Best Practices (AKA Etiquette) for Authors on Social Media

At the suggestion of my lovely author friend Malin James, I’m writing a special article to focus exclusively on the do’s and don’ts of being polite, kind, and well-received on social media. For some of you, this may simply be common sense, but maybe you’ll pick up a trick or two or a new perspective on marketing.

Don’t sell to other authors

Actually, you should never sell to anyone. My cardinal rule of sales is to never hard-sell (ie, spamming out “buy my book!!!” to your followers). If you do insist on hard-selling, never, ever, ever sell to other authors.

It’s a rookie mistake. We have this wonderful community of other authors who are supportive, kind, and often willing to go the extra mile to help us, so we surround ourselves with them. But at the end of the day, other authors are not your target audience.

Why? First of all, as you probably know, authors don’t typically have a bunch of extra pocket money—this industry is tough!

Don't try to sell your book to other (1)

Furthermore, authors are busy with their own writing and reading lists. How many authors have you met who don’t have a to-be-read list a mile long?

But most importantly, the reason authors aren’t your target audience is that you want to build a platform that reaches your loyal readers, past, present, and future. For instance, let’s say you wrote a self help book. You want to reach people who want to improve themselves, not other authors of self-help books (though there may be some overlap, of course). Community-building with other authors is wonderful, but only as a support network. If you tap the rich resource of author community to simply sell to your colleagues, you will annoy and alienate them, and you likely won’t even see a bump in sales for your trouble.

Ask first

It’s all about consent. Before you put someone on an email list or subscribe them to your blog, you need to get their enthusiastic consent. But if I didn’t auto-subscribe people to my list, I’d only have half the number I have now!, I can hear some of you saying. Good! The other half probably doesn’t want to be there in the first place, so they won’t be engaged with your content or interested in what you have to say. Focus on growing an audience who gets excited when they see an email or new post from you. Your readers should be delighted by your writing, not seeing it as just another email in their inbox.

Automation vs personalization

If something is automated, chances are you should forgo it. Of course, there are exceptions to this, but it’s a good rule of thumb. An example of automation gone horribly wrong is the dreaded auto-dm, an automatic direct message that you can send to new followers on twitter. The trouble is that this message is, of necessity, not personalized. Worse yet, it often contains a “Buy my book!” sales pitch. Ugh. These messages are spam, plain and simple. If you have one, I suggest disabling it immediately. If you’d like to welcome new followers, you can do it manually and with a personal touch. If that’s too much time, I’d urge you to look at other means of engaging your new audience. The auto-dm isn’t working anyway (and never has), so you aren’t missing out by disabling it. I promise.

No drama

Sharing your opinions online is perfectly okay. In fact, having a distinct personality will likely garner you more loyal readers. However, engaging in heated arguments and/or attacks via social media is pointless, and ends up reflecting poorly on you.

Note: this does not apply to abuse and harassment. Hit block and/or report for truly abusive, discriminatory, and/or threatening items, and simply unfollow if the person is upsetting you in any other way.

Be actively nice

The other side of the “no drama” coin is to make a concerted effort to be sweet. Try to reach out to people who might need help, whether you know them well or not. Give compliments, with no expectation of benefit to yourself, and frequently. Another actively nice gesture on social media is to give someone else’s work a boost, even if you don’t know them personally.

Posting frequency

If you share ten tweets in the span of five minutes, your social streams may read like spam. But who has time or patience to remember to post at different times throughout the day? Save time and make sure your audience stays engaged by using tools like Hootsuite, Buffer, and the Tumblr queue (all free).

Begging for It

Asking for the support of others can actually be a good thing, but it’s all in how you do it. Begging for retweets, followers, and/or likes makes you sound desperate, and again, will alienate your followers rather than spur them to action.

An example of doing this oh-so-right is the wonderful Alison Tyler. In an effort to promote her new erotic anthology Twisted, she posted a free excerpt on her site, something I’m willing to wager all of you have done. Ms. Tyler wanted to maximize the readership of that story, so she tried something new on social media: she transparently asked for help, and explained why it was important to her.

Readers are charmed by transparency, and will likely empathize with you far more than if you simply said “please RT!”

Key takeaways: don’t spam people, target the right audience, always ask first, be transparent, and play nice. Any questions? No, really, if you have questions, or disagree with anything, please leave a comment! After all, who better to decide what proper author etiquette looks like than authors themselves? 

Want more? Join the new Giving Books a Voice community on Facebook, where we talk tips & tricks to grow your readership on social media. The group is free, and always will be, for all authors, writers, and other creative folks.

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