budget. Defs beyond my personal budget.

Janet Evanovich is one of my personal favourite authors. Her biggest series is the One for the Money series, and her covers are brightly coloured, image free, and feature the title and her name in embossed font -- with very little else to it. So, how does an author market an image-free series of covers on an image-based platform? It appears that mostly she sticks with one or two colour themes at a time, and repeats those colours in a pattern. As you can see, she ends up with a line of purple covers down one side of her page, other colours matching up elsewhere. For Janet, her book covers are the bulk of what she publishes on her Instagram page. In my personal opinion, her strongest platform is on Facebook, where currently her fans are busy trying to match images of the actors they feel would best represent the two male leads in the series.

So now we come to Nana Malone. Of all the authors on this list, hers is my favourite account. She markets based on her personality far more than her books. That may be why I can enjoy following her even though, in all honesty, I don't even know for sure what genre she writes. I'm guessing romance. Could be wrong. One of the best parts of Nana's profile is her Mug Monday feature. She poses with mugs with sayings which range from racy to humourous to downright nasty -- and she make them all look good. Her mugs, to me, make her memorable, and make her account stand out. Nana also utilizes video more than any other account I have here. She has all the things other author's have -- cover reveals, quotes, release dates -- but with Nana, I get the sense that she is the product first and foremost. If I didn't like me a sassy mug, I'd never consider reading one of her novels. As it is, reading her is on my to do list. I think the fact that many of her posts have a white background also assist with the success of her page. The plain white makes everything that much more viewable. My eyes don't have to strain to take all of her posts in.

Next on my list is Lana Pecherczyk. Lana writes paranormal romance, which is a category I once would not have read. I will freely admit that the reason I picked up one of Lana's books was the amazing cover art -- as revealed on Instagram. Her covers are hot. To be fair, she does have the advantage of writing about non-human heroes, so they are buffer, wilder, more beautiful, and come in interesting colours. The thing is, I liked her cover art enough to become interested in her as a reader, and when I read her, liked her writing enough to binge the first three in the series. Maybe that is a reminder that you need to market to gain interest in your product, but if your product is no good, all the marketing in the world won't make a difference. Lana's novels are great fun -- if you're into that sort of thing.

Rounding out the list is Jill Shalvis, who is in my top three favourite romance authors. Her books are fun, light hearted, focus on friend and family groups, feature particular geographic locations, and lots of dogs. Her Instagram page is far and away the most scenic of this list. It is weighted heavily towards scenic photography. Also featured are her pets, to a lesser extent her family, and then her covers. In some ways, Jill's Instagram says the least about her books. If she is posting release dates, that information almost exclusively shows up in stories. In other ways, with Jill's posts, what you see is what she writes. Her photos and her novels are a very good match. Shalvis appears to live her brand.

When I compare all these authors with my own Instagram, I realize I am closer to a Jill Shalvis than to a Nora Roberts or a Janet Evanovich. I am okay with that. I think the main take away is that there is no one correct way to do Instagram. Authors need to figure out what works best to represent them, and once you have that formula down, stick with it. There is something to be said for all of it. For me, I will continue to reveal who I am with my posts. I intend to utilize video more often, and with Spring coming, more scenic shots will no doubt show up. As well, I want to find more ways to utilize Instagram stories with my account and to work on being more thematic with colour. All in all, learning from the strategies of other authors is a decent approach to navigating Instagram.

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