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Thursday, April 28, 2016

101 Guide to a Successful Bookstagram - Photography Tips and more!

I get asked a lot about my bookstagram account. Sometimes people DM me about the equipment I use, sometimes they ask me for tips on how they could make their account more popular, or improve their photos. Some people ask me about the backgrounds I use, and how long it takes me to take and edit my photos... so I figured, instead of replying to each and every single DM and tweet, I will put together a semi-guide with tips and everything I have learned myself so far. I am definitely not an expert, there are so many talented bookstagrammers out there who take more stunning and creative photos than I ever will, but if this post will give you some insights and inspirations, I am happy to share everything I know! 

So! If you are trying to get into bookstagramming and you're looking to improve your photography skills, I might be able to help a bit (I hope!). Read on!

(or so)
I have decided to start improving my feed around the time I first got the idea to open my Society6 store. I realized the importance of a clean, attractive Instagram feed and I craved one with my entire soul. Of course, this isn't a transition one makes overnight. You don't just wake up to see your Instagram feed magically transformed into something better and more glorious. Nope. It is, in fact, quite a bit of work, but let me assure you here and now that it is 100% worth all the effort you'll put in.

Over the past year (technically, 8 months and few days), I went from this:

to this:

and this is how that reflected in the follower count:

     Before opening my Society6 store, I used my Instagram for random, unedited photo sharing - I took photos of the ARCs I got stacked up in a pile, of my dog Wilson, of the makeup I was wearing on a particular day, of something I cooked (if it looked particularly enticing), of my child flipping me a middle finger, of my child making weird faces, of my child drooling.. well, you get the idea. It was all random and I guess more "insta" than "booksta". And I was content with that, until the day I realized that I needed to turn my account into a more professional platform that would help me advertise the products in my stores. 

And so I got to work. 
And it was a lot of hard work, and a lot of effort, but also lots and lots of fun! 

So, without further ado, here are some book photography and bookstagramming tips. 

I actually don't have any fancy cameras or lighting equipment. I simply can't afford that, plus what I have actually works for me just fine. 

I use two things only: A Samsung NX10 mirror-less camera (lightweight and affordable), and an Amazon Basics Tripod.

I have been experimenting with different kinds of backgrounds since day one of my bookstagram journey. I tried so many different things, it's kind of scary. At this point, I can say that I know what works for me and what I think looks good (in my opinion), but I guess the trick is to find out what works for you

Anything could be a good background. An old vintage looking table, your wooden deck, grass, a shawl or scarf, a map (either vintage one or modern), your bed, your window, your dog (if it's pretty enough and stationary enough).

What I find works best for me right now is:

- Two 22inchx25inch white paper sheets from Dollar Store (they sell 2 for $1). Sometimes I use only one, sometimes - if I need more working space - I put two together and just make sure the background looks seamless in the photo. 

- My wooden balcony floor. It's brown wood, it looks very organic and it's great for warm-feeling photos.

- A vintage map I purchased from Amazon for $10. It's fancy, it looks great, if I need to, I can turn it upside down and I get a white background!

- White bed sheet. For those photos that I use for #SockSunday, or when I just want to showcase some pillows or stage a natural looking setting (like I'm just drinking coffee and reading in bed or similar). Works great and it's probably the easiest to arrange!

- Scarves. I designed some bookish scarves and you can find them on RedBubble. I own two of them - the Alice in Wonderland pages and Pride and Prejudice first chapter (the second is no longer available), and I use them in a lot of photos, they make fantastic backgrounds and are so easy to store.

- Book pages. I cut out some book pages from old ARCs I no longer needed/wanted, and use them as backgrounds. I think they look very cute and allow me to easily stage a great looking photo!

What I learned didn't work for me at all:

- My carpet. It's just ugly, ugh!
- Wrapping gift paper. It looks fancy and you get a variety of prints for a good price, but it gets wrinkled easily.

Now that you have your backgrounds figured out and you're all set up and ready to take photos, the next step would be to arrange everything you want to showcase in your photo in a way that will nicely fit into a square

Don't be afraid to experiment here. It doesn't all have to neatly fit into the Instagram square. You can have some items showing only partially, as long as the main item you need to show is clearly visible, you're all good. And keep in mind that Instagram allows you to zoom your photos out so that they actually don't show up as squares, but rectangulars with black color on the sides. Personally, I think squares are better, but in the worst case, you can always do that. 

It's always best to take a wider photo and crop it later, than shoot with your camera upclose, because then the focus will only be on one small part of the photo. Wider shot means better, more evenly focused result. 

Photo props are extremely important to me. I invest in a lot of them, I collect them (ok, I HOARD them), I am obsessed with making my photos look pretty and arranged in a way that shows that I care. 

You don't actually have to have a big budget for photo props, because it's not very hard to get creative and use just about anything you can imagine. Food could be a great prop (your breakfast, fruits, chocolate, drinks). Seasonal outdoorsy stuff makes great props, too (anything from flowers, dry leaves, acorns, dry branches to tall grass and pinecones). If you are into stationery - awesome, anything cutesy and artsy adds a lot of charm to photos. If you are into jewelry making - beads make fantastic colorful props! Seriously, even colorful cups and plates can be your prop if only you think it trough and get creative.

Here are my favorite props that I use in most of my photos:

- Candles. Not only do they add a lot of charm and warmth, they also brighten up your photos quite a bit.

- Coffee cups, tea cups, nice pottery. They're just lovely and great for all sorts of staged photos.

- Flowers. I love taking photos with flowers and am always super excited for spring. Dry flowers and tree parts make lovely props too.

- Colorful pens and stationery. I love tiny "kawaii" sticky notes and washi tapes the most.

- Any sort of bookish merch I have. Pillows, pouches, scarves, socks, bookmarks, candles, mugs.. you name it. 

- Fairy lights. They're just so lovely in photos. 

I believe in editing your photos. I know not everyone does, and some people are so good at staging and setting up the right lighting, that they really don't have to. Personally, I love my photos bright and clean, and I know that without the edit, they just won't be bright and clean enough for me. 

I only use one photo editing software and I consider it the best. And that is Adobe Lightroom. It's super easy to use, plus you can get all sorts of pretty presets for more professional and creative looks. And even without the fancy presets, you can simply crank up the brightness, add a bit saturation, change the warmth of the photo, do a vignette style, add contrast, add or reduce clarity.. the possibilities are endless and it's well worth the time!

I also crop my photos in this software, so it's a one-stop editor for me. 

Here, take a look at what you can do!

Makes quite a big difference, doesn't it?

Here are the settings I usually use (give or take few points, depending on how bright and clear I want it). The program gives you a preview and anything you do can be reversed with ctr+z, so no worries about permanently changing your photos!

If you are only using your phone camera for taking photos, don't worry! These days phone cameras are almost just as good and there are many phone apps that allow you to edit your photos in ways just as good as desktop programs do! 

When I am on my Samsung Galaxy S4, I use Lightroom Mobile app for editing. It comes with pretty much all the necessary tools for photo editing. As I have bought my Lightroom, I get to enjoy the full version of the app, but if you just want to try it and see if it works for you, you can first get the free 30 day trial! 

Aside from Lightroom, there are many other photo editors and apps that are FREE. Some of my favorites are Pixlr, Gimp and PhotoScape, but there more and you can read about them here. 

- Natural lighting is everything. Yes, you can adjust exposure and brightness in a photo editor later, but if you're taking a photo in a dingy room, your photo will be too grainy, blurry and yellowish to fix. I always take my photos in the morning, in the sunny room, or outside on the balcony to get as much natural light as possible.

- Using a tripod helps avoid blurry shots. This is especially important on those days when it's dark and gray outside and you just have to take those shots, no other choice. Putting your camera on a tripod and setting a short timer will make your photos perfectly focused. 

Bookstagram isn't all about the photos. Sure, they are the core of your bookstagram existence, but they are not everything. Here's a couple more things that I find very important, too:

- Caption - the text of your caption should be engaging in some way (try asking your followers a question related to the photo or something you just want to talk about), it should be well written (bad grammar is a serious turn off) and spaced well. I can't tell you how important spacing is - it makes your caption easy and pleasant to read!

If you are struggling with the spacing, here's a tip: hit enter immediately after the last letter(or dot) in the sentence right where you want to add that extra line of space (don't hit space and then enter, hit enter immediately after the last letter/sign). That doesn't always work (sometimes it's glitchy and even when you hit enter, the caption shows up all glued together), so if it doesn't for you, hit enter, place a single dot, and hit enter again. You will have a nice, clean caption that will be clean and easy for your followers to read.

- Hashtags - use relevant hashtags to make your content visible to more than just your followers. Some great hashtags for the bookish crowd are: #bookstagram #instabook #reading #yalit #bookworm #booknerd #currentlyreading #booklove #igreads #bookgram
Try putting the hashtags in the comment on your post, instead of directly in the caption - it looks much better and is more professional!

- Keep your feed clean. If you are serious about your bookstagram and you want it to look professional, make sure it isn't filled with giveaway entries. It's off-putting and a lot of people won't follow an account that is all about the free stuff! (It's totally okay to do that sometimes, just make sure you're not spamming your feed too much)

- Get Involved in the community. I think the best way to expand and grow your account is to provide good content and interact with other bookworms. Bookstagram is just like the blogging world, you need to comment and interact with others to attract people to your account and make them stay.

- Need Inspiration? Join a Bookstagram Photo Challenge! There are always at least a dozen of them happening every month. They are hosted by other book lovers like you, and they give you a list of daily prompts you follow to take your photos. You use the same hashtag every day to post your photos, and this is how other book lovers find you! It's a great and effective way or meeting new friends and growing your account.  (If you are wondering how to find those, well, there isn't any one place that lists them, you just have to keep your eyes out for announcements at the end of each month.).

And remember, there is no pressure to post every single day, if you don't like the theme for a specific day, skip it or alternate between different challenges!

- Consistency is the key. I think posting something every day (or every other day) is one of the most important things when it comes to bookstagram. Especially, if you want to apply to be a brand representative, or if you're hoping to work with publishers on Instagram campaigns (they are awesome and well worth the effort). Both your followers, and businesses/publishers want to know if you're active on this platform. No one is going to follow or work with a user who only posts once a month. 

and last but not least

- When taking photos for your feed, always take multiple shots from multiple angles. It seems like a lot of work, but trust me, it is way worse when you need to go back and set things up again because your one shot you took was blurry or something wasn't arranged properly. 

I really hope this post was helpful in some way. As I said,  I don't consider myself a bookstagram expert or anything like that, but I tried my best to give you some helpful tips! Should you have any questions or suggestions, please leave a comment below, I am always happy to hear from you!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Book Review: The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter

Young Adult, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
Publication.Date  March 15th 2016
Published By:  Philomel Books
AuthorKerry Kletter

The First Time She Drowned on Goodreads
My review copy:Bought
Where to get:;jsessionid=53428FAEB8E6DD59318D5431649F40B8.prodny_store01-atgap01?ean=9781492622468&st=AFF&2sid=Goodreads,%20Inc_2227948_NA&sourceId=AFFGoodreads,%20IncM000004

Cassie O’Malley has been trying to keep her head above water—literally and metaphorically—since birth. It’s been two and a half years since Cassie’s mother dumped her in a mental institution against her will, and now, at eighteen, Cassie is finally able to reclaim her life and enter the world on her own terms.

But freedom is a poor match against a lifetime of psychological damage. As Cassie plumbs the depths of her new surroundings, the startling truths she uncovers about her own family narrative make it impossible to cut the tethers of a tumultuous past. And when the unhealthy mother-daughter relationship that defined Cassie’s childhood and adolescence threatens to pull her under once again, Cassie must decide: whose version of history is real? And more important, whose life must she save?

A bold, literary story about the fragile complexities of mothers and daughters and learning to love oneself, The First Time She Drowned reminds us that we must dive deep into our pasts if we are ever to move forward.

Because just like all the other times I've drowned in my life, I'm determined to keep paddling forward, to believe that none of it has affected me at all.
It was when I discovered that there are two kinds of death. There is ceasing to exist, usually accompanied by a funeral and loved ones in mourning. And then there is emotional death born out of necessity and measured solely by the absence of grief it causes: the turning off the lights of oneself in order to shut down the feelings of being alive.
That's the weirdest thing about being cut off from life. Everything gets washed out or muted or recedes into the background except for other people's laughter. Other people's laughter gets very loud and jarring. It penetrates. It is a reminder that other people live.
There is no one around in any direction as far as I can see, and there is so much peace in that , in the absence of human voices. Sometimes is seems like everybody wants to put their noise into the world until you can't have enough quiet to even know you exist.
I've always had this vision of how my life would end. I wonder if everybody has an idea of their worst imaginable death, an image so explicit you could almost wonder if is is prophetic.

     I first heard about this book from Jeff Zentner, the author of The Serpent King. In fact, Jeff said that THE FIRST TIME SHE DROWNED is his favorite YA book of all times. Being completely obsessed with Jeff's book myself, I knew this was a recommendation I just couldn't pass up. I immediately pre-ordered Kerry Kletter's book and started reading as soon as it arrived at my doorstep.

     This was a phenomenal story, guys. So incredibly well written, harrowing and heartbreaking, I felt like I myself was drowning while reading it. It's not a secret that I love hard-hitting contemporary books, especially the ones that deal with difficult family issues, mental illness, bullying etc. I just love stories that pack a strong emotional punch in the guts. Well, I certainly found all that in this book, probably even more than I wished for. 

     Reading The First Time She Drowned was both a cathartic and emotionally crippling experience. This book felt so raw, honest and gripping, I felt physically ill while reading it. No, it wasn't gross or brutal, at least not in a physical sense. It was just so real and intense, I couldn't disconnect myself from the story and the characters. It was like being stuck in a nightmare that you can't wake up from. I realize that big part of how I feel about this book, is due to my own past experiences. I internalized a lot of what happened to Cassie. I was able to draw parallels between our lives and get insights that actually felt painful to me. It felt weird to feel this kind of strong connection with a character, especially one so damaged and desperate for love and acceptance. At the same time, it also felt good. I didn't feel alone in my struggles anymore, if you know what I mean. John Green once said that great books help you understand, and they help you feel understood, and so to me, The First Time She Drowned is exactly that kind of book. A truly great one.

     Kletter did an amazing job fleshing out Cassie's character. I never doubted her feelings for one second, she never felt fake or flat to me. She felt very real, and that's probably why I was able to connect with her so easily. 

     Cassie's story wasn't easy to read. Everything she went through, as a kid and as a teenager, every little memory she shared with us, it all seemed so profoundly sad and unfair, I couldn't help but feel for her. I was angry at her family for leaving her alone and making her feel unloved and unwanted; and so utterly unimportant. I wanted to reach into the book and hug her. At the same time, I recognized her strength and unwillingness to give up on herself, and even her mother, as something admirable. She is a fascinating character and I am pretty sure she will stay with me forever.

     The First Time She Drowned is a very important book. Dealing with extremely difficult and relevant subjects such as motherly love, mental illness, abuse and suicide, it's not an easy story to digest at all, but it's definitely one worth reading and sharing with others.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

ARC Book Review: Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

Young Adult, Mystery, Thriller, Realistic Fiction
Publication.Date:March 10, 2015
Pages:368 (ARC eBook)
Published By:  HarperCollins
Website:Lauren Oliver 

Vanishing Girls on Goodreads
My review copy:
Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Where to get:

New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver delivers a gripping story about two sisters inexorably altered by a terrible accident.

Dara and Nick used to be inseparable, but that was before the accident that left Dara's beautiful face scarred and the two sisters totally estranged. When Dara vanishes on her birthday, Nick thinks Dara is just playing around. But another girl, nine-year-old Madeline Snow, has vanished, too, and Nick becomes increasingly convinced that the two disappearances are linked. Now Nick has to find her sister, before it's too late.

In this edgy and compelling novel, Lauren Oliver creates a world of intrigue, loss, and suspicion as two sisters search to find themselves, and each other.


Quotes obtained from an ARC and are subject to change
There's something backward about living in a place so obsessed with the past; it's like everyone's given up on the idea of a future.
There's a roaring in my ears, like earlier today, just before I fainted. I don't remember crossing the restaurant or busting out into the night air but suddenly, there I am: on the fair side of the parking lot, jogging through the grass, gulping deep breaths of air and wishing for an explosion, a world-ending, movie-style disaster; wishing for the darkness to come down, like water, over all our heads.
Sometimes day and night reverse. Sometimes up goes down and down goes up and love turns into hate, and the things you counted on get washed out from under your feet, leaving you pedaling in the air.

Vanishing Girls sucked me in from the beginning. We start the story with a short scene between Nick and Dara, learning that they have always been close despite their varying tastes. Having a wonderful relationship with my own sister, I found it fascinating that after a car accident these two could not be further apart. And not in the snide remarks and dirty looks kind of way, but the full on avoiding kind of way. Nick has even moved out of her mother's house and moved in with her father in attempt to give Dara space and time apart.

I am sometimes wary when authors have dual narratives, that are equally dominate, as I've seen it work wonders and I've seen it crash and burn - either one voice is too strong or neither voice is great. In Vanishing Girls both narratives are strong and allow us to get to know both Nick and Dara, along with the pain they are both holding on to, both individually and as a unit. I was drawn to both of these girls, hoping they would find their peace with one another and move one from what happened that fateful night.

The other aspect of the narrative that I enjoyed, which others may find confusing, is it jumps around in time - but I didn't find it difficult to keep straight. One chapter may be after the accident, while the next takes place beforehand, then we read a diary entry before heading back to present time. It added to the story and is a driving force.

Not only is the plot compelling and tense, but Lauren's writing is beautiful. She knows how to pull her readers into the story and hold them in there. I didn't find myself wavering or pulling away from the story because the world and characters she has created are wonderfully written. A thrilling read about the relationship between two sisters, the secrets between them, and finding the strength to forgive, Vanishing Girls will keep you flipping pages until the very end.

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