I’m so pleased to welcome the lovely Sarah to The Unfinished Bookshelf. I’ve loved (very casually) participating in her monthly Instagram photo challenges. Sarah is one of the loveliest bookstagrammers out there, and I love the discussions her beautiful posts create. Today we’re discussing blogging and bookstagram, as well as the exciting bookish business Sarah is building with her mum and sister Emma.
How did you get your start in blogging?
I’ve had a few blogs over the years and always forgotten about them or been unimpressed with my posting schedule in general. After starting (and enjoying) a blog about movies and TV shows with a few friends from uni, I realised I wanted to go in a slightly different direction.
So I started Commas and Ampersands in April 2014! While my posting hasn’t been entirely consistent over the years, I do enjoy having a space of my own to write my thoughts on books, movies, and TV shows. And subscription boxes. I have an addiction.
You’ve also gained a loyal following through Instagram, which has seen a boom in bookish content. What’s appealing about that medium?
Some people prefer to listen to audiobooks, but for a lot of people, reading is a purely visual medium. We’re drawn in by beautiful formats and colours and covers. And being able to celebrate that beauty in an instantaneous way is fantastic; we can see a cover or a photo that intrigues us, and engage with it immediately with a like or comment.
I think a lot of it is also aspirational. So many readers dream of having this massive Beauty and the Beast-esque library, and they want that library to be filled with stunning books. There’s something really enticing about seeing a cover you love and being able to track it down for your own collection.
You run your own monthly photo challenges, as well as taking part in others. How do you approach this? How do you plan out your month in photos?
I’m an organisational nerd and Excel spreadsheets are my saviour. I decide on my own daily prompts for the Ampersand challenge, and then I go hunting for as many other monthly challenges as I can find. Then I take my pick! It might sound a bit complicated but I have more detail about it here, with some handy pictures to make me seem like less (or maybe more) of a weirdo.
What do you think makes a good bookstagram shot? What’s going to make you double tap?
Quality, focus and lighting. The photo could be elaborate or simple, but if it’s fuzzy, unintentionally out of focus, or taken with an unflattering flash in the dead of the night, I’m probably not going to find it that appealing.
Do you think bookstagram will take over booktube and blogging, or are people still looking for that long-form content?
I don’t think it will take over either of those mediums because each one offers something different. BookTube is all about having that personal element—being able to see someone and instantly connect with them based on their mannerisms and non-verbal cues as well as their opinions.
Blogging allows people to go into more detail about their thoughts. Instagram does allow quite long captions but there is some limit to that. If you want to write a 1000-word post about something, it’s just not going to work.
What’s your number one tip for people looking to ramp up their bookstagram game?
Communicate with people! You could have the most beautiful photos in the world, but how will people know that? Find accounts you like, make friends, and promote yourself in an organic way rather than just asking people to follow you.
And that’s not just for other accounts; if someone comments on your post, respond to them. You don’t have to be on Instagram constantly, but checking in every so often and responding to comments in batches can help build that sense of community.
What are you doing when you’re not reading, blogging, or photographing books? How do you juggle life and blogging?
There’s life outside reading, blogging and photographing books? I did not know this. Honestly, I’m a homebody. I read on the bus to work, I’ll read during my lunch break if I don’t have other plans, and I’m content to come home and read at the end of the day.
Since I have my Instagram schedule worked out basically a month in advance, I try to take as many photos as I can in one weekend. Then I can get my Instagram and blog content organised and spend the rest of my time relaxing with a good book.
You’re also working on a new bookish nail polish brand. Can you give us a taste of what will be on offer?
Ooh, yes! I’m so excited about this. My sister, my mum and I have been working on Bottled Books for nearly a year now. We have our first eight polishes ready to go, and we’ve had a bit of a soft launch on Instagram while we sort out some of the behind-the-scenes elements in the lead-up to the official launch and sale.
The polishes can be inspired by a specific character or quote, or even the general feeling of a book. They will be released in chapters every few months, and all the polishes are five-free and cruelty-free.
How did you come up with the idea for Bottled Books?
I was spending so much time on my Instagram content, and my sister kept suggesting ways for me to turn it into a business. One day, she picked up a bottle of nail polish in my room and just said, “This. Let’s do this.”
I’ve always been a bit scared of nail polish, actually. I usually just use it to create dragon eggs. But Emma is a nail polish aficionado and she was adamant that we could create something that merged both of our interests. So we did!
What’s your favourite aspect of the bookish community?
Fangirling. Not the extreme kind, where people get this weird mob mentality and gang up on you if you don’t like the same book (that does happen, and it’s garbage). But the excitement that comes from telling someone what book you’re reading and having them say, “I LOVED THAT BOOK SO MUCH. HAS IT DESTROYED YOU YET?”
I mean, a book is a very personal experience. You can gather around with hundreds of other people and watch the same movie, play or TV show at the same time, but a book is usually something you’ll read by yourself and the initial reaction is very much internalised. Being able to talk about what you experienced and have someone say that they felt the same way is amazing.