Tallulah Lucy has shared five tips for authors who're not hundreds about the pitfalls in social media these days. Tallulah has taken over my blog today to share the top five mistakes authors can avoid when navigating social media.
You hear it over and over again: you should be on social media, you should be marketing yourself, you won’t sell a single book if you don’t put yourself out there. All of this is true, but the social media world is full of pitfalls just lying in wait for the unsuspecting author.
To make matters even worse, there’s a whole clamouring mass of Millennials (that’s me) and Gen-Zers (that’s the teenagers, please stop mixing us up) who use this newfangled marketing tech as if they were born with a finger on the like button and a selfie stick in the hand. And we’re all competing for space on people’s feeds and interactions on our posts.
So what’s an author to do?
First of all, take a deep breath.
If you can avoid these mistakes, you’ll already be doing this whole social media thing way better than most people!
Mistake one: Typos and bad grammar
It should go without saying, but unfortunately it cannot. I’ve seen way too many authors who repeatedly publish posts to social media with typos, errors and clunky sentences. Every single post you write is a sample of your writing. Before you publish a novel, you have an editor who will catch these things for you. You know that. I know that.
But your average social media user will not immediately think, “Oh this update is a load of poopoo, but I bet her books are actually well written because she has editors.”
No, the average social media user will think, “Wow if a sentence is so bad, I don’t even want to see a whole book of sentences.” Put a lot of care into your posts, and then read them and re-read them and then read them again after you’ve posted them just to be sure.
Typos are a fact of life, but so is mould and you wouldn’t purchase a new kind of bread if the free sample at the store came with mould on it. Don’t post mouldy statuses on social media.
Mistake two: Cross-posting without tailoring per platform
This has to be the most common mistake I see. I get it. You’re busy. You want to type a status once, set it and forget it. Let some program like Hootsuite or Buffer share it for you and share it everywhere.
The problem is, the platforms all have different specifications for posts. On Instagram you’re supposed to use loads of hashtags, on Twitter it’s gross if you use more than three. On Facebook you can post links in your captions, on Instagram you can’t. Facebook loves square images, LinkedIn shows them really badly. Instagram encourages you to post jpegs, Facebook pretty much garbles them (you should always post pngs on Facebook). And this is just a few of the clashing specs.
Aside from the formatting problems, there’s different terminology. You can’t ask for a “retweet” on Facebook, or tell people to “check the link in bio” – what bio?
Now, if any of the above is confusing to you, it’s because you haven’t spent enough time on the platform you’re trying to post to. If you spend time on each platform, you’ll learn the lingo and the etiquette. You’ll also learn the best times of day to post and the best kinds of posts for each type of audience.
There’s no rule that says you have to be everywhere right now. Try them all out. See what works for you and, most importantly, what works for your particular audience.
There’s nothing wrong with scheduling posts ahead of time – in fact, I always encourage this. But try to make sure that the posts don’t all go out at the same time in the exact same words, in the exact same format. Rewording and formatting only takes a couple of extra minutes. Make your followers on each platform feel special. Chat to them, respond to their comments and try to tailor the content for them. If you don’t invest a little time in them, how can they be expected to invest money in you?
Mistake three: Too much self promo
You joined social media to promote yourself, so that’s what you’re going to do, right? You’re just going to tell everyone about your book. Boom. Done.
Cold, hard, truth time: no one cares about your book as much as you do. Strangers won’t care about it at all if you don’t give them reason to. No one is going to follow you on social media just to hear that you have a book out. Not unless they’re already a fan (and that fan would buy your book anyway).
In order to get sales from social media, you have to show your audience that you care about things other than yourself. Show them you have depth. That’s not to say you mustn’t promote yourself at all. There’s a handy ratio!
Originally this ratio was 70/20/10: 70% curating (sharing other people’s content), 20% sharing stuff you’ve created yourself (your content), and 10% sales. Nowadays just sharing other people’s content for 70% of the time is going to get old quickly.
So here’s my ratio: 50/20/20/10: 50% – yes, half of the time you’re on social media – you should be interacting with and supporting other people. It’s not just about you, even if that’s the reason you’re there. Social media platforms are communities and if you’ve got a one-track mind that’s always thinking “what can I get out of this”, people will sense that and avoid letting you into that community. Be a productive member of society, not Sheryl who keeps stealing from the supply closet and uses up all the company milk.
Then 20% of the time you share interesting things you’ve found, 20% of the time you make things to share: write articles, paint pictures, design quizzes, sing songs, record YouTube videos, whatever floats your personal boat. The remaining time – only 10% of the time or 1 out of every 10 posts – is for marketing.
When you do market, don’t just tell people that you “have a thing” or “did a thing” or, really, anything involving the word thing. Tell them why they should care about, or will enjoy, what you’ve made. Offer them value. It’s the difference between saying, “I have a book out today, buy it here.” (So what? I have lots of books) and saying, “I can’t believe I can finally share this book with you. I’m sorry if it makes you cry. The main character is based on my great aunt and her story about surviving the Holocaust.” Which version sounds more worth your time as a reader?
In summary: be interesting. Interact a lot, share your interests, participate in the social media community and when you do promote your work, do it in an enticing way.
Mistake four: Being unpleasant
Have you ever met someone who works in public relations? In my previous life as a journalist I met quite a few. It was their job to represent a company, which on a good day could mean answering our questions and scheduling interviews, and on a bad day could mean standing outside a hotel in the rain calling a hungover member of the press to try coax him down from his room for said scheduled interview.
A good PR person, whether she’s chatting to you in an air-conditioned office or standing dripping on a doorstep in a strange city, is always polite and friendly. She understands that whatever she does, people see her actions as those of her company.
If you’re wondering where I’m going with this, here’s the point: When you’re an author on social media you’re your own PR person.
Sometimes people might judge the content of your books from what you do and say, but more often people will judge whether or not they want to give you money based on what you do and say. Your product – your wordy baby that you’ve spent years of your life on – may be spectacular, may be award-winning, may be the best piece of literature ever to grace their Kindle. But they will not know that if you put them off buying by being an annoying, moany, asshole.
Before you post anything publicly, always ask: How will this make me look to a complete stranger? If your disagreement with a person or company is serious, take it offline. You know that feeling when you’ve walked into a room when a couple’s in the middle of a fight? Not a great experience. Don’t force that on your readers. And whatever you do, do not get defensive over reviews.
Be the brave, smiling, PR person standing in the rain with her cold hair dripping down her neck, not the bleary-eyed journalist who smells of stale cigarettes and booze and rants all the way down the street.
By all means, be eccentric and interesting, show them what you’re passionate about, but try to make it enjoyable for all involved rather than awkward as hell and a little terrifying.
Mistake five: Bad Design
You know that saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”? Noble sentiment. Completely false. Everyone judges books based on their covers, or we wouldn’t bother with covers at all. But what if I told you it’s not just about covers? [Insert wiggly eyebrows.]
Every single visual you share to do with your book represents your book, just like a cover. People will connect the quality of these visuals with the quality of your book. If your social media cover images are a riot of shape and colour, they’ll assume that your book is a riot of mismatched sentences. If your author picture is a dull, poorly-lit, pixelated mess, they’ll assume that your writing is just as amateur.
Professional companies set aside budget for professional designers. So we’re conditioned to associate good design with high-quality products. The people who have terrible design are usually the scammers trying to cut corners or the hobbyists who don’t know better.
Luckily, you don’t have to hire a designer in order to get professional graphics. You can use a site like Canva that has loads of free templates or... you can learn. That’s right. You, dear author, can learn about graphic design. Just because you’re a word person, doesn’t mean you have to remain ignorant. There are tons and tons of free resources on YouTube, many podcasts and a plethora of websites and newsletters. If you’re willing to invest even a little bit of cash, you can take comprehensive online courses in design on sites like Udemy and Skillshare. Respect your writing enough to invest the time in learning how to showcase it. Because if you don’t respect it, no one else will.
Bonus: context is KEY.
Remember that every post you make on social media can be shared out of context. It’s a good idea to avoid saying anything that you wouldn’t put on a billboard over the highway all on its own. If your point requires a long story, save it for a blog post. And if you don’t have anything nice to say? Just don’t say it.
When you first start out on social media, your problem will be that no one is watching. But eventually, the world will be watching, and you should make sure that you’re happy about that when it happens.