hen I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the importance of commenting on blogs
to raise your social media profile, I forgot to say one essential
thing—probably because I figured it's something your mom told you—but for those who've forgotten, here it is…
If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it.
That's true even in a thread where a lot of people are being snarky and you're simply going along with the crowd. I've done it myself and ended up hurting good people's feelings. Remember when you're online, you're "in public" and anybody can see what you've written.
If you're planning to publish traditionally, the reason to
follow mom's rule is simple. Editors and agents will Google you
before they decide to read your pages) and if they find a bunch of nasty Tweets, forum
flames, and bullying blog comments, your career is going nowhere.
Why do they Google you before reading your writing sample? The same reason any prospective employer Googles you. Most people prefer to work with level-headed, rational human beings who are not prone to drunk-posting, dissing their co-workers, or dancing naked with tighty-whiteys on their heads. Just the way it is.
Remember, "free speech" means you have a right to say what you want in public (not necessarily on private property) but it does NOT shield you from the consequences of what you say.
Even if you self-publish, or are planning to—establishing a
reputation for being nasty, closed-minded, or self-centered can still damage
your career. The indies who do best are the ones who respect fans, guest blog, do joint promotions, and generally play well with others.
It's fine to disagree and/or add new information to a
discussion—in fact, that's a great way to raise your profile—but do it like a grown-up, civilized human, not an entitled adolescent with a vocabulary limited to barnyard words.
The tech world was invented by young, rule-breaking types, mostly males. So an early Internet culture evolved that tended to be adversarial, snarky, and intolerant of newbies—more like posturing teenagers than
adults doing business.
But the publishing world is the opposite. It's a business
that has always been powered by the gentlemanly art of the schmooze.
Making people angry may drive people to your blog, and you
may hear that "troll posts" and creating controversy is a way to get
traffic. But it's probably not the kind of traffic you want, even if you self-publish.
Remember everything you do or say online is public. That includes your snarky @tweets to your BFF (DM instead) and those party
photos your idiot friend took at the Mardi Gras party and posted to FB (ask him
politely to take down that tighty-whitey photo, or "untag" you.)
So here are ten tips for online behavior for people planning a writing career. (Unless your life goal is to be a professional
extremist ranter—then ignore everything here. Being a person people love to hate can make you rich and famous—if you
want that kind of fame.)
But for the rest of us, here are 10 basic rules: (This is not meant as dogma. My Moses impersonation is done with tongue firmly in cheek):
1) Thou shalt not
I realize I'm repeating myself, and some authors will
continue to post endless book spam to every social medium until the whole thing has gone the way of MySpace, but here I go again:
What is book spam?
- Repetitive links, blurbs, and quotes in your
- Compulsively posting your book blurbitude in 100s of FB, GR and Google+ groups and forums.
- Putting somebody's address on your mailing list when
they haven't subscribed.
- Posting endless, non-news, non-informational promos for yourself or other authors. A little promo is good. Nothing but promo...is nothing but annoying.
People want news and personal connections on social media,
not robotic advertising.
But I realize some anti-spam rules can be tricky and
counter-intuitive. For more here's my post on How Not To Spam
But here's the short version: if you'd ignore it in your own
inbox, FB page, or Twitter stream, it's probably spam.
2) Thou shalt support
Your fellow authors are not "rivals". Authors who band together do better than
antagonistic loners. In fact the number one thing a beginner should be doing on social
media is getting to know other authors in your genre and subgenre and
Another is the joint 99c sale. I participated in a 99c sale
with other chick lit authors last year and it got my boxed set on the humor bestseller list where it stayed for 8 months.
Authors who band together get their books in front of the fans of all the authors in the group. Supporting each other is fun and profitable.
But note: "Support" does NOT involve demanding that other authors market your book for you by spamming their Twitter stream or FB or Google+ page. There's very little evidence that spam sells books anyway.
It also does not mean tagging other authors as members of your "launch party" on Facebook or asking them to play moronic games. (If you let people know you have time to waste on FB games, you're saying you're not writing. You might want to keep that under your hat.)
It also should not include begging for a "mention" on somebody's blog or other social media if you have no relationship with them. And it doesn't mean trading reviews and "likes". Review trading is unethical, and fake likes are pointless.
I've seen indies whine that their fellow authors weren't doing enough marketing for them and hadn't bought their books. That's not asking for support—it's being a brat. Unless you have a "how to write" or book-marketing title, your fellow authors are not your audience. Go find your own readers.
3) Thou shalt practice
Hurting people because they have different customs or beliefs from yours has been a human pastime since Zog bonked Gog on the head because Gog's fertility goddess had bigger boobs
than his fertility goddess.
But guess what? Zog couldn't actually make own his beliefs "more true" or Gog's "less true" with violence or cruel words. And neither can you.
you're insecure in your own beliefs, go talk to your pastor, shrink, precinct coordinator, Belieber club president or whoever will guide you back to the light.
And if you are secure, other people's belief systems won't affect you one bit, so they're none of your business.
But remember tolerance isn't just about religion, ethnicity, or politics.
Saying rude things to writers who choose a different
publishing path from yours is just as ridiculous. Want to prove your path is better? Go write a bestseller, and stop wasting time being snarky on the Interwebz.
I realize this stuff happens because primates are tribal. We
instinctively fall into us/them, black/white, either/or thinking. It's easier to demonize the "other"
than to understand them.
Plus we feel safer if we're part of a tribe.
Especially if the tribe has a strong leader.
But no matter what chieftain/dear leader/blogger you follow, you'll be happier if you accept that people are
different. Some are independent jacks-of-all-trades who can do it all. Others
prefer to work as part of a team. Saying one is more "correct" than another
is like saying chimpanzees are more "correct" than baboons.
Evolve. I promise you'll find better ways to spend your time.
4) Thou shalt not
whine about the stupidity of the reading public, your lack of sales, or the unfairness of the
If you constantly go on about how stupid romance/paranormal/fantasy/chick
lit readers are, or how ebooks are the worst thing that ever happened to
civilization, be aware you're alienating a huge segment of your potential
Yes, you have an MFA and you've read Proust in the original
French and you're furious because you're flipping burgers even though you've
written the next On the Road/Ulysses/Work of Staggering Genius. But putting down readers won't change that.
Save that stuff for the local coffeehouse where you can commiserate with your
This caveat includes detailing rejection woes
. I see lots of writing blogs that chronicle the writer's history of rejection. Guess what? Agents see them too
. That can be an automatic reject. You'll look like a
potentially troublesome client.
And if you end up self-publishing, that stuff will make you look as if you chose your path because your book wasn't good enough, not because you embrace entrepreneurship.
This is a tough business, no matter how you publish. Most authors go through 100s or even 1000s of rejections before they get a book deal, and most self-publishers spend years building a substantial readership.
Whining will not sell books. Get off the
Internet and go write.
5) Thou shalt
remember: "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog".
It became iconic because it speaks the basic truth of
Internet culture: you never know who
you're actually interacting with.
This is not only because some people/dogs are masking their
It's also because humans tend to assume others are
like ourselves unless we have information to the contrary.
So if you're a fresh, eager newbie, you'll assume everybody
you meet is new to the writing profession, too. Or if you're a jaded
system-gamer, you assume everybody is gaming the system right along with you. And trolls see other trolls under every cyber-bridge.
This can lead to lots of embarrassing faux pas and unpleasant
encounters, especially since superstars and/or newbies can show up commenting
on a blog thread along with the regulars.
You really don't want to find yourself telling @Neilhimself
Gaiman that when he grows up and publishes a real book then he'll understand
why all agents are useless parasites.
And you might look bad putting down a Christian grandma for
being naïve about BDSM slang. Or a 12-year-old in Mumbai for not getting your references to 1980s
US TV shows.
So look before you snark. Pay attention to the person you're
Otherwise, you're only revealing stuff about your own
faults and failings you probably want to keep to yourself.
6) Thou shalt not
respond to reviews.
No matter how unfair. Just. Keep. Quiet. You can't please
all the people all of the time.
We need reviewers, so treat them with respect. Even if you've paid
for a review on a blog tour and were led to believe the review would be
positive and it isn't. Honest reviewers can't guarantee a rave. (And BTW, the blog tour organizer may be paid, but the reviewer isn't.)
Everybody gets rotten reviews. You have just joined a club
that includes every successful author who ever lived.
You'll not only embarrass yourself, but you may attract vigilantes who will try to destroy your career if you complain—even if it's on your own blog or FB page. The
review community has its own brand of extremist ranters who demonize authors
and keep honest reviewers in a state of terrified paranoia of the dreaded
"badly behaving author." (Authors can be bullies too. Don't be one of them.)
And yes, we even have to put up with the sadistic trolls who call themselves "reviewers" but don't read anything they
Unfortunately, there's a gang of sock-puppet bullies who play Amazon reviews as if they're a
video game. They set up thousands of accounts under fake names so they can leave
hateful one-stars of books they haven't read. They often buy an ebook and
immediately return it so they can get an "Amazon verified purchase"
seal of approval. And they usually know how to keep inside Amazon's guidelines, so
Amazon seems to feel helpless to stop them in spite of pleas from publishers
and bestselling authors.
It's got so bad that some authors are quitting the business. The Good E-Reader
reported the growing phenomenon this week in their piece on "The Bullies Win
". Let's not let them. Hang in there and keep reporting these people to Amazon until they put a stop to it.
A new retail site called Screwpulp
is trying to combat the Amazon troll culture by offering books free until they collect 25 HONEST reviews. They have a vetting process that claims to be able to detect when a reviewer hasn't read the book. (Great idea, although I'm not in love with their name.)
The best way to fight troll reviews? Write an honest review yourself! Big-name authors get troll reviews even more than indies and newbies these days, so even somebody famous can be helped by your review. Go write one for your favorite book right now!
If the troll makes a personal attack—dissing the author rather than the book, report it. Goodreads has done some housecleaning and will promptly
remove ad hominem attack reviews. (Thanks for getting it together, Goodreads!!)
Amazon, not so much—but do report obvious sock puppets. Or sign an anti-sock puppet petition
. There are a number in circulation. If the
reports reach critical mass, maybe the Zon will finally crack down on them, the
way they did with paid reviews a couple of years ago.
If a reviewer obviously got a bad download of your book, you
might contact him/her privately and offer a better copy. But even there, you're
treading on dangerous ground, and it may be a trap. I almost offered a reviewer a new copy, since a bad download was her only reason for a one-star, but then I saw she'd left the identical review on dozens of ebooks. Either she's troll or she doesn't know the difference between a book review and Kindle tech support.
Most reviewers are hardworking, helpful people who genuinely
love books. (And reading books takes time!) We can't survive without them. Don't confuse the sock puppet trolls with real reviewers.
7) Thou shalt not badmouth beloved authors.
When you diss Stephen King or J.K. Rowling or Suzanne
Collins online, you are alienating a huge percentage of your potential readership. These authors are successful because lots of people love their work. When you call these people bad writers, you're criticizing the taste of all their fans. They won't reward you for it.
If you're also a book reviewer, you certainly can say King's
latest book isn't up to his usual standards, or Divergent is no Hunger
Games—that's your job. But if you're thoughtful, you'll realize you don't have to say
it in sour grapes terms that make you seem like a whiner and a wannabe.
8) Thou shalt check
facts before you share.
If something going viral on social media is so outrageous
your emotions get triggered, take a deep breath and go to Snopes.com
news sources. 99% of the time it didn't happen or it's been twisted to make you
And no, Bill Gates is not going to give a charity a billion
dollars if you "like" some picture of a dying child or an abused
puppy. That child and puppy have been gone for 20
years and you cause pain every time you share those pictures.
I have to admit I've fallen for a few scary,
untrue Internet memes and I've shared or commented posts that were based on false
accusations. I seriously regret that.
Now I avoid blogs that tend to make over-the-top accusations
of "bad behavior" or "piracy" and I always check Facebook's
watchdog pages like Facecrooks
and Check Scam and Spam on Facebook
before I share any of those hysterical
"protect your privacy by blocking all your friends from seeing your
I repeat: anything done online is IN PUBLIC. Do not expect privacy here.
9) Thou shalt not
Trolls are part of Internet life. Kind of like those bloodsucking black flies (midges
the Maine woods where I grew up.
Why are there trolls? A new Canadian study finds that trolls are "everyday sadists"
who get pleasure from other people's pain. They're the people who like to torture kittens and abuse small children. Trolldom is less work than going the serial killer route. It's also equal-opportunity: the report found as many female trolls as males.
The anonymity of the Internet allows these otherwise closeted sociopaths to revel in sadistic behavior. It is simply fun for them.
YouTube and the Huffington Post are battling trolls by banning anonymous comments. Let's hope some more of the big sites will follow suit.
But remember that trolls feed on attention the way black flies feed on blood. So the only way to get rid of a troll is to give it no attention
whatsoever—no matter how obnoxious and wrong he/she/it is, because your
attention—good or bad—is its food. You must starve it by ignoring anything and everything
Don't think of a troll comment or "review" as an exchange with a fellow human capable of rational thought. Think of it as a pile of poo you don't want to step in.
Unboot from the Interwebz and phone a friend, read a book, or walk
the dog. Anything you say online will make things worse.
Actor Wil Wheaton first coined the dictum, "Don't be a
d**k" at a gaming conference in 2007. He was talking about interactive online game etiquette, but it is a good rule for anybody using the Internet.
In fact, it's a good rule for anybody participating in life
In more polite terms, it can be called The Golden Rule: have empathy and don't do stuff to other people that would feel bad if it were done to you.
What about you, Scriveners? Any commandments to add to these? Have you ever fallen for an Internet meme before checking it out? Have you been a victim of the Amazon trolls?
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Labels: Amazon reviews, Goodreads, how to blog, Internet trolls, Screwpulp, social media etiquette, Social Media Marketing, Sock Puppets, Wil Wheaton's Law