Here's what nobody tells you when you agree to write a book: that having to actually sit down and write it sucks, but the experience will pale in comparison to the task of promoting it. Here's a rundown of the various social media time commitments expected of me by the publisher in the time leading up to the book's release:
TWITTER: 30 minutes/day.
PINTEREST: 20 minutes/day. (Um, that's not to mention the sizeable time commitment it takes to create Pinterest boards in the first place!)
INSTAGRAM: 20 minutes/day.
GOODREADS: 20 minutes/day. (I'm actually thrilled my publisher turned me on to Goodreads, I've found a ton of great new stuff to read!)
HOLY HELL. That's 110 minutes PER DAY that you're expected to spend curating your social networks, promoting yourself. (And just posting funny cat videos doesn't count, sadly.)
I chose to focus my limited time on the thing I already loved and thought I understood: Instagram.
Instagram is easy: snap a photo, share said photo, look at other people's cool photos, obsessively like and comment on photos of pets and shoes, The End, right?
But 10 minutes after walking into a certain blogger-heavy event a few weeks ago, I realized just how un-aspirational my current Instagram feed was. Being in a room full of perfectly made-up, glittery fashion babes who are killing the Instagram scene made me feel like "Carrie" in the shower scene where all the girls throw maxi pads at her while she bleeds and screams and cries and cowers.
Roll your eyes all you want, but there is a serious subset of super-fly online fashion girls out there who have elevated the act of taking a silly iPhone photo to literal art. To wit:
I introduced myself to the Instagram fashionistas at the party, commenting on how perfect and effortless they make their lives look. "Oh, that $h!t's not real," one of them instantly offered, without looking up from her phone. "I don't actually wear those clothes. I bring my jeans with and put them on immediately after taking pictures."
When I later joked with her that my boyfriend just wasn't cutting it as chief photo-taker, she stared at me and said (in all seriousness): "Yeah, that's why I decided to date photographers. It's easier that way."
After she left me to mull over those pearls of wisdom, I had the good fortune to meet one of the sweetest little Instagrammers ever—Bryn Newman, proprietress of the fashion blog Stone Fox Style.
Bryn gave me the simplest, most obvious tip that you literally won't believe you never thought of—and that will make all your Instagram photos instantly 7,000% better. But before she told me what it was, she made me laugh out loud with her story of what was really happening in this photograph, her "most liked" Instagram picture ever:
The truth behind my most liked photo on Instagram is that it was actually an anxiety attack in picture form. I was shooting for Rebecca Minkoff at a trendy cafe in San Francisco, and my boyfriend and I basically stole a table from an unsuspecting woman. After $47.86 down the drain, I had the perfect props for the shot: a funfetti cookie, the trendiest cup of berries, a latte, and a croissant. The photo was ours for the taking.
But my hand had to be in it. And the wallet. Oh god, and the camera, and a Polaroid! Did we forget anything? Quick, stand over me from behind and take the photo. Oh no, your 50mm lens is too tight? Fine, use your iPhone. Hurry, this woman is looking at me weird. Oh god, now she wants me to talk to her daughters. They can tell I am a fashion blogger. You got it? Let's get out of here.
Hey lady -- you want this table? Awesome. Want the food too? We didn't even touch it!"
Bryn pulls no punches—and her story confirmed what I had already sort of suspected: that the real-deal super popular Instagrammers deserve every single like and comment they manage to get. Because man, are they ever working for 'em.
Inspired by Bryn, I decided to attempt living my life like every single fashion girl on Instagram ever. Here's a sampling of my efforts.
I spent a good 20 minutes arranging this photo of the items I carry in my styling kit before I sent it to be posted on the xoJane Instagram. I then totally forgot to put my bag of safety pins back in my kit, so I looked pretty smart at work that afternoon.
Well played, moron.
My boyfriend put this Advanced Style coloring book in with my Valentine's Day presents, as he knows how much I love both the blog and the film. Even as I was saying 'Thank you, honey!", I was scheming how to stage this photo. It took me so long that we were late for our dinner reservations. #Romance.
Amount of time spent looking around my house for some sort of cute coloring implement to "casually" strew about this photo: aprox. 40 minutes.
Time spent coloring in this adorable Advanced Style coloring book: zero minutes.
Number of "likes": 37.
Number of photos taken before I finally got this shot: see for yourself.
I'm disgusted to admit that in the process of taking this photo, I made my sweet pup (@KurtisTheDog) cry. I pulled him close to me to fit in the picture a little too roughly and he yelped out. I've never felt so low, yet I still smiled and snapped the picture like a champ. (Side note: At 88 "likes" and counting, this turned out to be my most popular Instagram of the whole experiment. Yay me.)
I spent $15.00 on Oscar-themed cookies from my local bakery and about 1.5 hours of time I could have spent working in order to take this photo—only to have a clever commenter point out that the Oscar statue cookie looked suspiciously like a chicken nugget. Goodbye, she was right and I am dead.
So, wanna know Bryn's so-simple-it's-disgusting tip for perfect Instagrams that I utilized in all the photos you see here? You'll die when I tell you what it is—but then your Instagrams will be great forevermore.
Always shoot your photos using the iPhone's "square" camera setting.
Yes, that "square" setting in your iPhone's camera is for the express purpose of Instagramming things. I know you are sitting there thinking this isn't all that revolutionary, but when you see from the start what your final photo will look like, proper composition suddenly becomes crystal clear—and it saves you from having to make awkward cropping decisions later on. I can't believe I had to be told this, but it really did improve my Instagram game by leaps and bounds. #Trust.
A few more things I learned: that photos with whitespace in the background (like the Oscar cookie one) allegedly get more "likes," as they provide visual relief while scrolling through endless pics. And photographs with blue in them click best—something that doesn't surprise me in the least, as I've been paid big money to dress an endless series of dads in blue polos for mop commercials. No matter how many interesting colors you bring and put on the rack, the director always settles on blue.
In the end, I gained about 313 followers in two weeks—but hated almost every minute of it. I spent so much time planning, staging, and taking pictures that I barely got any of my actual work done.
Total Instagram photos taken: 17 in 14 days.
Words written over the course of those 14 days: less than 300.
Taking Instagram photos for a living? It's a real job.
And here's what's even worse: it actually started to depress me. I always felt the creeping shadow of self-doubt as I was taking them, I was constantly comparing myself to others, and it just made me feel boring and fake.
Yes, I have a great career and my life is cool and sometimes kind of glam—but you're more likely to find me eating tacos than taking selfies. (Although I must point out the one truly terrifying thing I learned during this experiment: people "liked" pictures I posted of myself far more than the ones I posted of cool shoes and useful products I found in my travels. Yuck, yikes, and gross, but at least now I understand why most fashion bloggers seem so self-absorbed.)
Luckily, my behind-the-scenes real life is actually way better than my made-up Instagram highlight reel.
Alison Freer is the author of "How to Get Dressed: A Costume Designer's Secrets for Making Your Clothes Look, Fit, and Feel Amazing".