How to Use Hashtags on Instagram (for Fiction Authors!)

How to Expand Your Reach on Instagram

If you want your posts on Instagram to get organic reach - meaning get in front of eyeballs that you didn’t have to pay for - the hashtags are where it’s at.

So how do Hashtags work?

Hashtags are a system of categorising your posts, and grouping them with other posts on Instagram that are using that hashtag also.

If you use a certain hashtag in your Instagram post, then your post will show up under that hashtag, along with any other posts that have also used it.

But how do hashtags actually help get you seen?

The three main ways are:

  • Someone searches that particular hashtag,
  • Some clicks on a hashtag inside someone else's post,
  • Or they follow that tag. (You can follow hashtags similiar to following accounts - but you only see highlights, not every post that has that tag.)

So this tells us a few key things:

- you want to use hashtags people are actually searching for!

- you want to use hashtags that aren't super competitive, because unless you have huge engagement, you're going to have a hard time getting seen over all the other posts also using that hashtag.

What do I mean by Competitive Hashtags?

Hashtags vary widely in popularity - it may seem appealing to use the most popular hashtags, but that can be counter productive. If a hashtag has been used millions of times, then there can be hundreds and hundreds of new posts an hour attached to it. Unless your post gets a lot of engagement, enough to appear high up in the "Top" tab on the hashtag page, or get suggested into people feeds, it will be lost in the sea of other posts almost immediately.

So you want to aim for a mix of moderately popular hashtags - you do want some people to be looking at it after all - and a few more niche and targeted hashtags. More on that in a minute.

Why Hashtags are Important

It’s important to point out, hashtags do a bit more than just grouping posts with that specific hashtag. Similarly to how you might use Categories and Tags on a blog post, hashtags help Instagram know where you fit.

Instagram uses hashtags to help keyword categorise your posts in the almighty algorithm - so they know better who is going to be interested in your posts - and so, who to show them to.

Instagram is always looking for ways to rank how relevant you are - through consistency, engagement, and also hashtags and keywords that categorise you. 

If you want to expand your reach to the people who are your target audience, rather than just reach anyone and everyone (which is a waste of time when you are running business) then you want to use hashtags strategically and with a plan. (This is even includes reaching anyone and everyone within your niche - if all your hashtags are very broad, you not get targeted enough.)

Play ball with Instagram on this, and you increase your chances of getting organic reach, with your post suggested to and put in front of not just any old eye-balls - but the right eye-balls that are more likely to care about what you’re posting.

How Many Hashtags Should You Use?

Instagram allows up to 30 hashtags total per post. (That includes in the comments.)

But should you use them all?

Some people swear by maxing out your hashtag limit every time - the more hashtags, the more chances to show up in the hashtag feeds and what people are searching for, right? That would seem to be sound logic.

But others question this, because it’s not what Instagram recommends. 

The recommendation for best practice was to use between 8-15 hashtags. Most recently though, the recommendation was just 3-5. It seems like they are definitely encouraging highly targeted and specific tagging, instead of the indiscriminate, *jam in as many popular hashtags as possible.*

So far no one has been able to notice a lot of difference - no penalty for using more than 3-5. An average of 11 hashtags is what a lot of people recommend. (But who knows when Instagram might make changes to favour people who are in line with their preferences. They want quality, not just quantity. Ideally both, but quality really matters!)

So which is right? 30? 11? 3?

As with just about everything on social media, you’re going to have to experiment and figure out what works best for you. It will depend on the hashtags you’re using, and the habits of the audience for your industry and niche.

Why Fewer Hashtags Might Be Better

A smaller more intentional set of hashtags is likely to get more effective results than maxing out all 30 every time.

Your energy is going to he better spent researching a curated list of good hashtags - just enough to rotate a few so you're not posting the exact same ones every time. But not so many that you're never consistent. You want to show up in the feed for those hashtags consistently and teach Instagram how to categorise you.

Rather than constantly hunting down new hashtags or trying to jump on all the trends.

You want to show up in your ideal hashtags feeds consistently, and teach Instagram how to categorise you. #instagrammarketingtips #hashtagstrategy

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It can actually be detrimental to get in front of more people!! What?? Hear me out.

Consider these two scenarios:

  • If your reach for one post is 1000 people - but they are a wide range of people, and so only 2 people actually engage because the rest aren’t your target audience, then you’re telling Instagram that people don’t really care about what you’re posting. That will hurt your organic reach.
  • VS. if your reach for one post is only 100 people, but 10 of those people engage - then when you compare the percentage of people engaging, the smaller reach is better as it will be counted as much more relevant by the algorithm, even though it reached far fewer people.

So engagement should always be your goal, not just reach. Keep this in mind when choosing hashtags. Too generic, and your effort is diluted. You want to use the strategy that gets you in front of the right people, not just the most people.

The Right Mix of Hashtags

To cover all your bases, you want to use a mix of the following kinds of hashtags:

  • Content Hashtags - hashtags related to the content of this specific post (e.g. #writingtips, #bookquotes, #TBRpile, #bookreview, #bookgiveaway, #coverreveal)
  • Genre or Industry Hashtags - these are slightly more generic hashtags related to your broader industry (e.g. Fantasy, YA etc for fiction, Business Coaching, Self Help etc for non fiction.)
  • Niche Hashtags - hashtags that relate to your specific target audience or types of readers, including location (e.g. #ireadeverywhere. But also, what kind of readers do you want to reach, rather just all readers in general? Use tags that will connect you to your ideal readers. Eg. #paranormalromance #StephenKing #momswhoread #acotar)
  • Brand Hashtags - any hashtags you’ve created for your brand, or specific book, or for a particular campaign or giveaway. (This won't help your organic reach at first, because people have to be searching or following that specific hashtag for that. Since you've made it up, and it's unique to you, that won't be happening yet. But once you've created it, and let people know about it, then they can find all YOUR posts with that hashtag. And can also use it themselves e.g. when they share your book, or enter giveaway.)


For a post about a new paranormal romance book you're reading:

Content: #amreading #bookreview

Genre: #fantasyfiction #YAreads #paranormalromancereaders

Niche: #mumswhoread #romancereadersaustralia #bookstagramaustralia

Brand: #jessierecommends

Hashtags for Fiction Authors:

#allthebooks? #indieauthor? Which hashtags are actually the best? Which will actually help you reach readers?

I've saved you time and done the research for you - compiling a list of some of the best hashtags for Fiction authors, in a range of popularities, both author and genre related.

Try out some of these curated hashtags on your posts & see which ones work for you!

Open the Google Sheet below - make a copy into your own account if you want to edit it and add more of your own hashtags.

The Best Hashtag Popularity

You also want to consider the popularity of the hashtags. Like I’ve mentioned, more popular is not necessarily better.

The recommendation is to use a mix of popularities - a few niche (under 10k total uses), and then a balance of moderately popular hashtags for the rest (from 10k - 500k total uses.)

  • 5-7 very popular hashtags (~100k - 500k)
  • 5-7 popular (~10k - 100k)
  • 1-3 niche (usually <10k)
  • 1-3 brand

You can try using the more popular ones (>500K total uses) - they will help categorise you. But once you start getting up into really popular hashtags you’re increasing your chances of being targeted by annoying bot comments. And you’re unlikely to get seen by many real people from those hashtags anyway, because of how many new posts flood that hashtag feed every hour.

Choosing Your Hashtags

Find other accounts in your genre and niche with good engagement, and see what hashtags they are using as a starting point.

Think about what hashtags you follow, if they are relevant to your audience too. And think about what your audience might be searching for on Instagram.

Then research those and related hashtags.

How to do Hashtag Research

You can use a site like best-hashtags.com or tagsfinder.com (or many others) to:

  •  research how popular certain hashtags are
  •  get suggestions for related and similar hashtags.
  • tagsfinder.com also has to suggest find local hashtags, more specific to your location

Tag research sites (like this example from best-hashtags.com will give you information about specific hashtags, as well as suggest groups of related hashtags to try. Many will have a copy-paste list that you can just plug right in. (I suggest editing the list they give you though, as not all of them will be the best.)

Finding the best hashtags for authors - how to do hashtag research

An example of a suggested tag list related to #mysterynovel

Or you can search the hashtags in Instagram itself:

Search or click on the hashtag you want to research:

You will see three tabs - Top, Recent and Reels. Top shows you posts with the most engagement for that hashtag, Recent shows you all posts in chronological order, with the most recent at the top. And Reels is... reels. 🙂

Info you can get from this:

  • The total number of uses - this shows overall popularity. Although a hashtag could have been really popular at one point, and not as much anymore, so also look at...
  • the “Recent” tab to get an idea of how frequently it’s being used. A high number of posts per hour means it's a currently popular hashtag.
  • What kinds of posts are attached to it? Do they fit not just your niche but the vibe of your brand/books? 
  • It will also tell you if others you're following, follow that hashtag. That can be an indication it’s a relevant one, but this depends on who you are following and if they are similar to your target audience.

Other ways to research: 

Some scheduling apps have hashtag suggestions built in.

If you use a tool like Tailwind, to schedule your Instagram posts, it will give you hashtag suggestions based on your caption, and also indicate which are the best based on popularity and competition. That can be so handy for inspiration and getting the right mix of popular and more niche hashtags. But I’d look into the hashtags yourself too, not rely only on that.

Other Hashtag Best Practices:

  • Don’t use the exact same hashtags every time. Your reach will be affected because Instagram will flag you as spammy - the algorithm likes fresh content. It doesn't have to be completely new hashtags every time, but mix it up.
  • Create sets of hashtags - rotate through different sets of hashtags you’ve saved for different topics and kinds of posts. Most scheduling apps will have a feature to make this easy. Use them as a template - so refresh them regularly, and customise to the content you’re posting - add on a couple of more targeted hashtags for each post. But having saved sets will save you so much time, instead of typing them out again for every single post.
  • Check that popular hashtags haven’t been banned - sometimes spammers and bots piggyback on hashtags that get popular, and start flooding it with irrelevant content, ruining it for everyone. If it gets out of control, Instagram bans the hashtag, and it won’t be visible anymore. If you use it on your post, its visibility will be impacted too.

Find What Works for You

There is no one magic formula that will work for everyone. Use hashtag sets like the ones included in the spreadsheet above as a starting point. You will have to experiment with the number and types of hashtags you use, and find which ones connect you best with your audience.

Remember to keep your goals and marketing strategy in mind:

  • Who are you trying to reach?
  • Why are you trying to reach them?
  • What are your main objectives for being on Instagram? (What do you want it to do for your business and books?) 

And then research the hashtags that are the best fit for you. See how they perform, and then reassess!

How do you know what's working?

In general you're obviously going to be watching your follower account and general engagement, to see if your Instagram strategy is working. But what specific metrics can tell you if you're using the right hashtags?

Check your Insights

Change your account to Business if you haven't already. And then on each post you'll see a link to "View Insights".

Here you'll get some metrics to help you know if your hashtag strategy is working or not. Things to pay attention to:

  • Overall reach - you want to monitor this over time and see, in general, is it increasing on your posts? It will fluctuate from post to post, but look for the average trend. (Take note of which posts get the highest organic reach - what can you learn and replicate from those posts?)
  • Impression from Hashtags - what proportion of total impressions came from hashtags? You can't see which specific hashtags brought views - another reason why using fewer hashtags will help you figure out which ones work best. But in general, if this is high in relative to total impressions, that's good.
  • Note: impressions don't mean engagement! It just means the number of eyeballs that scrolled past it in the feed. What's even more important - did they stop scrolling and click, like, comment, save or share? So also compare this to...
  • Content Interactions - if your impressions from hashtags are high, but your interactions are low, then you may not be using the right hashtags. They could be getting in front of people but not your people, the people who will actually engage with your content. (Also, you may just not be creating engaging enough content.)

There are many variables to these metrics, so the best thing to do is pay attention to them over time - that way you see the trends, not just the once-offs. Look for patterns.

What kind of hashtags and content seem to be making an impact consistently?

Do more of that!

One last tip: check on the kinds of people who are liking your posts. If you’re getting likes from accounts that don’t follow you, that can be a sign your hashtags are reaching a wider audience.

BUT if those accounts are people not in your target audience, that could be a sign your hashtags are too broad or too popular, and attracting randoms or even bots.

If so, try to target your hashtags better for a more relevant audience.

What else can you do to expand your reach?

This could a topic for a whole other post, but in short: connect and engage!

  • With your target audience
  • With others in your niche
  • With people who will share your posts

And do this by making genuine connections. Engage with other people's posts and stories. Start conversations. Share other people's posts. Do for others what you want people to do for you.

And keep sharing value - in your posts, and in answering questions and comments from other people.

Do this consistently (< key!) and you will grow!

Enjoyed the article? 

You can find more great content here:

How to self-publish a Novel in 5 (deceptively) simple steps! (+ Free KDP checklist)

About the author 

Jessie Renee

Tea drinking, fiction writing, tarot reading, unschooling mum of three.

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