Writers on Social Media: Does It Even Make a Difference?

Posting on social media can feel like you’re sending up hundreds of trial balloons. Which will return?

Today I want to share some thoughts with you about a writer’s role on social media. I’ll start with my experience and understanding of it, but I’m very curious to know what your thoughts and experiences are, so there are lots of questions for you at the end. Also, just to say, whatever you put on the internet, look into using something like a privacy tool to help reduce the risk of your data or any other form of work being stolen or invaded. It’s just about being safe online.

I’ve been very active in social media since 2006 and MySpace. I liked MySpace a lot. It was new and fun, and I dove right into it as soon as I signed my first book contract. Author book promotion was in its infancy, and I gained reader, writer, and social connections. Other emerging writers and I were all trying to figure out book promo/social networking together. I blogged there several times a week, usually writing long, long pieces that were very essay-like. Telling stories on myself. Talking about learning to write, and the publishing process. When MySpace began to wane, I—and many other folks—drifted to Crimespace and eventually Facebook. Group blogs like Jungle Red Writers and Murderati sprang up. (Forgive me if I don’t know when Kill Zone began, but I know someone here will be able to say.) I started my own Blogspot blog, where I added interviews and book reviews. Last year, I moved my blog to my (fourth) website.

That all sounds like ancient history doesn’t it? Maybe I’m just old, but the pace of change on the Internet sometimes feels inconceivably fast. The rules—especially the rules for author promotion–change constantly. But the biggest rule is that there are no rules because things move so quickly that there’s little time for non-professionals to figure out what works before things change again. You would think publishers would have entire departments full of professionals that have this stuff figured out, but you would be wrong.

There’s a genuine expectation—sometimes stated, sometimes just understood—for authors to be active on social media. For now, author social media outlets have stabilized: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Goodreads. I don’t know many authors who are very active on Google +, or Snapchat—well, I tried Snapchat and it made me crazy. Some Instagram authors can also use websites like Kenji to boost their content out to people that it would never reach before and may even one day become a key influencer because of it! If there are other very active platforms, please let us know. (Oh, and if someone could help me figure out Instagram Stories so I don’t end up just taking live video of my shoes until I freak out and turn it off, I’d be eternally grateful.)

While many people in the writing/publishing business strongly believe that social media doesn’t sell books, some folks disagree. I’ve put up a lot of links here, but if you want to save a few clicks, here’s the gist: Social media is there to build relationships. The aspect of building relationships is key, no matter on what industry you work within. Take a look at examples of Digital Transformation to see why this is important and how you can use it to your advantage.

People with whom you have relationships will like you. If they like you AND you spend at least 80% of your time giving them great “content” they will tolerate the 20% of time you spend promoting your work. But the conversion rate will be less than 2%, which means you’re selling yourself and your time very, very cheaply. But folks truly dislike a hard sell. Many of the people who say you can sell books through social media want you to pay them to tell you how to do it, and they won’t give you quantifiable forecasts.

(Traditionally published books still sell best through tried and true methods like word-of-mouth, tv, radio, magazine, and web ads, vertical marketing to influencers like librarians and booksellers, hand-selling, and peer reviews. But almost none of those methods is free, and it’s only rational that publishers would prefer free methods that rely on author execution to methods that cost money.)

What is content? Content is added value, often in the form of information: lists, quizzes, articles, expertise, audio or video entertainment, memes, blogs, observations. Given the 80/20 rule, if you do fifty posts in a week, the theory is that at least forty of them should be content and not mention your work at all. Ideally, the content should be at least tangentially related to your field of expertise or the lifestyles of your audience. But even if you automate those posts with Buffer or HootSuite or some other social media-scheduling program, it takes time to curate that content.

A brief cautionary tale: A self-published writer I know spends a lot of time posting on Instagram, but I’d say 80-90% of the writer’s posts are specifically about the book. They’re quotes formatted as memes, or pictures of the cover, or bits of dialogue taken out of context and framed with artistic graphics. The posts are careful and attractive, but I gloss over them, and even find myself a little angry at having to scroll past them every time I log onto Instagram. If the 80/20-percentage figure is at all valid, it’s completely upside down. And the writer uses a blue million hashtags, but only ever gets 10 or 11 likes. I can only imagine how much time the writer spends creating those posts (or perhaps the writer pays for them). Plus, even though it almost looks like content, it’s not, and is off-putting.

There are two big dangers for me when it comes to content. I spend a lot of time crafting my blog posts. This one (I’m adding this bit in editing) has taken me about 3.5 hours, and I’ll spend at least another 45 minutes editing and posting it. On my own daily blog, it’s a challenge to come up with fresh concepts. Then there’s finding the right photos, adding links, and pumping up the SEO. Unfortunately there’s no way to quantify the ROI on publishing blog posts. Another particular danger for me is rabbit holes. Ideally, I like to spend about thirty minutes online in the morning checking out news stories and resources for my own amusement and edification—but I often spend an hour or more. Usually, I’ll manage to bookmark only one or two links to pass on to social media. But which ones to choose?

I read a lot of crime news stories—many are too sensitive or explicit to share without grossing people out over their morning coffee. But I also read some politics (no, never post about that), bits of history and archeology, and stories about textiles or architecture. I’ll occasionally post about writing and books. Nearly everyone likes books. But I don’t think of my personal blog audience as being full of writers. I’m not selling books on writing, and few people who aren’t writers care about writing motivation, or how to build a character. So I save the writer-centric stuff for here or my own blogs about the writing life.

Making content choices is tough. And how much me should my audience have to bear? Where is the balance between plucking out articles that might interest the people who might be interested in my writing, and sharing bits of my life that might actually make me human and likeable? The whole thing feels a bit cynical to me.

I do like this quote from Amy Cuddy’s deservedly influential book, Presence: Bringing your Boldest Self to your Biggest Challenges. “When we are trying to manage the impression we’re making on others, we’re choreographing ourselves in an unnatural way. This is hard work, and we don’t have the cognitive and emotional bandwidth to do it well. The result is that we come across as fake.”

Coming off as fake is never, ever good.

Be an individual. Be yourself.

As someone born in the sixties at the tail end of the baby boom, I grew up reading books and newspapers, and watching television and films. No one knew anything about authors. They rarely showed up on television, and if they did, they were already super famous. It was a time when public images were carefully crafted by publicists, agencies, network people, and record labels. Image crafting now begins at birth. Children—and not just celebrity children—have their own Snapchat and Instagram accounts curated by their parents. Soon after, kids learn how to use phone cameras, and take selfies. And they’re not posting pictures of their dirty bedrooms. They’re curating their lives, using images for complaints (school lunches) or self-gratification (I’m wearing blue and puce eyeliner every day this week, and check out my #hairfail hahaha!). They learn early to make their lives appear as they want them to appear. Who knows what’s real?

An entire generation is learning to promote without actually having something to promote. We writers have a LOT of competition for time, interest, and dollars. (Because a lot of people on social media are selling something, or their sponsors are.)

Personally, I don’t remember ever purchasing a book after seeing it on the author’s social media, unless I had already planned to buy the book. Fiction writers seriously are not the best representatives of their own writing—and, of course, their ultimate goal is always to sell me their books. I’m more likely to buy books after reading reviews, associated news stories or essays, coming upon compelling covers, or listening to word-of-mouth from booksellers or friends (sometime even social media friends), or other people I respect.

I buy into the notion that maintaining an active social media presence—including one on one contact through newsletters—is part of a professional writer’s job. But how little is not enough, and how much is too much?

All right. I asked for your help, but I’ve done a whole lot of talking. Now it’s your turn. I have many discussion questions, so feel free to pick and choose. I can’t wait to read what you have to say.

How important is it for a writer to have a strong social media presence?

If you participate, are you programmatic about it?

Do you enjoy it?

How much time do you spend on it daily, and/or weekly?

Who are some writers that you see doing a great job at social media?

And the $64,000 question: Have you ever bought a book because of an author’s social media posts?

**Photos via GoDaddy Stock

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How Did You Get Here?

by Joe Hartlaub

It was only a few hours ago that I spoke with a friend that I hadn’t conversed with in almost forty years. Don and I worked for a couple of summers on a municipal road crew in the Akron, Ohio area in the early 1970s. We came from very different backgrounds and had a bit of an age difference between us but became something more than work friends. He had a number of colorful expressions, most of which I can’t use in family blog, but which pepper my conversation to this day. The method we used to rid a field of a hornet’s nest almost got me arrested some fifteen years after the fact when I replicated it elsewhere.

You don’t forget a guy like that, but you do lose touch. I moved to Columbus in 1978; Don stayed in Akron. Life got in the way for both of us. There weren’t emails or cell phones or Skype and we became busy with jobs and raising families the way that people do. I never forgot Don, however, given that I quoted him like Scripture on a frequent basis, usually with appreciative laughter from whatever audience I was before. I started looking for him on the internet several years ago but couldn’t find him and assumed he had moved or even passed. I had long since given up trying to reach Don when I saw him featured on the front page of a northeastern Ohio newspaper. He had been ambushed by a reporter outside of a polling station; he looked older (unlike me) but it was still the same guy, for sure. His internet presence, however, was still non-existent. I was able to locate a couple of phone numbers for him but they were out of service. I did, however, get a street address for Don after some effort and wrote him a letter — an actual letter — with my prized fountain pen. It took eight days for him to get it (they don’t call it “snail mail” for nothing) but he ultimately received it and called me. We’re going to get together soon (“…before one or both of us dies!” he said) and catch up further.

All of this got me to wondering about all of you. I remember where and how I met Don, and most of my other friends, and my wife, business associates, etc. But those of us who contribute blog posts to The Kill Zone don’t know how you, our wonderful readers and commenters, got here. What brought you to The Kill Zone originally? How did you get here? Twitter? Facebook? Writer’s Digest? An author’s link? I’d love to know. And if you have any stories about reuniting with old friends and acquaintances that are unique and/or unusual, please share if you’re so inclined.

BERLIN, GERMANY - NOVEMBER 03:  Cars and traffic fill the A100 ring highway at dusk on November 3, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. Germany is heatedly debating the introduction of highway tolls (in German: Maut), which in the current form proposed by German Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt would be levied solely on foreigners. Dobrindt's office argues that this is not discrimination, which would be illegal under European Union law, since Germans already pay an annual car tax.  (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

(Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)            

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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.

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