There are many ways to shoot yourself in the foot as a writer. For example, using clichés, such as “shoot yourself in the foot.” The advent of social media (Facebook, Twitter, Tik Tok, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.) has definitely added to the list. Here are what I consider five of the most common mistakes authors and would-be authors make on social media:
Mistake #1: Don’t “do” social media
I’m always surprised when an aspiring (or, sometimes, accomplished) writer says to me, “I don’t do social media.” Really? That’s a little like a politician saying, “I don’t give speeches or kiss babies.” It sort of goes with the territory, you know? Or like the aspiring writer who, in a book proposal email, wrote, “Just so you know, I will be deleting all my social media in a few days.” In the subject line. Not that social media is all a writer needs these days to become famous and successful; it’s not—not even close. And you don’t need to be on every social-media platform that’s out there. But having some social-media presence gives you—and your publisher, God willing—a starting point, at least, for making connections and building a following.
Mistake #2: Use social media primarily as a selling tool
A sure way to lose people’s attention (and respect) is to constantly promote your book or website or blog or pyramid scheme on your social-media feed. An occasional plug or announcement, sure. But, please, don’t endlessly ask me to buy your thing.
Mistake #3: Don’t offer value to your followers
Social media works best as a conversation. A back-and-forth. A “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” If you’re a writer, it’s not only for people who already know you. People who don’t yet know you will follow and read your social media if there’s something in it for them. Laughter, maybe. Tips. Inspiration (not “preaching”). Entertainment. Community. Education. So, identify what your social-media site will offer, and then give it away on a regular basis.
Mistake #4: Get political or abusive on social media
Have you ever discovered the social-media account of a celebrity or writer you like and then discovered that that person is, well, you know, a rabid partisan whose views are anathema to you? Or that he or she said rude or abusive things to or about someone? Did it make you more likely to follow that person? To buy his or her next book? To support his or her ministry? Probably not, right? So, keep in mind that the things you post can either shrink your following—your “network,” your community—or expand it. Agents, editors, and publishers generally prefer the latter.
Mistake #5: Don’t curate your social media
Social media sites need to be “curated.” It’s not just the things you post that can turn people away and even cause division, dilute your message, and dishonor the Gospel of Jesus Christ—it’s also the posts and tags and comments people add to your site. It’s not rude to delete a questionable or offensive comment; and it’s a privilege, not a right, for someone else to tag you or post something to your page. If their contribution isn’t in line with your values or priorities, delete it, without apology or regret.
These are only five common mistakes I see all the time on writers’ social media. I’m sure you can think of others. So now’s your chance. Mention other writer’s social-media mistakes (or your own) in the comments.
Question – is it ethical or not to ask others for reviews in return for featuring them or their books on my website? I am in the process of building a following, and I am most happy to help others.
Of course, I would be happy to assist others without the reviews as well.
Thank you so much for this information.
Wow, this is awesome. I don’t even have social media, but I totally agree with all of this. 😊
Facebook, Twitter, ’round and ’round,
lives glittery bright-gleaming,
and in my head I hear a sound,
a thousand angels screaming.
All days bring jubilation,
the kids are free from folly,
and we’re off now to vacation
in Denpasar and Bali.
No-one speaks of what is real,
the dunny’s still-clogged drain,
the dubious investment deal,
and Dad’s in gaol again.
It’s dinkie-di a land of boasts,
Potemkin Village run by ghosts.
Andrew, I’ve been reading this blog for a while now, and I just wanted to say I find your poetic comments to be consistently witty and insightful. Thank you so much for your contributions! Praying for you, brother!
Cole, thank you so much for this affirmation. Your kind words came at a moment when such was sorely needed, and you’ve lifted my heart and spirit.
What about the issue of professional vs. personal social media?
If someone has had social media presence from before they ever thought of it as a professional thing, or if they want to be on social media *socially* as well as professionally, even if they’re just starting, how do they do that?
For example, I can imagine a new writer who has been on social media for 10 years, starting in high school, who would likely have history on there that would not be appropriate for a professional social media presence. Just using that old profile, including their party pictures, complaints about parents or dates, Etc. seems like a serious social media error.
What is the fix?
It depends on the social media, but generally for twitter and insta you create a new profile for your public persona, and keep the old one for family and friends. On Facebook you keep your personal profile private and create a page for your public persona.
If you go to my private fb you will see my profile pic and that’s it. And a comment that says “private profile for irl friends and family only. Check out my author page at facebook.com/tuviapollack “
Thank you, Tuvia. Excellent answer.
I recently read Digital Minimalism by Cal Townsend. Really helpful book about making social media work for you rather than getting manipulated by it. Interesting that Townsend, a best-selling author, has a robust website and email list and Amazon author page, but he is not on FB, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
Excellent list. I manage social media for a nonprofit, and I couldn’t agree more with every point. Let’s hope folks take this to heart. Thanks, Bob.
Phew! I looked with dread upon the title. Luckily I’m not doing any of those mistakes.
Well, I did share a pro-life view which some would call political, but I’m thinking that’s more gain than loss in Christian circles. Plus, my wife works in a pro-life non-profit so I wouldn’t be able to stay neutral on that topic anyway.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Very helpful, Bob. I have noticed that for me there is a tipping point where a writer friend mentions their book too often and I begin to ignore their posts. I want to know about their lives, interests, hearts, successes, and failures. But Once it all starts to be about one thing, their voice ceases to be something I’m paying close attention to, much like I view ads in my feed. Show me you as a person first, then share your writing victories here and there, a bit at a time. Like a friendship. I don’t talk about my writing all the time with my good friends, just the big stuff or the times of discouragement. I like it when my author friends on social media treat our interaction as a friendship. A bit of this and a bit of that, but all seasoned with who they are. Hopefully, I will be able to do the same for them!
Excellent wisdom, Bob!
Bob, these are great tips, but I’d like to offer a perspective on platform-building that, if not unique, is at least something I personally haven’t seen from anyone else commenting on articles like these.
I’m a singer/songwriter. When I entered the industry, instead of pursuing acquiring a manager, booking agent, label, etc., I opted the DIY route using social media as my primary marketing tool. Within a few years, I had a few thousand followers across all platforms and pages. Not much by many standards, but for a kid working the Southwest Mississippi music circuit, it was nothing to sneeze at. I had some success with it, including mobilizing enough fans to garner a spot in the Top 100 of an iTunes U.S. chart at a time when that still meant something. But honestly, I hated every minute I spent on social media and often wish I could get that time back.
Besides having the personality and upbringing that eschews the very idea of social media at its core, I felt like a sleazy car salesman hustling the masses for a buck. When health issues forced me to retire from performing live, the first thing I did was begin deleting my social accounts. The second thing I did was never look back.
I now send music links and news directly to folks that I’m fairly certain will appreciate it, and in many cases, I’ve found those people sharing these items of their own accord has garnered me more likes and shares on certain platforms than anything I ever did myself. (My wife’s still on social, so I have an operative keeping tabs.)
When I first started feeling the leading to write more than songs, I was determined to pursue this venture “the right way” and seek professional help with marketing and distribution.
As I began researching the publishing industry (finding this delightfully informative blog in the process), I was flabbergasted to discover that many agents and publishers won’t consider signing an author without a substantial online following. A sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach ensued.
I’ve since found a few dissenters in publishing that haven’t bought into the absolute necessity of authors maintaining social accounts, and I hope they’re right, because posting on social media was literally the most joy-depleting activity in which I’ve ever had the displeasure of participating.
I’ve signed up for Steve’s webinar this week in hopes to find…well, SOMETHING! But as it stands now, I see three ultimate options:
1. I’ll find that it’s possible to be free of personal social marketing AND be an author, and that this IS a calling
2. I’ll find that it’s impossible, and the Lord’s showing me that this venture ISN’T a calling
3. I find that it’s impossible and that the Lord is trying to help me overcome a personal aversion that’s holding me BACK from a calling.
Anyway, thank you guys for all you do!
Cole, as a young (well, unpublished) author, I pray that the Lord reveals His calling to you in due time. We all look forward to seeing you at the webinar.
Social media does not have to be complicated.
Just add something positive to a conversation, offer support, help someone.
Even say hi or good morning can go a long way.
You do social media not to sell, but to be social and put a human face behind your books.
Great post. Five mistakes with five easy solutions.
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D
Bob. it’s my understanding that 95% of the content we post on social media should be helpful information and that a mere 5 % should try to opening promote our product. Thanks for the great information. You have a 100%!
Excellent advice. This post will be printed and my FB page will be modified. Thanks for sharing this.