Social Media and Indie Authors: How (Not) to Behave

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A while back, I wrote a post on how not to respond to reviews. Oddly enough, the author who lashed out at me in the first place recently followed me again on Twitter. Which made me wonder if she simply forgot how totally wrong and dumb I was about everything, or whether some piece of software followed me for her. And then I moved on with my life. But that (along with an anecdote from another Twitter-er-er), got me thinking.

Which brings me to today’s subject: how not to behave on social media. First, the self-evident stuff, because what is Internet pedantry without presenting common sense like it’s some kind of mystical Zen key?

Don’t Be a Jerk

Everybody loves sarcasm. Oh, yeah, everybody in the world just loves sarcasm. Go on, ask them, I’m sure they’ll be thrilled to tell you all about it.

Witty complaints or acidic barbs can entertain and enthrall — in moderation. But no one’s interested in a constant bitchfest. Your followers do not want to hear about what a burden it is to have so many fans, or how angry you are that so many authors are promoting their books(instead of yours).

I recently read a blog post in which the blogger (who shall remain unnamed) complained at length about how readers were lazy, fickle, had no attention span, and only enjoyed reading genres that he held in contempt. And that’s why his sales were crap. Well, gosh, let me run right out and buy your book, mister. Nothing captures my interest like an author telling me what an idiot he thinks I am. You’ve got a fan for life, sir! Was his screed aimed at me? Probably not. But it doesn’t actually matter — here’s an author who finds readers in general to be an inconvenience. Pass.

When interacting with your (potential) audience, keep your energy positive. If you have some kind of trouble that you think others can help with, just ask — people love sharing their expertise, especially if it gives them a chance to dispense advice like an obnoxious blowhard. (Cough.) But don’t go on your social media platform of choice to let the world know how terrible you think everyone is. Dale Carnegie would not approve.

Don’t Be a Machine

I’ll be the first to admit it: I use automation software for social media. I’m part of several tribes on Triberr. I use Buffer to tweet when I’m not at the computer. Mostly I do this because I’m terrible at scheduling and can go days without being on Twitter (or any social media) at all. But there’s a danger to overusing this kind of tool.

People don’t get on social media to interact with machines. They want to interact with people. The more you rely on software and automation, the less human you become to your followers. Twitter is already more of a link-sharing tool than a social engagement platform at this point, but don’t let the software do all the talking for you. Log on, start some conversations, say something funny or insightful. Engage. Like Jean-Luc Picard, it’s not that hard. There’s a horrible, soul-blasting filk song in there somewhere.

Don’t Oversell Yourself

Though I disagreed with him on the prophetic nature of Hunger Games, Jeff Goins wrote a great article on why your ideas aren’t spreading. This is internet marketing 101. People don’t want to be sold to. They don’t want to be shown an advertisement. They want to engage and participate. Give them that opportunity.

Try this experiment. Scroll back through your Twitter feed. If you follow any number of writers, you’ll see plugs for their books. Probably a whole barge-load of them. Which ones truly catch your attention? Are they the ones that include excerpts? Reviews? Quotes? The ones that say “HEY BUY MY BOOK C’MON DO IT”? Personally, the more sales-y the pitch becomes, the less interested I become. In an arena with such fierce competition, where the price point is quite often “free,” you need to be a bit more clever and engaging to make a sale.

A recent positive example that comes to mind is the contest Michel Vaillancourt ran for his Sauder Diaries cover. If you don’t know the backstory: Some months ago, Michel found out that his cover art was plagiarized. He pulled the book off the shelves, and, instead of just hiring another artist, held a competition. Not only did he manage to turn a negative event into a positive one, he engaged his audience and got people participating by creating art and voting. Did he get any more sales out of it?

I have no clue. But he got attention, and that counts for a lot.

Just Say Hello

On the internet, attention is currency, and you might be surprised at how much good will you can buy just by doling a little out. If you’re an author with a fan, just saying hello can make their day. Even if you’re an indie author with a small audience… in fact, especially then. If you’re an indie, those people who take time out to read your material, comment on it, and engage with you — they are gold. They’re the ones who will spread the word about you, leave you reviews, lend your book to friends. Neglect them at your peril.

No one’s time is infinite, and the more one’s audience grows, the harder it becomes to carry on conversations with complete strangers. As authors and human beings, we have limitations on our time and energy. Chuck Wendig, for example, recently posted a set of “rules” detailing all the things he will not do, and the reasons why. Wendig has a pretty big audience and gets a lot of comments and tweets aimed at him — yet he takes the time wherever he can to acknowledge people, when they’re polite or funny. And a lot of the time, that’s all it takes.

Big thanks to M.K. Hajdin for the inspiration behind this post! (See? I’m SAYING HELLO OVER HERE.)

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Why Hunger Games Isn’t the Future of Writing

The other day, Jeff Goins posted a blog entry titled Why the Hunger Games is the Future of Writing. I respect Mr. Goins, and am sure he’s a fine fellow, but I disagree with him on this issue, and now I’m going to list the reasons why.

Please note, these are only my opinions — I make no claim to authority or market prescience, nor have I published a bestseller. (I say that only because I note Mr. Goins busted out the ol’ “oh yeah, how many bestsellers have YOU written?” zinger in his comments section.)

So, without further ado:

1) No, it isn’t.

Hunger Games isn’t the future. It’s now. It’s the Latest Big Thing. The market is already flooded with YA titles trying to cash in on the success of Twilight, and editors and agents are plumb sick of it. Thanks to the success of the book and the movie adaptation, soon the market will be flooded with YA titles trying to cash in on the success of Hunger Games, and editors and agents will be sick of that. You don’t embrace the future by imitating the last known success.

2) I don’t believe we are all “scanners.”

Call this a bias if you like (and you’d be right to do it) but I did a little informal poll of my fellow readers / authors, and not one of them self-identified with Goins’ idea of “cultural ADD” and the notion of scanning. Of course, Goins implies in another other blog post that authors should aim for a functionally illiterate audience, because no one reads. Do you really want to aim your book at people who won’t read it?

3) Mass success is not the only road to writer satisfaction.

Granted, Goins is talking about the road to blockbuster success with the YA crowd. Within those parameters, he has a point. I don’t agree with his thesis that “we are all YA,” in no small part because I find most YA titles I’ve read simplistic and not terribly interesting (and yes, I’m sorry to say that includes Hunger Games).

I’m not convinced that the success of one series of short novels has suddenly shattered the mold set by, say, something like Harry Potter. Readers have no problem sitting down and devouring an 800-page doorstop in a matter of days. When Hunger Games comes within spitting distance of Potter’s multi-billion-dollar success, then we’ll talk about whether it’s “the future.”

4) Books are not movies, the Internet, or television.

Goins posits that to succeed as writers, we must appeal to the shortest attention spans possible, since the written word is in direct competition with the Internet and various electronic forms of entertainment. While I think some people certainly might approach a book the same way they would a blog or a Facebook post, I don’t think most readers work that way.

Also, the key to maintaining reader interest? Good writing. Not big fonts, short sentences, or simplistic storylines. I believe Collins succeeded because she had a compelling concept, a great protagonist, and knows how to manage tension. Those things aren’t a function of story length.

Maybe Goins is right and the future of the novel is the pamphlet. All I can say is, I don’t think so. And I certainly hope not. And since I have no interest in writing in a style or genre that I dislike, I’m going to be fighting against this trend all the way, uphill or not.

What do you think?