Writes And Wrongs: Facebook

Best-selling author Shiloh Walker pens this bi-monthly column of online advice for writers. Walker is a full-time author who is published in both e-book and traditional print formats. Now she shares her experience and advice to help aspiring and published authors figure out the "Writes and Wrongs" of the digital world.

Full disclaimer, guys.

I hate Facebook. It’s not so bad when I can do my updates through an outside client like tweetdeck, which is generally what I do, and if I can email my responses when somebody writes on my wall—that sort of thing? I’m good with.

But when I actually have to log in? I hate it.

Now some of this is just my laziness—clearing out the friend requests, deleting the event invites that I never mess with, all the applications I have to delete...and of course, checking to see what new and unusual ways Facebook has come up with to invade my privacy—I really liked the one where people could tag my exact geographical location at any given time! (Um, not…I mean, seriously, what in the world????)

These are just things we all have to deal with on Facebook, I guess, to some varying degree. They annoy me. They may not annoy everybody. The things that bug me about Facebook might not necessarily bother you the way they bother me.

But there are other things about Facebook that an author needs to keep in mind if the author is going to use is as promotional tool—and really, that’s why many, if not the majority of, authors are on Facebook, right?

To interact with readers, to network…it’s promo. Right?

But there can be a very thin line between promo…and spam. And before we go any further, can I just say…authors, if you’re using that inbox feature to message people about your books? FYI, it’s spam. Unsolicited mailings do count as spam, right? Just because people accept friend requests doesn’t mean we want to get inbox updates…now that I’ve got that off my chest, let’s talk about the reader-friendly way to use Facebook.

Let’s treat Facebook like a party. Either you’ve been invited, or you’ve crashed. Now it’s possible to crash a party without being a pain in the tail, right? And it’s possible to be invited to a party…and be so annoying you’re kicked out, the door slammed in your face and it’s clear you’re never going to be invited back.

So you’re at the party. The topic is… books.

Scenario 1:

Everybody is talking about their favorite author. Hmmm…hypothetically, let’s say it’s…Shiloh Walker… Nah. Let’s not, because I’m going to crash the party. We’ll use Nora Roberts—she’s a big name and plenty of people even outside of romance have heard of her.

We’re talking to Nora Roberts and this chick comes walking up—nobody knows her—she’s crashed the party, but when she hears the author’s name… “Nora Roberts! Oh, man, I love her stuff.  The Chesapeake series?  It’s one of my favorites, ever. Nora is one of the reasons I got started…” blah blah blah… “Which book of hers is your favorite?”

Conversation ensues, many books are discussed, drinks and laughter abound. (We hope…hey, it’s my scenario.)

Later on, somebody asks this lady her name and she introduces herself, “Hi, I’m Shiloh Walker…I kind of crashed the party…”

Somebody may or may not recognize the name, but so what? Many of us have had these conversations, all centered on books. We’re book lovers, for the most part, right? Readers, writers, we love books.

This sort of thing isn’t going to throw a conversation off track and most people are happy to talk books with another book lover—even if she did crash the party. She’s not stripping naked and dancing a jig while talking Nora Roberts. She’s just talking books.

Scenario 2:

Same deal, at a party, everybody is talking. One of the party invitees hears Nora Roberts being praised to the rooftops and she targets them, like a shark scenting blood. “Oh, Nora Roberts… I just love her stuff. You know, I’ve been told that I can manage emotion just like her. If you really like romance, you should just try my stuff…” and while she’s talking, she’s not so subtly reaching into her purse and digging out promo material, cards, bookmarks, etc, everything marked with her website, quotes and no less than ten glowing reviews. “The name is Shiloh Walker, ladies. Remember it…”

Does that sound a little over the top? Well, it’s not. Not really. I’ve never done it—I personally can’t stand to talk about my books and when I’m told to, it’s almost like I’m doing it at gunpoint. Talking about my stuff strikes me as so fricking boring.

But I’ve seen people like the ‘promo-whore Shiloh’ I sketched out in scenario 2. The one who intrudes on conversations and manages to compare herself to the ‘big name author’, the one who verbally spams the people who had been having a nice, relaxing conversation.

How does this translate over to Facebook?

Well, you’re having a chat on somebody’s wall—yours, your friend’s, another author’s…and in comes promo-whore of the minute.

Oh… I see you enjoy reading… have you tried my book yet?

Oh, so you like LKH. Have you tried my cutting-edge, hip and never-before-seen alternate reality vampire saga?

Hello! I see that you’re a writer.  I’m a writer as well, and I think you should really check out my book. You can find more about it at….

FYI, that last bit, in particular, is one sure-fire way to guarantee that I’ll never read your book. If you spam my wall with the sole intention of pimping your work? I delete…and your name goes on the mental list of authors I don’t buy.

And this matters…why, you ask? You don’t really care if I read your book. After all, you’re doing this to every last one of your 2000 friends and plenty of them are sure to read your book, yes? So again, why does my opinion matter?

Oh, I’m so glad you asked… *G*

You see, I’m a reader, too. Even though a lot of readers/non-writing bloggers are going to disagree with this viewpoint, I still consider myself every bit as much of a reader as a writer. And I’m one of those people who just hate the hard-sell tactic.

Now…how likely is it that I’m the only one? Or that I’m even in the small minority?

Think about it. How many times were you sitting down to dinner and you get a telemarketer call? And not a nice one—we all get those and even if we weren’t interested, the person was polite enough and we almost felt guilty about not buying or donating. But think about the pushy ones. The ones who irritated you. Think about the door-to-door salesmen who didn’t seem to want to leave the door, even if it meant you slamming the door so hard, it took off a toe. Think about the times you’ve gone to a car lot just to look and you couldn’t even look because the salesman wouldn’t give you five feet of breathing room.

Irritating, isn’t it?

The hard sell from the pushy author is just as annoying. The spamming of walls on Facebook? It’s a hard sell tactic. Comparing yourself to a big-name author, even if you had a review or two to back it up? Another hard sell tactic. Deciding that any reader is automatically an ideal target for your book? Hard sell.

So why bother giving this author my money? I don’t.

I’ve referenced the social part of social media before. Social as in interacting. That’s what Facebook is for…interacting.

If you’re going to be on it, treat it like a party. Whether you’re invited as in somebody sent you the friend request, or whether you invited yourself and sent the friend request…‘crashing’. Make sure you don’t spend the time just talking about your books and trying to do the hard sell. Actually talk to them and with them, not just at them…and not just about how wunnerful your books are. Find the common ground…which is probably going to be a general love of books.

- Shiloh Walker 

Check back for the next installment of Shiloh Walker's column in two weeks. Seeking more specific advice? You can ask the author any questions about the "writes and wrongs" of online behavior here. Your question might even get featured in an upcoming article. And of course, you can also follow the Shiloh Walker online daily at her website, on her Facebook page and via Twitter.