How NOT to be a Spammer: A Guide for Authors

by Anne R. Allen

Internet spam! Everybody hates it, right?

Not only is it annoying, but vigilante groups can be cruel in enforcing anti-spam rules.

But here's the thing: not everybody defines "spam" the same way.

I thought I knew what was acceptable on social media. I know that it is social and shouldn't be be used for direct marketing. But I have sometimes blundered into spam territory when I'm only trying to be helpful.

That's because the rules are different for each social media site, forum, and group. And finding those rules can require tech savvy and knowledge of legalese (and good eyesight: they're usually written in a flyspeck font.)

Here are the rules I've managed to discover, mostly by breaking them. As Ruth and I say, we make the mistakes so you don't have to.

How Not to Spam with Newsletters

1) Never, ever, ever ever put somebody on a mailing list who did not sign up specifically for that newsletter.

2) Send them only when you have actual news to put in the letter. That is: a new book or a sale or a big presentation, like an appearance at a national writers' conference. Don't send notices of every personal appearance, since most readers won't live nearby and will be annoyed.

3) Make them short and sweet and provide unique content. One author whose newsletter I do subscribe to is Elizabeth S. Craig's. She only sends them when she has a new book and they always include a great recipe.

4) Never send a whiny plea begging people to buy your book to "help you get ahead." I got one of those yesterday. Advertising that you're an amateur doesn't make people want to read your work.

5) Always provide an unsubscribe button, so people don't have to face your wrath if they want to trim down what shows up in their inboxes.

How not to Spam on Facebook

1) Don't link to your blog or website from anything but your own page or a designated thread. Links to your blog or website are considered spam on Facebook, no matter how useful. They'll put you in Facebook jail (freeze you out of your own page) if you post links to your blog more than a few times a week, even in a private group.

This happened to me. Somebody in a group asks at least once a week about using song lyrics in fiction. So I used to post a link to our guest blog piece from Michael Murphy that tells you how to get rights to song lyrics .

But I was wrong on that. Unwritten Facebook rules say you can't do that, and a self-appointed vigilante will click the "report for spam" button and you're off Facebook for a week or more and your blog is flagged forever as "spam." Much hoop-jumping is required to get reinstated. Don't take the chance.

2) At the moment Facebook still seems to be okay with links to your book buy page on Amazon or other retail sites as long as you post them on your personal page or promotional Facebook pages like Free Books R Us. Nook and Kindle Readers, or Free Today on Amazon.

3) Don't friend more than a few people a day. Even though Facebook is constantly hounding you to "friend" people, it's a trap. If you actually do what they say, you'll end up in Facebook jail.

4) Don't post a promotion of your book in a group without reading the rules first. Many groups will kick you out for it.

5) Posting promos on somebody else's Facebook page is serious spam. It's a violation of personal space. Nothing will make people unfriend you faster.

6) Never market through a FB direct message. If you're not friends with the person, it will go in the "other" folder with all the proposals of marriage from men with poor English skills and a photo they stole from some CEO's bio page, which means the recipient isn't likely to see it anyway.

And besides, it's rude. Never use personal messaging for advertising. A direct message is like a phone call. Do you like getting unsolicited "cold calls" from marketers? Yeah. Nobody else does, either.

7) Never add somebody to a group without permission. There's been a trend to add random people to book launch "parties" and other "love my book" groups. Your targets will start to get dozens of notifications about you and your book which will be unwanted 99% of the time. Facebook won't punish you for it, but you're likely to get unfriended. And lose possible sales.

8) Note: Facebook is constantly adding limits to what you can do on your author page, so a "personal" page is necessary if you want to interact anywhere but on your own page. But use the personal page to make friends, not just to advertise.

How not to Spam on Twitter

1) Never send those automated direct messages that say, "Now that you've followed me, go like my Facebook and author pages, follow my blog, buy my book and pick up my dry cleaning, minion! Mwahahah."

They're against the Terms of Service as well as causing an auto-unfollow from practically everybody. For more on why not to use automatic direct messaging, here's a great post from social media consultant Rachel Thompson: Death to the Auto-DM on Twitter. She says a recent study showed the Auto-DM causes a 245% increase in the unfollow rate.

2) Do NOT send direct messages to people you don't have a relationship with. Not even to say "thanks for the follow." A follow is not a relationship. If you must thank for a follow, sent it in a @Tweet. (Not an automated one.)

3) Don't tweet your book more than a few times a week unless you have news like a great review or a sale or freebie run. Otherwise, it's just noise that gets ignored.

4) Don't tweet somebody else's book link just because they ask. Make sure it's in a genre your Tweeps will enjoy.

5) Unpublished authors, don't ever tweet published authors asking us to read and evaluate your work on your blog or Wattpad or whatever. People who evaluate your work are called editors. They cost money. Working authors are very, very busy. We can't afford to give strangers hundreds of dollars worth of critique for free. Don't ask us to do this on any kind of social media. If you want critique, I highly recommend

How not to Spam on Amazon

1) A link to your own book or website in a review is spam. It can get you banned from Amazon. You can have a title in your signature and post as "Susie Scrivener, author of Scribblings," but without a link.

2) Do not mention your book in the Amazon Forums. Better yet, don't go there. It's troll habitat and very anti-author.

3) Link to your blog ONLY in a designated thread in Kindleboard forums, even if your blog is full of useful information to writers. I learned that the hard way.

How not to Spam on Blogs

1) Never, ever subscribe to a blog via email just so you can hit "reply" and send an ad for your book. It's happened to me a couple of times. It's insulting and pointless. The ad doesn't go to the mailing list. It goes to the blogger—who will put you on their list of authors to avoid, especially if the genre has nothing to do with the blogger's interests. Remember this is about making friends, not enemies.

2) Don't link to your buy page from a blog comment. I don't mind links to a blog or webpage in the comments here—in fact I find them useful. But some people don't like links of any kind from a blog comment, and they'll delete the comment as spam, so be wary.

3) Don't talk up your book or blog in a comment unless it's relevant to the conversation.

How not to Spam in Forums

1) Lurk. Every forum is different. So never say anything in a forum until you've unearthed every rule and hung out for a good long time.

2) Beware "share" buttons. I made the mistake a couple of years ago by sending out my blog link to a number of sites via the "share" button Blogger provides. This sent it to forums where it should not have gone on Reddit, StumbleUpon and Digg. A nice moderator from Reddit informed me all my posts had been deleted as spam.

3) Do not post book promotions or pimp your blog except in designated threads. You will be criticized and deleted.

4) Better yet, stay out of book-related forums unless they're small and well-moderated.  The bigger and older the site, the more likely it will have resident trolls, bad-tempered vigilantes and anti-author groups. The Kindleboards can be snarky, but they do provide up-to-date information and are generally safe if you behave yourself. But the Amazon forums are toxic: stay away. Absolute Write is a good place to check for information about bad-faith publishers or bogus agents, but you're better off lurking rather than commenting. The tone is very anti-indie and full of trollish types.

Personally, I prefer Facebook and Google Plus writing groups to forums. My favorites are Google Plus for Writers and Tom Winton's Authors Helping Authors on Facebook.

How not to Spam on Goodreads

1) Don't join a group just to promote your book. Spend a long time talking about other authors' books before you bring up your own. In fact, on Goodreads, it's best not to mention you're an author at all. Take off your author hat and discuss books you've read, not ones you've written.

2) Don't send mass friend requests. This is true on almost all sites. You will be flagged as a spammer.

3) Don't thank a reviewer or someone who has put your book on their "shelf." The Goodreads author guidelines prohibit it.

4) And especially: never, ever, ever engage with somebody who has given you a bad review or put you on a hate "shelf." Not for any reason. Goodreads reviews are notoriously unpleasant, unhelpful, and snarky. But authors need to learn to live with them.

How not to Spam on Google+

Google Plus users tend to be into tech and business, which means they're usually too busy to engage in a whole lot of childish behavior, so you don't have to be as afraid of troll-vigilantes as on Facebook and Goodreads. But:

1) Posting the same link on more than one page can get you marked as a spammer by Google Plus algorithms. Here's what Google Plus expert Johnny Base says "do not post the same posts ever to "the public" and [community] groups: that will be looked at as spam."

2) Posting a link without at least 100 words of introduction anyplace but your own page can mark you as a spammer. Google Plus wants original content, not just linkage. Johnny Base says, "if you post a blog link [to a community page], please add a comment as to why it is relevant to the group. don't just post 'please read my new blog post'."

How not to Spam on Pinterest

1) Don't create pins with misleading links to trick people into visiting your boards. Truth in advertising is required here.

I officially have joined Pinterest (Facebook joined me up when I tried to look at somebody's board.) But I haven't actually done anything there. So if anybody has more info on Pinterest spam, please leave it in the comments.

How not to Spam on Tsū

So what's tsū? It's a new social media platform that's a little like Facebook in its interface. Except they pay you. You get royalties if your posts are popular. So far I've made one penny. But I have to admit I haven't spent any time there. They have very specific rules about spam. 

1) Don't over-hashtag or make irrelevant, self-serving comments

2) Follow the rules:
  • You can make 24 Posts per day
  • You can only share 8 posts per day
  • You can only follow 1,000 people and have 5,000 friends
  • You can only hold up to 50 Pending friend requests
  • In a single post you can only use 10 @ mentions
  • In a single post you can only use 10 # hashtags
In order to join, you have to be invited. Anybody who reads this blog can consider this an invitation. Use the "short code"

BTW, if you've ever wondered why unsolicited Internet advertising is named after a perfectly innocent meat product, blame Monty Python. In a famous 1970 sketch, the customers in a café are drowned out by a chorus of Vikings singing "Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam... Lovely Spam! Wonderful Spam!" 

The most important thing to remember to avoid being a spammer is to lurk a while on each site and check the rules before posting. Remember that drive-by promotions, selfish behavior, and deceptive practices are going to be frowned on everywhere. 

What about you, scriveners? Do you have any other sites to add? Have you ever been criticized or punished for spamming when you didn't realize you'd broken the rules? What kind of spam bothers you most? Anybody here on Tsu?  

If you want some info on how to use social media correctly to sell books, here's my post on HOW DO I SELL MY BOOK. And I'm one of 18 people who blog about book marketing interviewed for this piece on BOOK MARKETING SECRETS. I don't know if I've ever been called a "one of the world's foremost thought-leaders" before. But there are some good tips! 

If you happen to live in the San Luis Obispo area, I will be speaking to the SLO Nightwriters on April 14th at 6:30 PM on the subject of author bullying and how we can fight it with a combination of good social media manners and reporting offenses. Directions at the SLO Nightwriters website


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