Ten Ways for Authors to Fail on Social Media

There’s been a lot of social-media career immolation going on this week. It may be the full moon. People making idiots of themselves is not a particularly edifying sight, so I’m not linking specific cases, but here are my basic principles of How Not To Do It for authors.

1) Interact online if you’re no fun to interact with.

Everyone tells you to be out there. Have a Goodreads or Facebook group, chat on Twitter, have a community, let them get to know you. But what if they don’t like you? I’ve had the experience of disliking an author’s online personality so much that it’s seeped into how I regard their books. I’ve chosen not to pick up books that would have otherwise been autobuys.

Obviously, authors have been unlikeable throughout history. This is why we have to sit alone in small rooms with our imaginary friends. But in previous years, it was reserved for their long-suffering loved ones and their editor. Now fans can get a share too.

This is a tricky one to judge, since most people don’t set out to be jerks. And I’m certainly not suggesting anyone should be silent, or a doormat. There are things we all need to stand up for, and stuff that shouldn’t be let go. Some people make their, uh, bracing interactive style a positive part of their brand (i.e. forceful without being a jerk). But if you’re getting into thin-skinned sulks, insulting your own fans, or picking fights with potential readers, you’re probably better off backing off.

2) Be vile.

Right. If you, the author, post a hilarious video/meme or an amusing blog post or whatever, and the response is, ‘wow, that is really racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic’, the correct approach is as follows:

  • Look again at what you posted.
  • Consider why the objection has been raised and if it is valid. If you can’t see what the problem is, ask, and listen to the answer with an open mind. You might learn something.
  • If you have caused real offence, even if you had no intention of doing so, apologise, and try to learn from the experience. If you think saying it was worth the offence caused, or that you’ve been misinterpreted, try explaining why and listening to the responses. Again, you may learn something.

If you stick your fingers in your ears, make disingenuous excuses, dismiss the complaint without considering it, mock the complainant or encourage your fans/followers/family to attack them, be aware that you might as well put ‘YES I AM A RACIST’ or whatever at the top of your website, because that’s what’s going to spread about you, and it will spread like herpes and be as hard to get rid of. It might even be accurate.

We are all crass or clumsy sometimes, and nobody likes to be called out. But empathy is a basic writer skill. Don’t reserve it for your own hurt feelings; summon it up for the people who were insulted or distressed by what you said and brought it to your attention in the hope that you’d listen to them. Or, as Chuck Wendig so wisely puts it, Don’t be a dick.

Obviously, not all offence is equal. You can offend a lot of men simply by being female on the internet, for example. And any kind of political discussion may upset someone: that’s politics. But I’m not talking about arguing gun control. I’m talking about things that mock, belittle or insult minority or vulnerable groups – the rape joke, the thoughtless use of ‘retard’ or ‘gay’ as a synonym for ‘stupid’ or ‘rubbish’, the cartoons and videos and memes that casually, lightly, cruelly sneer at women, or racial groups, or whatever aspect of people’s identities.

Because if an author lacks the empathetic skills to understand why, say, ‘retard’ is a horrible word to use for ‘stupid’, and the linguistic ability to find an alternative, or the heart to care why they should – well, it doesn’t say much for them as a human being, but it’s a crashing indictment of them as a writer.

3) Bore.

ThinkOfEngland72web

LOOK A BOOK I WROTE A BOOK BUY IT BUY IT BUY IT NOOOOOOOW

Take Twitter. Most people don’t follow 5,000 accounts on Twitter, and if they do, they’re probably not that interested in you anyway. Most people follow a few hundred accounts, so their Twitter streams are not fast-flowing torrents. Therefore if you do automated tweets, multiple daily book plugs, retweeting FFs, repeating your jokes in case someone missed them etc, you might once hit the attention of the person who follows 5,000, but you will definitely annoy the crap out of the far more valuable person who follows just 200, of whom one is you.

Apply this principle to your preferred social media outlet and its own ways to be annoying (flooding Facebook with book spam, or…whatever it is people do on Tumblr, I don’t know, it scares me). The point is, don’t go after new fans without considering people who are already interested enough to follow you. That’s how mortgage companies behave, and nobody likes them.

4) Forget who you’re talking to.

I think of this as three circles of people.

Fans. Fans like extracts, early looks at covers and blurbs, writing updates and hearing about your massive yet fragile ego work. Love and cherish fans, because they deserve it. Consider setting up a group/place where you can interact with them directly, share goodies and give them things they’ll value, in a way that doesn’t overwhelm your general social media presence.

The wider potential readership. People who might be interested in reading your books, but don’t care about cover reveals, new blurbs and so on. Or people who don’t read your books and probably never will but who like your social media and will share posts, retweet, etc. Swamping these people with marketing will not convert them into fans. If you blog/tweet/pin/exist in an interesting or amusing way, that may convert into sales, directly because you’re interesting, or via retweets and links and signal boosts that make other people aware of you. Or it may not, of course, but promising a cover reveal later this week!!! four times a day definitely won’t. ‘Too much promo’ is a really common reader complaint, and there’s just no need for it, when the internet offers all kinds of ways to talk to different groups of people with the stuff they want to hear.

People who will never read your books or share your content. Not everyone is a potential reader, tragic though that may seem, and promo-ing to these people is a waste of time. Focus on the people you want to talk to and don’t fret about meaningless numbers. I pick up rugby accounts whenever I tweet about my team; they slough off like sunburnt skin when I get back to queer romance; I’d be an idiot to focus on retaining rugby followers at the expense of, you know, readers.

5) Argue with reviews. Complain about reviews. Start fights about reviews. Bribe people to pull reviews.

(I added that last bit to the header because I have just read an author’s blog in which she makes it clear she’ll refund the cost of the book to dissatisfied readers as long as they don’t leave bad reviews. I, uh. No. No, no, no.)

Reviews: Just leave it. I don’t care if the review is the most baseless, nastiest thing you’ve ever seen. I don’t care if it gives one star based on the blurb, your hairstyle, or the fact that they misread The Magpie Lord as The Moggie Lord and were disappointed because it wasn’t about cats. JUST LEAVE IT. You know that famous incident, where an author argued with a bad review and everyone on the internet sided with the author and then the reviewer changed her mind and rated it five stars? No, you don’t, because it never happened. Grit your teeth and walk away. (Or use my handy flowchart!)

Passionate, committed, interactive readers are as important to authors as keyboards and caffeine. That doesn’t change just because one of them is passionately and interactively committed to hating your book.

6) Do lists of ten things if you only have five things to say.

Um.

________________________________

KJ Charles is the world’s least convincing social media guru and you probably shouldn’t listen to her. She is on Twitter, answers book questions on Goodreads, and has a Facebook presence for chat, author page for book news and group for fans/people who want goodies–join up! There’s also books, which you can buy, and free stories, which you don’t have to.

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44 thoughts on “Ten Ways for Authors to Fail on Social Media

  1. Yes. Too much this past week or two has shown that many authors do not understand the difference between the author as an author and the author as a private person. You just cannot be the private person on your author page, some authors seem to have no idea what those author pages are really for and about but a good clue would be that they are for the purpose of making the author AND THEIR BOOKS attractive to fans, readers, and potential readers.

    Reply
  2. I once had a review calling me a pervert and saying my novel was sexist.

    It was my first novel, so I was, well, a little hurt. Not to mention annoyed, because I’d sent a paperback copy at my expense to that review site. But thankfully I’d been on Absolute Write long enough to know about the Author’s Big Mistake, so I said nothing.

    And I’m very grateful I didn’t, because a later review said the sexist comment made no sense, given that my novel had three women who fought in different ways for what they wanted or believed in, and they all ended up fine. In other words, the nasty review was called out and balanced by the much more positive one. And if any readers prefer the bad review to the good one… well, those readers wouldn’t have enjoyed my novel anyway.

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  3. “Obviously, authors have been unlikeable throughout history. This is why we have to sit alone in small rooms with our imaginary friends”

    LMAO…this is also why we have cats, because they don’t care how socially incompetent we are as long as there’s kibble in the food bowl.

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  4. Great article! and you make very good points, definitely all things I try to keep in mind.

    I work really hard at walking the fine line between having a strong personality (which is true) on social media and being a dick.

    I am also trying to ween myself off looking at reviews all together so I’m not tempted to grumble about any of them, even the offensive ones.

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  5. I write my own worlds so I don’t have to interact with the real one and marketing HURTS. On the other hand I’m a half way decent fan and fangirling is a far better use of social media as far as I’m concerned.

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    • But, you know, talking about books with people is a fine way to interact. Doesn’t have to be your books, people appreciate it that it’s not. I get very cat-scratch about authors reccing their own stuff.

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      • That’s a relief. 🙂 I have a permanent little voice whispering “you’re doing it WRONG” about everything to do with marketing but, hey, some people have the personality for it. No point in trying to do what they do.

        There’s some very good advice above. Especially not to slag off readers. I have an author in my recs group who frequently slags off readers in her adverts and, you know, I can’t help but think that’s not going to do her any good.

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          • I believe she feels some of us are too stupid to appreciate the brilliance of her prose. I’ve read it and it is pretty amazing, like James Joyce had a love child with Alan Ginsbergh and they fed it thesaurus smoothies.

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              • I haven’t seen anything about a teddy bear guy. 😀 I’ve been yoyoing between work, partially demolished home, stressed husband and aging and deeply confused mother. I don’t think I have any attention to spare for teddy bear guys. 🙂 I’ve got people I like to bother.

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                • Oh, just someone arguing his teddy bear detective novel was better than Keats, it need not detain you. Good luck with the renovations, I really do feel your pain. 😦

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  7. Hey, I have an idea for #6 (or 7, depending how you look at it): Don’t publicly dis other authors, or get in fight with other authors. This mostly valid for living authors in your own genre. Dissing Charles Dickens or Stephen King is more or less fine. Neither of them will know or care.

    Oh, and who is this teddy bear guy? What did I miss? Somebody please clue me in.

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      • I saw that. Didn’t read all his comments, obviously, since if I had I’d still be reading them now. It just made me think “Dude, you’ve basically written a novella’s worth of words in the comments. Was that the best use of your time?”

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      • I enjoyed that. I don’t think it’s an intentional Henry Root-style send-up of authors behaving badly, but it was nonetheless properly funny in parts. And the Guardian readership comes out of it well.

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    • “Don’t publicly dis other authors, or get in fight with other authors. ”

      Nope. Because if authors won’t call out their peers attacking authors, or being racist, homophobic sexist dipshits, then the readers are left hanging.

      I am not going to stay quiet when good people are being attacked, or authors are running amok. Sorry if this hurts some feelings.

      Actually, no, I’m not

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      • As I said, in my first point, there’s stuff that shouldn’t be let go. I’ve seen various ‘can’t we all get along/be more ladylike’ comments re Ellora’s Cave and the answer is no, this is something that needs vocal call outs.

        *Ladylike*. /rolls eyes like marbles/

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  8. I’m sorry but I laughed out loud, alone in my room, when I read this: “Obviously, authors have been unlikeable throughout history. This is why we have to sit alone in small rooms with our imaginary friends.”

    There is truth in that statement^_^

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  9. There are some ‘personalities’ who seem to survive having an acerbic tongue. A lot of it seems to be knowing where to aim the snark. You don’t bite the hand that feeds you – ever.

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  10. I think with social media being so new the main problem is that none of us have a clue what we’re doing. Not just writers. People whose job it is to do the social media for the marketing department of a big firm can fail just as hard.

    We’ll read all the advice, take notice of the “gurus” and try is and…what then? How do we even judge what succeeding at social media is? Followers? In that case we should all have crazy author behaving badly meltdowns, because someone who does that suddenly gains a load of extra followers coming to see the show. Sales? Who can even tell if something they did as marketing had an effect? There is a saying “95% of all advertising is wasted. Unfortunately nobody knows which 95%” which must hold true for social media marketing too.

    It’s a risky business, because they are so many ways to mess up, and very few ways to succeed – but nobody knows for sure what they are. It’s like being told there are a small number of safe paths across this marsh, and here’s a map of them that has been put together by guesswork. Good luck!

    Cynical? Me?

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    • Seriously, I have a suspicion that this whole YOU MUST DO SOCIAL MEDIA thing is a bunch of malarkey.

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      • I want to experiment with not doing a blog tour and see if it makes a significant difference. I honestly have my doubts. I want to support bloggers, obv, but I wonder if the tour concept is the right model for anyone. I’d love to see someone find figures.

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    • Yes indeed. And so much of the book business depends on luck – a book strikes a chord, or finds a passionate fan with a good network, and it goes off like a rocket while an equally good one isn’t lucky and does 500.

      I don’t know. I am positive that raw numbers are trivial, what counts in fan engagement and turning potentials into fans, but whether you can really do that with anything other than good books I don’t know.

      I am absolutely sure that it’s possible to, uh, de-fan people with crappy behaviour though.

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    • Oh, yes, gurus. My god I hate gurus. I keep seeing this idiotic blog post that basically tells you how to be a boring spammy promo robot touted as useful advice. Every time I see it I want to leave a small rage essay (which was the genesis of my twitter comments here) but then I realise that could turn into my own meltdown and I sigh and back away.

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      • Every once in a while I get invites from several authors in one clump. They tend to be people I don’t know and have never interacted with. Invariably, they invite me to like their fan page and start spamming promo. Those times I wonder if they all went to the same workshop on self-promotion. Needless to say, I remove them from my news feed.

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  11. When I was on Facebook years ago, one time an author randomly friended me and then spammed promotional material, so I went to look at their book, but the excerpt was very bad and I didn’t buy it. So it partially worked. Now I would probably avoid such an author on principle unless I liked their books already. As you say, such behavior will most likely repel more existing readers than attract potential ones.

    I don’t know how anybody else finds new authors, but for me it has never been from an author’s self-promotion. Usually I find an interesting book by browsing the publisher’s (or a self-publishing) site or from someone’s blog or a neutral website, and if it’s good, I will read others by that author and tell the few people I know who might be interested. If it’s bad, no amount of self-promotion is likely to change my mind. I am a terrible fan, anyway; I mostly ignore authors outside of their books unless they write interesting blogs that deal chiefly with subjects other than their own work. I sometimes feel guilty for not writing many reviews or following people around the internet, and the pressure must be much worse for authors. I think an author should likewise not feel compelled to interact socially with readers. If they don’t really want to do it, they won’t be much fun to interact with. I’d rather have a talented but reclusive writer concentrate on writing books and not waste time being unnaturally social.

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    • I instantly defriend people who do that. Horrible behaviour. Same as people who folllow on Twitter and instantly announce they want a follow back.

      I have on several occasions bought books because I enjoy the author’s social media presence – Scarlett Parrish, Misha Burnett, Saladin Ahmed. But it’s never been because of book promo, it’s always ‘I like this person, maybe I will like their book’. And I buy masses of books because of reader recommendations. But the ‘look look look’ self promo on social media does nothing, and I wish people wouldn’t.

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  12. This is marvelous. Thank you. It really irks me when people I don’t know friend me only to turn around immediately and spam me with something or demand a follow back. Or a review. Or an invitation to attend their book signing on another continent. Or add me to their mailing lists without my consent. I do like to support other authors, but yikes. Buy me a cup of coffee first. Let’s chat. We’re all humans here. I’ve bought books from some authors I didn’t know because I’ve really liked their social media presence. This whole issue makes me cognizant of how I’m presenting myself online, and that I could be doing a better job of it.

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    • Oh, I defriend instantly for those. And I never respond to invitations to ‘like’ or to virtual book launches and stuff. That just seems to me artificial inflation of social media numbers, pointless in the extreme.

      Reply
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