Rae DelBianco was a student on our London novel-writing course in 2015 – in fact she came over from the US for six months specifically to study on our course! Her much anticipated debut Rough Animals is out from Arcade publishing on June 5th, and has already been compared to the likes of Cormac McCarthy. Rae grew up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where she raised livestock. Rough Animals is a gripping tale that follows twins Wyatt and Lucy Smith following their father’s death on the family’s isolated ranch in Box Elder County, Utah.
As well as being a talented author Rae is an advocate for writers connecting with their audience on social media. Here she reveals the joys of taking part in the ‘bookstagram’ community on Instagram – and talks about how she evolved a way of using social media that works for her:
Daphne Du Maurier once said, ‘writers should be read, but neither seen nor heard.’ It’s a classic rule I’ve spent the past eighteen months breaking.
The value in disappearing as an artist and allowing the work to stand for itself is undeniable. But, in a developing media landscape in which experiencing art is increasingly a social activity, that act of disappearing is now the dismissing of a powerful marketing tool. In an age in which the Kardashians are no longer the exhibitionist exception, wherein we can expect to see (and engage with) the daily lives of Ai Wei Wei, Paulo Coelho, and Bret Easton Ellis alongside those of friends and family in our newsfeeds, I’d argue that the old stereotype is finished. Social media presence is not inversely proportional to level of artistry.
I began book blogging on Instagram eighteen months ago, just before I’d signed a book deal for my debut rural thriller, Rough Animals. After posting a photo of myself on Instagram reading The Paris Review for their #ReadEverywhere competition to win a free subscription, I stumbled across a community of hundreds of thousands of readers. Some ‘bookstagram’ accounts consisted entirely of books and book reviews, others of average readers who had posted a single book they loved and had therefore opened a lively, impassioned, international discussion on it. To anyone with only a surface knowledge of social media, as I had at the time, the depth of engagement within the community was the most striking thing about it.
I believe that a great book becomes a major life experience, and just as a shared life experience can create an instantaneous bond between strangers, so can a mutually loved novel. When we shut down our preexisting biases that cast social media exclusively as vanity or exhibitionism, we can see it for the potential platform for genuine engagement that it is as well. Exclusively posting books I’ve loved, creating imagery around them that serves the stories and serves the impression those books left on me, has allowed me to connect with over 19,000 readers around the world over the past year and a half. Many of them I hope will see in my book what they’ve seen in the books we’ve mutually loved and will read it. Many of them have left an irrevocable impression upon me and upon my writing that only a shared love of great books can achieve.
Instagram is a visual platform, but its content pushes far further than that. For an author beginning on social media, aesthetics are inarguably important in gaining an audience. But, one of the greatest lessons from my time with Curtis Brown Creative was the power in the ability to convey a novel in a succinct, immediate way. An image is no different from a one-line elevator pitch. They require practice, are individual to each book, and overall must instantly grab one’s attention.
Beyond the imagery, the key for an author on Instagram is engagement. Start early. Ask thoughtful questions that have the ability to incite discussion with every post. Post regularly, be it weekly or alternating days or daily. Comment on others’ posts of books you love, and build relationships. Join discussions. Answer every comment that someone takes the time to leave on your page. Add value to the community, and the followers will come. Don’t oversell your book. Be genuine.
As an artist on social media, you have the opportunity to share your work, to share your life, and to share who you are. They’re all effective in engaging an audience. I don’t feel comfortable sharing my writing on Instagram, so I don’t. I don’t feel comfortable sharing my day-to-day life on Instagram, so I don’t. But I’ve found a level of presence that works for me, in sharing glimpses of that rural, outdoors, old-fashioned life that my novel invokes, side by side with the books I love most.
Traditionally, publishers connect us to book reviewers, to the press, and to booksellers, and they shape our world. They are undoubtedly crucial. But the chance to dive deep, and to engage with the readers themselves is a privilege I can’t pass up. Sorry, Daphne.
For more bookstagrams follow Rae on Instagram @Rae.DelBianco
You can pre-order her debut novel Rough Animals here.
If you are interested in taking one of our novel-writing courses like Rae, you can check out what we’re currently offering on our courses page.