9 Ways Writers Can Use Pinterest

By Celeste Ng

Ah, Pinterest.  Facebook is the popular kid, Twitter is the cool kid, LinkedIn is the guy with a bowtie handing out business cards, and Google+ is the dorky one over in the corner—but when it comes to social media, most of us don’t give Pinterest a second thought.

Maybe we should. In July 2013, Pinterest hit 70 million users, with 1.7 billion monthly pageviews, and it’s only three years old.  The past year saw an over 60% rise in web traffic referrals, and social media experts are well aware of its increasing potential.  This fall, I enrolled in Grub Street’s Launch Lab—probably best described as “three weekends of marketing boot camp for writers”—to help me prepare for the launch of my novel, Everything I Never Told You, next JuneOn the first weekend, marketing guru Dorie Clark give a talk on social media.  “If you want women ages 30 to 50 to read your book,” she advised, “you may want to be on Pinterest.”  The following weekend, Jane Friedman, an expert on writing and publishing in the digital age, concurred, citing Pinterest’s huge user base in her talk on author platforms.

What writers should do on Pinterest, though, hasn’t been covered much.  A quick Google search for “how authors can use Pinterest” reveals many articles with general tips —“Add a Pinterest button to your Facebook page!” “Pin frequently to engage your audience!”—but little specific advice on what, exactly, writers might want to pin.  Not so helpful.

So here are some ideas for you, as a writer, can use Pinterest—not just for book marketing or “author platform,” but to help your own writing, too.  The point of this post is not to convince you that you have to use Pinterest (of course you don’t!) but to highlight a few ways this versatile tool might help in your writing and reading life.

Make “Virtual bookshelves”:

Book covers are designed to be eye-catching—after all, their job is to get a reader to pull the book off the shelf—so they’re ideal for pinning. I often try to pin from the author’s own website (so people can visit the site and learn more about the writer), from somewhere where the book is for sale (such as the publisher’s site or IndieBound; Amazon’s images often include an unsightly “Look Inside” icon), or from Goodreads (so that those who are interested can add the book right to their reading lists). And if you pin, be sure to include the title and author in the description of the pin!

1.     Share what you’ve read. Okay, my husband keeps track of what he’s read on a slip of scrap paper, but Pinterest lets you list books in a more visual way. Recommend your favorite books to others by making a board showing the covers of books you’ve just read, including a sentence or two about what you thought of them. For instance, Julia Fierro, author of the forthcoming novel Cutting Teeth and founder of The Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop, keeps a “Love at First Reads” board featuring books that have captivated her.

2.     Keep track of what you want to read.  Make a Pinterest board out of your to-read list—or even upcoming releases that you’re eagerly awaiting.  These are not only reminders for you, they’re also ways to draw attention to books you’re excited about.  Again, be sure to include the author’s name and the release date, if relevant, to help out others who see your pin.

And don’t forget: you can pin articles, too.  Pinterest will automatically record the headline, a tagline, and a link so you can come back and read the full piece later.  (As an example, here’s Arianna Huffington’s “What I’m Reading” board, and here’s Queen Latifah’s.)  Some major websites—including the New Yorker!—have even added “Pin It” buttons to their sites, so you can pin the latest George Saunders or Alice Munro story for later perusal, too.

3.     Promote your fellow authors.  Maybe it’s the Midwesterner in me, but I love spreading the word about my friends’ successes.  I have a Pinterest board highlighting fellow Grub Street writers and another for authors who also attended my MFA program at the University of Michigan (now the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at Michigan).  Pin the books of writers you know or the covers of magazines where your friends, classmates, or teachers have published, and help spread the word about their work.

Use Pinterest for book (or story) planning:

4.     Make an “inspiration board” for the project you’re working on.  The inspiration might be literal, helping you get the details right: old photos, if your character is based on a real person; clothes your character might wear; snapshots of key places in your story, be it the town where your grandmother grew up or the Dallas Airport.  Or it might be more general inspiration: think emotional touchpoints.  If your story involves protestors in the ’70s, you might pin the burning girl photo or the photo at Kent State to help get you into the right frame of mind when you write.  If your novel follows a waitress trying to break into Hollywood, you might pin sky-high shoes, a limo, and a 6,000-square-foot mansion (what she’s longing for) along with a greasy red-leatherette booth in a diner (her daily reality).  You get the idea.  Check out this Pinterest board for a novel-in-progress by fantasy/thriller author Justine Musk—reportedly one of the first authors to use Pinterest to help “map out” a book.

Bonus: When your book is published, you can share the inspiration board with your readers, if you choose—readers are often fascinated by the “research notes” of their favorite authors.  Think of this as the writer’s equivalent of DVD extras. For example, author Randy Susan Meyers has a Pinterest board for each of her novels, The Murderer’s Daughters and The Comfort of Lies that give you a glimpse into the characters’ lives (and travels and homes and bathrooms...).

5.     Brainstorm book cover ideas. Whenever you spot covers you love, pin them onto one Pinterest board, or browse some of the great collections already out there, such as this one by Pinterest user Tifani Moot or this one by user Fiona Parker. Collecting covers you really like can be a fun exercise in figuring out your own taste—I discovered that I gravitate towards covers with one striking image or trompe l’oeil, and they apparently haven’t made a Lolita cover I don’t adore.  But it can also be useful whether you design your own cover, as many self-published authors do, or whether you work with a cover designer.  When my editor asked me for a list of covers I loved, I put my very favorites into a Pinterest board to share it easily with my editor and book designer.

Even if you’re nowhere near a finished first draft, thinking about what you’d want on your own cover someday—the image, the mood, even the color scheme—might even help you crystallize your story.

For general inspiration:

6.     Collect quotes.  These might be inspirational quotes on writing and revising (I’m not the only one who has some taped over my desk, am I?), or they might be examples of great writing you want keep handy.  Those with some design skills can make Quotable Cards-type designs in Photoshop. For the rest of us, websites like Recite This, Pinwords, Quozio and Pinstamatic allow you to highlight text on-screen or type your own, then convert it to nifty, pinnable images in one click.  Don’t want to create your own? Browse quote boards by others (there are tons—here’s one of my favorites), or try sites like txt|ink, which gathers quotes in visual format.

7.     Gather info on one topic in one place.  Jane Friedman has a board of infographics about the book publishing industry.  Not your thing?  Collect photos of writers with their cats, famous authors’ workspaces—whatever interests you.  New York Times bestselling author Kami Garcia, for instance, has boards featuring writing tips, “Creepy & Gothic Inspiration” for her paranormal novels, and  vintage typewriters. Don’t forget: you can pin videos, too!

8.     Collect writing prompts. As a teacher I often give my students verbal prompts—but sometimes a visual prompt can spark your thinking in new ways. I keep a board of interesting photos that hint at a story: like an overturned VW bus full of bananas.  I turn to it when I want to generate new material, and next time I teach I’ll use some of the prompts with my class.

 9.     Indulge in some book porn.  I’m a total sucker for photos of beautiful bookshelves, cool things made out of books, tote bags and tees with literary references.  I save all of these bits of “book porn,” as I call it, on one board—and browse it when I need presents for a fellow book-lover (i.e., most of my friends) or just want to lose myself in book-world for a minute.

I’m sure there are other great ideas for how writers can use Pinterest. What are yours?

About the Author See other articles by Celeste Ng
by Celeste Ng

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