The 10 Commandments of Writer’s Etiquette for Social Media


10 Commandments of Writer’s Etiquette for Social Media

What is etiquette and why is it important?…

When I was a child, my parents taught me that there was a standard set of principles of what was considered to be appropriate behavior, as acceptable in society. This behavior brought a sense of peace, kindness, and consideration of our fellow human beings. It fosters an atmosphere of genuine community, a pleasantness in life. This is known as proper etiquette, or good manners.

I was also taught what was unacceptable, those behaviors and attitudes that erase the bonds of community, fostering an “every man for himself” type of mentality. It stirs up anger and resentment, implies an ignorant arrogance, and brings loneliness in life.

Understanding the consequences of our actions before we act, is paramount to the contentment, peacefulness, and quality of life that we create for ourselves. Life is just better when we live in harmony with our neighbors instead of being at war with them.

Who are you?…

Reputation for a writer is a major asset, or liability. It is the image folks have of you, based on what they know about you. It can build or destroy your career.

Before the online world began, face-to-face encounters and the writing itself was how reputations were built. But the internet, and social media in particular, have changed all that.

In a world where everything we say and do is under close scrutiny and made available to the public eye, it is more important than ever to remember the rules of etiquette, what is considered appropriate and good.

Here are ten tips for online behavior for people planning a writing career. (Unless your life goal is to be a professional extremist ranter—then ignore everything here. Being a person people love to hate can make you rich and famous—if you want that kind of fame.)

But for the rest of us, here are 10 basic rules written by Anne R. Allen:

The 10 Commandments of Writer’s Etiquette for Social Media…

1) Thou shalt not spam.

What is book spam? Repetitive links, blurbs, and quotes in your Twitter stream.

Compulsively posting your book blurbitude in 100s of FB, GR and Google+ groups and forums.

Putting somebody’s address on your mailing list when they haven’t subscribed.

Posting endless, non-news, non-informational promos for yourself or other authors. A little promo is good. Nothing but promo…is nothing but annoying. People want news and personal connections on social media, not robotic advertising.

Here’s the short version: if you’d ignore it in your own inbox, FB page, or Twitter stream, it’s probably spam.

2) Thou shalt support other authors.

Your fellow authors are not “rivals”.  Authors who band together do better than antagonistic loners. In fact, the number one thing a beginner should be doing on social media is getting to know other authors in your genre and subgenre and making friends.

One of the hottest sales tools in the business right now is the multi-author bargain boxed set with several titles by different authors. These boxed sets are getting on to the bestseller lists and raising visibility for all the authors. Yes. The NYT and USA Today Bestseller lists.

Another is the joint 99c sale. I participated in a 99c sale with other chick lit authors last year and it got my boxed set on the humor bestseller list where it stayed for 8 months.

Authors who band together get their books in front of the fans of all the authors in the group. Supporting each other is fun and profitable.

But note: “Support” does NOT involve demanding that other authors market your book for you by spamming their Twitter stream or FB or Google+ page. There’s very little evidence that spam sells books anyway.

It also does not mean tagging other authors as members of your “launch party” on Facebook or asking them to play moronic games. (If you let people know you have time to waste on FB games, you’re saying you’re not writing. You might want to keep that under your hat.)

It also should not include begging for a “mention” on somebody’s blog or other social media if you have no relationship with them. And it doesn’t mean trading reviews and “likes”. Review trading is unethical, and fake likes are pointless.

I’ve seen indies whine that their fellow authors weren’t doing enough marketing for them and hadn’t bought their books. That’s not asking for support—it’s being a brat. Unless you have a “how to write” or book-marketing title, your fellow authors are not your audience. Go find your own readers.

3) Thou shalt practice tolerance.

The Internet is global. That means primitive, insular thinking will only drive away most of your potential audience. Within a few years, experts predict most ebook sales will be outside of the US.

Hurting people because they have different customs or beliefs from yours has been a human pastime since Zog bonked Gog on the head because Gog’s fertility goddess had bigger boobs than his fertility goddess.

But guess what? Zog couldn’t actually make own his beliefs “more true” or Gog’s “less true” with violence or cruel words. And neither can you.

If you’re insecure in your own beliefs, go talk to your pastor, shrink, precinct coordinator, Belieber club president or whoever will guide you back to the light.

And if you are secure, other people’s belief systems won’t affect you one bit, so they’re none of your business.

But remember tolerance isn’t just about religion, ethnicity, or politics.

Saying rude things to writers who choose a different publishing path from yours is just as ridiculous. Want to prove your path is better? Go write a bestseller, and stop wasting time being snarky on the Interwebz.

I realize this stuff happens because primates are tribal. We instinctively fall into us/them, black/white, either/or thinking.  It’s easier to demonize the “other” than to understand them.

Plus we feel safer if we’re part of a tribe. Especially if the tribe has a strong leader.

But no matter what chieftain/dear leader/blogger you follow, you’ll be happier if you accept that people are different. Some are independent jacks-of-all-trades who can do it all. Others prefer to work as part of a team. Saying one is more “correct” than another is like saying chimpanzees are more “correct” than baboons.

Evolve. I promise you’ll find better ways to spend your time.

4) Thou shalt not whine about the stupidity of the reading public, your lack of sales, or the unfairness of the industry.

If you constantly go on about how stupid romance/paranormal/fantasy/chick lit readers are, or how ebooks are the worst thing that ever happened to civilization, be aware you’re alienating a huge segment of your potential audience.

Yes, you have an MFA and you’ve read Proust in the original French and you’re furious because you’re flipping burgers even though you’ve written the next On the Road/Ulysses/Work of Staggering Genius. But putting down readers won’t change that. Save that stuff for the local coffeehouse where you can commiserate with your fellow proto-post-post-modern-neo-Beats.

This caveat includes detailing rejection woes. I see lots of writing blogs that chronicle the writer’s history of rejection. Guess what? Agents see them too. That can be an automatic reject. You’ll look like a potentially troublesome client.

And if you end up self-publishing, that stuff will make you look as if you chose your path because your book wasn’t good enough, not because you embrace entrepreneurship.

This is a tough business, no matter how you publish. Most authors go through 100s or even 1000s of rejections before they get a book deal, and most self-publishers spend years building a substantial readership.

Whining will not sell books. Get off the Internet and go write.

5) Thou shalt remember: “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog”.

That quote is from the 1993 New Yorker cartoon by Peter Steiner, the most reproduced cartoon in the magazine’s history.

It became iconic because it speaks the basic truth of Internet culture:  you never know who you’re actually interacting with. This is not only because some people/dogs are masking their identity. It’s also because humans tend to assume others are like ourselves unless we have information to the contrary.

So, if you’re a fresh, eager newbie, you’ll assume everybody you meet is new to the writing profession, too. Or if you’re a jaded system-gamer, you assume everybody is gaming the system right along with you. And trolls see other trolls under every cyber bridge.

This can lead to lots of embarrassing faux pas and unpleasant encounters, especially since superstars and/or newbies can show up commenting on a blog thread along with the regulars.

It would make you look bad putting down a 12-year-old in Mumbai for not getting your references to 1980s US TV shows. So look before you snark. Pay attention to the person you’re communicating with.

Otherwise, you’re only revealing stuff about your own faults and failings you probably want to keep to yourself.

6) Thou shalt not respond to reviews.

No matter how unfair. Just. Keep. Quiet. You can’t please all the people all of the time.

We need reviewers, so treat them with respect. Even if you’ve paid for a review on a blog tour and were led to believe the review would be positive and it isn’t. Honest reviewers can’t guarantee a rave. (And BTW, the blog tour organizer may be paid, but the reviewer isn’t.)

Everybody gets rotten reviews. You have just joined a club that includes every successful author who ever lived.

So, go read the rotten reviews of great books and hilarious one-stars of the classics. Then go offline and do your mourning in private. Go to the gym. Buy chocolate and/or wine and call your BFF. Go out to your local pub and imagine the reviewer’s face on the dart board—anything but respond online. You’ll not only embarrass yourself, but you may attract vigilantes who will try to destroy your career if you complain—even if it’s on your own blog or FB page.

The review community has its own brand of extremist ranters who demonize authors and keep honest reviewers in a state of terrified paranoia of the dreaded “badly behaving author.”  (Authors can be bullies too. Don’t be one of them.)

And yes, we even have to put up with the sadistic trolls who call themselves “reviewers” but don’t read anything they “review”.

Unfortunately, there’s a gang of sock-puppet bullies who play Amazon reviews as if they’re a video game. They set up thousands of accounts under fake names so they can leave hateful one-stars of books they haven’t read. They often buy an ebook and immediately return it so they can get an “Amazon verified purchase” seal of approval. And they usually know how to keep inside Amazon’s guidelines, so Amazon seems to feel helpless to stop them in spite of pleas from publishers and bestselling authors. It’s gotten so bad that some authors are quitting the business.

The Good E-Reader reported the growing phenomenon this week in their piece on “The Bullies Win“. Let’s not let them. Hang in there and keep reporting these people to Amazon until they put a stop to it.

The best way to fight troll reviews? Write an honest review yourself! Big-name authors get troll reviews even more than indies and newbies these days, so even somebody famous can be helped by your review. Go write one for your favorite book right now!

If the troll makes a personal attack—dissing the author rather than the book, report it. Goodreads has done some housecleaning and will promptly remove ad hominem attack reviews. (Thanks for getting it together, Goodreads!!)

Amazon, not so much—but do report obvious sock puppets. Or sign an anti-sock puppet petition. There are a number in circulation. If the reports reach critical mass, maybe the Zon will finally crack down on them, the way they did with paid reviews a couple of years ago.

If a reviewer obviously got a bad download of your book, you might contact him/her privately and offer a better copy. But even there, you’re treading on dangerous ground, and it may be a trap. I almost offered a reviewer a new copy, since a bad download was her only reason for a one-star, but then I saw she’d left the identical review on dozens of ebooks. Either she’s a troll, or she doesn’t know the difference between a book review and Kindle tech support.

Most reviewers are hardworking, helpful people who genuinely love books. (And reading books takes time!) We can’t survive without them.

Don’t confuse the sock puppet trolls with real reviewers.

7) Thou shalt not badmouth beloved authors.

When you dis Stephen King or J.K. Rowling or Suzanne Collins online, you are alienating a huge percentage of your potential readership. These authors are successful because lots of people love their work. When you call these people bad writers, you’re criticizing the taste of all their fans. They won’t reward you for it.

If you’re also a book reviewer, you certainly can say King’s latest book isn’t up to his usual standards, or Divergent is no Hunger Games—that’s your job. But if you’re thoughtful, you’ll realize you don’t have to say it in sour grapes terms that make you seem like a whiner and a wannabe.

8) Thou shalt check facts before you share.

If something going viral on social media is so outrageous your emotions get triggered, take a deep breath and go to Snopes.com and check news sources. 99% of the time it didn’t happen, or it’s been twisted to make you react.

And no, Bill Gates is not going to give a charity a billion dollars if you “like” some picture of a dying child or an abused puppy. That child and puppy have been gone for 20 years and you cause pain every time you share those pictures.

I have to admit I’ve fallen for a few scary, untrue Internet memes and I’ve shared or commented posts that were based on false accusations. I seriously regret that.

Now I avoid blogs that tend to make over-the-top accusations of “bad behavior” or “piracy” and I always check Facebook’s watchdog pages like Facecrooks and  Check Scam and Spam on Facebook before I share any of those hysterical “protect your privacy by blocking all your friends from seeing your pages” posts.

I repeat: anything done online is IN PUBLIC. Do not expect privacy here.

9) Thou shalt not feed trolls.

Trolls are part of Internet life. Kind of like those bloodsucking mosquitos.

Why are there trolls? A new Canadian study finds that trolls are “everyday sadists” who get pleasure from other people’s pain. They’re the people who like to torture kittens and abuse small children. Trolldom is less work than going the serial killer route. It’s also equal-opportunity: the report found as many female trolls as males.

The anonymity of the Internet allows these otherwise closeted sociopaths to revel in sadistic behavior. It is simply fun for them.

But remember that trolls feed on attention the way mosquitos feed on blood. So, the only way to get rid of a troll is to give it no attention whatsoever—no matter how obnoxious and wrong he/she/it is, because your attention—good or bad—is its food. You must starve it by ignoring anything and everything it does.

Don’t think of a troll comment or “review” as an exchange with a fellow human capable of rational thought. Think of it as a pile of poo you don’t want to step in.

Unboot from the Interwebz and phone a friend, read a book, or walk the dog. Anything you say online will make things worse.

10) Thou shalt follow Wil Wheaton’s Law.

Actor Wil Wheaton first coined the dictum, “Don’t be a d**k” at a gaming conference in 2007. He was talking about interactive online game etiquette, but it is a good rule for anybody using the Internet.

In fact, it’s a good rule for anybody participating in life itself.

In more polite terms, it can be called The Golden Rule: have empathy and don’t do stuff to other people that would feel bad if it were done to you.

 by Anne R. Allen (April 13, 2014)

*Though it’s been 5 years since this post was originally written, it still applies today. Remember, as a writer, you are a professional, so present yourself accordingly. You and your work will be better received if you “play nice” and maintain your integrity.

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