How Not to Fumble Your Social Media Presence

James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

Seth Godin, whom many consider the premiere social media guru, uttered a word of caution to traditional book publishers at the recent Digital Book World conference:
The challenge we have is not all of your authors want to be good at social media. And not all of them have something to say when they’re not writing a book. Is the only way to sell books to dance faster than everyone else? I don’t think it is. … What we have to figure out is not merely does this author have 70,000 good words to say in a row, but do they have a following, can we help them get a following, are they the kind of person where a reader says, “I can’t wait for your next work.” (Quoted by Jane Friedman)
I was happy to see that, because it may be the one time I come out ahead of Godin. A few years ago I wrote about the limits of social media as a direct marketing tool. At the time I was also inveighing against the “platform pressure” many publishers put on new writers. (A nice account of that debate can be found here).
Then there is marketing expert Dan Blank of WeGrowMedia.com, who wrote a post last year about how he is changing toward social media. In short he wants “more social, less media.”
The prevailing wisdom has coalesced around the fact that social media is best for forming community, and only marginally effective for selling things like books. A good SMP (social media presence) certainly can help with a launch if (and this is crucial) you have established trust by consistently offering quality content to your followers.
On the other hand, abusing your SMP can render the whole thing a complete waste of time.
By the way, SMP in the UK stands for “statutory maternity pay.” But I digress.
What do I mean by abuse? I call it the Ned Reyerson Syndrome. You remember Ned, from the great comedy Groundhog Day. If you don’t, have a look at this clip and then come back. I’ll wait.

What has Ned done wrong? Count the ways! He demands attention. He exhibits lousy communication skills. He makes lame jokes. He thinks the whistling belly button trick is a matter of talent. Worst of all, without an invitation, he pushes his product into Bill Murray’s face, and keeps on doing it.
I like to do a little personal research on this issue every now and then. The way it happens is that I’ll come across an indie author I don’t know but who looks interesting. Most of the time it’s because of  a nice book cover that catches my eye. I’ll click to see if that author has other books, and what the general reviews and rankings are. Then I’ll check on his/her SMP.
Just this past week that happened. I noticed a really nice thriller cover from an author I hadn’t heard of. He had three other nice thriller covers. But his Amazon rankings were not good for any of the titles. He had a handful of reviews that averaged out to … average.
Now, I believe the books themselves always have the most to do with any of this. But there may be other reasons, too.
I checked this author’s SMP. And boy, did I find Ned Reyerson.
Not one of his tweets was content-filled or a real interaction with others. Every single one was some sort of sales pitch. There were different kinds: a deal kind, then a line from the book kind, followed by a book cover kind and an elevator pitch kind. These are all fine from time to time, but not as the sole output of your SMP.
Over on Facebook, more of the same.
This author is not only wasting his time, he’s hurting his prospects. He’s making everyone who follows him feel like Bill Murray in his eternal recurrence: Oh boy, here comes Ned Reyerson again! Do I have to live this moment over and over?
Remember the last time Murray sees Ned, he just punches him in the face.
Here’s the SMP lesson of the day: Don’t make people want to punch you in the face. Thus:
1. Be the kind of guest people want to have at their next party.  
What kind of guest is that? One who brings something to a social gathering that people like. A content provider. A person who says things that bring a smile or a new thought or a helping hand.
2. Be patient.
Don’t run up to people and yell. Grow naturally.
3. Be real, but don’t be a boob.
Honestly, didn’t your mother teach you not to say the first thing that pops into your head?
“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” (Abraham Lincoln).
4. Go 90/10 on your socializing/selling ratio
It’s perfectly acceptable to announce a book, push a deal, remind folks about an older title. But make such things only about ten percent of your messaging. That’s my unofficial, anecdotal rule of thumb.
So what about you? What are your feelings and findings about social media here at the start of this new year? Have you run across any Ned Reyerson’s lately?
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24 thoughts on “How Not to Fumble Your Social Media Presence

  1. Good thoughts. I think everyone struggles with how to promote using social media. I’m an indie author and I like to support indie authors but I find myself tuning out/unfollowing indie authors that promote like Ned Ryerson. I like your 90/10 suggestion. Social media is a helpful promotion tool but it’s not the be all, end all. Good writing is the best way to have a successful book.

  2. Why yes, I know many Ned Reyersons. If I go to Twitter right now and check on several hashtags created specifically for writers, like #ACFW or #amwriting, I find one sales pitch after another. I’ve stopped following several of these hashtags because one or two writers have set their automated posts to “kill,” ensuring that only their tweets will show up. What’s even more disturbing is that some of these authors actually teach this method of “marketing.” I started writing YA and Middle Grade last year. Know what happens if the kids even get a hint that you’re trying to sell them a book? Blocked for eternity. I may start doing the same. And yes, the publishers and agents who still beat the platform drums are partially to blame. They are ten years behind the time and whenever one asks me about my Twitter following, It takes immense effort not to roll my eyes and find a better use of my time at the conference book store.

    Thanks for another great post, Jim.

  3. I just joined Twitter, again. The first time overwhelmed me. This time I’m a little more selective but I’m still worried — a constant barrage of seemingly desperate people pushing their books only annoys me and I’ll have nothing to do with their books. I can handle once a day, but every hour?

    So I tweeted this.

  4. Jim, thanks for the great advice.

    Probably, like many other writers who have a daytime job and struggle to find time to write, I have even more trouble with SMP.

    Like Amanda with Twitter, my first exposure with Facebook was overwhelming. I got off a few years back when there was concern with security and use of personal data. Now I have a book coming out in October, so I got back on. But…when I log on and I see twenty posts by two people, blocking everything else, I wonder why I’m wasting my time. Then I log out and back in and see a whole new set of posts. I wonder how much Facebook manipulates what they want me to see (or think I want to see).

    I guess I should try Twitter.

    I blog. I started out weekly, but have fallen off to every other week. I try to convince myself that it is a good exercise, but it does cut into my writing time.

    So I struggle, and I constantly watch for advice on what’s working and what doesn’t.

    Thanks for this post. I look forward to reading the discussion.

    • Steve, since I don’t have your email address, I’m just taking this opportunity to thank you for the beautiful handmade fountain pen, which you presented to me at Steven James’ conference in Nashville last weekend! I absolutely love it, and the red ink is perfect for marking up the sample copy I had printed up of my upcoming book!

      Now that you’re back on Facebook, please friend me there – Jodie Renner Editor-Author. 🙂

  5. Thanks for these reminders, Jim – I needed this! One thing I’m happy about is that most of my “friends” on FB and followers on Twitter are aspiring authors or novelists continuing to work on their craft, so my posts with links to articles here and on other blogs always offer value – useful info for this target audience, and many of them share my posts and links.

  6. Technically I’m signed up for Twitter but I never use it. I did it when I felt pressured taking a social media course and all the authors wanted to swap twitter handles. I don’t have time for yet more social media.

    I am on FB.– for the most part, I avoid ANYONE’s advertising sales pitch, but those I have taken time to observe are just that–the sales portion of social media. Never any extra’s, words of wisdom, etc.

    Now when someone in my FB realm raves about a book they read, I’ll take that into consideration.

    Even in writers organizations, sales pitching is done on overkill among one another. If that organization has dedicated email loops, your email box is chock full of their sales pitches. Which is why I delete the majority of it. They may be getting noticed by someone, but they’re just driving me up the wall.

    Honestly, other than word of mouth by a reader, this blog is the only place I’m likely to take up a sales pitch and act on it., There IS true community here.

  7. ‘Most of the time it’s because of a nice book cover that catches my eye.’

    Interesting comment. I’ve taken off the shelf many books from authors I’d never heard of based solely on cover art. If I like the blurb, I’ll buy.

    The appeal, strength of the cover art in not only providing a visual of what’s inside but also impelling someone to select that book from thousands of others, I find to be fascinating

  8. I had forgotten old Ned. (gee, I wonder why?). Thanks for that link. (I adore Bill Murray so that alone made my Sunday.)

    That Godin comment about being about to string together “70,000 words in a row” is priceless. It reminds me of something I heard a friend of mine, Neil Nyren, tell a yet-unpublished writer who was worrying about her social media profile. Sorry if I misquote you here, Neil, but you told her that she needed to put her creativity and time into her novel.

    Which is not to say you shouldn’t have a SM presence. But I think that too often the time devoted to SM is an excuse to not face the really hard work of writing the best book you can.

  9. Thank you for this post. For a long time I was wondering if I missed some crucial lesson other writers received (mostly self published but a handful of traditionally published as well). They all seemed to think constantly tweeting versions of “Buy my book” or retweeting other people’s tweets of “buy my book” was good social marketing.

    And that is so not me. I unfollow people like that in a hurry. I’m constantly getting follows from people hoping that I will auto-follow back, retweet their spam, and they would in return retweet my spam and together we would drown out any fun to be had on Twitter.

    All of that said, I love twitter and I have a lot of fun there. I like interacting with people, mostly authors, but also a few book bloggers and readers, and most of the people I follow are wildly entertaining. They’re funny and clever, or they talk about interesting things, or honest feelings about their writing. Not in a “buy my book” way, but their struggles with rewrites, edits, and drafting, and it makes me feel less crazy to see authors I admire having the same problems I do.

    Twitter is a great way to be casually social without having to leave your house. It’s a magical place where one of my favorite authors can retweet something I said.

    If you think Twitter could be fun, but you don’t know who to follow, I can tell you Chuck Wendig, Delilah Dawson, Kameron Hurley, and Stephen Blackmoore are all absolutely amazing on Twitter. There’s a bunch of others, but this comment is already very long. 😀

    Thanks again for the lovely post! I’ve already tweeted about it!

  10. Great clip. I don’t know the actor’s name, he’s busy and excellent.

    Feelings about social media – hmmm. Definitely mixed.

    I did not pursue traditional publishing as, among other reasons, it appeared that I would be the one primarily responsible for marketing my book regardless. I recently saw a figure suggesting 1200 to 1800 new English language works of fiction are published each day. Social media appears to be the most accessible exposure out there. I released my first book in June. I’m slowly developed a FB presence. Hopefully not at all Ned-like.

    Jim – you do a brilliant job – your content is informative, funny and genuine. The marketing component is seamless and your e-mailings effective. You make it look easy and it ain’t.

    One of the challenges I’ve found is that self-promotion is awkward . I was raised with the ethic that speaking of one’s accomplishments (sports, academics, anything) is not classy. Quite different than today’s chest thumping “I’m the man!” behavior. I feel sheepish every time I post anything with marketing content.

    My wife is a talented oil painter. I attended one of her major showings (part of a large biannual “art event”) and acted as a sales/information person. It was her highest sales day ever. The reason, imo, was not that I am a brilliant salesman (unfortunately i’m not), but it is a totally different dynamic for me to rave about Michele’s incredible paintings and skill, than for her to represent herself. I believe we authors face the same phenomenon. I wonder if others feel the same.

    It is, or certainly feels, awkward to promote one’s self. Promoting another (especially one whose talent you know and admire) is not bound by modesty, self-doubt, upbringing.

    Summary – I’m on FB (tom combs physician-author). I have had a good deal of fun hooking up with old and new friends – not sure if is contributing much to my sales. I am hard at work writing book #2. I am an acolyte of the JSB “quality of writing first” religion. I feel social media is a necessary tool that I am likely under using.
    I appreciate the sage counsel.
    Thank you

  11. Amen! I know a few Nedettes, and I’m so sick of seeing their self-promotion over and over again on Facebook. And unfortunately, some of these have only written one thing, so that one thing is in your face(FB) continuously. I’ve often wondered if it has helped them to sell more books. On the other hand, I’ve had a manuscript rejected because my “platform wasn’t big enough.” Truth is, you have to be famous like James Scott Bell to have a really big platform.

  12. I used to be a twitter wh0re.Spent hours every day happily yapping with authors, agents, editors, friends, strangers. I quit. Cold turkey. I just realized how much time I was wasting and stopped.

    I’m back now, but I temper my time. I’m also very careful about what I say because I realize most of the publishing world tends to be very liberal. It shouldn’t make a difference, but humans are humans and it will.

    I follow a lot of agents who can do absolutely nothing for me publishing wise just because they are fun. We banter and sometimes I pass their names on to a friend when they’re looking for something specific.

    I took one agent off my list after she tweeted, “If you belong to this party just unfollow me right now and don’t ever submit to me!”

    Well, I don’t belong to any party, but it’s really none of your business if I do.

    So, sometimes following agents backfires, I guess.

    I refuse to follow the people who are constantly hawking their books like a barker at a medicine show and posting crap in various hashtags where they don’t belong. #mswl is for agents and editors, not for you to flash you book cover and let everyone know how great your book is.

    I started a new facebook that will be for my professional self where I will be sweet and professional and probably not post much because there’s only so much sweet I can do.

  13. SCB–
    Without exception you are the best possible illustration for what you say here. You always offer value for your readers’ time. And I am glad to have figured out some of what you say for myself.
    But I am a little surprised at an omission in the process you describe for the writer whose books and SMP you checked out, someone with three or four “nice thriller covers.” I know you were researching the relationship between SMP and success in the marketplace, but didn’t you check out the “Look Inside” feature, to see whether the author could write? Maybe the mediocre reviews fit. Or is all the chest-beating about writing “the best book you can” mostly window-dressing?

  14. If I may~

    Singer/songwriters are perhaps the worst when it comes to this self-hucksterism~ all I receive via SM are “Hey, I’m on tour/just released an EP” notices… None (that I’ve found) blog like y’all do here at TKZ~ which might be a niche worth exploring in my “spare time” ~

    Thanks for doing what you do the way you do it.

    • Had a chance to think a bit more, and (maybe) in defense of the performing set, that’s what they do~ stand on stage and say “Lookit me~!”

      Still and all, a lot of creative types (heck, most folks in general, it seems to me), take SM to mean Social ME-dia…

  15. I like to ask readers questions on FB. The useful responses help me plan things like where to place recipes in a mystery, which book titles have more appeal and to include a cast of characters. It’s a great place for reader feedback.

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