The Do’s and Dont’s of Instagram for Self-Published Authors

When building a social media strategy for your self-published book, it’s important to know that the audiences for each platform you use (Facebook, Instagram, etc.) each have a different need from your posts. 

Sp 022instagramdodontsforselfpublishedauthors

Think about it this way: Would you go to Twitter to see photos of your cousin’s new baby? Chances are, you would stick to Facebook for that. 

In fact, each social platform has its own behavioral trends that you’ll want to understand before devising your marketing strategy:

  • Most tend to go to Facebook to connect emotionally with their network
  • Twitter is mainly used to monitor news and hot topics 
  • Instagram is used manly for people to observe our culture

It’s best to focus on your social media strategy platform-by-platform as an author because it allows for you to approach potential readers in new ways. 

You can use Twitter to demonstrate your genre and topic knowledge, for example, while using Facebook as a kind of autobiography to help people connect with you more personally. 

Today, we’ll focus on a platform that’s proving to become more and more popular: Instagram. 

Whether you’ve been an Instagram user for a while or this will be your first crack at it, chances are you’ll find some helpful information in crafting the perfect strategy to gain you a quality, engaged community of readers and potential readers. 

Why Instagram?

You might be thinking “…but my teenager is on Instagram, how could that possibly be the platform to help me sell my book?”

Turns out, with its growing popularity, Instagram is beneficial for a variety of brands (including authors) to create a community around their work. In fact, it's been rated the #1 social media engagement tool for doing so. 

Instagram allows writers to give their audience a firsthand look at who they are as a person, the motivation behind their work and even a deeper dive into the author’s characters. 

The key to making Instagram work in your favor is similar to one of the keys to writing a good book: Planning ahead. 

As you build your Instagram strategy, refer to these 3 “Do’s” and “Don’t’s” for marketing your self-published book.

Do: Identify a Target Audience

Avoid shouting into the void by identifying your book’s target audience, their needs, and a voice they’ll relate to. 

There are two main ways you can gather information on who you should be aiming your Instagram content toward:

Your genre

  • Research what genres the fans of your book respond well to, and what Instagram accounts they seem to regularly follow.
  • Profiles from authors, websites, or other related media outlets popular to the same people who might enjoy your book can help give you clues to hashtags, giveaways or other components that have been success for other brands.


  • If you already have an author website and/or active social media platforms, you can view the demographics and habits of people who have shown interest in your work through Google Analytics.

What makes you unique?

  • Take some time to reflect on what sets your work apart from other self-published authors.
  • Perhaps it’s your meticulously researched historical facts intertwined with imaginative sci-fi, or the way your characters display relationships uncommon in everyday media. 

Now imagine who would appreciate these unique traits? History buffs? Alternative rock fans? You know best!

Once you’ve evaluated your target audience, you can tap back into your creativity by creating an audience persona, or a character representing the traits you’ve identified. 

What does this person need? What problems do they face? Where do they spend their time? Get to know your audience as if they’re your best pal. 

Don’t: Forget a Call to Action

While you’ll want to treat your audience like friends to build your community, you don’t want to get too caught up and forget to incorporate big and little “asks” or calls to action into your strategy. 

Your calls-to-action should vary depending on the intention of each post. You shouldn’t always be posting hard sells for your book. Look for other softer-sells first, like encouraging followers to sign up for your email list, engage in a Q&A session, and more.

As you get started, a good guideline is the 5:3:2 rule, which can easily be broken down into percentages:

  • 50% of your posts should be content you’ve curated from relevant sources, like reposts from other more well-known authors, something from an illustrator you collaborated with, etc. 
  • 30% of your posts should be your own content, like images telling the story of your journey as an author, ruminations on your writing process and finally, CTAs
  • 20% of your content should just be fun. Different audiences have different ideas of fun, so tap into what kind of entertainment your specific audience is seeking. 

Whatever milestone you’re seeking to meet at the time, let it be known. 

Place your call to action link in your Instagram bio, as links won’t work in post captions or comments, then plan posts to direct people’s attention to said link. 

Do: Check Your Content

With each post you plan, make sure it checks the boxes for quality content:

Does it help you tell a story? 

  • A huge factor in the success of an Instagram strategy is whether there’s a story being told. 
  • Instagram users are just people out seeking connection. They want to connect with you, with your stories, and with your characters. But in order to do so, they’ll need to know your story. 
  • Let people in on your journey by posting “behind the scenes” images of your life as a self-published author, or by sharing an image that shows your writing process. Get creative!

Is there a captivating caption?

  • While Instagram is image-centric, captions still play a huge role in the success of a post. They give context to your photo, and more insight on your voice.
  • According to studies, people are most responsive to posts that are honest, friendly and/or helpful. Your captions should tell your story in creative ways. 
  • Try to be concise. That doesn’t necessarily mean all your captions have to be short, but they should be clear and to-the-point. 

Are you using high quality images?

  • Competition is tough on Instagram, and using low-resolution images is quick way to send people scrolling. 
  • Make sure any images you post are 1280x1280 in order for graceful compression. 
  • Take pictures in proper lighting, and play around with third party editing apps if you want to get extra creative. 

Don’t: Post Without Goals

In the moment, it can be easy to talk yourself into a quick filler post even if it doesn’t quite fit into your strategy. A good way to avoid this is to be sure that you’re posting within your Instagram strategy goals.

Google using a goal setting framework called OKR, or Objectives and Key Results. This framework is dependent on the following two questions:

  1. What do you, as a self-published author, want to achieve on Instagram? This will be your overall objective. Some common goal categories are selling more books, increasing visibility, and activating community. 
  2. How will you know you’re heading in the right direction? More specifically, what metrics, comments, or other milestones will help you identify that you’re on the right path?

Make sure the goals you set follow the S.M.A.R.T rule: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.  

Once your goals are aligned, think up posts that will lead you in that direction. Curate quality, relevant content for scheduling. Set a rough timeline for each goal and milestone, and check in regularly on your progress.

Do: Stay Engaged

Engaging with other people’s posts and stories help add a personal feel to your brand, and helps you join in important conversations in the book industry. But it also helps you be favored by Instagram’s algorithms

These algorithms try to help user feeds stay relevant by showing them brands and profiles they’re most likely to interact with. 

When more than one interaction between your profile and someone else’s occurs, your profiles are considered “close”, and your content will show up more often in their feeds. 

Instagram stories are a great way to engage with other profiles, as well as allow for more people to engage with yours.

Stories are also a great way to aid in your author brand’s storytelling process, sneak in a creative CTA, and get to know your own audience better as well. You can even run a fun book giveaway!

In a pinch for story content? With many profiles, you can share relevant content from other people you follow, or start a conversation with some followers who may not have otherwise dropped by your profile. 

Don’t: Spam your Followers

Nobody likes receiving spam, and most likely most people don’t like being spammers, either. 

Avoid joining the ranks of millions of Instagram spammers by avoiding the following:

  1. Excessive CTA’s
  2. Excessive hashtags. Use 3-4 in your caption and put the rest (no more than 30) in a comment below the image. 
  3. Posting too often: Stick to 1-2 times per day max. If you’d like to post multiple pictures of one event, use slideshow mode to keep them in one place. 

Voilà! After setting a few goals, identifying your audience, and planning your content around your findings, you’re close to becoming an Instagram pro in addition to an author with a growing audience!

Remember not to get too caught up in the numbers and focus on genuine connection with your fans, and to try out a few different platforms! 

Now that your social media confidence is -brewing, it’s time to sharpen up that Goodreads profile »

Adam user

President & CEO,
Steuben Press

Adam Ellis has worked in the book industry since 2002, when he was first exposed to the wonderful world of Self Publishing. Over the years he has worked with thousands of authors and helped to produce, print and publish countless books.

Bookcover lin website

Recently, Steuben Press printed my 213 page personal memoir. If you are contemplating having your own story professionally printed Steuben Press is the company for you! They will handle your manuscript with kid gloves and you'll be ever so proud to hand our each and every copy of your story to friends and family.

– Lin Joyce, Herndon, Virginia

Email Lin and purchase her story "Raising My Family Around the World ~ The Adventures of a CIA Wife and Mom in Stories, Snapshots and Letters."