Thursday, May 5, 2011

The dos and don'ts for authors in the age of the internet

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Years ago, a debut author was expected to write a good book, maybe do a few author appearances and then get back to the business of writing another good book. With the rise of the internet and social media, authors are now expected to do so much more. Author appearances are still good ways to meet readers, but more and more authors are meeting readers online. Publishers now expect authors to be active on blogs, Twitter, Facebook, e-mail loops and other forms of social media to help promote their books.

Social media and other electronic methods of communication can be fabulous. As authors, we can do a 40 stop blog tour without leaving the comfort of our own home. However, even though the author is protected by his or her own four walls, in truth the author is more exposed to the public than ever. Social media spreads the word about good and bad – and let’s face it – it spreads the word about the bad much, much faster.

Case in point - not too long ago a blog featured a review for a self-published author that wasn’t entirely favorable. The author then decided to confront the reviewer in the comments section of the blog. Actually, the author commented more than once and was not only confrontational, but a bit classless. Word about the review and the author’s reaction spread over social media, as it has a tendency to do, and within hours there were over 300 comments posted. The author’s book also took a beating over at Amazon in the reviews section pulling 1 star reviews from people who were commenting on the author’s online behavior and not on her writing.

Reviews and internet commentary are part of life. Good, bad, indifferent – authors have to deal with the public’s opinions and they are under an obligation to themselves to deal with those opinions professionally. In the old days (yeah – I’m referring to less than ten years ago here), an author would get reviewed, tell all their friends and readers about the good ones and mourn the bad ones with a gallon of double fudge chocolate ice cream. If you didn’t subscribe to the trades, you never saw the review. Nowadays there is nowhere to hide. Because of this, an author has to be very careful about how they conduct themselves in cyberspace. One misplaced word getting retweeted or an emotional reaction posted on a blog can tarnish the shine of the author and their books.

So here is my list of dos and don’ts for authors in this age of social media and online marketing. Yes, some of these might seem totally obvious, but hey – I’ve seen each and every one of them happen in the last year or two so I guess it can’t hurt to post them.

1. Keep your emotions and your conflict on the page – writers work hard at ratcheting up those things in their manuscript. Readers love emotion and conflict when it is central to your story, but they don’t belong as part of your public author persona.

2. Never put anything in writing online that you do not want to follow you for the rest of your career. A piece of paper can be burned but the internet is forever. Agents, editors, bloggers, booksellers and readers all can and do use Google. Trust me – you don’t want them finding this stuff.

3. Don’t create fake accounts on Amazon or on other review sites just to bump up the number of good reviews. Yes, people do this, and, yes, people get caught.

4. Always think twice before hitting send on any post be on Twitter, Facebook, a blog, e-mail or anywhere else. Refer to rule #2 for the reason.

5. Do not create a Facebook or Twitter account if you know you cannot control your emotions. This doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad promoter. This makes you self-aware.

6. Call your friends, family or favorite pizza place when you get a bad review. Never share that disappointment in public. It makes you look bad.

7. Never post on a blog where an author has created an unprofessional spectacle of themselves. You do not want your name associated with that kind of train wreck in any way, shape or form. With that in mind, you also don’t want to post Amazon reviews as a way of kicking an unprofessional author when they are down. Get out of the way of the train, watch it pass by and move on.

8. Posting a reviewer’s home address or phone number on Twitter (or anywhere else) and telling your fans to contact the reviewer to disagree with the review is never a good idea. (I wish this one had never happened, but a NY Times Best Seller did this. She has since heeded rule #5.)

9. Remember the Golden Rule. How you treat others online will determine how you are perceived. Does this mean you can’t disagree with people? Hell no! The best discussions I have on Facebook and Twitter are ones where there is heated disagreement. But it is the manner in which you argue and fight and even how you agree that is important.

10. When in doubt, turn off the internet and write. Hey – we’re writers. That’s what we’re supposed to be doing.

Enjoy your debut book and celebrate the successes that come with it and all the books that will be published in the future. But remember that Google makes it easy to find everything that happens online. Make sure that the things you immortalize on the World Wide Web are the ones that you’ll be proud of for years to come.

Joelle Charbonneau has performed in a variety of operas, musical theatre and children's theatre productions across the Chicagoland area. While Joelle is happy to perform for an audience, she is equally delighted to teach private voice lessons and use her stage experience to create compelling characters in her mysteries. The first of the Rebecca Robbins mysteries, SKATING AROUND THE LAW (Minotaur Books) was called “Sexy and funny” by Kirkus Reviews. The second book in the series, SKATING OVER THE LINE, will hit shelves on Sept. 27th, 2011. The first of her newest series, MURDER FOR CHOIR, will be published by Berkley in the fall of 2012.


Sabrina E. Ogden said...

Wonderful list. I'm not a writer, but these things apply to me as well. I stay away from discussions online that I know might get heated on my end, and to avoid the temptation to shout back at the stupidity I step away for a few minutes.

I imagine the demands for authors for guest blogs and such must be getting even more out of control with so many book blogs and online zines asking for time, but I promise you as a reader... I really look forward to each and every post. Even the 40 day blog tour ones =)

Robin Spano said...

Love it! My favorite is rule #1. Writing is, after all, the best outlet for a writer's emotion - and the only real way we can make sense of things.

Tracey Devlyn said...

Hi Joelle,

Thanks for the fabulous list. Such great advice in an age of many mediums to express ourselves. I've always wondered if flame war participants ever cringe when they look back on those moments. :)


Rochelle Staab said...

Wise advice Joelle and always good to be reminded that what we say here is written in permanent cyber-ink.

Great advice - keep the emotions and the conflicts to your characters, not your social media persona. Thanks for the great post.

Unknown said...


This post on social media 101 was a beneficial reminder as to proper online etiquette. Rule #9 is the one I try to employ at all times. Thanks!

Nancy Bilyeau said...

Thanks for great article. I have over 600 people on Facebook and lots of conversations going on about my links, jokes and musings. One thing people say is they like how I don't force self-promotion on anyone. My book goes on sale in six months. How do I use social media effectively without being pushy.