Social Media Secrets for Authors, Part IV: How Not to Spam

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 constantly drowned out by a chorus of Vikings singing "Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam... Lovely Spam! Wonderful Spam!" Conversation is impossible because of the "spammers."

But whatever it's called, we don't want to generate it.

This is because:
As I've said before, social media is social. It should not be used for direct marketing. For more in my "Social Media Secrets" here are links to Part 1: How to Avoid Twitter-Fritter and Facebook Fail, Part 2: How to Blog Your Way Out of the Slush Pile,  and Part 3: What Should an Author Blog About?

Here's the "secret" about social media that marketers don't tell you: it should be used for making friends, not direct sales.

As I keep saying, you wouldn't wear an advertising sandwich board to a Chamber of Commerce mixer, but a lot of authors are doing the digital equivalent.

But it's not always so easy to tell if you're spamming. What is the line between "savvy marketing" and spam?

Truth is: the rules can be different for each site. But finding them 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 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) But Facebook has NO problem with links to your buy page on Amazon or other retail sites. So it's fine to put "buy my book" posts on as many Facebook pages as you like. Just make sure they're promotion sites like Canadian Free and Promoted Books, Authors 99c E-Book Promotion , or Free Books 4 U and follow site guidelines.

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. It's like posting a billboard on somebody's lawn without permission.

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 they're not 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. Thanks, Tymber Dalton for the addition.

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.

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. (DO hit the button that says "I just bought [title] by [author] on Amazon when you buy a book. That's a great way to recommend it.)

How not to Spam on Amazon

1) A link to your own book 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 blogger's newsletter 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 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 on 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 earlier this year of sending out my blog link to a number of sites via the "share" button Blogger provides. This apparently 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) Better yet, stay out of book-related forums altogether, except small, well moderated, author-friendly ones like Nathan Bransford's, Red Room, She Writes, Critique Circle, or Kristen Lamb's WANAtribe. The bigger and older the site, the more likely it will have resident trolls, bad-tempered vigilantes and anti-author groups.

How not to Spam on Goodreads

1) Don't join a group just to promote your book. Spend a long time talking about other 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 new 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+

(Updated) Google Plus users seem to be mostly techies and business people who are 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 a link on more than one community page can get you marked as a spammer by Google Plus algorithms.

2) Posting a link without at least 100 words of introduction can mark you as a spammer. Personally, I think that's a shame because I used to just hit the Google + share button along with the Tweet button when I read an article I thought might interest writers.

Google+ is soooooo slow that opening my page and writing 100 words about every link means I can't post as many links. But I guess they want more exclusive content written for Google Plus alone. 

There has been a kerfluffle in the tech world this week because Google+ has changed its TOS and is going over to the dark side, and wants to invade your privacy like Facebook, and may even use your comments and profile pictures to promote products. But there is a way to opt out through this link.

Next week we're going to have a guest post from Google+ guru Johnny Base, who's going to tell us everything an author needs to know about Google+

What about you, scriveners? 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 the most? Do you think spam marketing sells books

Book Bargain of the Week

Sale extended! No Place Like Home is back to 99c this month since being chosen as "Book of the Month" by the BoomerLit group. Still only on Amazon USAmazon UK, and Amazon CA ,

"A warp-speed, lighthearted comedy-mystery"...Abigail Padgett
"A fun, charming novel about the rich and less so" ...Karen Doering
"A cross of dry British humor and American wackiness, and it all adds up to a fun read." ...Deborah Bayles

Opportunity Alerts

Writers Conference Alert! The James River Writers Conference returns to Richmond, VA on October 19 and 20 with an extensive lineup of big name agents, authors and literary professionals. They're featuring award-winning book designer and writer Chip Kidd, National Book Award-winner Kathryn Erskine and best-selling author Christopher McDougall. Literary Publicity Firm JKSCommunications, Book Doctors and Pitchapalooza founders Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry will be on hand for advice. You can pitch to agents including April Eberhardt, Deborah Grosvenor, Victoria Skurnick and Paige Wheeler. For details and registration,

EBUK Bargains UK now has a blog! Get all the most up to-date info on the international book marketing scene from the guys who wrote one of our most popular guest blogposts ever.

The Sherwood Anderson Fiction Award from the Mid-American Review. $10 entry fee for a story up to 6000 words. First Prize: $1,000 and publication. Four Finalists: Notation, possible publication. You may submit online or snail mail. Details at website. Deadline is November 1, 2013.

  NO ENTRY FEE. The winner will receive $500. The winning story will be announced in February, 2014 and published in Dappled Things, along with nine honorable mentions. The word limit is 8,000 words. Deadline is November 29, 2013. 

MYSTERY AUTHORS! The Poisoned Pen Press, one of the most prestigious small presses, is open for submissions for one month. They open for submissions twice yearly, once during the month of October, and once during the spring. During October, they will accept submissions for regular publication. During the spring submissions period they open for the Discover Mystery first book contest. Please note their entire submissions process is electronic via the online submissions manager, Submittable. Mailed or e-mailed submissions will not be read. They will be accepting regular submissions during the period between October 1 and October 31. 

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