Hope you all enjoyed recess. Class is now back in session. This is Rant 2 of 2 on authors behaving badly on social media, and thank you again to everyone who wrote to me with your experiences and pet peeves. It’s really put this into perspective for me. If you missed Rant 1, check it out here: Social Media Etiquette 101: The Business Side.
And now we commence Rant 2 of 2…
I already covered a lot of things having to do with how authors conduct business on social media. But social media being social there is a lot to be said for the personal side of things: the way authors behave as people. Not surprisingly, the relative safety and anonymity of the Internet has quite often brought out the best and the worst in people, and sometimes the networks meant to connect us and expand our worlds feel like an episode of middle school Mean Girls. Which is not to say that this kind of behavior is limited to women, by any stretch. The golden rule still applies on this end of the spectrum as well, but now we venture into a potentially dangerous territory, as some of the controversies that have happened online over the years have actually spilled over into real life with terrible consequences. So this post is not just about how to behave on social media so as not to offend, but how to behave to keep yourself safe as well.
So here goes…
The Golden Rule
Repeated as a refresher. In short, everything that follows can be summed up with one sentence:
If you wouldn’t say/do it in person, don’t say/do it on social media.
Things you should never do, under any circumstance:
Personal Attacks, Witch Hunts, and Cyberbullying. Just like not everyone will like you, you probably won’t like everyone you meet online, either. But some people take out their grievances in a very public, very personal, and very permanent way. It might start out with something as simple as a rant about someone having wronged you, and often it ends there. It’s still in poor taste, and you shouldn’t do it. But sometimes, especially with a loyal following, it goes far beyond that to witch hunts and cyberbullying, where your post actually incites multitudes to attack this person and ruin their career or even personal life, even though you’re the only one who’d been wronged. It can take the form of a flood of 1-star reviews out of spite, hate mail, threats, calls for boycotts, and in some extreme cases, even threats to physical safety when some enterprising individual actually finds the victim’s home address, place of employ, or the names/locations of their relatives. It may be just a pebble you want to throw, but the ripples can drown the target of your rant. Don’t do it.
What to do instead: If someone wronged you, talk to them directly and in private. You know, like the adult you are. If this is a legal matter, talk to a lawyer and explore your options. If it’s business related, there are ways to remedy the situation that don’t involve any (actual or metaphorical) bloodshed. If it’s personal, you just have to deal with it rationally. Either way, you shouldn’t be posting about it in a public forum, asking people to attack this person for you, boycott them, or what have you. I want to say the golden rule above still applies, but unfortunately I’ve seen people do horrible things to each other in real life, too, so in this case, it’s just down to your conscience.
Con artistry. When someone exploits people in the industry who don’t know any better or don’t have access to proper resources. Offering paid services they are not qualified to deliver, playing besties to get free word-of-mouth marketing for their book release and then disappearing after they no longer have any use for the people who helped them, etc. I could literally spend hours writing out examples of how con artists exploit newbies in this industry and still tell themselves (and the world) that they are providing a valuable service. Think Nigerian Prince scam for the helpless and ignorant. Profiting off someone else’s struggles. Using people for their own personal gain.
What to do instead: Just don’t do this. Seriously, no one should have to tell you you should behave like a decent human being.
Underhanded Sabotage. This is technically a business consequence, but is perpetrated on a personal level of pettiness, which is why it’s here. It happens when an author posts something promoting their book, and someone comments something that undercuts the marketing. It could be their own book promo, or something negative about the author’s book, cover, pricing, distribution, etc. For example, “The book sounds great, but it’s way overpriced.” or, “That is so cool! I have a book on this, too! Here’s the link.” or even, “Dude…who did your cover? You got ripped off, man…” and my favorite, “You missed a comma in your post.” adding a winky face, as if that takes away from the massive pile of soft, fresh crap they just hurled in the author’s face.
What to do instead: If you have issue with the author’s book, ask yourself if it actually concerns you. Is it a genre you don’t read? Then don’t buy the book. Don’t like the subject matter? Then don’t buy the book. Is there a technical issue with the book, after you actually purchased it (formatting, editing, etc.)? Tell the author in private. This is something we actually want to and need to hear so we can fix it, but it should be handled discretely. Feel the need to establish rapport by sharing a similar book? Resist it. An author’s promotional post is not the time or place to do it. Have issue with the pricing? If you want to read the book, either save up, or wait for a sale. Don’t shame an author for wanting to get paid for their incredibly hard work, don’t try to chase away other readers who might not mind paying the price for a great story, and don’t fish for a freebie. Many authors are kind enough to send out free copies in exchange for an honest review if a reader can’t afford it. But you need to ask (in private, of course), instead of dropping hints and expecting an author to volunteer it. And if you do get a freebie, you should definitely review, in as many outlets as you can access. It’s the kind thing to do.
Rules Unclear, But Probably Shouldn’ts
Things that we kinda sorta understand why you’d do, but you probably shouldn’t do them because people don’t like it:
Review Rants, Industry Rants, Basically Rants in General. Any time you point out something negative that happened to you, it only reflects badly on you. That reviewer who “screwed you over” with a bad review picked your book out of dozens of submissions and took the time to read it. Attacking them in a rant helps no one, and makes reviewers less likely to pick up your books because they don’t want to deal with the drama and (in some cases) personal attacks. That publisher who didn’t treat you right might actually have screwed you over, but ranting about it on social media only makes you look like someone another publisher wouldn’t want to work with. Talking about how an editor or cover artist did a bad job on your book just tells people that your book isn’t well put together, and readers won’t want to buy it. You see where I’m going with this?
What to do instead: Again, if it’s a legal matter, consult an attorney and explore your options. If it’s a personal matter, talk out your differences with whoever wronged you. You never want to publish anything that might be construed as libel, slander, or character assassination. Even if this person is the absolute worst person you’ve ever dealt with, they can actually sue you for that kind of thing. Keep your social media professional, positive, and inclusive. Drama may get you a temporary spike in interaction, but if that’s all you do, you will drive people away.
Life Drama. Everyone goes through hardships every once in a while. Everyone goes through times where they just need to know someone out there is listening and cares. This is not what I’m talking about. When I say “life drama” I mean every other post is about some crappy, awful thing that’s happening to you. “My boss is a jerk. My landlord keeps staring at my ass. I got regular coffee instead of decaf.” Marital problems, kid problems, work problems, just plain complaining day in and day out. After a while, it starts to look like there is absolutely nothing good in your life, and someone else might read that, envy every single thing you’re complaining about, and resent you for not being grateful for everything you have that they don’t.
What to do instead: Be grateful and celebrate the things you have and love, rather than crying over the things that aren’t going your way. As with rants, too much negativity will drive people away. Also, keep in mind that oversharing personal details of your life may put you in danger. Things like your home address, your kids’ names, ages, even photos, are probably a good thing to keep private. And let’s not forget that employees have been fired in the past (and sometimes sued!) for posting inappropriate content about their employer on social media.
Forced Sympathy Marketing. The thing people do when things don’t go their way and they want to rake up pity sales. Yes, people use it with personal tragedies, too, which makes it all the more tacky, and that’s why it made this list. It can be anything from, “I lost my job today,” to “I have cancer and five kids, and my husband is unemployed, and we just got evicted!” and is always followed up by “Buy my book! Your support is literally keeping my family alive.” Sometimes it’s almost understandable, while other times it’s just obviously a play on readers’ emotions. Regardless of the quality of the actual book, this is just a horrible way to present yourself as an author.
What to do instead: Vent if you need to, but don’t jerk people around by their heart strings to get a sale. Don’t base your entire career on something wholly unrelated to the product you’re trying to sell. If you really need cash, set up a GoFundMe drive.
Lack of Personal Responsibility. Again, similar to the Business Side post, but on a personal level. This is when authors use personal struggles as an excuse for why their books aren’t set up as well as they should be, and a reason for why they shouldn’t have to be. Nothing will drive a good, responsible author more mad than hearing someone give ten irrelevant reasons for why they didn’t or couldn’t do their job the right way, even though they are charging prices that suggest they did. It’s basically a guilt trip to make readers forgive any shortcomings and still keep buying books. Because what are you going to say to the author struggling with so many hardships whose book has fifteen errors in one chapter, and isn’t formatted correctly when they tell you, “But I can’t afford it. I write for people who just want a good story, and I still think it’s a good story, even though I’m not able to present it properly. *big crocodile tear*”
What to do instead: If you want to charge a price for your books, put out books worth the price you’re charging. If you just want to write for the love of it, put your books out for free. Don’t make your readers responsible for validating your unwillingness to put in the necessary time and effort. If you can’t invest in your own book, why should they?
Disrespecting Readers. Disrespecting anyone, really, but especially readers. Some people just suck, ya know? Whether they’re successful or not, whether they struggled to get where they are or became an overnight sensation, sometimes they’re just jerks who are so full of themselves they don’t give two craps about whom they trample along the way. They’re rude, curt, unpleasant, and in every way off-putting to the very people who keep them relevant: readers. They get into fights, insult readers, shame them, and basically act like they are the end all be all, and readers should fawn over them no matter what they do. No. Just no.
What to do instead: Realize that you are a public figure who has (direct or indirect) influence over a great many people. You’re not just talking to that reader who offended you; you’re showing a hundred others that you have no respect for the people you serve, and teaching hundreds of aspiring writers that it’s okay to treat readers this way. There are ways to resolve conflict, whether publicly or privately, that don’t make you come off as the jerk. If you don’t know them, look them up. There are ways to keep a positive, professional face on things that calm everyone down and give you the moral high ground without directly calling out whoever attacked you. If you don’t know them, look them up. Practice patience, humility, and gratitude, and realize that, while books should absolutely be the focus of your brand, you yourself are part of that brand, and how you act will affect how people view your books, as well.
Do you have bad experiences with something I haven’t covered here?
Share (politely) in the comments below.
This concludes our lessons in Etiquette. All future tests will be administered in real life situations. Good luck!