Thursday, April 23, 2020

Book Influencers in the Wild

Take a behind-the-scenes look at the lives of social media's most bookish content creators.  ♦ 
For years, celebrity book clubs like Oprah’s Book Club have swayed readers’ interests and writers’ popularity with their recommendations. Since the rise of social media, however, there’s been a surge in virtual discussion about books. Now, many everyday booklovers have become “book influencers” themselves: content creators whose digital presence impacts their followers’ reading habits. These hardworking, ordinary people review everything from graphic novels and audiobooks to new fiction and classics. In addition to their own careers, they manage professional accounts brimming with polished flat lay images, quality videos, thought-provoking posts, and podcast episodes.

But what goes into crafting this content for readers? What do book influencers’ lives look like behind-the-scenes? As a budding influencer myself, the thought of filming selfie videos, setting up flawless photos, and reading enough to post makes my head spin! Fortunately, I had the pleasure of interviewing several book influencers about their work and how they approach their role online. It’s astonishing to see what they are able to accomplish with their passion for books driving their actions.

Phoebe Wright and Ashley Chandler run not only the joint podcast Read It or List It but also their own book accounts that differ in style and content. The pair met and connected through #bookstagram, balancing each other out— Ashley being the technical side and Phoebe being the creative. Another influencer, Kat Botell, runs her literary blog, Rustic Pages, on her own. “My life currently consists of taking and editing both photos for Instagram and videos for YouTube. I recently got back on top of blogging,” she shared.

The Read It or List It podcast duo, Phoebe and Ashley, did not set out to be book influencers. “I had no idea book influencing was a ‘thing’ to be honest. I started my blog and Instagram account as a creative outlet... it was a passion project that then took on a life of its own,” says Phoebe. Kat over at Rustic Pages started hers as a ‘hobby account’ initially, and it grew from there as she tried out blogging.

The three agree that book influencers must create authentic relationships with their audiences. As they plan, Phoebe and Ashley keep a dedicated planner for their blog and Instagram account. Phoebe says, “I lay out my content for the month and always leave room for a little flexibility in order to maintain an authentic relationship with my audience.” Personally, I prefer to engage with accounts that feel like friends more than a corporate company. When influencers reflect on a book with anecdotes from their own lives, it doesn't feel like they are actively selling me a product. Instead, their honesty and personal connection to the work’s themes builds my trust in them and the book they are posting about.

With all of this preparation and creating content about books, when do these influencers have time to read what they are writing about? Ashley emphasizes, “I can’t talk about books if I don’t read them! But posting and engaging is a lot of work, which I did not realize until I saw the difference in my growth when I let my audience into my life a bit more.” Kat is a night reader and consumes page after page before going to bed. She states, “I also LOVE read-a-thons and co-host one every first Friday of the month on my Instagram.” Read-a-thons engage followers in a set period of time (usually 24 hours or a week) of dedicated reading compared to normal. Kat admits that engaging with over 32,000 followers on Instagram is time-consuming but finds the work incredibly rewarding. Keeping up with comments is valuable and builds a relationship of trust between herself and her followers.

While the rewards of providing such content are encouraging, there can also be times of challenge. Reading provides most of the content but balancing it with keeping the accounts active can become burdensome. Additionally, seeing little return on time invested can be upsetting. “Balance and creative burnout are definitely the challenges. It’s also really hard not to play the comparison game. I struggle with it more than I’d like to admit, but I put so much work into what I do that it can make me feel inadequate some days,” says Ashley. Remembering why you started is always a good rule of thumb. Kat agreed, saying, “And as with any other niche, to not compare yourself to others. Everyone grows at their own pace!”

Regardless of the amount of time and energy it requires, influencing readers has its rewards. Phoebe from Read It or List It says her interactions with authors and followers fill her with joy. She adds, “… it’s just really, really cool that people trust my opinion. It’s very rewarding to discuss books with my audience who loved a story as much as I did but only picked it up because I recommended it!” Kat has also become friends with many people through her channels. The community that is built through these platforms allows readers and followers to feel a part of something larger.

As a book becomes popular across these social media platforms, how do we know that book influencers are assisting with its success? Some blogs and websites have affiliate links that let publishers know how a buyer gets to their site. Kat frequently gets messages from followers that they have purchased the books she has posted about. If she is encouraging others to read more, Phoebe argues, then her opinion and voice are valuable.

Almost anyone can become a book influencer. Keeping the book community engaged as a creator or participant grows the love of reading and supports talented authors. Book influencers also learn strategic marketing skills that can be encouraged by publishers or sought after by book enthusiasts on their own. With new books being published every Tuesday and tons of backlists and classics to be reviewed with fresh perspectives, there is plenty of bookish content to share. So, the next time you see a bookworm staging a bookish photo or filming a tour of their favorite bookstore or library, give them a shout-out. They’re selflessly spreading and maintaining the love of books.

  • About the Author
    Courtney Wallace is a marketing and communications professional in higher education. With degrees in Art History and Interactive Media Studies, she has implemented creative solutions to media, communications, and websites along with managing her own book blog. She resides in Cincinnati, Ohio, and enjoys literary travel, running, and playing volleyball.

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