Behind the Scenes Sept pt 2

Congrats to this month’s winners! Kirsty G. was our randomly selected Epic Mailbag winner, and Kerry W. was our Novel winner. Muppet arms and confetti cannons to them! Novel folks, remember that to be entered in the monthly drawing, just keep your Watchlist updated on a monthly basis.

For the second installment of this month’s Behind the Scenes, Sharifah shares the secrets of making beautiful bookstagrams. Got a favorite trick of your own? Share it in the comments!

I’m a sucker for a pretty book, and for set dressing. It must be the theater nerd in me — the one that usually got dismissed to the prop department (International Thespian Society troupe secretary in the house!). I guess it figures that one of my favorite work responsibilities is taking photos of books.

During a typical week, I have to take about seven bookish photos for giveaways and content that gets posted to social. My personal social media happy place is Instagram. It’s the only platform I use consistently outside of work; I adore the bookstagram community. And since quite a few bookish people feel similarly about bookstagramming, I thought I’d share a little about my process and some tips for bookish photography.

The Book

image of six books layed out on white paper and a cat inspecting them with text, "Tabitha disapproves of this layout & this carpet"

I get a lot of work-related book mail. I keep these books in a pile away from my own library until I’ve taken my photos. I’m not a delicate reader, and I try to avoid publishing photos of books with coffee rings on the covers. Every book has a different personality — every book is a different actor waiting to play the lead in the right production. Am I stretching this metaphor? Sometimes the book demands a vibrant, bustling backdrop; a stark, brick wall; or, sometimes, it gets the 10”x10” square of clean surface in my apartment and a flower because I’m very busy.


I have use of a fancy camera, but to be honest most of my photos are taken on my iPhone. It’s just faster, and goodness how far we’ve come with phone cameras. Also, it’s more efficient for photo editing since I use apps.

Sometimes it’s not bright enough out, or the light casts everything in a mustardy ’70s haze and something must be done. My preferred photo editing apps are VSCO and Snapseed, and my best friend is the temperature tool (cooler, always cooler). I don’t use the pre-set filters on these apps — I usually just nudge the contrast, temp, and saturation. I’ve been playing around with fade as well, for that misty, vintage look.


Did you know that often when you see those flatlay photos where someone has a beautiful marble surface or rustic wood floor, what you might actually be looking at is textured contact paper on cardboard? One of my new favorite things to do is to find special paper for backdrops. I glue them to poster board with spray adhesive and voila! My current favorite is the textured paper with pressed flowers (pictured under Akata Warrior).

image of Akata Warrior and Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor layed out on top of paper surrounded by flowers, essential oils, candles, and other natural props

As far as props go, it helps to be a hoarder of whosits and whatsits galore. I used to do embarrassing/fun things like go to The Labyrinth of Jareth Masquerade Ball, the Society of Creative Anachronism events, and Wasteland Weekend (a Mad Max “immersion” event)… Thanks to costuming, I have a lot of random crap shoved into a lot of drawers. Feathers, weird fabric, ribbons, gears, shells, beads, blah blah blah. I also think witchy stuff and curiosities improve any picture, but I have to remind myself that it’s not appropriate for every book to be photographed with a seahorse skeleton. My point is: half the fun of taking these photos is going on scavenger hunts for interesting props.


I don’t expect anyone to make as big a fuss over book photography as I do. These things I do for my job, but also for myself. Because everybody needs a creative outlet, and it can be fun to create a story around a story, and because I’ll take a dose of circus where I can get it. But the star of the show will always be a really great story.

– Sharifah