Social Media Etiquette: 15 Dos and Don’ts for Authors

by Anne R. Allen

Note from Jodie: I’m just heading home from presenting at Word on the Lake Writers’ Festival all weekend (2 workshops, panel, blue pencil sessions), so humorous author and award-winning blogger AAnne Allen_e-agenne R. Allen has graced us with her wit and wisdom today. Take it away, Anne!

Thanks, Jodie. It’s a pleasure to be a guest on TKZ.

“Authors behaving badly” tends to be a hot topic on booky forums and blogs these days. A lot of people blame the indie movement, but some of the worst social media behavior I’ve seen comes from traditionally published authors who are following the dictates of their marketing departments.

Unfortunately, a lot of marketers seem to have studied their craft at the “let’s cold-call random strangers just as they sit down to dinner” school of salesmanship.

As a general rule, I feel if someone has the social graces of a rabid squirrel, he’s probably not the guy to listen to on the subject of winning friends and influencing people—which is what social media is all about.

We need to keep in mind that social media isn’t about numbers, no matter how numbers-oriented your marketing department squirrels are. Social media is about making actual friends, not about mass-“friending” a horde of random strangers.

You’ll make a lot more real friends and sell a lot more books in the long run if you heed the following dos and don’ts.

1) DO remember Tweets are casual: Never tweet a query—not to an agent, reviewer, blogger or editor.

2) DON’T post advertising on anybody’s Facebook “wall.”  A person’s wall is how they present themselves to the world. When you plaster the cover of your book on their timeline you seriously mess with their brand.

Posting on somebody’s wall is like putting a sign in the front window of their house. Don’t do it without permission. This is true for pleas to sign petitions or donate to charities, no matter how worthy the cause.

3) DO use social media to interact with people, not to broadcast a never-ending stream of “buy my book” messages.

People whose Twitter stream is the identical promo tweet over and over look like robots with OCD. They will only get followed by other compulsive robots.

Twitter is a place to give congrats to a newly agented writer here or a contest winner there. It’s a wonderful vehicle for getting quick answers to questions. Or to commiserate when you’ve had a disappointment. Or if you’ve found a great book you love, tweet it.

Social Media is a party, not a telemarketing boiler room.

4) DON’T put somebody on an email list who didn’t sign up for it. ONLY send newsletters to people you have a personal connection with, or who have specifically asked to be on your list. Lifting email addresses from blog commenters without permission is considered especially heinous. Cue Law and Order music…

5) DO use Direct Messages sparingly. And never automate DMs. Private messages are for personal exchanges with people you have a legitimate connection with—not for advertising or begging for money. The fact somebody has followed or friended you back doesn’t give you license to send them advertising through a private message. This is especially true with “thank you for the follow” messages that come with a demand to “like” your author page, visit your blog and buy your products.

6) DON’T forget to check your @ messages on Twitter several times a day and respond to them. It only takes a moment, but those are people reaching out to you. Ignoring them will negate what you’re doing on Twitter in the first place.

 7) DO change the Facebook default “email” address to your actual email address. You are on social media to connect with people. Post a reliable way to connect—which that Facebook address isn’t.

8) DON’T forget to check your “Other” Folder on Facebook regularly. People who want to contact you for legitimate reasons may contact you through a Direct Message, but if they’re not on your “friend” list, the message goes into your “other” file.

A lot of FB users don’t even know it’s there.

If you’ve never heard of it, go to your home page and click on the message button on the left side of the toolbar (It’s the one in the middle, between friend requests and notifications.) They’re semi-invisible if you don’t have anything pending, so if it’s all blank up on the left side of that blue toolbar at the top of the page, move your mouse slightly to the right of the Facebook logo in white and click around.

Mostly your “Other” file will be full of spam and hilarious messages from guys with poor language skills who think Facebook is a dating site. But nestled in there you may find a note from a fan or a fellow author who wants to co-promote or is asking you to join a blog hop or something useful. So do check it once a week or so.

9)  DO post links to your website on all your social media sites. And have your contact info readily accessible on your site! Being paranoid on social media makes your presence pointless. Even if you’re on the lam, incarcerated, and/or in the Witness Protection Program, you need to be reachable if you want a career. Use a pen name and get a dedicated email address where you can be reached at that Starbucks in Belize. 

10) DON’T “tag” somebody unless they’re actually in the picture. This is an unpleasant way some writers try to get people to notice their book or Facebook page. They’ll post their book cover or some related photo (or worse, porn) and “tag” 50 random people so they’ll all get a notification.

But here’s the thing: a tag means a person is in the photo. Full stop. Yes, you may get a person’s attention with this—but not in a good way. Remember you’re trying to get people to like you, not wish for you to get run over by a truck.

11) DO Network with other writers in your genre. Joining up with other authors to share fans and marketing is one of the reasons you’re on social media. You’re not here to sell to other authors, but you are here to pool your resources.

12) DON’T thank people for a follow, especially on Twitter. It may seem like bad manners, but the truth is most people on Twitter and FB would prefer you DON’T thank them for a follow. That’s because those thank-yous have become 99% spam. If your inner great aunt won’t let you rest without sending a thank-you note for every follow, send it in an @ tweet.

If you actually want to show gratitude, retweet one of their tweets. Then maybe they’ll thank YOU and you can get a conversation going. 

13) DO talk about stuff other than your book. Yes, we’re all here because we want to sell books, but social media is not about direct sales. It’s about getting to know people who might help you make a sale sometime in the future. Consider it a Hollywood cocktail party. You don’t launch into your audition piece every time you’re introduced to a film executive. You schmooze. You tell them how great their last picture was. You find them a refill on the champagne. You get them to LIKE you. Then you might get asked to audition in an appropriate place.

14) DO Read the directions. If you’re invited to join a group, and you’re instructed to put links to your books only in certain threads, do so.  Anything else will be treated as spam and you could get kicked out of the group. And don’t dominate any site with your personal promos, even if it isn’t expressly forbidden in the rules. Taking more than your share of space is rude. People don’t like rude.

15) DON’T ever respond to a negative review or disrespect a reviewer online.

  • Not in the Amazon or Goodreads comments.
  • Not on your Facebook page
  • Not on their blog.
  • Or yours.

And especially don’t Tweet it.

If you get a nasty, unkind review, step away from the keyboard. Go find chocolate. And/or wine. Call your BFF. Cry. Throw things. Do NOT turn on your computer until you’re over it. Except maybe to see these scathing reviews of great authors. Getting a bad review means you’ve joined a pretty impressive club.

If you break this rule, you can face serious consequences. So many authors have behaved badly in the past that Amazon has sprouted a vigilante brigade that can do severe damage to your career if you get on their poop list.

In my forthcoming mystery novel, SO MUCH FOR BUCKINGHAM: The Camilla Randall Mysteries #5, an author breaks this rule and ends up being terrorized—online and off—with death and rape threats, destruction of her business, hacking her accounts, and other horrors.

This isn’t so farfetched. I know authors who have gone through this, for much smaller offenses than my heroine. There are some terrifying vigilantes in the book world who don’t just fight fire with fire. They fight a glow-stick with a nuclear bomb.

So ignore these rules at your peril, or you could be designated a “Badly Behaving Author” and become another of their victims.

What about you? Have you been making any of these faux pas? (I’m not going to claim I haven’t. We were all newbies once.) Do you have any funny “Other” folder encounters you want to share? Any do’s and don’ts of your own would you’d like to add? 

Anne R. Allen is an award-winning blogger and the author of eight comic novels Anne Allen_ARA roseincluding the bestselling Camilla Randall Mysteries, plus a collection of short fiction and poetry. She’s also co-author of How to be a Writer in the E-Age: a Self-Help Guide, with NYT bestseller Catherine Ryan Hyde.

34 thoughts on “Social Media Etiquette: 15 Dos and Don’ts for Authors

  1. These are great, thanks for the reminders. I especially need to remember to check for messages on Twitter. As for automated replies, I am annoyed by them, like on Linked In where you approve an invite and get a response asking you to do something for the person in return, i.e. Like their FB page, vote for them, etc. And if I’m tagged in someone’s FB photo that isn’t me, I hide it from my timeline or remove the tag when possible. Social media is all about connecting with other people. Sharing links to cool news articles or important industry information, retweeting your friends, and sharing posts are other ways to interact without always touting yourself.

    • Nancy–LinkedIn seems to be emerging as the worst offender these days, doesn’t it? I used to be able to ignore it for months at a time. Now I’m constantly getting demands from people I “connected” with. They seem unclear on the concept. I agree. It’s about sharing, not tooting your own horn.

  2. I can attest to the “Other” Folder problem. I had just discovered it and found out that one, I had a won 2 prizes (both legitimate, not spam) and someone from a facebook group I’m in was trying to reach out to to me. I received the latter one too late and he never returned my messages 🙁

    Yep, definitely check your “Other” folder!

    • I just checked my “other” box on FB and found two messages from March 2014. At least now I know to check it 🙂

    • The “other” folder is a revelation, isn’t it? Mostly mine has offers of marriage from third world guys who are “overwhelmed by your beauty”, but every so often there’s a gem.

      Congrats on those prizes Phil!

  3. Thank you so much for this, Anne . I am a newby with marketing with my first book freshly out and learning the ropes of social media to connect with more than just family. I appreciate the list of do’s and don’ts. I was wondering about the etiquette of thanking new Twitter followers. Twitter is still a bit of an enigma to me.
    Great advice about to handle negativity. I will keep this in mind if I’m lucky enough to join the ranks.

    • Julie–It’s not necessary to thank for a Twitter follow. It’s sort of annoying. Visit their page and retweet something if you want to acknowledge them. Or respond to a tweet if you found it helpful.

      • (Anne, see my official welcome later in the Comments. ) You’re so right about the importance of interacting instead of auto-replying with thanks. I’ve gotten much more enjoyment out of Twitter since I began retweeting and “Favoriting” tweets from new followers. Interaction is a more authentic way to thank a new follower, plus it lets one get to know something about them.

  4. Thanks for the great post and reminders – I too forget to check Twitter and ‘other’ message folder in Facebook. Hopefully I don’t also do any of the more heinous things on the list!

  5. Heading off to check my “Other” messages on Facebook now! Thanks for these great tips, Anne! 🙂 And so timely for me, since it’s my turn here today. I had a fabulous time at the conference, but am exhausted today. Off to have a nap soon! So glad you offered to step in with this excellent advice for authors looking for ways to promote their books without annoying others in the process!

  6. Welcome to TKZ, Anne! These are great tips–I am following up on a couple of them. Just changed my Facebook email to my personal email, unhidden on the Timeline–is that the right approach? Is there a privacy issue in doing that, do you think? I’ve gotten so leery of privacy issues online, I have to admit, that I have kept reducing areas of exposure over time. On the other hand, I suppose one can also go overboard on the whole privacy issue.

    • Kathryn–There IS no privacy online, really, so I think the best thing is to be straightforward. That FB email address is useless, so if you’re online to be discoverable, having a real email address on FB is a big plus. I have an “author email” I use everywhere.

  7. Anne. wonderful post. Learn something new every day from you. Lots to ponder here. Thanks for such an excellent list of Do’s and Dont’s.


  8. Great tips, Anne! And I’d add “publicists” to your list of those not to query via tweets on Twitter in Item 1.

    • Paula–Thanks for the addition. Amazing anybody would try to hire a publicist via Twitter, but I guess people really are clueless about etiquette these days.

  9. Add me to the list of people who just discovered the “Other” folder! Had a message from last August from someone in another facebook group reaching out. I hope she responds to my horribly belated reply.

    • Jaime–I don’t know why FB doesn’t tell people about that Other folder. It’s like a big secret most users know nothing about.

  10. Thanks for this great post! I am a newbie, and hang my head in shame for being guilty of the Twitter faux pas. I thank new followers all the time and invite them to my Facebook page and blog..I will definitely stop doing that! I did it mainly because I am on Facebook much more than I am Twitter. Speaking of Facebook and the “other” section, I didn’t know about this for the longest time either, but check it every now and then. I seem to only get those, “I fell in love with your picture” emails. There are a few things that Facebook doesn’t tell you about. Besides this other email, they will not usually tell you that if you “like” someone’s author or book page, in order for the tally to count on their likes, you must do it from your regular account. If you like it as your author or book page, it will be added in a drop-down box of pages who like you, but it won’t affect your like count. It makes you wonder what else they aren’t telling us, doesn’t it? 🙂

    • Rebecca–I’m glad to reach a newbie who got the wrong message. Lots of publicity people tell you to do those thank-you-with-strings-attached thing. But they’re giving bad advice. Annoying people is not a good thing. 🙂

      Don’t you wish Facebook had directions? Like when you join, a little pop-up menu would come up with “operating instructions”? Part of the problem is they keep changing the rules to try to pressure people for money. They’re trying to make everybody with a “like” page to pay.

  11. It’s so nice to see you here on another one favorites, Kill Zone (yours included in that list, of course). I have to admit I had no idea where the “other” folder was on FB. I just checked it and it’s full of spam. Ack! Great advice, as usual, Anne. Sharing widely to help spread the word.

    • Sue–Thanks for stopping by! That “other” folder is a revelation to so many people. Mostly it’s just spam, but every so often it has something important. Thanks for sharing!

  12. I actually did reach out to three people who gave me negative reviews–with a thank you note. I have written up a blog post, hopefully to run next month, with both positive and negative comments and how I’ve addressed some of the negative ones.

    • Margaret–I have responded to a negative review once or twice. Once when a guy said he’d found 10 typos. They were tiny and some weren’t actually mistakes, but he kindly shared them with me, so that was a plus. But generally, it can lead to trouble, so we need to be careful. Responding to a negative on a blog isn’t as dangerous as on GR or Amazon. There you really need to be hands-off. They feel invaded when you respond in the thread.

  13. Great post, Anne! I would add to #4: Do not ask someone to join your email list stating you will email once per week (or whatever the schedule is) and then send umpteen emails per day. Nobody has time for that.

  14. Great example of how to market your book without “marketing” your book.

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