6 Lessons Learned From Two Years on Bookstagram

Today marks two years of being on Bookstagram! Wow, I can’t believe I’ve been posting bookish pictures on Instagram for this long. Two years of bookish pictures nearly every single day and talking to other people about books.

It’s a little weird because I started posting on Bookstagram the day after my college graduation. Well, what was supposed to be graduation but got canceled because of La Rona. I don’t remember if it was a conscious decision, but it was perfectly aligned that way.

Over the last two years of posting there, I’ve learned many things. There’s a lot about social media that I never knew about until I became part of the creator side of things. I’ve also learned more about myself and things I didn’t realize until I began putting myself out there consistently as a creator.

As I set up for a few days of content around this anniversary, especially because I forgot last year’s anniversary, I wanted to look back on some of the things I’ve learned from Bookstagram.

Time, Inspiration, & Lightroom Presets

My greatest hesitation in regards to starting a Bookstagram account were the photos. I’ve never had a particularly great eye for photography. Even when I took videography classes for my major, getting a variety of shots and making them look interesting was something I struggled with.

When I started taking Bookstagram photos, it really showed. I was trying a lot of things without much real understanding for how angles and lighting worked. I also didn’t really know what I wanted my feed to look like. There was inspiration, but I had no idea how to execute the things I liked.

It took awhile to settle on something I absolutely loved. I stumbled across my grey theme in late September 2020 and truly started playing with it more in October. Once I figured out what I liked, it became so easy to use photo challenge prompts to churn out months of content at once.

Through that, I learned how to work with the inspiration that would randomly strike. How to look for new ways to photograph books in my room without making it all feel like they looked the same. Different books I could choose so I wasn’t always posting about the same ones.

I did post a lot of the same photos, but you get what I mean.

To this day, I think my grey theme was the peak of my creativity and where I thrived on Bookstagram. My photos were gorgeous. I had a lot of fun with my set ups. Taking photos felt like something I was beginning to understand.

Learning to take my time with photos also helped. When I used to batch a month of content at once, I’d spend 3-4 hours in a single afternoon playing around with different things and taking hundreds of photos.

My photos got better when I took the time to try a lot of things and stand there figuring out the best way to photograph a stack of books. Sure, it sometimes frustrated me that I’d take 20+ versions of something only to not like it. But I was learning.

A lot of that had to change when I moved back to Singapore. While I had stocked up over a month of content, I needed to find a way to replicate what I had in my new bedroom.

Which didn’t work.

So I took my first break to think over a new theme and try new things. I came back with my current theme, which is vastly different from what I used to have.

The creation of this my current Bookstagram theme is largely to make it easier to take photos the day I need to post them, rather than setting aside massive amounts of time to do big shoots and editing sessions. I wanted to make everything simpler so I could take photos outdoors if the inspiration struck.

Changing things up was nice. In some ways, it’s easier to take spontaneous photos because I don’t need dark grey backgrounds all the time. But I also find myself missing the ease of having every single photo taken and ready at the top of each month.

The best thing I’ve learned though, specifically in this area of photography, is the power of a good preset. I started with VSCO and paid for it, but eventually switched to Lightroom because I wanted to see what the fuss was about.

I stuck with Lightroom because it was easier to do complicated editing on my laptop. With my current theme, I do most of the editing on my phone, and the app works well there too.

The presets I started with were ones I made, not really understanding how a lot of the features worked. After months of tweaking things here and there, I downloaded some free presets online and messed with them until I got what I have now. And I’m happy with it.

Planning in Advance

It should be no surprise that I enjoy planning ahead. If my journals and spreadsheets are any indication, I enjoy having some kind of order to make my life easier.

When I started posting more on Bookstagram, I did everything from my Notes app. Planning what photos would be posted each day, writing my captions and hashtags. All of it was there. It helped me draft stuff in advance so I could simply post and engage with people immediately.

Then came Notion. Having all that text and images in my Notes app slowed it down as the month went by, so I looked into Notion and gave it a shot. Many hours of playing around and watching tutorials later, I had my monthly feed planner. I still use it now.

What planning in advance helped with was batching my content. Back when I did massive shoots, I would be able to see what went where and if I had too many photos in a certain style or angle. Everything was laid out so I’d know what my feed would look like in the coming month.

The brief period of time when I had a grid theme, planning ahead in Notion helped. I would take several photos at once for part of a grid and then move on to the next style. It was all laid out so I never had to wonder what kind of photo to take next.

I could write my Bookstagram captions ahead of time, minimize the busywork so I could focus on engagement and other things.

Though I don’t do it as much now, I want to get back into planning ahead more. Trying to get a week or more of photos taken at once so I can plan ahead instead of wondering what to post each day. For me, it makes everything about Bookstagram more enjoyable.

Maybe some day, I’d love to have whole shooting and editing days again. If my theme ever got more elaborate or if I found another style of photos I love taking. Until then, I’m happy planning Bookstagram content a week or two at a time in Notion.

Trial and Error

This was a HUGE lesson for me.

I pressure myself to be good at a lot of things from the start. It’s a bit of my Jack-Of-All-Trades coming out. Bookstagram was one of those things. I got really frustrated when photos wouldn’t look the way I imagined or if I couldn’t replicate something the way I wanted to.

My beginning was about imitating styles I’d seen, not knowing what I could or wanted to do. And that led to a very confusing look for me and my feed.

Things got better on my Bookstagram feed when I gave myself the room to try stuff without immediately needing to have it be pretty. I took a lot of test shots that were never posted. Edited and re-edited stuff that also never got posted. Some of it did, but that’s been archived so we can both pretend I didn’t have a terribly awkward start.

Trial and error. It got me to my grey theme that I fell in love with. It got me to my current theme in some ways too. Not being afraid to do things that might look or feel weird has led to some of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken.

Despite learning it over and over again, I forget this a lot. That there’s no harm in playing around with a lot of different things first and that not all of them need to be posted. There can be photos done purely for the sake of learning.

Some angles that I’ve used for photography came about purely by accident after trying to do something else. Others required me to stand and think for long periods of time. I wouldn’t know unless I tried.

Getting comfortable with trying and failing is ultimately what resulted in some of my favorite photos. The times when I’ve pushed myself the most are the times when I’ve been able to see myself grow as a creator.

Plus, it’s easier to come up with fun Bookstagram captions when I have pretty pictures to talk about.

Understanding the Algorithm

I struggle with this one a lot, but coming to terms with the fact that I’ll never quite understand the algorithm. No matter how I try, there are things about it that don’t click for me and I have to be okay with that. Watching hours of YouTube explanations might help a little, but it mostly makes me more stressed.

There are people who understand this well and know how to make it work for them. I am not one of those people, even if I wish I were. Stressing about it won’t make me feel better.

It’s a difficult thing to balance. On the one hand, I do put effort into taking nice pictures and wanting to receive the likes and engagement for it isn’t a bad thing. I am doing this to build an audience, after all.

But I shouldn’t be stressing to the point where it affects my mood during the day. That’s something I’m trying to distance myself from so I can cut myself some slack.

Even if I wish I were doing a bit better than I am, I can’t really force the numbers to grow positively. What I cam control is how I feel and react when something falls flatter than I expected. And take joy in the things that do really well.

I’m convinced that no one really knows the Instagram algorithm. Not even the people who are creating it. With Bookstagram, it’s more unpredictable because we post daily and a lot of our engagement requires multiple different things. We’re trying to build community in the same way a lot of artists are.

Though I would love to one day say that nothing about the algorithm affects me, the truth is that it does and all I can do is try to minimize that. Focus on the good things and not the bad. Believe that the people who enjoy what I post will come along.

My Happiness First

That goes in line with this. My happiness about what I post on Bookstagram should come first. It should always be about what photos make me happy and not what I think will make me popular or bring in a lot of likes.

Of course, it’s a bonus when something does well and brings me joy. Like my reading journal pictures. Those tend to be very well received and they’re a lot of fun for me to photograph because I enjoy sharing what I do.

Seeing as I’m constantly behind on books that are popular, there’s no point in me trying to post about them a ton. I’m also not someone who tends to read a lot of what’s popular now unless it falls into fantasy or mystery. The romance stuff isn’t really for me and I only try a few here and there.

I do believe that posting about the things I enjoy will bring in the people who enjoy those things too. I have friends who post about books I’ve never heard of in genres that I don’t normally think about. They’ve found their people. I will find mine.

Besides, I know people who almost exclusively post about the same handful of author and their photos do really well with people who also like those authors and books. Why should I be afraid to do that too?

If it makes me happy to post about the same book a lot in the same week, that’s fine. If I like the cover or the book and I can share it as many times as I want. In different ways, but I can do whatever I want.

At the end of the day, what I post about should make me happy. If that’s another V.E. Schwab book or the cover of Warcross for the third time this month, so be it. I love those books and I’ll take all the pictures I want of them.

Small Doesn’t Mean Bad

Like I said earlier, I put a lot of pressure on myself to be good at things, and that includes growing an audience.

Very recently, I went through my Bookstagram followers and cut out a lot of bots and people who were inactive/I never saw interacting with my content. There were a lot. I cleared out half my followers and it made me feel a lot better.

Dropping from nearly 900 followers to the mid-400s does hurt my pride a little after being on the platform for two years, but it also makes me feel better knowing that the ones who are still around are the ones who care about my posts.

Having a small following that engages and cares is better than having thousands who don’t see my posts.

Bookstagram is one of those places where you can grow really quickly with pretty pictures, but it doesn’t mean people always engage either. With follow trains and SFS (shoutout for shoutout) sessions that were really popular back when I first started in 2020, even I followed a lot of accounts without truly asking if I was interested in what they had to say.

I like to think that the posts I put up do a good job of balancing talking about books and other things. I like to think that the people who follow me care a tiny bit about my life.

Would I love to be someone who has a huge audience and high numbers in every aspect? Sure, who wouldn’t? But that’s not where I am right now and that’s fine. I’m reminding myself that it’s okay to be a small account. It doesn’t make me less than anyone who has higher numbers than me.

Those are some of the things I’ve learned from Bookstagram. A lot of them go hand in hand with each other, but that’s kind of how things work when you’re a content creator.

I’ve truly enjoyed the time I’ve been in this community and all the things it’s brought me. There are friends I never would have made if not for Bookstagram. Books I never would have known about if I wasn’t spending all my social media time on there. Even recipes for food because we all have to eat.

Unlike a lot of what I’ve tried in the content creation space, Bookstagram has stuck with me in a way that most other things haven’t. I’ve seen myself grow a lot because of this platform and community. It challenges me in a way that feels manageable and fulfilling. And it’s sustainable for me.

Having another way to express my creativity and writing has been good for me. It’s made me more confident that I can learn something new if I stick with it.

In a lot of ways, I’m glad that it was one of the most consistent things I had in my life over the past two years. Amidst all the moving, job hunting, and life changes, Bookstagram has been a way for me to think about something else and connect with people who share my love for books.

I’ve had friends who love reading, but few of them loved it as much as I did. Few had the same passion that I’ve found in this community.

I like feeling like I’m surrounded people who also get overly excited when a special edition comes out. It’s nice to know that other people collect multiple copies of the same books. There are people in the world who just want other people to fangirl with.

Bookstagram has been one of the best decisions of my life and I’m glad I’ve stuck with it. Two years there and many more to come.

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