12 Social Media Mistakes for Authors to Avoid

Are you "building platform" or just annoying people?

This week, author Mary W. Walters blogged that promoting your books on Facebook and Twitter is a total waste of time for book sales.

That's because Social Media is not for selling books. It's for making friends—friends we hope will help us in our careers sometime. It's for networking, not a direct sales tool.

Mary Walters is right when she says, "Most book-reading folk...aren’t interested in advertising and promotional copy, or in watching writers pat themselves on the backs for winning awards or getting great reviews. They are interested in discussions and opinions about books. They are interested in two-way exchanges about literary matters – not in one-way communications."

One-way communication is a misuse of Social Media—and that's why it doesn't sell books. 

And why we find it so annoying. 

Author Elizabeth Ann West rebutted Mary Walters' post in a comment on The Passive Voice . She pointed out: "The problem is most authors start using social media in a professional capacity for the first time when they publish and guess what? It takes a large amount of time the first few months to figure it out and test it out and make social connections."

In other words, they blindly jump in and start screaming "buy my book" at everybody instead of making friends with people who could then suggest your book to readers in your target demographic. 

It's like going to a Chamber of Commerce mixer wearing a sandwich board advertising your restaurant instead of schmoozing a large company's event coordinator and getting her to use your restaurant's banquet room for future company parties. 

Don't wear a sandwich board to a cocktail party. Be subtle. Make friends. Anything else is misusing the medium.

I've made a list of some of my unfavorite misuses of Social Media here. I admit upfront that this is a very subjective list, so please feel free to vent your own pet peeves in the comments.

And if things I find annoying have made zillions for you in book sales, we want to hear about that too.

I think authors have probably learned their most irritating habits from “marketing gurus” who tell them they’ll make more money if they’re just “bold” enough to use social media “like an expert.”

Be wary of "experts" in new tech fields that are constantly evolving. What was OK a few years ago can be deadly now because it’s been abused or overused. Yesterday's "surefire sales tool" can be today's spam.

So here is my subjective and by no means comprehensive list of what NOT to do in social media.

1) Spamming* somebody’s Facebook wall. A person’s Facebook "wall" is like their home.  Posting something there is like putting up a billboard on their front yard. Do not do this without permission.

If you’d like somebody to share your promotional material or make a plea for charitable donations, send an email or DM. And don’t be surprised if they say no. I know your "Ban the Roach Brooch" cockroach rights foundation seems like the most important cause on the planet, but everybody has one and when they spam my wall, I make a note NEVER to give to any of these charities.

The only time it’s OK to post on a person’s wall is to send a personal message that's about THEM and will enhance their page. Stuff like: "Love all the cockroach cartoons on this page", "Congrats on your new book," "I’ll be at your book signing tomorrow—save me a cupcake."

2) Creating a Facebook page and Twitter account for every one of your books, short stories, launches, life events and rainy Mondays. No, I will not Like and Follow your 50 different Like pages and Twitter accounts. You are not respecting my time, so no—actually, I DON'T like you.

In my opinion, an author only needs one Twitter account, one blog and at most, two FB pages: one for yourself as an author and one for your personal page (FB now requires a personal page in order to comment on most pages, so the personal one is useful, if a little time consuming.)

But no matter how much you love to spend time on Facebook to avoid that WIP, chances are most of your readers don't. (Your ideal reader is busy reading books.)

But if you must put up a new FB page every time you finish a chapter of your WIP or whatever you consider  to be a momentous occasion in your life, don't invite random fellow authors outside of your genre. We're busy promoting our own books.

Do join supportive, non-spammy writing groups like Indie Writers Unite —where membership is by invitation. But forming a group and automatically adding names without permission is not a good idea—no matter how good your intentions.

Which leads me to…

3) Creating an “event” or “group” and adding people’s names without permission. At least ten people I know launch a book in any given week. When you include me as a "member" of your launch "party" so I have to opt out and say why I'm "not going," I'm sorely tempted to tell you the actual reason. Don't push me.

I realize that FB encourages you to add the names of everybody you know to all your "events", and may even disguise the addition of names as "invitations," but don't go there. Mark Zuckerberg should not be anybody's role model for good manners.

Unless you know I’m a fan and a reader of your genre, don’t tell me about your book at all. I’m not your audience. I can cheer you on if you get a request from an agent or a great review, but I’m not going to read a whole page of your BUY MY BOOK ads.

If you spam me, I’ll remember you, but not in a good way.

4) Responding to Tweeted links without reading the article. If I tweet a link to a brilliant post at “Mystery Writing is Murder,” don’t tell me I’ve ruined your day because you just started writing a mystery novel and you don’t want to hear that it’s “murder.” That’s the name of a top-rated blog by Elizabeth S. Craig. If you don’t like the title of a blog or post, tell the blogger—ON THE BLOG.

If you want to start a Twitter discussion with me, say something like, “I just started writing a rom-com mystery novel like your Camilla books. Any tips?” Then—when I have time—I'll be happy to help.

But clueless arguing with a title isn’t going to make you any friends. And that’s why you’re on social media. To make friends. Not rack up a list of people who think you’re a jerk.

5) Tweeting as a fictional character and expecting people to respond as a character in your own personal fictional world. I’ve had people tweet to me in Pirate-speak and then get incensed that I didn’t Pirate-tweet back. And it wasn’t even Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Or they take offense at one of my general-audience tweets because it isn't about their fictional time period or planet. I am tweeting for anybody interested in the publishing industry—not for you in particular.

If you like to be twee, find other twee Tweeps to talk pirate or baby or aardvark or whatever language you like, but don’t expect professional writers to have time to play games with you.

These days, most people are on Twitter for information. It’s the best way to find out the most current news on a given topic, like the latest merger of the Big 6-5-4, that strange sonic boom in your neighborhood or whether your aunt’s neighborhood is under 30-foot drifts of snow.

When you send somebody an @ message that demands some sort of game-playing, you are behaving like a spoiled child grabbing Mommy’s arm and saying “Mommy, Mommy, look at my Barbie!” while she’s driving in rush hour traffic.

6) Blogging your WIP and asking for critiques and praise. If I see that anybody is blogging pieces of a novel in progress on a blog, I skip it. I figure they’re clueless beginners. (A WIP can never be traditionally pubbed if you give pieces away, even in rough draft. You are violating your own future copyright.)

Update: Please note: I said Work In Progress. By that I mean the rough draft of  an unfinished novel. Blogging is self-publishing. It's fine to self-publish good, solid edited work on a blog as long as you realize you're giving away your first rights. No agent will ever be interested in it unless you get a following of over 100K—which is very tough for fiction. You are essentially publishing the book as a serial. That's fine.

What's not is composing your book online and expecting the general public to function as your editors and beta readers.

People who do this tend to be the same kind of newbies who will accuse you of “stealing their idea” of writing a novel about a lonely, brilliant, disaffected youth who can’t get published because the system is rigged against him.

When I catch a whiff of this kind of amateurism, I run.

If you want critique, join a critique group. I highly recommend CritiqueCircle.com

If you’re a published professional giving us free stories about your main characters, or edited-out scenes from a published novel, again, that's great—that’s for your fans and they’ll love it. (Although you'll want to run it by your agent or publisher first.)

But be aware where you are in your writing learning curve. Most people do NOT want to read a beginner’s practice fiction unless they're getting paid to.

7) Blaming people you’ve friended or circled because you’re getting email notifications whenever they post. Your notifications from Facebook and Google+ are YOUR responsibility.

Unfortunately the default mode for social media is they send you an email every time your friend’s cousin’s Beagle farts, so as soon as you sign up, go to your home page, go to “Privacy Settings” (via that tiny gear icon on the upper right.) Then click “notifications” and turn them off.

Some guy circled me on Google+ and I circled him back because he’s a writer. (I’m not doing that any more.) A week later I got a furious email from him saying I’d been spamming his inbox, so I should uncircle him. I did. Immediately.

But he kept getting my posts (I only post there once a day or less, but for some reason it was making him furious) and he kept emailing that I had to stop. Finally I told him that HE had to take me out of HIS circle (and turn off his notifications) and I had no control over his settings. It didn’t end well. He’s out of my circles and onto my list of Jerks to Avoid.

8) “Thanking” people for following you by sending spam. It might seem like good manners, but a thank-you for a follow is generally unwelcome. Especially if the “thank-you” is posted on somebody’s Facebook wall.  Or loaded with spam. If you really want to thank somebody, retweet one of their tweets.

An automated message that says “Thanks for the follow, now you  are my minion: so go like my FB Page, LinkedIN profile, circle me on Google+, follow my blog and BUY MY BOOK and I’ll teach YOU how to be the kind of successful author I imagine myself to be!! Bwahahah!!!” is not good manners in anybody’s world.

9) Following and unfollowing immediately after you get a follow back. People do this to rack up numbers on Twitter. Which is idiotic. Numbers on Twitter mean nothing without engagement.

It’s like re-calibrating your scale to show you weigh 30 pounds less and expecting that to make you fit into size zero jeans. Or turning off the fire alarm to put out a fire.

You want real people who respond and retweet your stuff. Not just ciphers you’ve duped into being one of your statistics.

10) Tagging a photo that’s an ador worse, pornwith the names of all your Facebook friends. People are doing this ALL the time. I don’t know if they mean to or if it’s one of those diabolical Facebook “games” where if you click on the answer to a stupid question, spam is immediately sent out to all your friends.

Never, ever tag a photo with a person’s name without thinking long and hard. Especially if the photo isn’t of that person. I guess it’s a way to game Facebook into posting the photo on that person’s wall—but what do you gain by that? Now somebody thinks you’re a moron. And that benefits you…how?

You can sign up to have no tagged posts go up on YOUR wall without your permission in your "Privacy" settings, but it will not stop that photo from being posted on a lot of other people’s walls.

And if the photo is unflattering or unprofessional, don’t tag it, ever. Ask the person first if they want to be identified in your photo. I’ve become a fat lady in middle age. Most photos of me are hideous. NEVER take a photo of me and put it on the Interwebz without my permission, or you're going on my $%*! list for a good, long time.

11)  Not posting share buttons or your @Twitterhandle on your blog. Even if you’re not on any social medium but a blog, you can have a social media presence if your fans tweet your links and post them to FB, Google+, etc. But you make that very tough if you don’t have a “share” button (They’re available in your list of “gadgets” or “widgets” on your dashboard.) I have a bit.ly icon on my toolbar that I can use to share your posts, but most people don’t. (If you want the handy share function and url shortener on your toolbar, visit bit.ly.com  for a quick download.)

Also, try not to make your title too lame to tweet. Even though your content is great, it’s not worth sharing if I have to take the time to make up a good title for you. Lame titles are things like "Blue Monday" or "Thoughts". Good titles are questions, lists and answers. Stuff like: "Can You Write a Publishable First Novel?" or "12 Tips To Get Out of the Slushpile".

And if you don’t have your Twitter handle on your blog, I can’t credit you and you won't even know I tweeted you.

12) Hiding your identity behind a whimsical name or avatar. Don’t put a picture of a baby rhinoceros in a tutu as your avatar. Or call yourself @HoneyBooBooFan or @SexyBeast247. If you’re an author who wants to succeed, you need to be professional. The Internet is not Kindergarten, a celebrity fan club, or your favorite bar. For a rant on bad avatars, read the quote from Porter Anderson in my Feb 3rd post.

Treat Cyberia as your workplace. Because that’s what it is. Look and act professional and show you’re proud of who you are. That means letting us know your name or pen name every time you Tweet or comment on a blog.


A word on *spamming. Most people know that Internet "spam" is an inappropriate, unsolicited advertisement for a product. 

But a lot of things that can be perfectly appropriate in small doses are not when they show up too often.

Like newsletters.

I know that some people who are very savvy—like self-pub guru David Gaughran—say that newsletters are the best way to reach your fans.

They may be. But personally, I'm not fond of them. Partly because newsletters are one-way communication.

Also, I think they have been overused to the point they have become an annoyance. I only read one in about 50 and the rest go immediately into the trash—even the ones from big name authors. Some newsletters I may have actually signed up for when I had more time, but many come from people who just took my email address off my blog or a group email.

I figure if I hate having newsletters fill up my inbox, other people do too. We can say what we have to say here on the blog and people know where to find us.

But you might love newsletters. If you do, I really want to hear about it. I may be totally wrong on this. I’ve been wrong before. If you’d like a newsletter from Ruth and me, do speak up. In fact, if there’s anything you’d like to hear more or less of from us, let us know.

I agree with the statement Mary Walters made in her post, "As writers, we should focus our promotional efforts on trying to get people to talk about our books (review them, read and recommend them, give them awards, take them to their book groups, write articles or blog posts about them) instead of trying to get people to buy them."

What we really need to focus on is connecting with readers who aren't necessarily writers. Social media Jedi Kristen Lamb said it very well in an interview this week with Alex Laybourne. "We have to stop expecting “readers” to come to us and we need to go to them. We are talking about query letters and Smashwords and Amazon and agents and then wonder why we aren’t connecting with readers. Try talking about some stuff THEY like for a change. We need to start a dialogue on mutual ground, then that leads to a relationship which will eventually translate into sales... Spend less time being interesting and more time being INTERESTED.

And what about your pet peeves? Let us know what annoys you in social media. How about newsletters? Like or dislike? 

If you have a comment and Blogger won't let you post for one of their unknown reasons (talk about annoying) don't hesitate to email me at annerallen dot allen at gmail dot com. I'll post your comment with my response. 


If you want to learn more about what to do and not do in building your platform, and you're in the vicinity of San Luis Obispo, CA, I'll be teaching a seminar called THE TECH-SAVVY AUTHOR with iconic author Catherine Ryan Hyde on March 2nd.

The organizers have given me two FREE TICKETS to give away this week! Each one is a $75 value and includes a yummy lunch. All you have to do is leave your email address in the comments or email me at annerallen dot allen at gmail dot com  to say you'd like your name to be put in the drawing for the free tickets. I will then assign each of the contestants a number and go to Random.org on Saturday February 23rd to name the winners.

Contest closes at 6 PM Pacific time on February 23rd.

The winners will be announced in the post on Sunday, February 24th. More info on the workshop in the Opportunity Alerts below.


Milestone: This is the 250th post on this blog. Amazing. Especially since the first 50 or so were read by maybe a total of ten people. Now we have close to 1340 followers and a lot of very nice awards. Sticking with something really does pay off.

Opportunity Alerts:

1) BiblioPublishing is looking for submissions of out-of-print or new books for publication through their small press. This 25-year-old press (formerly called The Educational Publisher) is branching out from educational books to other nonfiction and selected fiction. They're especially looking for self-help and sci-fi. They provide cover design, formatting and distribution, but ask your ms. be pre-edited. They publish in print as well as all ebook formats

2) Tech-Savvy Author Workshop: If you live on the Central Coast of California and you’re interested in learning about blogging, building platform and everything a 21st Century author needs to know, Anne will be teaching at a seminar called THE TECH SAVVY AUTHOR with Catherine Ryan Hyde, screenwriter and radio personality Dave Congalton and a whole crew of smart techie folks on March 2nd. Students get in for half price.

3) Interested in having your short fiction recorded for a weekly podcast?There’s no pay, but it’s fantastic publicity if your story is accepted by SMOKE AND MIRRORS. They broadcast about three stories a week. Spooky, dark tales preferred. No previous publication necessary. They judge on the story alone.

4) Cash prizes for flash fiction. The San Luis Obispo NIGHTWRITERS are holding their annual 500-word story contest. Anybody from anywhere in the world is welcome to enter. Prizes are $200, $150 and $75. This is a fantastic organization that boasts a number of bestselling authors among their members, including Jay Asher, Jeff Carlson, and moi. (Well, some sell better than others :-) ) Deadline is March 31st. 

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