Things for Writers to Know about Social Media

As a writer, do I need to be active on social media?

No. The great thing about being an artist is you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. But, you have to deal with the ramifications and handicaps of your actions, so the bigger question is, “What are the pros and cons?”

For me...

First, if you go through traditional publishing, they will pressure you. Second, if you go through traditional publishing, already being active on social media will give you a leg up of actually being picked up. It is not only useful (you have free access to 30,000 people) but it shows you are willing to put in the time and effort to market yourself. You are less likely to be a pain in the ass.

And, as I said, having a platform like that is hugely efficient. Especially if you don’t go into traditional publishing, being connected to people gives you room to promote yourself with little cost. Before I became active on Twitter I got ten hits per blog post, max of twenty. Immediately, and I mean the day of immediately, after advertising on Twitter, it had gone up to a minimum of fifty, an average of one-hundred. The majority of people who read this find me through social media.

It helps keep track of and maintain real-life relationships. Most of the people you meet at writers’ conferences, events, or just happen to chat up in general will not live anywhere near you. By friending them on the internet, you can continue a casual relationship without a lot of work. People you actually connect to and have conversations outside of a “buy my book” Tweet will be your biggest and most loyal supporters.

It gives you credibility. It shouldn’t, but the truth is that the more people who are listening to you the more other people will listen. The logic is pretty simple; if you are interesting/informative to so many, then there’s probably something I’m missing if I’m not immediately interested/informed. They’re more likely to give you a longer chance, and when you say something they haven’t thought of before, they are going to actually consider it rather than pass it off as the naïve ramblings of a peer.

You want to be stalkable. You want people to get to know you without you knowing them. It’s like giving an animal a name; the more they know about you, the more affection they feel. Not only will the more information you have about yourself be more interesting, but it also keeps the fans around longer. The amount of material you have on the internet affects the time a person can spend “with” you. I have, honest to God, passed up buying a book on the first pitch, only to go back and get it after reading their blogs and Tweets, and, essentially being interested in them long enough that they got plenty  second chances to pitch their book to me. Having Tweets I can skim, or Facebook statuses that I see every day will put your name deeper into my memory, and will give you plenty of time to interest me. And, if I am already a fan, it keeps my attention in-between books so I won’t forget about the sequel in the year after I’ve finished the first, because I’ve been seeing your Tweets and blogs in the interim.

It’s stupid.

People do look down their noses on Facebook and Twitter and those who spend a lot of time cultivating their pages. And honestly, it’s sensible. There’s a lot of faults of social media, and reputation is often what bothers authors the most.

Depending on the image you’re trying to establish, it might be in your best interest to avoid social media all together, because even those of us who use it agree it’s stupid. It’s shallow, self-oriented, and tends to be just a popularity contest.

It’s feels like a waste of time. Most writers are so busy that they can barely find the time to write, let alone screw around on the internet. And I would agree that prioritizing things over social media is a good idea. Writing, editing, submitting, family, your day job, all of these things should come first. But, on the flip side of that, even spending a moment every day (post a comment then go to work), will eventually add up for you.

You have to deal with stupid people, cruel people, and possibly dangerous people.

I don’t find cruelty very often. The “hate” mail I have gotten is usually privately messaged to me, tends to be well thought out arguments that are often more about them than they are about me. (“You shouldn’t make fun of Hemmingway. He was a war hero. I wrote a biography about him. I went to his house once. It was nice. You should read my book.”) But there are a lot of my Facebook friends who do deal with trolls and critics. Social media is an easy place to harass someone, and the more open you are on the internet, the harder it is to escape someone who has a vendetta against you.

I have a guy who constantly comments on everything I post, giving his opinion on everything, despite not knowing me or having actually read the blog he’s enforcing an opinion on. “You shouldn’t move to New York. You should move to Orleans. Because of jazz and sports!” Yeah, that sounds like me. He’s not mean, just irritating. And while these comments are usually harmless, having someone constantly criticize you and tell you what to do when dealing with art can be problematic. We all know how the opinions of others can affect us, even when we don’t want them too.

Lastly, I do get the pervert trolls fairly often.

So far they haven’t proven to become a real issue, but if anyone did want to harass me long-term, there wouldn’t be much I could do about it.
I personally find the pros far outweigh the cons, but it’s up to the individual to consider what is important to him. As long as you’re honest with yourself about why you decided to do/not do it, then you’ll be able to make the decision that’s best for you.

And, of course, many people don’t want others to know about their private lives, and authors have the right to keep non-writing things to themselves, which might mean that avoiding social media, or just limiting its use, is a good idea.

But, if you do decide to use it, here’s some things you should know.

Common Mistakes:
1. Not including accessible and direct links.

If you have a book for sale, put that link prominently on your social media pages. It is so frustrating to have someone advertise their book but make you have to go searching for it. I’ve found websites with “Books for sale,” in which they include a photo and a summary, but no purchasing buttons. I’ve had Tweets and statuses that say to buy their book and not only do they not include a link, but you go to their profile you can’t find one, then their website and you still can’t find one. Usually, I end up leaving, annoyed.

Whenever you pitch your book, make it easy to buy. Make sure that it is a direct link. Not only is it irritating to have someone take you to the homepage of, it also looks a little idiotic.

2. Lying about accolades.

It is always a little disturbing to see how many people will call themselves “bestselling” authors when there’s obvious evidence they’re not. If you are a self-published author with one short story on Amazon that has two reviews and a crappy cover, not only will the reader immediately know you’re full of it, but the damage you’ve done to your reputation is far worse than the benefits of if they happened to believe you. The prime goal of a writer is to be trustworthy. You must convince readers that if they get through your book they will be left feeling satisfied, that you have their best interest at heart, and that you won’t screw them for your own benefits. You must convince them before they’ve even read one word.

It is astounding the sorts of lies people think they can get away with. I read the status of one guy who, again, was self-published, not even on Amazon, without any reviews and several typos in the sample, claiming that Paramount and Universal were arguing over film rights.

3. Not talking about themselves.

There is a huge misconception about the ramifications of narcissism. People like people, and when they go to your page they often want to hear about you. BUT, there is a huge difference between genuine and interesting self-exposure and neediness or inane comments.

Essentially, it’s just like a first date. You won’t be interesting or trustworthy if you won’t reveal anything about yourself. That’s what you’re there for. Of course being self-pitying, hateful, and certain kinds of self-involvement won’t be interesting either, and always listening (i.e. interacting) is an important aspect, but ultimately you want people to connect to you, and they won’t if you hide any elements about who you are. Talk about yourself, especially in situations you’re supposed to talk about yourself (like a bio.)

4. Not enough content.

By “content” I mean anything entertaining. “Did you know…” “Today I…” “A priest, a rabbi, and a writer walk into a bar…” Essentially posts that are enjoyable on their own.

Advertisements—“Buy my book,” “Buy this guy’s book,” “Go to my blog,” etc.—should be secondary and limited. Self-promotion is just like television commercials. Make them quick, clear, and entertaining, and keep them to less than 1/3 of what your audience is dealing with. This will make them stick around longer. No one’s going to watch a show that is just commercials, no one will read tweets that are all, “Vote for my story!”

Also, you don’t want your page filled with uninteresting rambling, tangents, or thank you’s. Having a Twitter page filled with “Thank you for following!” is boring. So are a bunch of retweets, especially uninteresting ones.

5. No interaction/reciprocation.

Connections are imperative, and silence is a punishment. If someone goes out of their way to comment, it’s important to react. Like it, favorite it, verbally respond. Go to their page and comment on their status. Sometimes even just a subtle reward is a great idea (Mentioning them in a blog.) You don’t have to react to everything, especially if you’re getting a lot of feedback. In fact, that would be negative reinforcement. Seeing you like everyone’s comment will make your liking of their comment meaningless. But sitting atop your tower as you look down on the people makes you seem distant, aloof, and probably condescending.

The second way to tick people off and discourage them from helping or even interacting you is a refusal to help them. When a friend sends you a request to like their page, like it. When they ask you to see their play, see it. The more supportive you are, the more supportive they will be.

You can, of course, pick and choose some forms of reciprocation. I don’t retweet someone just because they retweeted me on the principle of maintaining interesting content. Having a page filled with advertising for other people is the same as having a page filled with advertising for yourself, so there are some limitations.

6. A non-human picture.

Get a picture of yourself for your profile picture. It helps people empathize with you, but also, people with non-human photos or no photos at all tend to be fake accounts, spam accounts, or trolls. Not all the time, but enough of the time.

7. Not respecting territory.

Because their page is a representation of themselves, and because so many people are trying to keep their media site spam free and interesting, the quickest way to tick them off is to force them to filter through your self-promotion.

Tagging people in pictures they’re not in, tagging them on statuses get them to read your poetry or watch your video, commenting on their page asking them to like you where the whole world will see, or anything that they have to go and delete is pushing things too far. Mostly, it’s just a nuisance, but I’ve had to defriend and even block a few people because they didn’t understand their boundaries, such as one man who posted his poetry to my page twice a day, including photos, some of which were of (albeit artistic) nude pictures.

Especially if you are an erotica writer or of a controversial niche, you want to respect a person’s desire to maintain their image.

Also, when posting anywhere, it’s important to read. Just as sending a sci-fi book to an agent who doesn’t work with your genre, posting book promotions in a place meant for questions, or blogs, or simply not reading the rules is a huge faux-pas. Even when people put right up at the top “No book promotions” or “No erotica,” people still post. Make sure to understand territory before promoting yourself.

How do I get an audience?

There are three simple ways to get followers:

1. Reciprocation.

The main way to find followers/likes is to like or follow other people. Seeking out those who are in your target audience and interacting with them will lead them to your page. Don’t expect them to reciprocate, don’t be angry when they don’t. They don’t have any obligation to, and indicating they do feels like a trick. But, naturally, people will try to give back, and, more to the point, every interaction is actually a form of advertising—even if they don’t follow you, you are getting your name out there one person at a time. Seeing your name over and over again in different contexts is a great form of advertising.

2. Provide a service.

Giving a genuine benefit to an audience will encourage people to follow, friend, or like you. The most obvious way is to be actually interesting. Provide jokes, unique tips, stories, experiences, or pictures people actually would enjoy having pop up in their feed. Offer giveaways. Offer up information they might like to know (interesting blogs about writing, books where you can find agents, etc.) This isn’t the most effective way, but it is the most organic, especially if you want a lot of people to follow/like you without you liking/following them.

3. Ask.

It’s hard to put yourself out there, and no matter how you approach it, someone will always be annoyed. That is not your problem. Don’t be obnoxious, don’t pretend to do something you’re not (like engage in a conversation when you just want them to like your Facebook page), but a simple, straightforward, “Consider liking me on Facebook,” once to an individual is the most effective method of gaining likes. Direct requests garner the most responses. Deceit, however, does not.

And, if you do reciprocate, sometimes this will be a relief to the person you’re talking to. When I ask, “If you’re interested in trading Facebook likes, send me a link!” I get a lot of positive responses, often even grateful ones. (Every once in a while I get, “Facebook is the work of the devil!” but for the most part they’re friendly.)

How do I get engagement?

How many people like, favorite, retweet, comment, or share your post affects the number of people who see those posts. Engagement is not only more interesting than a simple status, but it also directly correlates to the size of the audience.

So how do you get engagements?

1. Positive, motivational statements.

They must be somewhat clever, but for the most part any sort of “You can be a writer!” posts will return with a lot of positive feedback, though more in the form of likes and favorites than comments.

2. “That sounds like me!”

Relatable posts like, “Writing is for those of us who only grew up enough to get embarrassed about playing pretend in public,” will get a lot of reaction. (Note: If you include something that is unique to you like, “My name is Charley and I’m a recovering grammar Nazi,” you will receive more favorites than retweets on Twitter. Something generic will often get more retweets.)

3. Start a post with a personal label.

Men, boys, guys, women, feminists, lawyers, writers, New Yorkers, etc. will grab the attention of your readers. Addressing someone by an identity they have taken possession of will compel them to engage and comment. It is their thing, after all.

4. Ask an interesting question (but only when you know someone will respond.)

It doesn’t look good to ask a direct question and have silence in return. If you don’t have many followers yet, you might start out with a question and then continue on with some sort of answer. People will be less likely to answer for themselves, but once you can get someone to start, others will follow.

Banal and secretly rhetorical questions don’t work. If it’s obvious you’re not interested the answer—you’re just trying to get responses—most people won’t say anything. The questions have to be interesting, unique, and something you’re actually curious hearing about. “What are you working on?” will not receive as much as “What was a bad piece of advice that you later realized was useful?” It also shouldn’t be something that puts the workload on the audience: “What should my next blog be about?” often returns with silence.

Also, again, starting with “Question:” or “Opinions:” will make people think you’re serious about wanting an answer, and encourage them to respond.

Some things you should know about Twitter:
1. doesn’t offer many common features used in Twitter.

What does that mean? Auto-reply, auto-follow, unfollowing people who don’t follow you are options OTHER programs, like Just Unfollow will offer, meaning you have to sign into Twitter through them. While a common practice for most Tweeters, it is technically against protocol and you can be temporarily banned for using these other programs. But, this isn’t always strictly enforced, which is why people use them.

I was once banned because I allowed my iPad connect through Twitter, and it decided it was a foreign program, which is also a common complaint.

2. You cannot direct message a person who doesn’t follow you.

Meaning if you send a direct message to a follower you don’t follow back, they will not be able to respond. Not only that, but even if they aren’t just following people to get followers, when you’ve asked them a question and they make the effort of responding to just get a message saying they can’t because you don’t follow them, it will piss them off.

For this reason, don’t ask questions in an auto-reply. And don’t ask questions you don’t really care about the answer to, this is extremely frustrating.

3. The mobile Twitter app displays your content differently than the website.

It does not have pinned Tweets, (A Tweet you can fix to being the first Tweet people will see on your page) and will fill up your page with your conversational Tweets (responses to other’s Tweets). When considering the readability and content of your site, remember this.

4. You can mute people.

If you want to follow someone, but they are bothering you—by posting too much, by posting hashtag gibberish, by promoting self-promotion—you can continue following them, but mute them so they don’t appear in your stream. They won’t know you’ve done it.

5. Lists are your best friends.

One of the biggest complaints people give me about Twitter is they don’t want their feed to be filled with people they don’t know. There are several solutions to this, including keeping one separate from your personal page. But the other solution is to have lists.

You can use lists to separate people into categories, like people you actually know, and then get a feed that only has their tweets. Or maybe you’ll have a writer list, or list of people who you want to keep connected with or that are especially interesting.

Also, when looking for people to follow and thereby gain your followers, finding lists other people have made can make it easy. Get a list like “sci-fi writers” and you can just go down it and follow those members, keeping your feed to people you actually care about, and yet allow you to extent your network.

6. You can tell people who’ve paid for followers because the majority of their follows won’t have pictures or bios.

7. You can only follow the first 2,000 people without having many followers yourself. After that, it is based off of an unrecorded ratio of how many followers you have to how many you can have.

8. You will get temporarily banned if you follow/unfollow 1,000 people in a day.

Some things you should know about Facebook:
1. Twitter is better for a quick audience, Facebook is better for a sustained audience.

Facebook is much more personal and people are more likely to remember you. Facebook is much more strict about not spamming people, and is more likely to ban you for more things, like liking too many pages/statuses, private messaging too many people, friending too many people who don’t accept. BUT, it does offer apt warning.

2. The difference between a personal page and a fan page:

A personal page is a regular kind of page, but a fan page is an extension of your personal page for things like business. A personal page is supposed to be for an individual human, where a fan page is for commercial advertisements.

Facebook allows more personal page statuses to appear in your friend’s stream than it would in a fan page. Meaning your personal page has more of an organic reach. But it has more limits; you can only have 5,000 friends, but you can have as many likes as you want.

3. You can “unfollow” people and still like their page.

Just like the mute button on Twitter, if you want to like someone’s page, but you don’t actually want to see their statuses, just go to their page and click unfollow. They will not know you have done this.

4. It is easier to get friends than it is to get likes.

Once you start finding authors to friend, Facebook will start showing you more writers under your suggested friends list. More people are likely to respond to a friend request than a like request. But, again, trying to friend too many people at once will get you banned, and the limit of 5,000 is a problem.

5. People can see if you didn’t like their page.

There’s a location on a fan page where you can invite all your personal page friends to like your page. Normally, there’s an accessible one right out in the obvious, but it only shows a few options to “invite your friends,” and it doesn’t say if they liked it or not. But there’s another place under the Activity Tab that allows you to scroll down through the list of all your friends. It will either say, “Invite,” “Invited,” or “Liked.”

It’s hard not to notice if your best friend is still reading, “Invited,” and not take that personally, so keep it in mind when refusing to like people’s pages.

6. You get “followers” by denying friend requests.

Today on Facebook you can follow someone without them agreeing to be your friend. Most privacy settings will require someone to be a friend of a friend (or however the owner of the page has it set.) Some people will want to follow you and not friend you, but for the most part, if you request someone as a friend, you automatically follow them. If they deny your request, they get a “follower” instead of a friend.

7. Check your privacy settings.

Be aware of what your privacy settings are set on. You want to make sure that the things you want kept private are private, and the things you want shared can be shared. I’ve had plenty of people send me a link to something (a note, a picture, whatever) and have the link be broken because of these settings.

If you want your fans to have access to you, be sure the settings are set right.

8. If you’re on a mobile phone, make sure to send the right URL.

Facebook has a mobile site which comes out looking strange on a computer. When sending a link, don’t just copy and paste the URL on your iPhone. If it begins with m.facebook, it means it’s a mobile design. This is also sometimes true for Amazon.

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