Using Pinterest to Promote Your Books

Celeste Ng  photo by Kevin Day

Celeste Ng
photo by Kevin Day

This week on Maine Crime Writers: Monday, Gerry Boyle; Tuesday, Kaitlyn Dunnett; Wednesday, Vicki Doudera; Thursday, Lea Wait; Friday, James Hayman.

Our guest today, Grub Street instructor and author Celeste Ng, gives advice on ways that writers might use Pinterest to promote their books.

Ah, Pinterest.  Facebook is the popular kid, Twitter is the cool kid, LinkedIn is the guy with a bowtie handing out business cards, and Google+ is the dorky one over in the corner—but when it comes to social media, most of us don’t give Pinterest a second thought.

Maybe we should. In July 2013, Pinterest hit 70 million users, with 1.7 billion monthly pageviews, and it’s only three years old.  The past year saw an over 60% rise in web traffic referrals, and social media experts are well aware of its increasing potential.  This fall, I enrolled in Grub Street’s Launch Lab—probably best described as “three weekends of marketing boot camp for writers”—to help me prepare for the launch of my novel, Everything I Never Told You, next JuneOn the first weekend, marketing guru Dorie Clark give a talk on social media.  “If you want women ages 30 to 50 to read your book,” she advised, “you may want to be on Pinterest.”  The following weekend, Jane Friedman, an expert on writing and publishing in the digital age, concurred, citing Pinterest’s huge user base in her talk on author platforms.

What writers should do on Pinterest, though, hasn’t been covered much.  A quick Google search for “how authors can use Pinterest” reveals many articles with general tips —“Add a Pinterest button to your Facebook page!” “Pin frequently to engage your audience!”—but little specific advice on what, exactly, writers might want to pin.  Not so helpful.

So here are some ideas for you, as a writer, can use Pinterest—not just for book marketing or “author platform,” but to help your own writing, too.  The point of this post is not to convince you that you have to use Pinterest (of course you don’t!) but to highlight a few ways this versatile tool might help in your writing and reading life.

Make “Virtual bookshelves”:

Book covers are designed to be eye-catching—after all, their job is to get a reader to pull the book off the shelf—so they’re ideal for pinning. I often try to pin from the author’s own website (so people can visit the site and learn more about the writer), from somewhere where the book is for sale (such as the publisher’s site or IndieBound; Amazon’s images often include an unsightly “Look Inside” icon), or from Goodreads (so that those who are interested can add the book right to their reading lists). And if you pin, be sure to include the title and author in the description of the pin!

1.     Share what you’ve read. Okay, my husband keeps track of what he’s read on a slip of scrap paper, but Pinterest lets you list books in a more visual way. Recommend your favorite books to others by making a board showing the covers of books you’ve just read, including a sentence or two about what you thought of them. For instance, Julia Fierro, author of the forthcoming novel Cutting Teeth and founder of The Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop, keeps a “Love at First Reads” board featuring books that have captivated her.

2.     Keep track of what you want to read.  Make a Pinterest board out of your to-read list—or even upcoming releases that you’re eagerly awaiting.  These are not only reminders for you, they’re also ways to draw attention to books you’re excited about.  Again, be sure to include the author’s name and the release date, if relevant, to help out others who see your pin.

And don’t forget: you can pin articles, too.  Pinterest will automatically record the headline, a tagline, and a link so you can come back and read the full piece later.  (As an example, here’s Arianna Huffington’s “What I’m Reading” board, and here’s Queen Latifah’s.)  Some major websites—including the New Yorker!—have even added “Pin It” buttons to their sites, so you can pin the latest George Saunders or Alice Munro story for later perusal, too.

3.     Promote your fellow authors.  Maybe it’s the Midwesterner in me, but I love spreading the word about my friends’ successes.  I have a Pinterest board highlighting fellow Grub Street writers and another for authors who also attended my MFA program at the University of Michigan (now the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at Michigan).  Pin the books of writers you know or the covers of magazines where your friends, classmates, or teachers have published, and help spread the word about their work.

Use Pinterest for book (or story) planning:

4.     Make an “inspiration board” for the project you’re working on.  The inspiration might be literal, helping you get the details right: old photos, if your character is based on a real person; clothes your character might wear; snapshots of key places in your story, be it the town where your grandmother grew up or the Dallas Airport.  Or it might be more general inspiration: think emotional touchpoints.  If your story involves protestors in the ’70s, you might pin the burning girl photo or the photo at Kent State to help get you into the right frame of mind when you write.  If your novel follows a waitress trying to break into Hollywood, you might pin sky-high shoes, a limo, and a 6,000-square-foot mansion (what she’s longing for) along with a greasy red-leatherette booth in a diner (her daily reality).  You get the idea.  Check out this Pinterest board for a novel-in-progress by fantasy/thriller author Justine Musk—reportedly one of the first authors to use Pinterest to help “map out” a book.

Bonus: When your book is published, you can share the inspiration board with your readers, if you choose—readers are often fascinated by the “research notes” of their favorite authors.  Think of this as the writer’s equivalent of DVD extras. For example, author Randy Susan Meyers has a Pinterest board for each of her novels, The Murderer’s Daughters and The Comfort of Lies that give you a glimpse into the characters’ lives (and travels and homes and bathrooms…).

5.     Brainstorm book cover ideas. Whenever you spot covers you love, pin them onto one Pinterest board, or browse some of the great collections already out there, such as this one by Pinterest user Tifani Moot or this one by user Fiona Parker. Collecting covers you really like can be a fun exercise in figuring out your own taste—I discovered that I gravitate towards covers with one striking image or trompe l’oeil, and they apparently haven’t made a Lolita cover I don’t adore.  But it can also be useful whether you design your own cover, as many self-published authors do, or whether you work with a cover designer.  When my editor asked me for a list of covers I loved, I put my very favorites into a Pinterest board to share it easily with my editor and book designer.

Even if you’re nowhere near a finished first draft, thinking about what you’d want on your own cover someday—the image, the mood, even the color scheme—might even help you crystallize your story.

For general inspiration:

6.     Collect quotes.  These might be inspirational quotes on writing and revising (I’m not the only one who has some taped over my desk, am I?), or they might be examples of great writing you want keep handy.  Those with some design skills can make Quotable Cards-type designs in Photoshop. For the rest of us, websites like Recite This, Pinwords, Quozio and Pinstamatic allow you to highlight text on-screen or type your own, then convert it to nifty, pinnable images in one click.  Don’t want to create your own? Browse quote boards by others (there are tons—here’s one of my favorites), or try sites like txt|ink, which gathers quotes in visual format.

7.     Gather info on one topic in one place.  Jane Friedman has a board of infographics about the book publishing industry.  Not your thing?  Collect photos of writers with their cats, famous authors’ workspaces—whatever interests you.  New York Times bestselling author Kami Garcia, for instance, has boards featuring writing tips, “Creepy & Gothic Inspiration” for her paranormal novels, and  vintage typewriters. Don’t forget: you can pin videos, too!

8.     Collect writing prompts. As a teacher I often give my students verbal prompts—but sometimes a visual prompt can spark your thinking in new ways. I keep a board of interesting photos that hint at a story: like an overturned VW bus full of bananas.  I turn to it when I want to generate new material, and next time I teach I’ll use some of the prompts with my class.

 9.     Indulge in some book porn.  I’m a total sucker for photos of beautiful bookshelves, cool things made out of books, tote bags and tees with literary references.  I save all of these bits of “book porn,” as I call it, on one board—and browse it when I need presents for a fellow book-lover (i.e., most of my friends) or just want to lose myself in book-world for a minute.

I’m sure there are other great ideas for how writers can use Pinterest. What are yours?

Note: this blog originally appeared on the Grub Street blog.


About Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You - Celeste NgCeleste Ng’s debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, is forthcoming from Penguin Press (Spring 2014). Her stories  and essays have appeared in One Story, TriQuarterly, Bellevue Literary Review, Kenyon Review Online, and  elsewhere, and she has been awarded the Pushcart Prize, the Hopwood Award, and a scholarship to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. She has an MFA from the University of Michigan, teaches writing at Grub Street, and is editor-at-large for Fiction Writers Review. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is currently at work on a second novel and a collection of short stories. Visit her website or follow her on twitter (@pronounced_ing).

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12 Responses to Using Pinterest to Promote Your Books

  1. Celeste, this is such a great post–thanks! (And thanks to Kate and the MCW for hosting.) I love Pinterest and already do a lot of the things you’ve suggested. (For example, when my publisher cover conference rolls around, I refer them to the board where I’ve been collecting images.)

    But my bigger question is, should we be trying to make sales from our boards and pins, or this more a case of reader exposure? If yes to sales, any suggestions on how to do this? thanks!

    • Celeste Ng says:

      Lucy, that is a great question, and I don’t have a firm answer myself. I suspect as with so many things, it’s a matter of personal preference.

      My personal feeling is that if someone stumbles across my Pinterest board, they’ll at least know who I am, and may then be interested in buying my book. So I make sure my Pinterest profile links to my site (an easy way to order my novel) but otherwise, I don’t use Pinterest for selling per se. Then again, I joined Pinterest way before my book sold, so I’ve been using it all along to bookmark all kinds of stuff, and think of it as an extension of the so-called author platform rather than a sales tool.

      The best way I can think of to make sales is probably to pin from Amazon/B&N/etc. so taht links lead to the page for your book, and/or from sites where there’s a prominent link to buy your book–e.g., a post on your blog that also includes a buy button. But perhaps others have better ideas?

  2. Beth Kanell says:

    Terrific way to start the day — thanks, Celeste, for this organized presentation. I love Pinterest. A big plus for me is, since I wrestle with words all day, Pinterest gives me a place for the color and quick placement of images instead. I use it for details of the terrain where my books are set: northern Vermont, and in various time periods! Thanks again, and esp. to Kate and MCW for hosting this!

  3. These are all good suggestions. My daughter-in-law uses Pinterest to promote her parenting site:
    I haven’t used it but can see the benefits as a mystery writer interested in developing a readership.

  4. Synchronicity? I was just wondering if I could use Pinterest for something related to my children’s books and a cultural mystery novel. I have wonderful photos of the actual Maine locations, and I’m using them as part of my artwork since I’m not much of a sketcher.

    Thanks for the wonderful article!

  5. John Clark says:

    Thank you. Thus far, I’ve considered Pinterest as another time suck to avoid. You have certainly changed my mind.

  6. G.M. Malliet says:

    How timely this is. Lately, Pinterest has become another of these must-use things for authors, in addition to FB and Twitter. I have used Pinterest for the last year or so but only because I love it. It is just relaxing to take a break from writing and see all the creative and clever and funny ideas out there. It took convincing by some people who were looking at my books with a view to getting a film option, but I finally added a board with my book covers. (I did NOT want to use Pinterest as a selling tool – I wanted to keep it just for me.) But Celeste’s ideas are fun and low key and I don’t think readers would be turned off by them. Celeste, I’m now following your book porn board! Who could resist?

  7. Barb Ross says:

    Welcome, Celeste. I use Pinterest, too, in many of the same ways, and wrote about it here a little over a year ago.

  8. Great post. I recently discovered Pinterest and blogged about it as well, but I never thought of book porn!

  9. What great ideas! While I do have my covers up on Pinterest, I must admit that the boards I have up reflect what I enjoy–animals and beautiful places. I do have a board for Authors’ Pets, and authors are welcome to send me photos of their pets. Alas, many of the pets up on my board have gone to that great Pet Heaven in the Sky.

  10. Wonderful article – something I never thought to do but once shown the way, it seems so natural. Thanks for the ideas!

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