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Fitness, fashion, and food are some of the most prominent communities on Instagram, but if you’re looking for passion-fueled photos, elevated aesthetics, and a comforting reminder that people still read words sans screens, book Instagram is where it’s at.

Over the years, the #bookstagram community — comprised of proud readers, book stores, libraries, publishing houses, and more — has become an online safe haven for bibliophiles. Not only is the content beautiful and engaging, but the photos and captions work to inspire others to pick up a book in an increasingly digital era.

Photographing books for Instagram is an art that exudes personality, and therefore, varies with each individual. Posts can take an approach as minimalistic as including a cozy cup of coffee in the shot, or framing a book atop a simple backdrop like bedding or an empty city street. 

But they can also go big, featuring impressively stacked shelves, elaborate book designs, special effects editing, and more. This latter method is one used and perfected by professional bookstagrammers (and IRL friends) James Trevino and Elizabeth Sagan who run two of the most impressively extravagant book-themed accounts on Instagram. 

Inside the world of pro #Bookstagrammers

Like many Instagram users, 24-year-old Trevino once used his account for the sole purpose of documenting everyday activities like eating or taking selfies. But after posting a photograph of a book he was reading one day, he discovered the #bookstagram community — full of creative hashtags like #igreads, #shelfie, and #BookFaceFriday, along with people who shared his passion for literature.

Trevino — who has a picturesque wall of white shelves filled with dozens and dozens of books — knew he wanted to become a part of the online space, so he began using his collection to create magical works of art for his account. From bodies of water and gigantic lightbulbs made from books, to intricate wings, forts, and thrones, Trevino started using the different covers, colors, and pages to create captivating designs. He’s since amassed more than 192,000 followers. 

Trevino wrote via email he finds inspiration for his posts in a number of places, including his daily life, books he’s read, and other areas of pop culture like movies, television shows, and anime. He does his best to post photographs and compelling captions around four times a week.

“I used to do it every day, but as my pieces got more and more complex, it was impossible to keep up,” Trevino said, explaining that a single post can take four hours to create depending on the amount of editing he does.

Sagan, who has an account aesthetic similar to Trevino’s, also sets aside multiple hours a week to transform books into words, articles of clothing, and other thought-provoking scenes straight out of a book worm’s imagination. 

Sagan met Trevino eleven years ago on a book review blog, and today she borrows from his personal library to create posts for her 84,000 followers.

“I started my Instagram at the beginning of 2016, as a way to heal myself from a long reading slump and ‘life crisis,'” 23-year-old Sagan wrote via email. After taking a break from pleasure reading to focus on a career in law, she gradually returned to reading fiction and “needed a platform” to share her interests.

“After months of combining ideas and concepts and symbols, it’s a challenge to come up with new designs,” she said, but noted that she finds inspiration for posts in aspects of real life like “rain, trees, stairs, walls, stars.”

Beyond the aesthetics

Though there’s no denying that book accounts sprinkle Instagram feeds with visually stunning content, members of the bookstagram community aim to do much more than inspire a simple double tap.

Like many bookstagrammers, Trevino and Sagan speak to followers not simply through photos, but through their captions as well. With prompts like, “What’s your favorite classic novel?,” “Which fictional character would you be?,” and “What’s the last book you picked up because of its cover?,” they aim to spark compelling discussions about authors, plot lines, genres, and reading in general.

And aside from sparking discussion, book accounts exist to show off current reads and new releases, inspire people to renew their library cards or support local bookstores, and step outside their literary comfort zones. The act of sharing a book serves as both a form of personal expression and a service to authors.

Many authors or popular YouTube Book vloggers like @sashaalsberg, @emmmabooks, @clockwork_reads, and @jessethereader use Instagram to hold book giveaways, Q&A sessions, and keep followers up-to-date on happenings in the literary world. Celebrities like Oprah, Reese Witherspoon, and Emma Roberts have book clubs where they share their literary picks and read along with fans.

And in the age of tablets and e-readers, old-school hubs for books are learning to use an online presence to market new books and draw readers to the shelves of book stores.

Publishing houses like Penguin Random House,  HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster, chains like Barnes & Noble, independent book stores like the Strand Book Store in Manhattan, and public libraries see book lovers congregating on social media. In response, they’re stepping up their Instagram game. 

Many publications make an effort to engage with readers by reposting their own personal book shots, sharing new releases of the month, and offering book recommendations via Instagram Highlights. Libraries and books stores  use Instagram as a platform to publicize upcoming signings and book-related events that can help followers meet authors and fellow book-lovers.

Essentially, Book Instagram aims to use social media to inspire people to take a break from it. Carefully crafted book content works to entice people to travel back to a time before e-readers, pick up a good old-fashioned paperback, and then maybe even Instagram it themselves.

“At the end of the day what matters in my opinion is for people to read,” Trevino said. “If my photos can convince anyone to pick up a book then there is nothing more I can ask for.” The best messages he receives are those asking for book recommendations.

“The goal is to make the younger generations fall in love with reading,” Sagan added. “That’s at the core of everything.”

The future of Book Instagram

Though the book community continues to grow on Instagram, Sagan said that as people become increasingly reliant on technology there will always be room to inspire more readers.

That’s why she and Trevino created @mybookfeatures — a co-curated account that shares posts from bookstagrammers who might not have otherwise found their way onto people’s feeds. “It started from a talk we had a few months back about the Instagram algorithm making it so hard for smaller accounts to be seen,” Trevino explained.

“In the book community it is especially difficult [to be noticed,] seeing how books aren’t exactly the hottest thing around. And so, we decided to start this little project where every day we would repost pics from smaller accounts that use the #mybookfeatures hashtag.”

My Book Features Instagram account

Image: screengrab/instagram

Sagan added that the goal of the account is to help smaller accounts grow and “give something back to the book community.” 

By following the account you’ll be exposed to the hidden gems of book Instagram — including accounts like @foldedpagesdistillery, @bookishbronte, @abookishphotographer, @myfriendsarefiction, and @darkfaerietales_ — which happen to be a few of Trevino and Sagan’s favorites.

As the two work to expand the community, they have high hopes for the future of books on Instagram. “The fact that the publishing houses understand how important is to be up to date with the technology and to have a constant connection with the readers can only be a good thing,” Sagan said. 

“I think it is just a sign of the times. A lot of people have a romanticized way of seeing things when it comes to books and reading in general. It is seen as old-fashioned and not cool, especially by younger people,” Trevino added. Instagram presence is helping to change that.

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