Meet Alyssa Hamilton, the voracious reader behind the wildly popular bookstagram account, Swept Away By Books (@sweptawaybybooks on Instagram). With nearly 80 thousand followers, this English Literature and Publishing graduate is one of the most beloved bookstagrammers on the internet. We spoke with Alyssa about how she got started, what she’s reading, and, drumroll, please – her essential tips for developing your own bookstagram account.
Tell us about the inspiration behind Swept Away By Books. How did you get started as a bookstagrammer?
I had been a book blogger and reviewer on my own site for about 3 years before I ever started using Instagram as a platform. Twitter was my main social media platform for a long time to cross promote my reviews. So when I started using Instagram as a cross promotion tool, it began to take off from there, and my following on my website followed me over to Instagram. My photos in the beginning were lacklustre to say the least. I worked really hard to create a style that I hadn’t seen before on bookstagram, one that involved more of my day-to-day life and things that mattered to me other than just books, like fashion primarily, but also coffee and cute spaces. From there it took off but it took a while to get to a place where I saw the numbers start to grow more organically.
What are you reading right now?
Currently I’m reading the third book in Juliet Marillier’s Sevenwaters series, called Child of The Prophecy. It’s an incredible adult fantasy series set in 10th century Ireland. I always have one physical book I’m reading as well as a romance that I typically read on my phone. That romance at the moment is the third book in Liora Blake’s Grand Valley series, a new adult series set in Colorado called Ready for Wild. It’s a fun, easy going book, the type that I like to read when I don’t want anything too heavy or when I want to combat a heavier book.
How would you describe your literary tastes. Do you have a favourite genre or writing style?
I wouldn’t say one specific literary taste, more whatever interests me. It can be a heavy literary title or a lighter romance, an easy beach read or historical family saga. I’ve recently been trying to get into non-fiction more, and am finding that I really love adventure style non fiction. One of my favourite reads from this year has been Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan. I’ve also loved Into The Silence, the story of the quest to conquer Everest back in the 1920’s, by Wade Davis.
You always seem to be reading in different and stylish locations. Where is your favourite spot to tuck away with a good book?
Again, I’m all over the place with this. I love to be tucked away in my house on the couch with my book, but I also love to find a nice spot in a park to read. Coffee shops are always a favourite because I love to people watch and I enjoy the background noise. Basically anywhere I feel comfortable.
Why is Instagram an ideal medium for talking about books, in your opinion?
It’s very accessible. I’m finding more and more that blogs are not the go to anymore because it can be difficult to find a specific review, or they’re tedious and long. Instagram has such an easy search engine built into it with hashtags that it makes sense for a quick search. I also find that it is easier to draw readers into a discussion because it all begins with an aesthetically pleasing photo. Without that, engagement is hard to come by, which is the way of a blog review. It’s harder to gain followers on a blog as well, so discussions generally don’t happen there. With Instagram, I can ask a question about the book in particular, or about my followers reading habits and get actual answers, and have an engaging conversation with them.
How do you make time for reading amidst your busy blogging and social media schedule? (Not to mention all your other commitments!) Any advice for others?
Making time for reading isn’t necessarily a thing that I have to work hard to do. It’s a part of who I am integrally and if I don’t read in a day I feel off. If I don’t read during the actual day, I read before going to sleep. I always have time for it. But Instagram has also given me a chance to have a very valid reason to take the time to read because I need to get a photo for a post. It’s a chance to slow down and just enjoy my book and a pretty place most days. Whether that’s on my lunch break or before I get going for the day. My advice to others is that if it’s important enough to you, you make the time.
What piece of advice would you give to someone wishing to start their own bookstagram?
First and foremost, engage, engage, engage! If you don’t reach out to other accounts who are likeminded, or start discussions with other readers, you won’t have a very strong base for starting something on your own. The community you are a part of is what makes up Instagram. Whether you’re in the book community, the fashion community, the knitting community or what have you, they are the people who build it and sustain it, and if you’re not engaging with them, they won’t know you’re there. Secondly, it goes back to aesthetically pleasing photos. If you don’t have a photo that looks nice, no one will stop to look into it further, which won’t equal a like, or a comment, or a profile click through or a follow. It’s not all about the numbers, but it is important that you have a community to engage with on your own feed, and as Instagram is a photo based platform, that needs to be at the forefront of your attention. Thirdly, hashtags. That’s where people will be searching for what they are interested in, and if you don’t include yourself in that search, they’ll never find you.
Finally, what is your favourite thing about books? What keeps you coming back to the page?
Gosh, this is a hard one to articulate. For me, it’s not even about escaping the world that I live in, because I lead a pretty happy life. It’s the chance to be a part of something that something that one person had the brilliant creativity to create, if that makes sense? I’m not a writer myself, nor do I think I am particularly creative. I love to be inside these creations that are the results of other people. I also just love the poetry of it. I think you can find anything in books that you yourself can relate to, and it can be a place of solace, or adventure or laughter. I also find it a better way to keep myself entertained if I’m bored or waiting places 🙂