Top 10 Social Media Mistakes for Writers

I’ve spent 12 years on social media. *cringe* In that time I like to think I’ve learned a thing or two. That’s not to say my social media presence is 100% perfect. Far from it. I am a flawed human. The trick is knowing where and how you went wrong, so you don’t repeat the mistake and destroy your social media platform.

Whether we like it or not, social media is here to stay, and writers are expected to have an online presence. To help you navigate these turbulent waters, I’ve compiled the top 10 mistakes I’ve seen writers make over the years.

#1: Don’t talk at your audience. Chat with them.

Social media is about making connections, engaging in conversation. It is not a soapbox, nor are you the most important person in the room. People will have opinions that don’t align with yours. And that’s okay. Talk it out. Get to know them.

#2: Don’t try to be something you’re not.

I see this all the time. If you’re not passionate about a subject, don’t try to fake it because it’s trendy. This isn’t high school. Share something that excites you, and your passion will shine through. Folks want to know the real you, not some made up version.

Which brings me to…


#3: Chill out, dude.

You cannot hop on social media for five or ten minutes and expect to see instant results.

Building a community takes time. If you rush it, your “buy my book” activities will reek of desperation.


#4: Don’t copy a famous author’s social media style.

What works for a thriller or noir writer might not translate well to cozy, HEA romance, or sci-fi fans. If you write in a similar genre, you can emulate that author, but add your own special flair.

#5: Don’t spout orders.

We’re told to have a clear call to action in social media marketing, that’s true, but less is more. Don’t ask for multiple favors at once.

Buy the book.

Rate the book.

Review the book.

Repost the review on Goodreads, BookBub, Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Apple, etc. etc. etc.

Tell all your friends to buy the book.

Choose one. Once you build trust, move on from there.

Otherwise, it feels a lot like this:

Read everything I’ve ever written. Don’t think about time. I’m more important.

When you’re done with that, rate and review all my books, but don’t say anything negative. I will only accept four or five stars. Don’t forget to repost the review everywhere books are sold. And I mean everywhere.

Oh, btw, I need a few things at the grocery story. Grab a pen and write this down. You’ve got time, right? ’Course you do. After all, I’m the almighty author.

Clean my house.

Walk my dog.

Feed my wildlife.

Check in on my elderly parent.

Can you cook? Great. I’m far too busy writing my next masterpiece to waste time in the kitchen.

Come to me when you’re done, and I’ll give you the next task. You’re welcome.

#5: Don’t take before you give.

We’ve talked about the 80/20 rule before. I think 90/10 works better, but you’re safe with 80/20. For those who don’t know, it means 80% of what you share should be about life, pets, passion (not writing), or goofing around, 20% book news. Sounds easy enough, right? Yet some authors can’t seem to wrap their head around it. Every post is a version of “Buy my book!”

To the writers who struggle with the 80/20 rule, let me rephrase in simpler terms. I know you’re excited—we all do—but you are not the first person to write a novel, nor will you be the last. What if an Avon lady knocked at your door day after day after day to buy her products, would you be more or less likely to whip out your credit card? Don’t act like the Avon lady.

#6: Don’t be nasty, argumentative, or spread hate.

Self-explanatory. If you see something that angers you, keep scrolling. It’s simple. If you wouldn’t be nasty or spread hate in person, don’t do it online. If you would, please seek help.

#7: Mind your manners.

Please and thank you go a long way in life and on social media.

#8: Don’t try to be everywhere.

Learned this lesson the hard way. Back when writers were expected to be everywhere, I built a following on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, StumbleUpon, Google+, Reddit, Triberr, Alignable, etc. etc. etc. Lost hundreds of thousands of followers when some of these sites went dark, too.

Learn from my mistakes. Focus your downtime (not writing time!) on one or two sites you enjoy. Social media should be fun.

#9: Use Social Media Management Tools

Shortly after I wrote a post about Hootsuite, they changed their plans. I switched to Buffer. For $15 per month, you can schedule up to 100 posts across several sites. Money well spent. It takes time to schedule posts in advance. Save it for the end of the day (don’t use writing time!).

#10: Know Your Audience

All sites are not created equal. What works on one site, won’t work on another.

For example:

On Twitter, my blog articles drive a lot of traffic back to my site. But Instagram doesn’t allow active links in a post, so those same articles crash & burn.

My FB audience loves to laugh. I share murder memes, dark humor, and my love of crows, animals, and wildlife. Some things can be reposted to Instagram, some can’t.

On Twitter, I can’t share my Facebook posts or they might trigger my audience to attack.

One time, I caused an uprising by sharing a group promotion for novels featuring strong female lead characters. The image showed silhouettes of women in dresses. I did not create the image. The girl who formed the group did.

Nonetheless, it triggered massive outrage. “Your tweet degrades women!”

Are you talking to me? I’m a woman and don’t feel degraded by a dress or skirt.

“Why can’t strong women wear pants?”

They can. I do.

“Delete that sexist tweet now!”


“Shame on you!”


You can’t argue with crazy. So, I created a new image for Twitter. It was either that or stop sharing the group promo. See what I’m sayin’? The original image on Instagram didn’t garner one negative response.

Bonus Tip

Automated private messages are never a good idea. Never. Pretend it doesn’t exist. In fact, you should never message a stranger. Are there exceptions? Yes, but it’s less intrusive to send an email. And please, for the love of God, don’t add followers to your newsletter list. It’s tacky and unprofessional.

Okie doke. Any tips to add, TKZers? Do you struggle with social media? Now’s the time to ask for help.



This entry was posted in #WritingCommunity, social media, social media networking, social networking, social networks and tagged , , , , by Sue Coletta. Bookmark the permalink.

About Sue Coletta

Sue Coletta is an award-winning crime writer and an active member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. Feedspot and named her Murder Blog as “Best 100 Crime Blogs on the Net.” She also blogs at the Kill Zone, Story Empire, and Writers Helping Writers. Sue lives with her husband in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire. Her backlist includes psychological thrillers, the Mayhem Series (books 1-3) and Grafton County Series, and true crime/narrative nonfiction. Now, she exclusively writes eco-thrillers, Mayhem Series (books 4-8 and continuing). Sue's appeared on the Emmy award-winning true crime series, Storm of Suspicion, and three episodes of A Time to Kill on Investigation Discovery. Learn more about Sue and her books at

49 thoughts on “Top 10 Social Media Mistakes for Writers

  1. I’m definitely not a social media expert. I’ve only been on Twitter four months. I did sell one copy of a book through Twitter, so maybe there’s potential. Anyway, I’m finding more reciprocal engagement when I lift up other writers, quote something marvelous from a book I’m reading, stuff like that.

  2. Thanks for the tips. They’re spot on, and worth revisiting every day.

    I was on twitter for a short time, cause that’s where all the agents were y’know, and was shocked at all the outrage. Your story demonstrates just that. Why can’t strong women wear skirts? As I said a few days ago, this woman needs to be a lone wolf/act just like a man is one of my pet peeves.

    I guess I’ll get back on twitter if I need to.

    • True, Azali. Tons of agents are on Twitter. I read an article last year about producers searching Twitter for books that would translate well to the screen. I’ve gotten numerous opportunities from Twitter, opportunities I might not have gotten elsewhere. More opportunities have stemmed from my blog, but Twitter comes in as a close second.

      Right? Sadly, argumentative people are everywhere. *sigh*

    • Thanks, Joe. It’s amazing how many people lose their manners when they hop online. I treat followers/friends like anyone I meet in person, so I’m stunned when others don’t.

      Have a great week, SJ!

  3. The biggest issue I see is that probably 98% of authors only post about buying their books. Very rare to see an attempt to otherwise engage people. Though I DO see a few authors who do engage with their readers.

    I know it’s not easy–and is very time consuming to use social media the right way. I don’t know if I am typical of other readers, but when authors post nothing but “buy my book” type posts, they become invisible to me–I’m conditioned to scroll past as though they had no social media presence at all.

    I don’t recall if I’ve ever purchased a book due to social media, but if I have it was a result of engaged conversation–probably not even from the author, but based on someone mentioning a book they liked. Or more often, it is a writer whose books I already know and will buy, regardless of their social media presence.

    • You make a great point, Brenda. “Buy my book” posts become invisible and predictable over time. Those authors are missing the point of social media–to engage and have fun.

  4. You can’t argue with crazy.

    Boy, you said it, Sue. Writers, put that on a sign and hang it in the office. Social media is the worst place to try to have a “meaningful discussion.” It can become a hate stream of vitriol. Keep it positive. Even then, be prepared for the occasional jibe. I once quoted a famous writer here at TKZ. The quote was picked up and mischaracterized by a tweeter (and attributed to ME) and all of a sudden I was tagged by half a dozen erotica writers telling me what a schmuck I was. While it was tempting to return in like manner, I did not. Totally not worth is. Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man, but any fool will quarrel. (Proverbs 20:3)

    And don’t expect to sell a lot of books via social media alone. Some, but not a boatload (unless Stephen King retweets you). This is where you really need to assess your ROI. Don’t expend too much creative energy here when you can pour it into your daily writing.

    Good stuff, Sue.

    • Exactly, Jim. It’s always best to walk away.

      I’ve formed some amazing friendships through social media. When used correctly–to engage and have fun–it’s a great way to connect with readers. Also agree that you won’t sell a ton of books through social media. If that’s the main goal, time is better spent writing the next book.

      Funny you mention ROI. For the last few months I’ve been assessing which social media sites have the greatest ROI. I’ll do a follow-up post with my findings once my test is complete. 🙂

    • Was just going to comment on the “can’t argue with crazy” thing, Jim, but you beat me to it. Good advice for everywhere in life, I’d say. I just don’t take the bait anymore… 🙂

  5. Excellent advice, Sue.

    For me, SM = sado-masochism. I have to force myself. Mostly I retweet helpful writing posts like this one.

    So far, the best thing that’s happened on Twitter is reconnecting with a writer friend I’d lost touch with 20 years ago.

    Since you kindly offered to help, please take over all of my SM tasks and, oh, by the way, can you pick up eggs, watermelon, and chocolate-chip-cookie-dough ice cream?


    • Hahahaha! Is that all you need, Debbie? I’ll hop on the next plane. 😉

      Social media shouldn’t feel like chore. If it does, it’s time to step away for a while. Otherwise, it’s counter-productive. I take social media breaks all the time, and stopped feeling guilty about it. Most people understand the need for a break. If they don’t, oh, well, they’ll get over it.

  6. My day job used to be creating an online presence for a health-related non-profit, including social media. The 80/20 rule was: 80% “give” and 20% “take”. Our 80% was filled with information about cancer – prevention, screening, services for patients and their families, the research we funded, etc. The 20% was “We need funds to continue our research/services/etc.”

    Social media is just that – social. It’s about building relationships and getting to know people. It is interactive, not broadcasting; a conversation, not a billboard.

    The thing most likely to get people to buy your product is word of mouth. You want people to like what you have to say, so they’ll be moved to read your work. Once they read your work and find they like that, too, they’ll be telling their friends/families/book clubs. People are more likely to buy something if someone they know tells them about it. People don’t trust advertising, but they trust people they know.

    Social media is about developing “word of mouth”. So broadcasting “buy my book” without any social context will get people scrolling past. Asking people questions, engaging with other accounts, showing interest in other people, offering support – whether emotional, intellectual, or financial – or just plain being a friendly voice is what gets people interested in you. From there, they’ll find your books. And they’re more likely to spread the word.

    • Spot on, BJ. When someone likes the person behind the author label, it’s natural to be curious about their work. That’s the power of connection.

  7. Wonderful post, Sue. Thanks for your list of the top ten mistakes.

    I agree with Debbie, I just can’t get interested in SM. And with all the things I do besides writing, I just can’t find the time. If I find that time someday, I’ll come back to this article.

    Thanks for a great post, and have a great day!

    • I hear ya, Steve. Social media is definitely time-consuming. It’s not for everyone. If you have different ways to reach your audience, I say go for it. Life’s too short to waste time on things you don’t enjoy.

      Thanks, buddy. Hope you have an amazing week!

  8. Great timing and nice little reframe for me, Sue. I took a social media hiatus starting March 1 – scheduled for 30 days – that’s ongoing because of how good and productive I am without it. I know it’s an effective marketing channel, but I just feel soooo good without it in my life. Especially Twitter, ha ha. Maybe I’ll give Buffer another shot…

  9. I do less and less on social media. I used to post on Instagram because it was pictures and fun. Then it turned into an advertising/promo platform, so I quit. I’m on Twitter and have a Facebook Author page. My blog feeds to various sites.
    I did get a tweet from someone who was a student in my homeroom when I was teaching junior high, which was great fun. He’s an author now.
    But aside from a couple of FB posts a day (my most popular is my ‘word of the day’ where I take the word of the day from and people make up their own definitions.
    Mostly, I check Social Media to keep up with what my kids are doing.
    I agree, its main use should be social, not selling. Let people know who you are, and then they might get interested in the author side of you.

  10. This is a terrific primer on how to behave on social media, with some great dos and don’ts. I agree with all of them, and also with your initial 90/10 ratio.

    My additions: Because my wife and I just watched all three Bill and Ted films for the first time (very late to the party), I’ll add “be excellent to each other.” Be kind on social media. Also, share the joy others are experiencing. I like to cheer on other writers successes and share them. I try not to make it always about me. If I sell a book or two, fine, but that’s not really the point. I’m of the opinion that the authors who have large social media followings already have large readerships.

    Most of all I see social media as a way of connectingwith others. Like you, I’ve made a lot of friends through social media, including a number of authors. Connecting with others is both initially connecting and stay connected.

    Again, terrific post! I’ll see you on Twitter 🙂

    • You just watched Bill & Ted, Dale? Excellent! LOL

      Yes, exactly. You nailed it. The main objective for social media should not be to sell books. If we keep that mindset, social media becomes easier and fun.

      I’ve been absent from Twitter all last week, so I gotta pop in today at some point and RT my writer buddies. See ya there!

    • You beat me to the punch Dale.

      These are good general rules for acting like an adult on social media.

      I don’t engage on twitter at all and I’m a reddit lurker and FB poster but that is about the extent of my social media engagement.

      My email inbasket gets overloaded with Buy! Buy! messages and auto generated blog text (curse you, AI!) and it gets discarded.
      If I would have an 11th commandment it is this.

      Write it yourself.

      All GPT-3 powered “content generators” do is produce spam-we’re already overrun with sales pitches.

  11. Thanks for a good list Sue.
    I love your funny memes and they are one of the few things I enjoy sharing on FB or anywhere.

    They are uniquely you and they make people laugh while still being on brand for your books.

    Keep them coming!!

    • Thanks so much, Kelly! You nailed my exact strategy for Facebook. 🙂 My brother just sent me a new meme that cracked me up. I’ll post it later today or in the morning. See ya there!

  12. Great tips, Sue. Thank you!

    I tend to gravitate to Twitter and Instagram, and I like the 80/20 rule. Promoting someone else’s work is good for the soul.

    Have a great week.

  13. Only Trolls Like Conflict.

    This bit of advice I heard is so old it was about online bulletin boards before FaceBook. I was in the audience of a panel given by a bunch of very successful authors for the STAR WARS franchise. At the time, their bulletin board was popular where many more were failing. They had discovered that the moment the trolls, neckbeards, and incels started rampaging, everyone else left. So, zero tolerance, for abusive nonsense.

    • Great advice, Marilynn. I have the same policy on my timelines–no politics, no religion, and no nastiness. One strike, you get a warning (even good people have bad days). Strike two, and you’re blocked. Trolls need not apply. 😉

  14. Great post, Sue, and I love that bear meme! I need to have it on the door to my office.

    I hardly ever market on SM, except when a blog publishes, I usually promote it a few days before and a few days after.

    When I post my Gratitude Journey SM series (daily, very short) all I do is include a link to my website. Most other posts are just chatty, responding to others’ funnies (like yours, Sue) and having good conversations with family, friends, and author connections. Once in awhile I’ll post a pic of a book cover and a link, but I don’t look at SM as a marketing tool. Maybe that’s wrong, but I just don’t. I view it as a connection tool.

    Speaking of my website, I just had it re-designed by a great team. If you have time, pop over and look at it. I haven’t announced it publicly yet, because there’s some last minute stuff the team is doing for me, but it is launched.

    Have a great week!

  15. I’m a little late getting up this afternoon, Sue, but I’ve dropped by to add my offerings. I only play with two SM sites. Facebook for laughs and Twitter for connections. I torpedoed Linkedin a while ago, and I wont even cross the Goodreads bridge which harbors vicious trolls. But my blog has done wonders for me – given me opportunities I would never thought would come my way. BTW, top-drawer post today!

  16. I cannot figure out what people get from twitter. It is exhausting and yet should be the perfect vehicle for writers. I like Instagram. I think the best sites you can feel the passion about the subject. Whether it is Sherlock Holmes, guitars or art if the person seems enthalled with the subject I will pause and read it.

    • Exactly, Warren. Excitement and passion are infectious. If we share those things with our friends/followers, then the power of social media will kick in.

  17. Fantastic line-up, Sue!
    Can you imagine how amazing SM would be if everyone followed 6 & 7? Wow. Changed place, for certain!
    The concentrated vitriol was what made me bail on Twitter.
    I (think?) I still have a log-in for checking in on useful things like AgentsWishlist, etc, but in general my experience there was what most people see in Facebook.

    For some reason, FB was very easy for me to curate. I have a private personal profile with a very selective friends list. I follow all of my local small-businesses there, but I use it mostly for the groups. Everything from gardening, foraging, and archaeology to Corvids and Goth decor. I do more networking & research with groups than anything else on FB!
    Note: I prefer those with a zero-tolerance for trolls, as you mentioned above. I refuse to engage with them, so no-contact to begin with is highly preferred. If a group doesn’t have diligent admins, I’m usually not interested.

    My FB writer’s page is still very small. I keep it more as a place for readers to see interesting references to my world: photos, articles (mostly archaeology & writer’s blogs…yes, like TKZ!), music, etc. And of course memes! LOL!

    I don’t bother with much else in SM. Your No 8 is exceedingly important!

    • Sounds like a great strategy, Cyn. Ugh, number 8. I still struggle with that. Since I built a following on so many sites, I feel like I still need to check in from time to time. Maybe the answer is to say something like, “I need to condense my social media. Please follow me on ________ instead.”

      Love the corvid groups on FB! I didn’t know about goth decor groups, but I’ll check it out. Thanks, Cyn!

  18. I decided long ago if a post didn’t lift up, encourage, educate, or make you laugh (in a good way) I deleted it even if it was true. On FB I hid it, and therefore I never get any of the political vitriol and people quit emailing stuff to me. Life is too short to be embroiled in hate.

    And I get a lot more interaction on my blog–something I own. :-=)

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