Start With the Hashtag

by Rick Pryll

If you’ve published a book, you want to sell books. Author and podcaster Landis Wade said, “An author needs to work not just on the craft side of writing but the marketing side too because once you publish a book, you are a small business owner.”Rick Pryll

All available wisdom says that social media can help. While book marketing on social media can be overwhelming, let me tell you something I did — that you can do, too — without too much pain. 

This story takes place on Instagram — a good place for you to start, too, because it has a healthy community of “bookstagrammers” you can tap into immediately. 

In March 2014 I had two books available on Amazon and elsewhere and 11 followers on Twitter. This was not going to sell books. Most of them were friends and family, not necessarily prospects. Don’t get me wrong — if friends and family are interested in what I do, I’ll sell them a book. But they’re not my target audience.

Fast forward to December 2022. I have six books available on Amazon and elsewhere, and I am getting ready to teach a class on “Book Marketing in the Digital Age.” I have 564 followers on Instagram, not bad, but my following has stagnated. It has been in this same range for six months, maybe a year. (I know this because I track the metric in a spreadsheet. If you don’t measure your platform, how do you know if any of your social media efforts are working?)

I set a goal. To challenge the status quo. Could I get to 900 followers before my class on February 2, 2023?

The answer is yes. The secret? Hashtags.

In social media, hashtags are phrases one adds to a post to give it context, and which serves as a search term for people looking for something. For instance, if I’m a UNC Chapel Hill basketball fan, I’ll search Twitter or Instagram for #tarheels, and I’ll find all the posts where someone used that tag. Note this goes two ways: I can search for others using that hashtag, and I can use the hashtag in my posts to help others find me.

My mission: instead of being stuck at 564 followers, could I add organic, authentic followers by searching on a single hashtag and engaging with others?

Step one: find a good hashtag to search. I discovered the hashtag #BookishFollowTrain.

Step two: observe. I was skeptical at first. I hung back. I read posts and watched the interaction. I saw writers using #BookishFollowTrain in their posts, and many got a decent response. 

Step three: follow authors, book bloggers, book reviewers, and bookstagrammers who were hosting #BookishFollowTrain posts. I focused on the most inviting ones to me and my genre. I paid close attention to the hosts’ instructions as I would do submitting to a literary magazine.

By December 28, four weeks after I set my mini-goal, I had 907 followers. That’s 253 new followers, or 60% growth.

I recognize that the number of followers is a vanity metric. The objective metric is how many of your followers are readers; how many buy books from people they discover on Instagram? The real question is, did I sell more books? Again the answer is yes. Nothing earth-shattering — I will not retire from using #BookishFollowTrains, but yes. I sold more books. And you can too.

For more on using Instagram for writers, try this:

Rick Pryll is an award-winning author and poet. His latest novel, La Chimère of Prague (2020), made it as high as #1 on Amazon in the psychological literary category. His previous book, The Chimera of Prague, was selected as the winner of the 2018 New York Book Festival award for romance. A graduate of MIT, Rick wrote a novella as the thesis for his mechanical engineering degree. Rick has taught classes and led talks at Charlotte Lit since 2018. His stories and poems have been featured in Think, Optimism, Ekleksographia, Prometheus Dreaming, and The Esthetic Apostle. He lives with his wife, 2018 ArtPop Charlotte artist Holly Spruck, their two kids, two cats and a dog.

Marketing in the Digital Age: In this course, we will discuss the latest techniques and tools for measuring the real results of your online marketing efforts. We’ll explore today’s online marketplace, including tools such as BookBub, Goodreads, and BookBaby; list builders such as ProlificWorks and BookFunnel; email advertising services such as Freebooksy, Bargain Booksy, and BookBongo; and other tools such as Linktree and URL shorteners. We’ll also discuss pragmatic, real-world skills for building your email newsletter list and tracking the engagement of your social feeds, figuring out what works for you and how to break into the best sellers on Amazon in your sub-category. Thursday, February 2 | 6:00-8:00 pm. Members $45, Non-Members $60. Register