(This post originally appeared on my Patreon page on the 5th of this month. Patrons get to see my posts 3 days early — and when I publish a new ebook, they get to see it 30 days ahead of time. PLUS they get a FREE .pdf copy EVEN IF IT’S FREE ELSEWHERE. They also get the satisfaction of helping a creator create — you’d better believe an extra income stream helps me spare the time to write more. Patreon is helping me buy a power steering pump for the family minivan this month. Without it, I’d likely be spending most of my precious writing time walking or taking the bus to the grocery store (because we, like many people, like to eat food a few times daily) — or watching the little ones alone while my wife went — instead of writing.)
I do a goodly amount of Tweeting, for those reading this who don’t know. I’m going to talk about spamminess there, mainly, because it’s my social media backyard. But what I’m talking about here applies just about anywhere online. WordPress, Facebook, Tumblr, and so on – even comments sections and old-fashioned forums.
The TLDR version: nobody likes a spammer.
The thing that inspired me to sit down and write this: the Twitter lists (“PeopleWhoWrite” 1-3) that I use to aggregate and read tweets by and about writers and writing were becoming unusable. By “unusable” I mean a couple of things: the tweets I really wanted to see were becoming lost in a sea of promotional tweets, and I was finding myself avoiding reading tweets from those lists. I’d think, I should look in on the writing crowd and my mind would immediately shoot back, UGH IT’S FULL OF THE TWITTER VERSION OF JUNK MAIL WHY BOTHER.
Now: let me be clear. I’m not saying there’s no place for promoting yourself as a writer – or whatever else it is you might do – on social media. As a matter of fact it turns out social media isn’t quite as helpful to writers as it is to, say, people who create visual art in all its wondrous forms. Sometimes I’m a bit jealous, but what am I going to do? Not suddenly switch to a new art form. I’ve gotten goodish at this writing thing.
Back to topic, social media is a godsend for the little people, the just-starting-outs and the indies. It’s pretty damn good for the already-made-its and the traditional-route-to-success crowd as well, or you wouldn’t see so many spending their time and promoting their various projects on Twitter and other social media.
Twitter happens to be my personal favorite among the not-a-blog-or-forum crop of online modes of communication. It’s great for conversation, something everything else other than a decently-designed forum is crap at. I started using it before I started to write seriously again, and like many tweeters I twote about whatever was on my mind or happening in my life at the moment. When I started self-publishing I tweeted about my efforts sporadically, with no real plan or anything beyond a rudimentary consciousness that it might be a good idea. Eventually I started scheduling tweets about blog post X or short story Y every two or three hours. Lately I’ve come to see that as too much promotional stuff and I’ve settled on an interval of roughly four hours and fifteen minutes – the fifteen minutes to prevent my tweets from appearing at the same exact six times every day because if I have the option to be a little bit unpredictable I’ll take it. I’m allergic to ruts, which, paradoxically, is my rut.
For some peoples’ taste, that’s still too much promo. Too much, they might say, spam.
Well, that’s a personal perception, and I can’t do anything about it except make sure my tweets have more me in them than amateur marketing. Sure, I could do less. Some folks with work to publicize and/or sell keep it down to one or two tweets about their work, or none at all – they prefer to just let a link in their bio do the talking for them. That approach, I think, works best if your name is already out there. If you’re Wil Wheaton or John Scalzi, a ton of people already know who you are and go looking for that link if they want to see more of what you do. If you’re Joe Schmoe, that’s not something that really happens to you, so maybe you make my Joe Schmoe inspired choice and tweet up the promos a little bit.
And sometimes, if you’re Joe Schmoe and not really into this social media thing too much, you kind of miss the point, or buy into some marketer’s admonitions that all that matters is your promotional whatever being seen, so you need to tweet only promotional tweets. Preferably with big colorful images attached. Attention getters: shirtless beefslab dudes, big boobs, big explosions, big spaceships spurting flames, whatever. There are organized groups and services, for which you can elect to pay a chunk of money each month. And they tweet your promotions and retweet other folks’ promotions to the tune of thousands of tweets weekly. They “churn” (follow a bunch of accounts daily and unfollow anyone who doesn’t follow back right away) and automatically follow each other to gin up big follower counts, like attention-starved pufferfish – HEY LOOK AT ME I’M BIG AND NOISY.
Some of these people don’t want to bother running their own social media accounts, so it’s all automated (I recently booted one of those from my lists because, no kidding, the bio asked me to look for his new novel coming out in October 2014. Dude, update your shit. Pretend to care a little.) They are spambots roaming cyberspace, shotgunning anyone who looks at them with a big, fast mess of BUY MEs. Other writers might tweet on their own once in a while to offer some safe, bland tweets. Recent examples, altered slightly to protect the guilty: “What do you like to eat for breakfast?” “Where is your favorite place to read?” This person had a response or two to some of those tweets – but wasn’t answering any of the responders. The first word in “social media” is “social.” Be social. If someone talks to you, talk back or at least “favorite” or “like” what they said (unless they’re being horrid, which is a different ball of social media wax) so they know there’s someone alive over there. And who knows, what I was taking for an author trying to inject a little personality, however feebly, into their Twitter persona may have simply been a bot carefully crafted to lend the appearance of life to an entirely automated account. Whichever is true – who really gives a damn? It’s not interesting.
Some advice occasionally given to authors looking for an audience is to avoid contentious subjects, just be personable. And some authors agree with that advice to a fault. It might be wise to avoid talking politics and religion on social media. I’m afraid I’m not that species of wise – and writing, fiction or non-, has long been a politically and socially charged field. If I’m not wise, then at least I’m in good company.
But struggling back to the point again: an all-promo Twitter account is at best boring, and if not at its best it’s an annoying turnoff. These promotional groups retweet each other all over the place, and I’m sure the authors sit back and go, “look at those numbers! Twitter says I got 100 retweets today! And 100 favorites! And 50,000 impressions (how many times tweets were, not seen, but POTENTIALLY VISIBLE to a follower or a follower of a follower)! I’m kicking ass!”
But they’re not kicking ass. They’re just stinking the place up and those retweets and favorites and impressions were 99.99% just other bot-run accounts, writers not looking at their own automated account, and random bystanders who quickly scoot by thinking, “Oh, god. Another spam tweet from that jackass.” The saying goes that all publicity is good publicity, but it isn’t. Not when you’re trying to persuade people that what you do is worth them shelling out a few shekels and your “marketing” just teaches them to wrinkle their noses at the very mention of your name.
Some time ago, I went through a phase where I put a bunch of them in my lists thinking, charitably, hey, maybe they’ll actually start tweeting for themselves at some point. And they do write. And if they shut up with the promotions for a few seconds, push the bots out of the driver’s seat, maybe I’ll get to see who they are. So what the hell.
What the hell is, I want those lists to be filled with human beings, so I can see what human being writers are writing about on this Twitter thing. And I can’t do that if a dozen clusterbombing spambots are stinking the joint up. So they had to go.
If you’re a writer or other creative, don’t turn to spam “marketing”. Just be a human. Be yourself as best as you can be. Honestly strive to find a balance between “hey look at what I wrote” and “hey look at my opinion on stuff” and “hey let’s have a conversation.” Tweet (or whatever) about what’s going on with you. Sure, mention you have a story coming out. But also talk about what’s in the news or what’s going on in your favorite genre of whatever or bitch about the weather or car repairs (uncoincidentally, I’m trying to repair the family car now. Hoped it was a belt, then hoped it was a pulley, now hoping it’s only the power steering pump which my brother in law and I will be installing, hopefully, in the next few days. In a minivan, which are the very devil to work on. Because I can’t afford to have it towed into a shop and pay shop labor rates – or, for that matter, to own a vehicle less than 20 years old).
It’s advice so old and cliché that it has virtually ceased to have meaning – but be yourself. Be “authentic,” as the marketing crowd likes to say (I think they do – I’m not a marketer).
Unless you’re a dick or a spammer (they’re often the same thing). In that case, try being someone else.