I woke up yesterday at 4:30 A.M., wide awake. I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I did what any sane writer does when she can’t get back to sleep. I joined Instagram.
This, I should mention, was done against the advice of my 16-year-old daughter, who had warned me that Instagram, although highly entertaining in a time-sucky, falling-down-the-rabbit-hole kind of way, was not an effective way to connect with my middle-grade audience. Young readers don’t follow authors on Instagram, she said, unless the authors are wildly famous, like Rick Riordan or J.K. Rowling. And even they don’t rack up as many “likes” as Kylie Jenner!
After some initial research, I discovered that my daughter was right: While it’s true that Rick Riordan has 355K followers and J.K. Rowling has 104K (I’m surprised the numbers aren’t higher), many MG bigwigs, such as R.J. Palacio, Kate DiCamillo, Katherine Applegate and Dav Pilkey aren’t even on Instagram, and the ones who are – Wimpy Kid wordsmith Jeff Kinney and Dork Diaries’ Rachel Renee Russell, for instance – have only a modest following. Even Judy Blume, the veritable Queen of all things middle grade, doesn’t have sky-high numbers.
Still, I was undeterred. My daughter had ulterior motives for discouraging me, I figured. After all, no self-respecting teen wants to see her mom’s cute-kitty pics or embarrassing selfies in an Instagram feed – my cat-loving daughter included. So, off to InstaLand I went.
The first hour was incredible. I followed everyone I knew, and I got inappropriately excited when they followed me back. Then I went outside and started taking artsy pictures of everything in my sightline. Perhaps it was gorgeous spring-like weather, or maybe it was the fact that I’d been up since 4:30 in the morning and had consumed five cups of coffee, but suddenly everything – and I mean EVERYTHING – was utterly fascinating. In no particular order I snapped: a hotdog cart; a sidewalk grate; a fire hydrant; a smokestack; some graffiti; a garbage can; four mailboxes; a No Parking sign; the United Nations and the Queensboro Bridge. If I hadn’t been late to meet my critique partner, Rose, for a writing session I would have taken more pictures. (And yes, I snapped a photo of Rose too.)
When I got home, I looked through my photos, deciding which ones to post on Instagram. And that’s when it hit me: Who in their right mind wants to see my garbage-can pictures? And if that’s the case, why did I just spend half a day taking them? And why have I been checking my feed, every hour on the hour, for likes and follows instead of working on my next novel? Was I gaining anything? Or even enjoying myself? And if not, what was I doing?
Naturally, this led me to an even bigger question: Should middle-grade writers bother with Instagram at all?
An informal poll of members of my blogging group, the Swanky Seventeens, reveals that the answer is yes… and no. Yes, if you genuinely enjoy posting and liking photos, and no if you’re doing it because you think you should. Connecting with your audience is supposed to be fun, so if Instagram – or any social-media platform, for that matter – gives you agita, stick with the platform that works best for you. (In my case, it’s Facebook and Twitter.)
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got an Instagram account to disable. ☺