There’s been a lot of social-media career immolation going on this week. It may be the full moon. People making idiots of themselves is not a particularly edifying sight, so I’m not linking specific cases, but here are my basic principles of How Not To Do It for authors.
1) Interact online if you’re no fun to interact with.
Everyone tells you to be out there. Have a Goodreads or Facebook group, chat on Twitter, have a community, let them get to know you. But what if they don’t like you? I’ve had the experience of disliking an author’s online personality so much that it’s seeped into how I regard their books. I’ve chosen not to pick up books that would have otherwise been autobuys.
Obviously, authors have been unlikeable throughout history. This is why we have to sit alone in small rooms with our imaginary friends. But in previous years, it was reserved for their long-suffering loved ones and their editor. Now fans can get a share too.
This is a tricky one to judge, since most people don’t set out to be jerks. And I’m certainly not suggesting anyone should be silent, or a doormat. There are things we all need to stand up for, and stuff that shouldn’t be let go. Some people make their, uh, bracing interactive style a positive part of their brand (i.e. forceful without being a jerk). But if you’re getting into thin-skinned sulks, insulting your own fans, or picking fights with potential readers, you’re probably better off backing off.
2) Be vile.
Right. If you, the author, post a hilarious video/meme or an amusing blog post or whatever, and the response is, ‘wow, that is really racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic’, the correct approach is as follows:
- Look again at what you posted.
- Consider why the objection has been raised and if it is valid. If you can’t see what the problem is, ask, and listen to the answer with an open mind. You might learn something.
- If you have caused real offence, even if you had no intention of doing so, apologise, and try to learn from the experience. If you think saying it was worth the offence caused, or that you’ve been misinterpreted, try explaining why and listening to the responses. Again, you may learn something.
If you stick your fingers in your ears, make disingenuous excuses, dismiss the complaint without considering it, mock the complainant or encourage your fans/followers/family to attack them, be aware that you might as well put ‘YES I AM A RACIST’ or whatever at the top of your website, because that’s what’s going to spread about you, and it will spread like herpes and be as hard to get rid of. It might even be accurate.
We are all crass or clumsy sometimes, and nobody likes to be called out. But empathy is a basic writer skill. Don’t reserve it for your own hurt feelings; summon it up for the people who were insulted or distressed by what you said and brought it to your attention in the hope that you’d listen to them. Or, as Chuck Wendig so wisely puts it, Don’t be a dick.
Obviously, not all offence is equal. You can offend a lot of men simply by being female on the internet, for example. And any kind of political discussion may upset someone: that’s politics. But I’m not talking about arguing gun control. I’m talking about things that mock, belittle or insult minority or vulnerable groups – the rape joke, the thoughtless use of ‘retard’ or ‘gay’ as a synonym for ‘stupid’ or ‘rubbish’, the cartoons and videos and memes that casually, lightly, cruelly sneer at women, or racial groups, or whatever aspect of people’s identities.
Because if an author lacks the empathetic skills to understand why, say, ‘retard’ is a horrible word to use for ‘stupid’, and the linguistic ability to find an alternative, or the heart to care why they should – well, it doesn’t say much for them as a human being, but it’s a crashing indictment of them as a writer.
Take Twitter. Most people don’t follow 5,000 accounts on Twitter, and if they do, they’re probably not that interested in you anyway. Most people follow a few hundred accounts, so their Twitter streams are not fast-flowing torrents. Therefore if you do automated tweets, multiple daily book plugs, retweeting FFs, repeating your jokes in case someone missed them etc, you might once hit the attention of the person who follows 5,000, but you will definitely annoy the crap out of the far more valuable person who follows just 200, of whom one is you.
Apply this principle to your preferred social media outlet and its own ways to be annoying (flooding Facebook with book spam, or…whatever it is people do on Tumblr, I don’t know, it scares me). The point is, don’t go after new fans without considering people who are already interested enough to follow you. That’s how mortgage companies behave, and nobody likes them.
4) Forget who you’re talking to.
I think of this as three circles of people.
Fans. Fans like extracts, early looks at covers and blurbs, writing updates and hearing about your massive yet fragile ego work. Love and cherish fans, because they deserve it. Consider setting up a group/place where you can interact with them directly, share goodies and give them things they’ll value, in a way that doesn’t overwhelm your general social media presence.
The wider potential readership. People who might be interested in reading your books, but don’t care about cover reveals, new blurbs and so on. Or people who don’t read your books and probably never will but who like your social media and will share posts, retweet, etc. Swamping these people with marketing will not convert them into fans. If you blog/tweet/pin/exist in an interesting or amusing way, that may convert into sales, directly because you’re interesting, or via retweets and links and signal boosts that make other people aware of you. Or it may not, of course, but promising a cover reveal later this week!!! four times a day definitely won’t. ‘Too much promo’ is a really common reader complaint, and there’s just no need for it, when the internet offers all kinds of ways to talk to different groups of people with the stuff they want to hear.
People who will never read your books or share your content. Not everyone is a potential reader, tragic though that may seem, and promo-ing to these people is a waste of time. Focus on the people you want to talk to and don’t fret about meaningless numbers. I pick up rugby accounts whenever I tweet about my team; they slough off like sunburnt skin when I get back to queer romance; I’d be an idiot to focus on retaining rugby followers at the expense of, you know, readers.
5) Argue with reviews. Complain about reviews. Start fights about reviews. Bribe people to pull reviews.
(I added that last bit to the header because I have just read an author’s blog in which she makes it clear she’ll refund the cost of the book to dissatisfied readers as long as they don’t leave bad reviews. I, uh. No. No, no, no.)
Reviews: Just leave it. I don’t care if the review is the most baseless, nastiest thing you’ve ever seen. I don’t care if it gives one star based on the blurb, your hairstyle, or the fact that they misread The Magpie Lord as The Moggie Lord and were disappointed because it wasn’t about cats. JUST LEAVE IT. You know that famous incident, where an author argued with a bad review and everyone on the internet sided with the author and then the reviewer changed her mind and rated it five stars? No, you don’t, because it never happened. Grit your teeth and walk away. (Or use my handy flowchart!)
Passionate, committed, interactive readers are as important to authors as keyboards and caffeine. That doesn’t change just because one of them is passionately and interactively committed to hating your book.
6) Do lists of ten things if you only have five things to say.
KJ Charles is the world’s least convincing social media guru and you probably shouldn’t listen to her. She is on Twitter, answers book questions on Goodreads, and has a Facebook presence for chat, author page for book news and group for fans/people who want goodies–join up! There’s also books, which you can buy, and free stories, which you don’t have to.