Dead Popular: Authors of Instagram
By Tom Ashford
I’m not a particularly prolific Instagram user. Sometimes I will take a photograph of a beautiful landscape, or some freshly baked banana bread. If I go on vacation then a few shots of my trip usually find their way on there, but all in all I don’t post very often. 410 uploads over the space of about five years, if I’m right.
A couple of weeks ago Bex Gorsuch was a guest on the SPF podcast. Bex is an Instagram ‘coach’, and helps authors and other writers not only connect to their readers but even use those connections to attract new ones. I’m not convinced that Instagram is quite the key to success, but it certainly looks like an interesting opportunity going forward.
But if there are readers on Instagram, then who are they talking about? Who are the biggest #bookstagrammers?
It just so turns out that the UK-based McGowan Transcriptions recently scoured Instagram to find out which authors from history (deceased, and we’ll come back to that a little later) show up in ‘hashtags’ in the most posts. Their list runs a little longer (and with a few extra statistics), so I’ve condensed it down to the top twenty.
20. JACK KEROUAC
A man who seems more popular than his books – Jack has 121,607 posts, whereas his most popular book, The Dharma Bums, has only 3,778.
19. BEATRIX POTTER
Slightly higher than Jack Kerouac, Potter has 123,245 posts to her name. In her defence, she should probably rank much higher – Peter Rabbit is tagged in 316,616.
18. KURT VONNEGUT
Kurt has a fraction more popularity than Beatrix with 123,389 posts, though his most popular book, Slaughterhouse Five, has only 16,655.
17. SYLVIA PLATH
Somewhat surprisingly, Sylvia Plath comes in with only 28,752 posts of her famous book, The Bell Jar, and has 135,581 posts with her #name attached.
16. LEO TOLSTOY
Classic Tolstoy. Pips Sylvia Plath with 143,590 posts, but his comparably less famous book (or so I thought), Anna Karenina, has 90,407.
15. VIRGINIA WOOLF
Another author more popular than her actual books. Virginia has 159,543 posts with her name attached, but only 15,122 for Mrs Dalloway.
14. LEWIS CARROLL
Poor Lewis. He gets 176,136 posts about him, but his most famous book, Alice in Wonderland, knocks it out the park with a whopping 4,313,910 tags. How many people of Instagram are actually referencing the Tim Burton films, we’ll never know.
13. AGATHA CHRISTIE
No doubt helped by the recent film adaptation, Murder on the Orient Express has 63,778 hashtags. Agatha’s not doing so bad either, with 219,607.
12. CHARLES DICKENS
It’s surprising Dickens isn’t further up the list, to be honest. Charles has 235,375 for both #charlesdickens and #dickens, but A Christmas Carol has only 91,458.
11. ROALD DAHL
We can only imagine what an Instagram account run by Roald Dahl would have been like. Full of worms and peaches and chocolate cake, probably. He has just over a quarter of a million mentions with 250,646. Charlie & the Chocolate Factory has 130,269.
10. GEORGE ORWELL
And we’re into the top ten! Georgie-boy has 258,547, though that’s including #georgeowell, #owell and #orwellian, the latter of which I’m sure gets thrown around quite a bit these days. With 746,061 posts about 1984, perhaps he isn’t too disappointed.
9. MARK TWAIN
The man of a million amazing quotes. Perhaps some of them helped him get to 273,270 posts – Tom Sawyer only managed 44,741.
8. F. SCOTT FITZGERALD
Fitzgerald has 277,612 posts in which he’s tagged. His famous book, The Great Gatsby, has a hefty 465,847. I think we know where to attribute his popularity.
7. ERNEST HEMINGWAY
Another author more famous on Instagram than his works. Hemingway is referenced 477,880 times (a huge jump from number 8, it should be noted), and his most Instagrammed work, For Whom the Bell Tolls, has only 27,106.
6. OSCAR WILDE
The brilliant Oscar Wilde is a popular one on Instagram. He has over half a million name hashtags (521,451), though his books are comparably less mentioned – The Picture of Dorian Gray has just over 25,000. Perhaps it’s just not a catchy tag.
5. JANE AUSTEN
And coming in at the bottom of the top five is the wonderful Jane Austen. She has almost as many of her books tagged (499,155) as she does her own name (544,636). Pride and Prejudice claims almost 350,000 of those by itself.
4. MAYA ANGELOU
Much fewer literature title tags than Austen (18,477), but Maya shouldn’t feel too bad – she beats her to number four with 591,462 mentions. Her most popular book is I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, with about 12,000.
3. EDGAR ALLAN POE
Thank the heavens Poe doesn’t have an Instagram account. It would be miserable. Not that he has anything to be gloomy about, mind – he has a huge 789,022 hashtags of his name. He’s most popular around Halloween, unsurprisingly.
2. J.R.R. TOLKIEN
Here’s another author whose works are far more popular than himself. J.R.R. Tolkien may come in an impressive second with 964,045, but his books top their own list with 4,911,565. Lord of the Rings is most popular, with The Hobbit coming in with a little under half that.
1. WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
Yeah, he’s probably earned it. Although people don’t mention his books quite as often as they do Tolkien’s (or Carroll’s single most popular book, for that matter), he shouldn’t be too disappointed with 1,516,950 literary tags. And he tops our personal hashtag list with a mighty 2,010,059. Not a bad level of popularity for a man who’s been dead longer than anyone else listed.
But that’s the thing – all those authors are dead. None of them are driving traffic in any way by themselves. Does their legendary status encourage more people to tag them in their posts? Are readers actually ‘hashtagging’ their favourite authors on Instagram, or are they simply making pop-culture references in order to appear more interesting in front of both friends and strangers?
In turns out there really are a lot of readers on the platform.
#authorsforinstagram has 1.7 million posts. #writersforinstagram? Over eleven million! I did a (very) small bit of research into how well living (and most definitely actually read) authors are doing – often without much promotion on the platform by the authors in question.
Stephen King has 1,456,490 posts in which he’s tagged. James Patterson has only 68,900. That’s got to smart. Perhaps it’s all the movie exposure of recent years. Perhaps King’s fans are more in tune with social media. J.K. Rowling is smashing it, of course. She’s tagged in over two million posts.
I guess maybe Instagram is a viable platform… providing you’ve got enough of an existing reader base, and if a lot of those readers are of the demographic who will upload pictures of your books (or if every one of your hundreds of stories are being made into films). Or maybe you just need to be a dead legend.
I’m not convinced I’m willing to wait that long.