You know what drives me crazy (currently)?  How much of what passes for author interaction at social media sites these days resembles spam.

I made the connection while clearing out the spam comments at this blog.  They almost all start out the same, with a sentence that looks like the writer (probably a bot) might actually have read my blog post—“I enjoyed this post. This topic is really very interesting. . .”—then they turn into self-serving sales drivel.  While I was gleefully emptying the spam folder it occurred to me that I’ve been seeing lots of this same sort of “let me say a polite thing about you so I can talk about ME, ME, ME” stuff on twitter, in on-line writing groups, and on facebook lately.

Frankly, it’s cheesing me off.

It’s gotten particularly bad in writing and reading related facebook groups.  When I join a group devoted to say “Lovers of Mysteries with Dogs as Their Main Character” (okay I made that one up, but I don’t want to point fingers at actual groups or communities) I expect folks therein to share information on good books with doggy detectives, or links to websites to help me in researching or writing same.  Instead what I am getting these days are nearly naked advertisements—“My book ‘It’s a Dog Eat Dog World’ just got a super-duper review at ‘Dog books R us!’ Read it here. Or better still buy my book here, or here, or here.”  This is just annoying.  If I want advertisements there are plenty running along the top or side of every darn website I visit.  “Come on fellow writers,” I want to scream, “you’ve got a personal facebook page, probably an author FB page, and doubtless an author website to share good reviews and ‘buy it now’ links.”  The essence of communities and/or shared-interest groups (like FB “bookclub” pages) is dialogue—even in the virtual world.

A hybrid of “boast posters” are the folks who share EVERY blog post they’ve ever written or will ever write to a facebook group, or to twitter, irrespective of whether it’s on topic.  Sure, if someone has written a post that is germane to the topic of a group or comment thread (or touches on one of the subjects that they assume people follow them on twitter to hear about) then posting that link is a worthy public service.  But if a blogger is just slapping up everything he can think of to increase his name recognition then he should spare us and save himself the time (because pretty soon I for one am going to stop looking at his posts because I already KNOW what they will say – some version of “look at me.”)

As a writer I understand where this behavior has its roots.  There is a great deal of pressure on writers today to market our own work, and very specifically to have a presence in the virtual world.  If writers join any community of like-minded people as part of “building an internet presence,” however, I firmly believe they should try to interact in a genuine, non-agenda-driven, manner.  And just for the record the interaction is neither effective nor genuine when it amounts to commenting on topics started by others in true spam form (“I am fascinated by cocker spaniels but for a really great blog on poodles, more specifically MY poodles, click here”).  I think spam-types fail to recognize a basic truth – all on-line presence is NOT equal and, specifically, an annoying presence seldom sells a book.

If you are a spammer not a genuine community member you are wasting your time—at least as far as I am concerned.  Because the truth is, when I have my “reader hat” on, I buy two kinds of books: 1) those receiving notable reviews or buzz from reviewers I trust (whether that’s a “R”eviewer in the print or digital media or a guy I sit next to on the bus every morning and discuss books with); and 2) books written by friends (folks I’ve gotten to know through writers conferences, through on-line communities and through their blogs).  You are no friend of mine if you spam me.

Readers, what do you think?  When you join a “readers” or “lovers” group on line (as in “mystery lovers” that was NOT meant to be an X-rated comment) do you expect to encounter posts/comments that are nakedly self promotional?  When you do see them do they bother you or do you merely consider it a convenient way to discover new books in a particular genre?  Am I must imagining a sudden spike in such spam-like posts (after all I am a writer and I do have an overactive imagination), or have you noticed a similar phenomenon?

10 Responses to “When Authors Become Spammers They Waste Readers’ Social Media Time (and Their Own)”

  1. Great post, Sophie! I’ve also been noticing an excess of self-promotion in the FB groups I’ve joined. It does seem odd for authors to have to “share” every good review they get on an on-line forum which isn’t meant for that.

    • Glad it’s not just me.

      I suspect a lot of people are struggling to figure out what type of promotion works and what doesn’t. I think folks who go to an author’s “fan” page probably expect a lot of news sharing, while folks who go to groups (either on facebook or on-line writers communities) are probably not going to be as tolerant of that stuff. But, as always with my rather stream-of-consciousness blogging, that’s just my personal opinion.

  2. Hi Sophie, I greatly appreciate this post.

    My FB group EHFA has had a few such comments. However, I believe that the authors are confusing our three groups, only one of which is a public group. One of them is for our business, one is for promotions, meaning that the author says “I got a good review here; please promote it.”, and then the public group, which is not for that.

    I will try to remember, after I get home, to mention that as a reminder to the group.


    • Goodness Debbie, I hope you don’t think I had your group in particular in mind (in fact, I am not familiar with EHFA but I am curious).

      I’ve just been noticing a trend in so many off the on-line places I frequent. My twitter stream has been clogged with “buy my book” type stuff lately and I swear we are getting to a stage where some authors are practically reviewing their own books, lol.

      • Sophie,

        I did not know if you had even seen those posts, or maybe it was only one, but it did stick out in my mind, too, that this was the wrong place to post it. I appreciate your discussion here, because it is true. There is nothing worse than being spammed to death. 🙂

        • Alex wrote:I’m coming into this a ltilte late here, but I can’t help but wonder — if Charles Dickens or Fyodor Dostoyevsky lived today and they didn’t have any name recognition, how long would it take them to get out of the slush pile, if ever?The problem is that if Dickens and Dostoyevsky tried to get their existing works published for the first time today, their work would be dated. It works now because of the context in which we read it; without that context they lose something, which might well make them unpublishable. And Dickens wasn’t published out of nowhere: before his books were published he had a big following because his works were serialised in the popular press. And when (if) someone deigned to notice them, then would they stand a chance of getting published without making drastic compromises to their style? I understand about the economics of the industry, and I hope I’m not being a snob here, but I wonder how many great literary classics would exist if it were up to today’s literary industry.Ah, you’re referring to Publishing Myth Number 372. It’s not true that publishers expect writers to drastically change their writing for ltilte or no reason: it just isn’t logical for them to do this.Publishers sign books they love. They only make changes to those books in order to make them better, not to change the book out of all recognition. If substantial changes are required then these should be discussed before signing, so that the author can decide whether he agrees with them or not. It’s a misleading question to ask whether or not classics like Dickens et al would get published if they were submitted today: the thing is, if those writers were alive and writing today they’d write completely differently and might well get published. Would their original books get published today? Perhaps. Perhaps not. It all depends on how they compared to the books they were competing against for publication.

  3. Once a week I’ll take an hour of one day to promote some of my work on Twitter. But I try to steer clear of talking about it all the time, and while I may show someone towards my work if it comes up in a conversation, I certainly wouldn’t start a conversation just for self promotion.
    It is very hard to find the balance between self promotion and spamming though.

    • Obviously I think it is a good idea to mention our books I think it is HOW we do it that matters. If we do it in an over-the-top hard sell way we are going to turn people off anyway.

      Where we do it also makes a difference.

      These are the questions I’ve been trying to ask myself whenever I am about to mention news about my book: 1) is the discussion/mention of my work in the context of information that might be useful or interesting to readers? Which is often linked to 2) am I mentioning the particular information in the right forum? For example I did recently mention the goodreads giveaway of my book on my book’s facebook page and my author facebook page because presumably people who have “liked” those pages are looking forward to the release of the book and might want to have a chance to win it for free. Information on my publishing process or celebrating a milestone there would more likely be discussed in my writing on-line community in which case my experiences would be just one example. Interesting historical tidbits/articles and research resources I might post in facebook groups for historical fiction fans or historical fiction writers.

      Finally, I do think it is fine to post ANYTHING and EVERYTHING to my personal author website because that’s my space (as opposed to a community)

  4. I am all for bringing back the patronage system for the arts. Here is how it worked: A very powerful and wealthy individual loves your work and pays you to produce it for him. He shows it to all his friends and preserves it for posterity. Everybody reads your work because everybody is impressed by your patron (not necessarily by you.) With such a system there is no need for all of this pathetic self-marketing and spamming. All you have to do is hone your talent and find you a sugar daddy.

    I am so tired of being a writer and trying to market my work while creating more work. I want to concentrate on the art and craft of writing, and on expressing myself and what life means from my perspective.

    I will continue to support other artists and writers and I will continue to promote my own work but I am going to put most of my time, my energy, and my soul into writing what only I can write — for me. Nobody is listening anyway — we’re all too swept up in beating our own drums.

    Thanks for helping me clarify this.

    • Amen.

      Besides being a horrible distraction, and (when done badly) sometimes downright unseemly, all this marketing and promotion puts the emphasis on a different set of non-writing skills.

      It is possible to be an excellent writer and not be particularly good at marketing. It is also possible to be an excellent writer and shoot yourself in the foot will ill-conceived marketing.

      I am never going to win a popularity contest. What I hope I can do is write things that some number of people not related to me by blood will enjoy. What I can also do is be present in the writing communities that I frequent to support other people walking the same path. Not all these people may “friend” me or “like me” on this or that social media group but I hope they will be come genuine friends. I suspect in the long run those matter more anyway.

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