The women behind top Bookstagram accounts—influencers of Instagram’s literary community—gathered for a panel hosted by the Publishers Advertising and Marketing Association at the Random House offices on May 10. The speakers were Zyra Yuzon of @bookhoarderproblems; Sam Nahar of @wordsinpages; Anabel Jimenez of @inthebookcorner; and Rosy Kehdi and Hollie Fraser, founders of @booksonthesubway. Rachel Fershleiser, executive director of audience development at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, moderated the discussion on building book-themed brands and connecting with readers online.

Fershleiser, who was formerly the director of publisher outreach at Tumblr, kicked off the discussion by asking what Bookstagram means for each panelist and why they use it. Fraser stated that her passion for the social media platform is “about getting more people to read.” Prior to launching @booksonthesubway with Kehdi, Fraser spearheaded its London counterpart, @booksontheunderground, a nonprofit book-sharing program that places free copies of books for commuters to discover. Fraser believes that “there’s an audience for every book,” and aims to promote “all types of literature to New Yorkers” through her social media engagement. Kehdi added that Instagram offers a “low barrier to entry” and a way to reach audiences she might not otherwise be able to reach, through photos, posts, and comments. She most values Bookstagram for its “culture of sharing.”

Jimenez, who has also been active on YouTube, was initially drawn to Instagram as a way of discussing the books she was reading. Soon others started commenting on her posts and adding their own book reviews, which led to greater engagement. The advent of Instagram Stories, a mode that allows for private messaging on disappearing content, has led to more direct connection with fellow readers. Jimenez even exchanges snail mail and book packages with her followers.

Yuzon likewise joined Bookstagram for the feeling of connection it fosters. She’s found that for “even the most obscure books, there are people around the world who’ve read them.” Since Nahar ventured into the blogosphere roughly three months ago, she has found the platform to be “about sharing something you love.” Once she becomes absorbed in a book, she said, “it’s nice to know I’m not the only one obsessed.”

Marketing Insight and Strategies

Although each of the panelists reads and posts on a variety of literature, by their count, YA book chatter makes up a core part of the Bookstagram scene. Kehdi stated that YA fans are “a huge part of the community,” while Kehdi estimated that “they’re the biggest chunk.” Fershleiser asked if this niche of followers consists mainly of teenagers or adults reading teen books. Jimenez answered that from what she sees, the audience is comprised mostly of adults, ages 18–25 and 25–35, who read YA. Regardless of their actual age, YA fans show high levels of participation on social media. Yuzon described the popularity of author Leigh Bardugo’s recent Instagram Live video. “Even when the page was crashing, everyone was so excited.”

Beyond providing a forum for book discussion, Bookstagram offers new avenues for marketing titles—whether adult or young adult. Yuzon has worked with Touchstone on promotional content and would welcome the opportunity to collaborate with other publishers. Jimenez frequently posts unboxing videos, which feature her unpacking book hauls she receives from various publishing houses. She is more inclined to post about a particular title if the package is compelling and if she has heard about the book beforehand.

Fraser emphasized the power of a good cover. “Everyone says ‘don’t judge a book by its cover,’ but we all do.” When she spots a well-designed cover on Instagram, she feels “compelled to look” and learn more. She cited Riverhead Books as one imprint that consistently features covers in interesting contexts, often tied to the book’s themes.

One audience member asked the panelists to weigh in on the types of online content—in addition to cover shots—that publishers can share to generate buzz for their books. Jimenez stressed the value of reposting and tagging book titles and authors, as a way of boosting discoverability and rallying fans behind a project. Kehdi suggested organizing author Q&As, in the style of Reddit AMAs, to connect readers with their favorite writers. Giveaways and author takeovers are also popular among fans. Yuzon saw her account gain traction when she joined book photo challenges and readalongs, such as those hosted by Book Riot. To that end, @booksonthesubway will be launching an online book club, Off the Rail Reads. Kehdi and Fraser invited publishers to get in touch regarding recommended titles for the club.

Whatever the content, the panelists agreed that it should be consistent with the account’s overall brand and voice. Kehdi stated, “Authenticity is so important. You’ll get called out if you’re not true to your feed.”