Over the past year, my main social media marketing strategy for promoting my books has been filming and posting Reels via Instagram. Reels, if you are unfamiliar with the format, are short video clips that are comparable to TikToks.
For the most part, the Reels I post consist of writing/author humor, books I’ve read and enjoyed, and promotions for my own books. Now that I’ve been regularly posting Reels for over a year, there are a few things I’ve learned about this marketing strategy that I pray will help you if you’re interested in making Reels yourself!
Lesson One: Expect Everything to Change Overnight
The most vital takeaway I want you to remember from this post is that Instagram’s algorithms, layout, and features change drastically and often without warning. While Instagram is by far my favorite social media site to use to promote my books, adapting to their constant changes is often frustrating until I get the hang of it.
Most recently (mid-February to right now, mid-March 2023), which has, I’ll admit, significantly affected how often I post Reels, a wide-spread glitch has occurred where the Reels tab isn’t showing up for some people who have multiple accounts. For a month now, I have not been able to watch Reels in a feed format on my author account, as they’re not showing up on my Discovery tab either. Even when I post Reels now, they often glitch on the first try, and I have to rely on my backup video (more on that later) to get them to post correctly. I’ve tried every “fix” I could find online, and have sent several messages to Instagram support, but have not received a response. Earlier this week, the Reels tab reappeared on my author profile for about a half hour, only to disappear again.
Back in November 2022, a major algorithm change also significantly decreased the reach some users’ Reels were getting. Where my Reels were previously hitting 1,000 to 3,000 views regularly, once the algorithm changed, they were only getting a few hundred views, if that. This was disappointing for me, because my latest book released that month, and my promotion strategy relied heavily on Reels to spread the word.
I promise this post was not meant to be a whine fest; I’m just telling you all this because these are just a couple of the many changes that can be thrown our way that we have no control over, but have to adapt to if we want to consistently post Reels. If you aren’t currently in the habit of posting Reels but want to, heed my warning and go into it with the outlook that the feature isn’t going to stay the same forever. Things can and will change in the blink of an eye; however, if you are someone who can adapt to change quickly and are good at thinking on your feet for alternative solutions to some of the issues that arise, you will thrive in the Reels game.
Lesson Two: Always, Always Back Up Your Drafts
I covered this point more in a previous post on Reels, but the second most important point I want you to remember is that you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble and frustration by regularly saving your drafts to your phone before posting them. Why?
Reason 1: If you’re having technical issues with the app and are trying to troubleshoot the issues yourself, it may involve having to delete the app from your phone and reinstall it, which will delete all your saved drafts from the app. Therefore, to avoid losing all the footage you’ve filmed, back up your videos to your phone and/or cloud drive for safekeeping.
Reason 2: There have been dozens of times where my Reel appeared to be correct before I posted it, only to have something glitch (most often, the captions would disappear) after posting it. If I hadn’t saved my draft files to my phone prior to uploading, I would have lost the correct Reel in its entirety.
It’s also a good idea to keep Reels sounds saved in your Saved library on the app, in case your Reels experiences a glitch during posting. You’ll have to import your saved draft of that Reel into a new Reel draft, and re-add the music in order to post the Reel again. Note: If you delete the app from your phone, your saved sounds will not be deleted.
If none of this is making sense, please read my former post, Tips for Making Instagram Reels, which is linked in the first paragraph of this section. There, I include a screenshot of how to save Reel drafts to your phone.
Lesson Three: Don’t Copy What Other Users Do. Instead, Put Your Own Spin on Trends to Stand Out
For certain trending Reel sounds, it seems like each Reel that uses that sound follows the same script or action. For example, when the “It’s Corn!” song by Recess Therapy, Tariq, and The Gregory Brothers was trending a few months back, many users made Reels featuring corn, like the original. While it’s okay to do something similar in a Reel to what the original poster did, seeing video after video of similar things can get old, especially if the Reels feed keeps showing Instagram viewers Reels with that same sound. Instead, I’ve found my Reels that use currently trending sounds tend to get better engagement when I put my own spin on the sound.
Going back to the “It’s Corn!” song, instead of posting a Reel that featured corn, my Reel featured the Bible as the main focus, and in the captions, I posted alternative lyrics to the “It’s Corn!” song to make it be about the Bible.
This is just one example, but if there is a Reels sound out there that seems to fit one niche topic, like painting, for example, and you think you can adapt it to promote your Bookstagram account, do it! Reels aren’t just for marketing; they can be an extremely creative outlet, and if you get creative with Reel sounds, you’ll stand out from the thousands of other accounts in the Bookstagram community.
Lesson Four: Bookish Aesthetic Videos Work Well For Marketing
One thing I’ve noticed over the past year is that there has been an uptick in Bookstagram Reels where the aesthetic of the book, or a scene from the book, is highlighted. Authors like Emma St. Clair are adept at making these types of Reels.
These type of Reels have become popular, I believe, because they feel like sneak peek or behind-the-scenes snippets of the book featured, and create intrigue for the book that may not be created as easily through a standard promotional image of the book.
Below is an example of a Reel I made for my debut novel, Can’t Beat the Heart of a Carolina Girl, that did moderately well based on my personal Reels stats:
Though the caption I used in this video was just a shortened version of the book’s description, these type of videos can also be made using images that match the book’s tone/aesthetic, dialogue from the book, etc.
Lesson Five: Lots of Views Do Not Equate With Lots of Book Sales
While I have seen an uptick in book sales since I started posting Reels regularly, I will admit that just because you have a Reel featuring your book(s) that receives thousands of views, it doesn’t mean that all, or even the majority, of those people will buy your book.
Yes, some of them will, and that’s awesome! But please don’t allow yourself to get discouraged if you happen to post a Reel featuring your book that earns over 10k views and you don’t make any book sales from it. Instead, just focus on the fact that 10,000 people have seen your book now, and if you continue to promote it, they may see it again. After a while, maybe they’ll make the decision to read it.
In marketing, there’s a rule called “The Rule of Seven”, which basically means that it normally takes people seeing a product seven times before they decide to purchase it. So, consistency is key here. If you continue to post Reels featuring your books, eventually readers will become familiar with it and possibly make the decision to give it a try. Just keep going!
Lesson Six: Most Viral Books on Bookstagram/BookTok/BookTube Didn’t Go Viral Because of the Authors’ Videos
With the continual rise in popularity of Bookstagram, BookTok, and BookTube, you may think if you’re continually posting videos featuring your book, that it will take off and go viral on those platforms. But, the truth is that the majority of books that have “gone viral” on these platforms did so because of readers’ videos, not the authors’.
Videos posted by readers are an explosive form of word-of-mouth marketing, which gives the book social proof that it is worth reading. On the flip side, videos posted by authors are inherently biased, because of course we think our own work is good and should be read by the masses!
While I still think it’s a good idea for authors to post Reels featuring our own books, I also think doing so create a dilemma. On one hand, it’s a free way to get the word out about our books. On the other, viewers can put two-and-two together if they see the book’s byline matches the poster’s account, meaning our author accounts. They may not be as convicted to purchase the book then, because if your video was their first time seeing the book, social proof has not been established yet for them. If they are intrigued enough to go look up reviews, and then buy the book, they may do so. But, if social proof has already been established for your book before they saw your Reel, they’re more likely to make a purchase.
Talk to Me, Arrowheads!
There you have it, my friend! Those are the top six lessons I’ve learned from posting Reels over the past year, and I hope these lessons help you if you’re interested in posting Reels to promote your books as well.
If you regularly post Reels, what tips would you like to add? Drop your wisdom in the comments!
Aim high, stay strong, and always hit your mark.
3 thoughts on “What I’ve Learned While Using Instagram Reels for Book Marketing”
Wow, amazing tips! I’ll definitely refer to these if I end up getting an author Instagram account! XD
I appreciate you sharing all this hard-earned experience! Watching your reels, I’ve wondered many things, like “How do people make these look and sound good?” and “How effective are they for marketing?” and “Man, people are creative!” Whew, it sounds frustrating enough with the glitches that I don’t think I’ll plunge into Reels yet, so I’ll keep watching yours and being impressed by your imagination and tech-savviness.
So the best is consistency and be your awesome self?