Should You Become a Book Influencer?
Let's explore the state of book influencer culture and benefits together to find out!
A few years ago, business intelligence company Morning Consult published a report that took a look at how Gen Z and Millennials interact with influencer culture. The report analyzed information gathered from more than 2,000 survey interviews of Americans between the ages of 13 and 38. One piece of data in particular went viral, appearing in headline after headline, so much so that when I began writing this newsletter, it floated right to the surface from my abyss of trivial knowledge.
This is it: 54% of young Americans want to become an influencer.
Some sites latched onto another number from this report, claiming that 86% of those surveyed want to become an influencer, but that was the percentage of them willing to post sponsored content for money, which, I’d argue, is meaningfully different than wanting to be an influencer. Also, 54% is a big number! There really is no need to bloat the percentage. A lot of people want to live that influencer life.
It is a commitment. It is work. It is consistency and engagement and brand building, as you know if you follow the blogs that talk about these things. It is also alluring, with the potential for benefits that go beyond celebrity—people make entire careers out of influencing.
If you’re on Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, or other social media and you’re reading this newsletter, chances are you follow some bookish content–Bookstagram, BookTok, BookTube, etc. Maybe you participate, posting about your latest reads or bookstore trips. Maybe you’ve considered taking it to the next level to start earning influencer status. Heck, maybe you are an influencer. If you’re not there yet and you’ve even kinda sorta considered it, I’m here to think through that with you. Let’s put some of the puzzle pieces together and explore the state of book influencing.
Why This Why Now?
I’m not an influencer myself–I have a relatively small following across various apps and accounts. I prefer Instagram and TikTok to most other platforms, and those platforms are where a lot of the action and speculation are happening these days, with TikTok in the lead. The reason I feel compelled to get into this topic is because I’ve spent much of my career at Book Riot studying these platforms and their trends and infuriating algorithms, looking at community building, content generation, and engagement among other things. I don’t know what it is about social media that fascinates me, but I do know that the time has come for me to take a fresh look at what’s going on in book influencer culture.
I took a step back from my own socials a little over a year ago. Once upon a time, I was highly engaged–commenting, posting regularly, making friends, all that good stuff. There was also a roller skating account I created that got an unexpected and fast following. That account is sitting sad and mostly untouched now. I don’t think I have the spoons to pursue that influencer life, but that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in what it is.
Because I haven’t been as enmeshed in that world, it’s been a minute since I took a look–like a real good look–at what book influencers are doing beyond the information I need to generate ideas for my day job. What’s new and what do people get out of it?
Not only would I save money while keeping my reading fresh, but I’d have the opportunity to breathe the rarefied air of the Reviewer.
Books are not the dividends that lead to a career as an influencer–you can’t support yourself on free Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs) and new releases, but it is a perk of being a book influencer. People who aren’t making big money via influencing can still get their hands on some freebies. Also, it would be challenging to be a book influencer without books. You can utilize your personal library, check out books from the public library, borrow from friends, and take advantage of other hacks to visually highlight books you don’t personally own, of course. For instance, you’ll often see bookstore displays used for physical book props, as with this Reel from @emmalouisebooks.
However, since physical books remain the prop of choice, and the demand for constant, comment-generating content is high for influencers, one can quickly exhaust options from their personal library and other free but limited resources, and feel the pressure to acquire new books (I mean, so many of us readers feel that pressure regardless of the desire to do it for the ’gram). Don’t even get me started on the challenges of being an aspiring book influencer who primarily reads and purchases audiobooks…
Influencers can request books directly from publishers through forms and emails to publicists, through eARC sites like NetGalley and Edelweiss, and even through audiobook review programs like Libro.fm’s Influencer ALC program. My first foray into ARC requests happened when I started writing for Book Riot as a contributor. I had no idea what was required or expected of me as someone requesting these books, but I sure was excited about the prospect of getting early access to books and maybe even some shiny finished copies. Not only would I save money while keeping my reading fresh, but I’d have the opportunity to breathe the rarefied air of the Reviewer.
This was when book blogging was giving way to BookTube, before Big Bookstagram. The big question I got on forms and other ARC avenues, and the information I included in emails to publicists, related to blog readership. I had the benefit of writing for a site with a large following, so I could rest assured the number was more impressive than anything I could have garnered from book blogging on my personal site.
On today’s NetGalley, they make the importance of audience explicit at the very top of the page offering profile tips for reviewers: “For reviewers, it is very important to let publishers know where you recommend books (and audiobooks), how often you review, and the size of your audience.”
With social media reigning supreme these days, the currency for influencers unaffiliated with a bigger outfit is follower count. Libro.fm’s ALC program application form for influencers states: “To qualify for ALC access, you must have an established social media presence with a significant following on either Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook…”
What number qualifies as “significant” varies from place to place, but according Influencer MarketingHub, influencers fall under the following categories:
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