How to Get Free Books and ARCs as a Bookstagrammer

People typically join bookstagram for the fun of it, but let's be honest, most of us soon start to wonder: how can I get free books out of this? It's easy to stew in jealousy at the big bookstagrammers and booktubers who seem to never have to buy a single book -- and when it comes to advance review copies (ARCs), it seems like only a select few people get their hands on those coveted treasures, often through pretty obscure means.

Hopefully, I'm going to shed some light on all that today. I'm not a bookstagram celebrity or anything, but I do get free books and advance review copies sometimes. I'm a Penguin Teen influencer, which gives me access to a whole lotta goodies, and before the coronavirus hit they did actually mail me physical books -- both ARCs and published books that they wanted me to promote.

I was also a Book of the Month YA affiliate for a while, and that meant I got free BOTM boxes -- at least for a few months (they eventually changed their payment structure, and then BOTM YA got dissolved ... but that's a story for another time).

All this is to say that I know a few cool ways to get complimentary books. I have to add a little bit of a disclaimer that, aside from entering giveaways, I've never actually asked for these free books. I was lucky enough to get these opportunities naturally, which I'm crazy grateful for -- but I do know of some ways to be proactive about seeking out these kinds of sweet deals.

Before I get to those, though, I'm going to tell you how I did it ...

The Most Important Thing You Can Do to Get Free Books

You ready? In my opinion, the most important thing to focus on if you want free stuff from your bookstagram is ...

*Drum roll*

Making your account awesome.

Okay, so that was probably a bit of an anticlimax, but honestly? It's true. If you take nice photos and put effort into your account, people are way more likely to want to give you free stuff to promote. And making your account pretty isn't expensive, either. All you need is:
  • Books (duh)
  • Natural light
  • A few nice props (you probably already have a load of stuff you can use)
  • A consistent posting schedule
That last one is kinda obvious, but I think it's worth mentioning. If you only post once a month, why would anyone want to give you free stuff?

The various methods for getting more engagement on bookstagram are complex enough for several blog posts, but the one thing I will note here is that photos of popular books tend to get more engagement and likes. But what if you don't have a ton of popular books to take pictures of? No worries -- I have a post about how to feature books you don't own on your bookstagram with a little photo-editing trickery using free tools.

So What About Follower Count?

Look, I'm not gonna say follower counts don't matter, cause they absolutely do. You're not going to get free books if your account only has 50 followers. However, you also don't need to be a mega bookstagram celebrity for people to want to work with you.

This is completely anecdotal, so I have no idea if this will work for everyone -- but for me, I got contacted for my first major affiliate role (Book of the Month YA) right after I broke 1,000 followers. I also only had a hair over 2,000 when Penguin Teen reached out.

Yeah, if you've just started out, those numbers might seem daunting. But trust me, if you take nice photos and interact with people in the community, your follower numbers will go up. Just focus on building meaningful connections, having fun, and remembering that bookstagram is about so much more than your numbers.

(EDIT: I wrote a post about how to get more bookstagram followers! Click here to read it)

Things You Can Do to Get Free Books

Of course, you don't have to just wait for free book opportunities to come to you. There are several proactive things you can do right now!

Reach out to Authors

If you're interested in indie books, there are tons of self-published authors who are happy to give away free ebook or paperback copies in exchange for a review. Getting these free review copies is as simple as saying publicly that authors can contact you for review requests.

Heck, even if you don't say it publicly, many authors may still contact you to see if you're interested in reviewing their book (again, if your account is awesome, people will come to you!). I get these kinds of requests pretty frequently, and even though I don't usually take them due to time constraints, there are definitely a few really awesome indie books that I've been able to discover this way.

Sign Up for NetGalley

If you're mainly after traditionally-published books, there are still ways you can proactively seek out review copies. Signing up for NetGalley, an ebook advance review platform, is one of those ways. If you're good about reviewing books on time and you put effort into making your profile look good, publishers will be more likely to approve you when you request an e-copy of an upcoming release.

Admittedly, it's way easier to get approved for NetGalley titles if you're already on the publisher's radar, and you probably won't get physical ARCs easily unless you're on some kind of influencer list. Luckily, you can often apply to be an influencer -- for example, Penguin Teen has instructions for how to do that here.

With these kinds of opportunities, your bookstagram will be your secret weapon to entice publishers to give you access to their ARCs. If your account is pretty and your followers are excited to see what you post, then publishers will want to get their books onto your feed because they know that will portray them in the best possible light (photography pun intended!).


Finally, enter giveaways! Bookstagram has tons of people offering free books and bookstore vouchers every single day. Heck, I've run a couple of giveaways myself. It's far from a sure thing, but who knows? You might get lucky!

And a Non-Bookstagram One for the Road ...

If you're short on cash, I highly encourage you to use your local library to read the books you want for free. Even if you don't like going to the library (or if your library is closed), many libraries have apps where you can borrow ebooks in seconds. I use Overdrive all the time to borrow books from my library, and it's saved me so much money on books that I wanted to read but wasn't ready to buy yet.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, bookstagram isn't supposed to be about grabbing free stuff. It's about hyping your favorite books and building connections with people who love reading as much as you do.

I'm not going to deny that there's a LOT of consumerism associated with bookstagram. However, it's a lot more fun when we focus on what makes the bookish community great: our shared love of books! Any free goodies are just icing on the cake.

If you have any questions or you aren't sure about anything I've written here, let me know in the comments! I'm not an expert on how publisher marketing teams work or anything, but I'll try to answer as best I can :)

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