Instagram for Writers

June 6, 2019 § 36 Comments


Flatlay of laptop, teacup, teapot, sugar, milk and paper on wooden tableSocial media is a distraction from our writing. Social media can be a support system for our writing—creating community, building readership, and allowing us to practice our craft. Writer Twitter is definitely a Thing, with terrific advice in #askagent, and editors tweeting calls for submissions and pitches. Writer Facebook includes genre- and demographic-based groups that foster literary citizenship and build real-life connections as online acquaintances meet at conferences and readings.

But Instagram? The one that’s all about the pictures? Sure, there’s #bookstagram, where book bloggers share their reading piles and recommendations and authors reveal new covers. But what’s the benefit for writers on a primarily visual platform, and why should they bother?

Instagram is (so far) the calmest, sanest, and most relaxing social platform, with three big benefits for writers:

1) Make genuine connections with people who want to read your work.

Writers don’t need 20,000 followers on Instagram. Writers need engaged followers. “Engaged” means people who like or comment on your posts, and a good engagement rate is about 1%. That’s right: If you have 100 followers, and one person comments, you’re doing well.

This is not how most people think about Instagram. We see “influencers” with 200K followers and ask why we should even bother. But look closer:

Influencer AllThatIsShe – 529K followers, engagement about 0.7%

Memoirist Dani Shapiro – 19.3K followers, engagement about 1%

Memoirist Esmé Weijun Wang – 9.4K followers, engagement about 0.8%

All three of these people are proportionally influential. The influencer makes fun and funny visual jokes. The writers share writing news, book tours, personal stories behind their work, and moments of joy and poetic wonder from their lives. AllThatIsShe’s comments include lots of casual interaction like sharing summer plans and laughter at her clever photographs. Dani and Esmé’s readers give their own responses to prompts, wish the writers well, share corresponding moments from their own lives. They actively engage in meaningful dialogue with the writer and her work. That 1% are people who will show up to a reading and pre-order your book.

Instagram is economical. You don’t have to fly across the country to a conference that might take 50 waking hours. Spend that same time in 15-minute Instagram sessions interacting with writers you’d like to know, and that’s 200 days of cost-free relationship building. You don’t even have to wear pants.

2) Write better.

The Instagram caption is perfect for encapsulating a moment. In 50-100 words, writers can practice craft at the sentence level. We get to write in short, manageable chunks on busy days.

When writing captions, tell a moment that is a whole moment. Stay in the scene, or in a single thought. The medium is the message: there is no “and then I realized…” because the venue says that for you. Being a caption establishes, “I thought this was important to crystallize and share with my readers.”

Writing in this constrained form is the ultimate flash. How fast can you bring a reader into your mood? How much emotional impact can you create in under a minute? Can you draft a killer first sentence that makes readers click to read the whole thing? That’s a skill all writers need for work in every medium.

3) Get Inspiration and encouragement.

When I’m posting regularly, I see more stories in the world. I’m more likely to ask questions of the people around me, and truly listen. This spills over into my longform writing, making me more curious about my characters and more conscious of the circumstances that make people who they are.

Posting a micro-essay is like a low-stakes “submission” to the world. There’s no “dislike” button, so I get the encouragement without the rejection. The level of engagement tells me what people enjoy reading, and comments suggest future blogging topics for Brevity and writing questions to address in my next book. Every little heart makes me feel like someone is interested in what I have to say and reminds me to write again tomorrow.

*

If you’re just getting started on Instagram, or you want a more enjoyable experience that benefits your writing, a couple of quick tips:

  • Line breaks. One of the great mysteries of Instagram! To get an empty line between paragraphs, make sure there is NO SPACE at the end of the paragraph. Hit return. Type a period or emoji, NO SPACE, hit return and start your next paragraph. There are apps that allow you to type a caption and copy-paste with empty lines, but it’s an extra step. Keep your Insta commitment small.
  • Don’t worry about the follow/unfollow thing. Many “large” accounts are using follow-bots to artificially build their numbers. When you click through to see a profile with thousands of followers and very low followings, they are going to unfollow you. Only follow back if you’re truly interested in their content.
  • To build your own followers, find people you like from other social media or real life. When you follow, comment on their most recent post with what you like about it and say where else you know them from. Make sure your profile says what you do and your name is identifiable. Show your face in your profile picture. Participate in following threads on Facebook and Twitter.
  • An engaged Instagram presence doesn’t have to be time away from your writing. Unlike influencers who need current daily content, writers can do just fine with 1-5 posts/week. Don’t bother to post on the weekends unless you love it.
  • Don’t get sucked in. Stay limited and specific: take 20 minutes and post one picture, write one solid caption. In your down time (subway, waiting room, on the potty) take 15 minutes and comment on 10 people’s most recent post. Like 10 more posts you actually like. Follow 3 new people and comment on 1 post each. Then close the app and look around for a story to tell.

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Wanna know more about writing on Instagram? Brevity‘s Social Media Editor Allison K Williams will be teaching Instagram: Improve Your Craft, Grow Your Readership as a live webinar for Hidden Timber Press on June 15th. Sign up here!

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§ 36 Responses to Instagram for Writers

  • floatinggold says:

    You definitely put a spin on things. I never thought of it that way. I dislike sharing unoriginal content – hence I am worried about Instagram. I don’t want to use other people’s photos. Sharing some words on a colored background seems a bit like a cop-out to me and a great way to get people bored.
    Every now and again I think of taking my own photos, but I feel like I would run out of ideas after a short while. Especially somehow pertaining to my writing.

    • Allison K Williams says:

      I’ve had a good time learning the basics of taking better photos and using a simple editing app. For ideas, a lot of times I shoot my desk and talk about what I’m working on. Small moments around your home are also great – flowers, sidewalk cracks, etc 🙂

  • Joy Lenton says:

    Useful ideas here. Thanks, Allison! I prefer Instagram for sharing snippets, and Pinterest for relaxing with less social engagement required. If we can be succinct and still get our thoughts across with aplomb, it helps us to craft words with greater deliberation and precision. I enjoy sharing my poetry and small reflections. It’s good when a conversation develops too. 🙂

    • Allison K Williams says:

      I still haven’t touched Pinterest but I hear good things! And yeah – it’s so cool to have those casual conversations.

  • Yes, I totally agree. Instagram has been a great platform for posting snippets of short stories, and full poems. Not to mention, there are a lot of great writers we can connect with through social media.

  • maylynno says:

    Good to know. Never thought of Instagram in terms of writing. Thank u for sharing this

  • I agree that it’s the calmest (even sometimes serene), sanest, and most relaxing social platform, Maybe because the image is primary, or at least comes before the words. Thanks for the encouragement to try it as a writing platform.

  • Phyllis Brotherton says:

    This was soooooooo helpful, Allison. Thank you!!

    Phyllis

  • Beloved says:

    The internet may be full with distraction is simply because most individuals are carried by any thing not relevant. Outside the use of business with the internet, I don’t have time to use it.

    • Allison K Williams says:

      And yet you’re here 🙂 I say that with love in my heart – we all tend to judge others’ use of the internet but see our own as necessary business. I’m thankful, as a writer living abroad, to be able to connect with my family and writing community, keep up with industry news, read for pleasure, and yes, play around. The internet is like a library – its value or wastefulness is determined entirely by the way we use it.

  • Great advice, as usual! Love the “flash” practice; so true! Onward!

  • I have an awesome time learning, this is quite impacting.

  • I try use social media to help promote my blogs but find that a lot of the time it doesn’t actually get people running to my blog to read my work. It’s hard balancing how much time to spend on each element but ultimately the writing is the most fulfilling for me, so even if I engage with one person it means a lot

    Everything in this post is great advice – can’t wait to put it into practise!

    • Allison K Williams says:

      Thanks! Yeah, it takes time to build that group who want to click over to another site. What’s helped me most is doing excerpts on social media so people there get the gist, and brand-sharing with Brevity and other places I can write that are a bigger deal than me.

  • […] via Instagram for Writers — BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog […]

  • Great post. I enjoy using instagram myself for stroytelling. This actually reminds me of a post that Jacqui Banaszynski wrote on her blog. It was about postcards and how she used them to refine her writing, becuase there is o​nl​y a 2×2 inch squre for words. She talks about how writing daily postcards made her condes​e all diologe, tensiti​​on, emotion, action, description, while eleiminat​​e detours. It helped her writing overall. Of course ​​Instagram is not quite like postcards, they can be used in ​ similar ways to help with writing.

    Here is the blogpost ​for intereted ​readers: http://www.jacquibanaszynski.com/what-postcards-can-teach-writers/

  • Eye opener post. Found it very useful. I have an instagram post and have a few follower and a few of them follow my blog or vice versa. Very helpful post

  • gstr34m says:

    Thank you for this wonderful post!

  • Margaret says:

    Thanks so much for this post and especially for the excellent tips. I don’t have my blog connected to my instagram account but I do like the idea of connecting with like-minded people. That’s really my main aim if I’m really honest. I dabble in Twitter but find it a bit scary because I don’t know the rules. I think the hardest part is learning the protocols which are often very much unspoken.

  • gmabrown says:

    I couldn’t do Twitter so i chose instagram and Pinterest. So far happy with what I am learning and love to check in once daily and respond.

  • Stuart says:

    I only recently started using the IG story function and now it is my primary use in the app. I fought it for a long time thinking it was just one more piece in the social media distraction machine but it gained a lot more attention and comments from my friends and family. I also find it more rewarding to create a story for my day rather than trying to find one perfect post that can be passed without a second thought from most scrollers.

  • Dunford Maloba Harold says:

    inspiring am happy with what i have learnt

  • quyumshub says:

    Nice

  • jazlynreitz says:

    I have seen many people post on Instagram about what their blog and often times I do end up taking time to go check it out!

  • myrabangs93 says:

    Thank you for these pointers! I have just started getting my writings out there. I have not yet made an Instagram for my writing specifically as I am first wanting to develop a blogging platform and read up on tips and ideas I could use in my new journey! This post was reassuring, to say the least. I liked where you mentioned that the percentage of active people on Instagram is significantly less than the huge number of followers!

    • Allison K Williams says:

      So much so! And what a great plan to focus on establishing one platform before branching out – I blogged before Facebook, Facebooked for a long time before Twitter, and then added Instagram. Next maybe LinkedIn 🙂

  • Cassandra says:

    I don’t believe most follower counts because they can be bought. .7% return on engagement doesn’t seem that great. Kids build these big follower accounts and then sell them. Then you have a cute dog with 1m followers getting 35% return on likes, comments and is making big bucks from appearances and promotional things.

    • Allison K Williams says:

      Ironically, the dog probably has the most real followers! You can get a reasonable estimate on real/fake followers at sites like https://igaudit.io/

      • Cassandra says:

        Oh cool I will check that out!!!! Ya people always try and leverage stuff by the amount of followers they have. It’s a sign of the times!!!

  • […] date, I’m just a lurker on Instagram. But Allison K. Williams’s post on Instagram for Writers may change […]

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