Here’s How Book Lovers Are Using Instagram to Get Free Books

This side by side photo shows a photo of Megan Putnam with a book in hand and one of the books she's ready from her Instagram. She is a bookstagrammer.
Megan Putnam has been a bookstagrammer for 10 years. “I started bookstagram during a time in my life when I desperately needed a creative outlet,” she said. “I was a stay at home mom with two small kids, an avid reader and was often at home." Photo courtesy of Megan Putnam

When Whitney Richardson’s library closed due to the pandemic, she was at a loss. She missed her supply of free books and book recommendations.

“I looked at my husband and said, ‘What do I read now?’“ said Richardson, a speech therapist from Evansville, Ill. “My librarian and I have a good relationship. She usually suggested books for me.”

She started searching online for book recommendations, and that’s how she discovered the bookstagram community.

Bookstagrammers — people who post reviews and photos of books on Instagram — say their hobby provides a creative outlet and connects them with other readers.

It also gets them free books.

Richardson was inspired, so she started her own Instagram account (@whitfulreads).  Two months later, she’s already received more than 30 books from publishers.

Megan Putnam has been a bookstagrammer for much longer — almost 10 years. The mother of two and mental health counselor started her bookstagram because she wanted a creative outlet. Her Instagram account (@_popreads_) now has more than 5,000 followers.

“I started bookstagram during a time in my life when I desperately needed a creative outlet,” she said. “I was a stay at home mom with two small kids, an avid reader and was often at home.”

We asked Richardson and Putnam to share their best tips and advice for aspiring bookstagrammers. Here’s what they told us.

Make Your Reviews Stand Out

While many bookstagrammers post the review that the publisher or author has provided on Amazon, Richardson writes her own.

“I think that kind of sets me apart,” she said. That also helped her grow her audience.

“I posted my reviews and was really honest and raw about them,” Richardson said. “When I first started I had about 100 followers, and in a matter of two months that was up to around 1,100 followers.”

Richardson also said she only writes reviews for books she really likes: “If I don’t like it a lot, I’ll use the review from Amazon or Goodreads.”

Connect with Publishers and Authors

Richardson has gotten on lists of publishers like HarperCollins, both by actively reaching out to them and by making her contact information available on her Instagram account.

“I’ve had quite a few up-and-coming publishers contact me just through Instagram and ask, ‘If I sent you this book, would you be willing to read it and share your review?’” Richardson said. “I said, ‘Absolutely, send it my way.’ I always want to learn about new authors out there.”

Putnam also mentioned bookstagram tour groups as a way to get free books while also supporting authors and publishers. Bookstagram tours are arranged by publishers and authors, who send free advance copies of books to bookstagrammers. In return, the bookstagrammers are expected to post about the book on agreed-upon days. The end goal is to generate as much excitement and interest in the book as possible.

And always make sure to tag the authors and publishers in your posts.

“I usually try to tag authors and publishers in my posts to make connections,” she said. “I also receive direct messages and e-mails from publishers and authors about reviewing or promoting their books.”

In addition to tagging the author and publisher, bookstagrammers use hashtags like #booksofinstagram and #bookbloggers to get their review in front of other bookstagrammers, and they’ll also pick hashtags targeting niche groups that might have an interest in the book.

You can also follow authors on Instagram and reach out directly to them.

Engage With Other Bookstagrammers

Bookstagrammers often do giveaways, so engaging with them is a way to get more free books.  Make sure to follow them and leave comments and likes on their posts, and they may do the same for you.

You can find bookstagrammers by following some of these hashtags:

#books #book #bookmail #booksharks #bookish #booknerd #bookworm #bookworms #booksofinstagram #Bibliophile #bibliophile #biblio #reading #booknerd #read #readersofinstagram #booklover #bookbloggers #bookblog #bookbloggersofinstagram  #bookphotography #bookreviewer #bookcommunity #booklife #furrentlyreading #reading

Take Good Photos of Your Books

Instagram is a visual platform, so to stand out, you’ll want to ensure your photos are on point. These tips can help:

  • Accent your photos with plants, a cup of hot coffee, fabric, lace, candles, pinecones, etc.
  • Keep your photos fresh. It’s good to have your own style, but don’t always use the same location or accents.
  • Give your book a background. Set the book on top of pieces of wallpaper or on scrapbooking paper that looks like hardwood floors or clouds.
  • Make sure your photos are well lit with natural light or lamps.
  • Take your books outside for a photo shoot.

Remember: Your goal is to make your followers picture themselves reading that book.

Most Importantly: Have Fun

Putnam reads widely across several genres like mysteries and science fiction, but she avoids genres she doesn’t like, such as romance or horror.

“I wouldn’t say that I make myself read genres that I don’t like,” she said. “Bookstagram is a hobby for me so it has to be fun and enjoyable.”

Regardless of your genre of choice, Putnam said she recommends book lovers look into bookstagramming.

“If you love to read and want to talk books with other book lovers, sign up for Instagram, follow other bookish accounts, gain inspiration for your own photos and create,” Putnam said.

“Don’t let it become a chore. It’s about reading the beautiful books we love and sharing them with others.”

Katherine Snow Smith is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.