I'm a 28-year-old influencer who started promoting books on my Instagram. I've made $6,000 and now have 50,000 followers — here's how I turned my love of reading into a side hustle.

  • Katelyn Cole is a teacher and bookstagrammer who lives in Fort Worth, Texas.
  • In 2019, she started The Bookcase Beauty account on Instagram and now has 50,000 followers.
  • Here’s what her part-time influencing side hustle is like, as told to freelance writer Liz Alterman.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

When my husband and I purchased our house in 2017, we immediately knew a library should be built in the formal living room. 

My husband is a diligent DIY-er and designed and built the bookcase of my dreams, ladder and all! 

It was big and beautiful. Then, I realized that it was very empty. I thought I owned a lot of books.

Around this time, I found “bookstagram” by chance. I discovered the concept of it while looking for a book hashtag and went down the rabbit hole to realize there are tons of book accounts and people working with publishers to promote new titles. 

I was posting about books on my personal social media channels and not really getting the feedback or interaction that I was hoping for. I saw creating a bookstagram account as an incredible opportunity to talk about books and grow my personal library. I created a second account devoted to books, The Bookcase Beauty, in 2019.

I’d say around 5,000 followers was when I really felt it take off. 

I would intermittently experience some really fast growth days. Many would send messages noticing how fast my following was growing and congratulate me or ask for advice.

I started it April 1, 2019 and hit 5,000 followers right at the beginning of July. I celebrated with a 5K followers giveaway.

Once I hit 5,000 followers, publishers began adding me to monthly sign-ups to receive their upcoming books and I was doing a lot less initial emailing/requesting to read titles. From there, I’d say it grew even quicker because I was able to consistently showcase upcoming releases. I now have more than 50,000 followers and average 250,000 impressions per week.

I spend probably a total of two to three hours a day being active. 

I try to be intentional about engaging with other book accounts, including Oh the Books She Will Read, The Grateful Read, and Sweet Honey and Brei, responding to comments and replying to DMs and emails.

I try to respond to as many comments as possible — probably around 100. There are more, but I’d say that’s about my daily limit.

Comments usually pertain to the books I’m talking about, and I respond with encouragement to read the book. Other times, comments are about my bookshelves. People often ask where I got them or comment that they’re their dream shelves. I always reply and give my husband credit for the shelves. I think the concept that he designed and built them is also part of my niche.  

The heaviest concentration of time spent is definitely over the weekends. On top of the previously mentioned actions, I try to take all of my photo content for the week. 

Sometimes I edit them all at once, and sometimes I edit them the day I post. This pattern cuts down on a lot of time-eating thought of, “What am I going to post today?”

There’s not so much a typical day, but a typical pattern. Three to four mornings a week, I run while listening to audiobooks.

I try to post that in my stories consistently. I thought it might bug people to see them so often, but the feedback I’ve gotten is that people love to know when I’m being active and they love to know what I’m listening to. I’ve heard from many that it’s great motivation for them.

Typically, I post sometime in the morning because that’s what works best with my teaching schedule. I’ll periodically check in throughout the day — lunch, after work — but my evenings are dedicated mainly to reading.

I was surprised to find out how little is paid in promotion. All in all, I’ve made around $6,000 in two years. 

To be clear, that’s not why I started my account. 

I’m extremely grateful to have grown my personal library with so many gifted books. I receive five to 10 per week. 

Last year, I read/listened to 120 books. Those were primarily gifted copies. At around $20 to $25 a book, I saved $2,400 to $3,000. I would have read significantly less had I been purchasing books.

But seeing larger accounts promote titles, as a small account, I assumed they were working in partnership. It makes sense, since they have such a large, targeted audience, that they would be compensated for their advertising space.

For the most part, there’s no compensation or promotional partnership. I’ve been a part of a couple of promotions that include media companies. All of my partnerships have been made via them reaching out to me, aside from my initial book requests to publishers while I was still a relatively “small” account.

In the age of instant streaming, I’d love to continue partnerships with media companies to help promote book-to-film adaptations. I think my platform provides a great space for readers to interact with each other in their shared opinions and excitement of the film adaptations. It’s fun to do story polls, questions, and live reactions when watching the film adaptation. 

My side income breaks down like this:

  • $5,000: combined media for book-to-film adaptation promotion
  • $300: box subscription service
  • $300: nail decal company 
  • $200: book promotion for publisher

I don’t spend much on this business. The only costs I take on are when I’m shipping books to others via media mail. It’s usually around $3 a book. I did purchased a small tripod to take photos.

I don’t have an assistant. It’s just me and my Bluetooth remote and tripod. Over the past two years, I’d say I’ve spent around $300 on my business. 

Having something that sets you apart or something that people will uniquely identify with you is beneficial.

Engage with others in a kind, supportive manner. The more you interact, the more it will be returned to you. 

Being open about who you are is also a key to connection. Yes, people are here for the books, but people want to know you, too. It’s very connecting when people check in about my teaching year during COVID-19, my running routines, and my pets, Copper and Quilliam.

Practice taking pictures. Good photos will get attention. Figure out what’s going to catch someone’s eye. This goes for editing, too. Finding an aesthetic can take time. Play around and be open to creativity.

Don’t let it become a chore. That perspective will burn you out quickly. You can’t do it all.

For me, this platform is a source of joy and I want to keep it that way. Participate when you can and don’t feel bad when you miss out. You have a life outside of Instagram. 


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