How a Niche Online Group Changed My Life

How a Niche Online Group Changed My Life

Rewind back to June of 2014…

I had just graduated high school and had my sights set on a marketing major (my parent’s ideas and recommendation, not mine) at a school that wasn’t really known for its business. All I ever wanted to do was make an impression and fit in easily with my peers. So there I was, age eighteen, afraid, nervous and extremely shy (as a result of years of torturous self-destruction with help from others at school).

But I still wanted to change the way I was looked at in high school when I went to my new school. I concentrated my mindset to just be outgoing and extremely talkative at university; but when the time came around in August I was back in the same spot. I found myself falling back into the hole I had tried to come out of. I tried many outlets to find friends, but nothing seemed to lean in my favor.

After I looked around my dorm, searched in my classes, and joined a sports club, I was still not having any success in the friend department (or educational department, for that matter). I found myself hating school, detesting my classes, and I ended up loathing who I had become again. Disliking yourself is not really a way to go through life, but I was trying my best to just make it though the first semester of college. 

Fall 2014

During the month of October, I began to feel nothing. I felt no attachment to the people around me or any excitement in my studies at school. I just needed a way to check out, without having to literally check out of school. I had always used reading as an escape, so even though I was in class and trying to make friends, I began to set time aside and read. Reading had always opened up this other world to live in and deal with stress. Around Halloween, I happened to be scrolling through Instagram when I stumbled upon a profile. The profile was supposed to be kept a secret, but it came up in the Explore tab of the app. A friend from high school that I was relatively close to had created an Instagram account that focused solely on books and the reading experience (Sydnee on Instagram).

I was already driving the two hours to and from school on the weekends, so I decided to meet up with her the next time I returned home. I ended up texting and messaging her about the profile and I learned all the ends and outs of this niche community on Instagram: Bookstagram. The concept seemed simple enough,. I was already reading regularly, so why not share it? Nothing really prepared me for the experiences I would have maintaining this profile or all the feelings that would come with it.

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I did not post very often in the very beginning due to limited space in my already limiting dorm at school, which meant only a selective space for books. I will just bypass the roommate situation, but let’s just say that they were a bit unsavory; so when my first semester of college ended I departed the on-campus living system. This decision to find another place might have been the best worst experience of my life. I was able to move all my stuff to my new space (which meant that I could bring all of my books), but this ended up making me more lonely. Nothing can compare to someone living alone.

Since I had no one, there was not a single person to make sure I was doing okay or leaving the house. I did leave the house, but rarely ever talked to anyone. In my time living by myself I became detached from the rest of the world. I just lived in my bedroom and did whatever I felt like, all the while keeping my Instagram up to date with what I was doing in the universe of reading. As the number of followers kept going up, I was sinking lower and lower into depression.

There is this odd irony to my situation: on one hand I had all of these people from all walks of life and living on different continents wanting to be my friend because they loved the same things that I do, and on the other hand I had only myself. I grew my account to a point that the follower count exceeded the number of people I had ever met in real life. Yes, I still thought that I was the loneliest person in the world. That isolation I was feeling only made me stronger. I began to only focus on my Instagram page and the content that I was posting. I began to create elaborate pictures because I had nothing better to do with my life. School was horrible. I had no friendship obligations, and there was no one to keep up with other than myself. I made, created, and slaved over the pictures that I was posting. That seemed to be the only thing that made me happy. At the same time, it also gave me purpose.

I made and generated and continued to create until I realized that I truly enjoyed what I was making more anything else I was doing in my life at that time. As luck would have it, the university that I attended (the one that didn’t have a good business school) was home to the best public art school in the United States.

In March of 2015, I began to find that making content for others was making a better life for myself. I had thought about applying to the school of the arts within my university but I never thought I had enough content to make a decent portfolio. I eventually got up the courage to apply for the art program and used pictures from my Bookstagram account (and a few personal pieces) to build up my portfolio. I had always been interested in photography, but it was never something I thought that I would be able to pursue. I took photos while I was in high school, but kept them under wraps due to circumstances with other students. All I needed was a platform free of judgment and close-mindedness. That is exactly what Bookstagram allowed me to do. I embraced this new found platform and people told me that they saw something in what I was doing.

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All I needed to do was speak with my advisor about the possibility of being able to switch from the business department over to the school of the arts, so that is exactly what I did; the only issue was that my advisor didn’t seem too thrilled. She told me that it was next to impossible for anyone to switch from business to art. She said that it might not even be worth it to try, but, guess what… I did anyway. The school is difficult enough to get into as as a new student and since I was coming from another department within the school. That meant there were fewer open spots set aside for people in the same situation as me (which turned out to be a bit more people than I expected).

All through this journey of applications and creating, I was having a social life without actually living it. I started talking to people I met through this online platform I created. It is sad, but it makes being lonely a bit less so… difficult. Before long I accumulated about ten people that I talked to on a daily or bi-daily basis. I cannot thank Pietra and Talia enough for becoming some of my closest friends during this time (and even still). These people made my life seem a little better because we were able to have actual conversations and talk like we weren’t in different states or even on different continents.

If you ever get the chance to meet actual people that care about you online, then I say you need to take it because I wouldn’t trade mine for the world. It was a bit strange calling these people my best and closest friends, but that is what they were (and still are) because we had never even met each other in real life (I have now since met Pietra when I went to NYC. She turned out to be everything I imagined her to be. She is truly a wonderful, beautiful human being.).

I found that even though I was alone, I was never really lonely anymore. Bookstagram helped teach me about friendships and being able to keep up with people you don’t see everyday or if you have ever seen them in real life at all. It gives you a reason to reach out to those other people because they mean something special. I was isolated and surrounded by people who I love, even if it is just through the phone.

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After a lot of support from my friends came my way I was able to bravely submit my portfolio into school. I knew that somewhere out there were people that really believed in me, even if it was people who didn’t even know me (except for the text messages we sent).

I waited for a response on my application, but kept on creating just for the sake of creation. Even if I didn’t get accepted there were people that I could fall back on, a virtual safety net of sorts. As luck would have it, I was able to fall back on these people for a more celebratory reason.

Fast forward to May of 2016…

I have just completed my first full year of college as an art major (with flying colors). It has also been one and a half years since I first made the leap into the Bookstagram universe. When I think back to the beginning of this journey, I see that Bookstagram may have saved me from being sad. It doesn’t feel like just a little over a year ago I was unsure about my life or searching for any friends that I could get.

In the middle of May I was able to meet three more people from Bookstagram, two of which I looked up to, and one of which I did not previously know. Not only did I meet them in person, I met them at Book Expo America, a place where everyone from the publishing industry can coexist and make connections in an open and accepting environment. Over the next three days, I became closer to the three people that I met than to almost anyone in my entire life (I even slept on the floor of their hotel room because I didn’t want my hotel across the city in fear of not being able to spend the most amount of time with them as I could. [It sounds so creepy, but I promise you, it felt natural.]). I couldn’t have asked for better people than Mara, Alexandra and Emily to be new friends with. They turned out to be some of the most entertaining and nicest people that I have ever met, a loving Bookstagram quad.

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In conclusion, this little niche profile I made has grown into something bigger than I could have ever originally imagined: friends, a blog, and a blossoming school life. I couldn’t be happier with the way that all of these pieces fell into place for me. The most unexpected things can happen if you learn to follow what is right in front of you or what you truly enjoy doing. Now, no matter what time of day it is, there will always be people to talk to (because of the time differences). I have friends from all over the planet and a school life that is so meaningful to me, all because of one simple sign up screen on an application I downloaded.


Hello everyone, my name is Adam! I am from Virginia (about an hour outside of Washington, D.C.) and I attend Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of the Arts where I am majoring in Photography and minoring in Sculpture/Extended Media. You can find me on my personal website or you can find more about my reading via my blog or my Instagram.

  • Kym

    I love this! As a little middle schooler with a struggling IRL social life, I stumbled across a kids’ writing community that totally changed my life. I was able to make friends all over the world who shared my love for writing and reading, and share my work with others which helped me grow my confidence immensely. I totally get how an online community can change your life and I love hearing about others with similar stories! Thanks for sharing, Adam!

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