ON WRITING. The days of an author hiding out in a cabin in the mountains or in a cottage on the beach to write books and not interact with the reading community are history.
Today, authors aren’t asked to engage in social media, they’re expected to do it—and to have been doing it long before the publication of the author’s first book.
Today, the author is asked about platform and social media numbers right along with sales numbers when an editor asks to see a proposal for publication consideration.
That’s a clue to authors as to how important this interaction is deemed by publishers. But should every author interact on every social media platform?
That (versus whether or not to engage on social media) is the question that every author needs to answer—and s/he truly should answer it personally and just for him- or herself.
Should Every Author Interact on Every Social Media Platform?
There are a lot of things to consider in answering that question. Both within the writer personally and without the writer professionally. Let’s look at them.
ABILITIES. Authors are human and, while they might be very good at writing books, they might have challenges when it comes to personal interactions. Many authors are introverts—opinionated, but introverts—and they each have natural strengths and weaknesses . . . just like everyone else. If you genuinely like people and you are at ease with them, then you might do well engaging on a platform like Facebook. If you don’t interact easily, then you might opt for a platform where the emphasis requires less interaction in words and more in other areas like Instagram and photos.
If you have sarcastic wit, and often must explain that you were being sarcastic or if you tend to speak first and think later, or you get frustrated and vent and take no prisoners when doing so, you might want to avoid heavy interaction and stick to micro-blogs like Tumblr. On those, you still should consider writing them a day or two ahead of publication and then reread them as if you were a reader on the receiving end (versus the author, who knows what s/he means) before publishing.
Just as some authors love radio and hate TV, and some love written interviews they respond to far in advance (versus phone interviews where they answer on the fly), some authors are comfortable at heavy interaction and others are not.
You can do two things about this. You can do what you’re comfortable doing and avoid those things you are not adept at doing (which tend to get you into conflicts and trouble with others) or you can do what you’re comfortable doing right now and work on getting comfortable in other areas. Media training, improving social skills are a couple examples.
One of the most helpful tools I’ve seen is pausing before hitting send to ask: How would I react to reading this? Now you know what you meant, but those reading what you’ve written only know what you’ve told them—just like in your books—and they intuit your meaning from what you say and how you say it. That’s worth remembering.
OBJECTIVES. The objective in engaging socially is to engage not enrage.
Years ago, I did a group signing with an author who complained about distribution through the entire signing—yes, to the other authors, the publicist, the editor, and to the readers who came out to get books.
It was a painful thing to watch and, honestly, a bit embarrassing, too. The author’s language was colorful, her tone acidic, her manner bristly. Everyone was put off by it, but honestly, the ones who suffered most were the readers. Think about it.
They stopped what they were doing and forfeited a part of the Saturday afternoon to make the trip to downtown to meet an author of books they’d read and enjoyed and wanted to meet and get a book signed. Maybe that reader wanted a few moments for a snip of conversation, or a photo with the author to share with his/her friends, family and/or book club group. And instead of the enjoyable encounter expected, the reader ran into the author on a really bad day.
The reader leaves disappointed, needless to say. But that disappointment doesn’t stop there. The reader is ticked off. I went to all that trouble for this?
The author, the reader is likely to deem, has no respect and thinks only of him/herself. Rightly or wrongly, that’s what s/he is apt to think, as most would. And so that is what the reader relates to all in his/her kingdom.
Lost opportunity for the author? Yes. But even worse. The reader won’t forget the negative encounter and, while s/he might or might not invest in future works by the author, s/he will choose to invest or not with thoughts of that negative encounter in mind. Every single time.
Maybe as an author you’re having a bad day. Maybe you’re going through a really hard time and people are tugging you in every direction possible and you feel strangled and like you can’t breathe. Maybe the world is on your shoulders and events are a heavy hammer pounding you deeper into the ground. You might have every single reason in the world to have a bad day or week or month or year or decade!
But there’s a time and place to voice your displeasure and discontent, and when interacting with your readers isn’t it. They too have feelings, cares, concerns and the world often pounds on them. Yet here they are, supporting you. Think of them during these times more than of yourself.
Remember . . .
1. Social media engagement isn’t all about you. It’s about your books, it’s about glimpses into your life you wish to share, but its purpose is really your opportunity to share with your readers. To get to know them (an invaluable treasure!) and to share with them things that hopefully they will find of interest.
2. Genuine interest in others can’t be faked. Well, it can, but it can’t be sustained. Interact honestly. If you appreciate others, respect them, care about their opinions and ideas, they know it. And if you pay them lip service or use them, they know that, too.
Think about it. In your “free” time, scarce as it is, you go and do things to escape from your personal concerns, right? Do you really want to go and spend it with those who take out their frustrations on you?
There’s a difference in talking through things, in discussing topics, events, and situations and being a hammer and pounding those who happen to be listening. We all know it, we need to remember it—before we hit send.
The best thing a writer can bring to any social media platform for engagement is an attitude of gratitude. It’s one of the most important traits we can bring to our lives, so naturally it’s important in our interactions, too.
When you interact with others with an attitude of gratitude, they sense it. They know it. They understand it. You’re glad they’re spending prized and scarce discretionary time with you. You appreciate their support of your work. You are grateful that of all the places they could be and all the things they’re doing, they choose to check in with you and what you’re doing. That’s a gift that they are giving you. Recognize it for what it is and appreciate it. And if you mess up, apologize.
Which Platforms Should I Use?
I’m often asked which social media platforms to use. The answer isn’t a simple use this-or-that one. The answer isn’t one-size fits all. The right answer for you depends on two things:
2. Your readers.
From all that’s been discussed, you know you should assess your strengths and weaknesses, and see which forums are the best fit. Maybe Facebook is a great match for you. Maybe Twitter is better. Maybe Tumblr or Google + or LinkedIn best suits you. Or perhaps Instagram is a natural fit.
Every platform is different. It has its own rhythm and feel. Its own rules. Its own nature for successful interactions and for ones that are decidedly unsuccessful and even damaging.
Time is always a consideration. Some authors have others manage their social accounts, but many authors do their own. So invest a little of that time not into posting but into absorbing. Visit groups, look at the posts others write, choose a couple people who seem to have success in the forum and assess why they’re successful there. Do this and you’ll gravitate to the one(s) that feels like the best fit for you.
Equally important is to determine where your readers spend their time. Maybe that’s Facebook or maybe it’s Book Fun or Shout Out. Obviously, since your objective is to engage with them, you’ll want to go where they are.
So what if you’re best suited for Twitter but your readers are on Facebook?
What do you do then?
You Twitterize your actions on Facebook. Keep your posts short and sweet and natural to you, minus the hashtags. You bring your natural strengths and leave your weaknesses at home. You work at gaining the skills you need to best interact with your readers in their chosen forum.
The key to social media engagement is to bring all the things with you that you bring to any party. It’s all public. It’s all there forever. Just as you don’t show up at a party without your armor, don’t engage publicly in social media without your armor.
Did she say armor?
Yes, she did. And she meant it.
What does she mean by it–exactly?
1. Behave yourself. Be slow to anger, quick to forgive. Sleights are not always sleights. Sometimes we come across wrong and others do, too. Put on a little thick skin, a little compassion and understanding, a little humanity—and always, always wear that attitude of gratitude. A little sense of humor helps, too.
2. Conduct yourself with Dignity and Grace. You’re a human being, you make mistakes. But if you conduct yourself with dignity and grace, others are more apt to forgive your mistakes when you make them—and you will make them because we all do.
Forgiving others their mistakes is part and parcel of the dignity and grace package. In various groups, I harped on this so much that the group shortened it to D & G. I’m chuckling as I write this because I’d often note them reminding others in the group, “Uh-uh. D & G.” Or with a, “You’re crossing the D & G line, there.” And what would have ended in harsh words instead ended in laughter.
Sometimes, I freely admit, our buttons get pushed so hard that retaining D & G is difficult. I’ve blown it—and not blown it. Not blowing it has consistently provided the best lasting results.
Even if you think you’re perfect and so careful you’ll never mess up, still retain dignity and grace. Because odds are, you’re as flawed as the rest of us and sooner or later, you’ll goof. When you do, you’re going to need the grace you’ve afforded to others. If you’ve respected them in granting it, they’ll be a lot more inclined to extend dignity and grace to you.
3. Regret, Remorse, and Retribution. We all say and do things we regret. Things we could have done or said more tactfully. And, after we go through the stage of rationalizing what we said or did to make ourselves feel better, we eventually feel remorse and wish we hadn’t said or done whatever we said or did. It can take a while to get there sometimes, but eventually we do.
Sometimes we’re nudged, shoved, or body-slammed to get to that remorse point. That’s where Retribution comes in.
When someone exercises Retribution or Revenge against us, we have two choices: let it pass or address it. Different situations require different responses, of course. But if we must or elect to respond, how we respond, is something we can and should control. Put on the armor, review dignity and grace, and then address the problem. A personal attack is never acceptable nor is it wise. It doesn’t resolve misunderstandings or disputes. It does create additional challenges. So have the discipline and exercise your good sense and considerable judgment, seeking solutions to the issue and not creating additional issues.
Let me share an example common to authors. The bad review.
The first inclination is to defend. Don’t. A review is a reader’s subjective opinion and s/he is entitled to it.
Can it hurt? Yes. Can it create career challenges? Sometimes. Can you honestly do anything about it? Yes, you can.
You can accept that not everyone is going to like your books. Some will, some won’t. You can understand that every reader has his/her own hot buttons and issues that s/he brings to the reading of the book, and what happens in it impacts his/her reaction to the book.
The fact is, hard as we might try, none of us is or can be wholly objective. Reading, even for professionals, is subjective. All that a person is, all they believe, love or hate, embrace or reject, comes with them to the reading.
Because a review is bad doesn’t mean it is without merit. It is the reaction of that one reader. Subjective, but his/her reaction.
Now there are reviews that are not merit-based, or book-based, that are posted for nefarious purposes. To, for example, knock down the ratings of a book so another book behind it moves up a list. Payback against an author with whom one has disagreed on some subject somewhere is another example. These things do happen—and when they do, it is all the more important to retain D & G and stay suited up in your armor. What you do not do is retaliate.
Retaliation, retribution, revenge—they all lead down the same road and it’s not a good place or author-friendly. The best thing an author can do is forget it, focus on constructive things, and move on. Again, yes these things can impact, so if a concerted attack is occurring, of course, it must be addressed. But a single bad review is likely not a concerted attack. It’s a differing opinion. Respect it—and see if there’s a hidden gem in it!
Now what if you’re in a position to retaliate, get retribution or revenge against someone who has harmed you?
The temptation to exercise it might be strong. But rise above it. Practice forgiveness instead. If the offense was a bad one, you might have to dig deep, but do it. Two things come to mind here:
1. Never make an enemy on purpose.
2. When you hurt another, you most hurt yourself.
Simply put, we can all jump off a bridge. Because we can certainly doesn’t mean we should.
It’s the same principle. We get into enough trouble without trying. Why deliberately set out to stir trouble? People define themselves as enemies for thousands of reasons. Some we can control, some we can’t. And for some reason, the anonymity of the Internet emboldens people to forget that there are actual human beings on both sides of those viewing screens. Real people with real feelings and real cares and worries and hopes and dreams and fears—and all that stuff.
Somebody needs to remember it. To set the example. To be the one to stand up and set the bar on personal behavior and conduct. Let that person be you. You’ll be a better human being for it—and you’ll be less weighed down by all the negative things that come with intentional enemies.
Hatred, irritation, frustration, dislike—all those things are heavy burdens to carry. Why forfeit an opportunity to ditch them out of a need to get even?
When you forgive, you’re not saying you were too stupid to know you were wronged. You’re saying, I was wronged, we both know it, but I forgive you. You’re not saying you’re going to put yourself in the position of being harmed again. You’re saying, I was harmed, we both know it, but I forgive you.
In acknowledging facts, in accepting them, and in letting go of them, you stop the wound from bleeding. We all benefit from fewer wounds.
Yes, it’s true that only some adversaries will grant you the ability to do this. Some won’t. You can’t control their choices or their actions, only your own. And, of course, you react reasonably and logically to protect your interests.
This began as an article about social engagement. It’s morphed into an article about interacting with other human beings. I would apologize for the broadening of the topic, but the truth is that one can’t interact in social media without interacting with other human beings.
It’s sad to say, but on social media I see flame wars all the time. I see people being uncivil, hateful, disrespectful to others–many of whom are giving as good as they’re getting. Unfortunately, far too many are resorting to trash-talk. Some trash-talk because they want to emphasize how strongly they feel. Others do it because they lack the ability to otherwise adequately express themselves. And some have been so saturated and steeped in trash-talk that to them it’s normal talk.
Regardless of the reason, any time you put two people together to interact they are going to agree on things and disagree on things. Ultimately, that’s a good thing because it encourages us to think and decide for ourselves what our opinions are on a variety of subjects in ways we might or might not have previously considered.
But—and this is important—just because we have an opinion (and writers do on almost everything because we’re interested in almost everything), that doesn’t mean we’re compelled to share it. Sharing our opinions is a choice. Our choice.
It’s worth remembering too that trash-talk alienates about half the people who read it. As authors, we’re wordsmiths. Avoiding trash-talk limits those unintentional alienations and it makes others more receptive to hearing what we actually have to say without the distraction of trash-talk. It’s a difference of what we’re saying versus how we’re saying it. Less is lost in translation; that’s my point. (Just a thought to consider…)
One last point I deeply regret having to mention but it’s a valid point and so I must.
There are those who engage in social media because they’re irked, irritated, feeling helpless or hopeless or small. There are those who are angry and are looking for a place to dump their outrage where it will least harm them. We can be more understanding of these challenges because we’ve all felt these things at one time or another.
But there are also those who are out to cut others down to lift themselves up. That never works, but a lot of people have yet to learn it. They are bitter, irrational, unreasonable and just spoiling for a fight.
It’s been my experience that you can’t interact with those individuals with kindness or logic or reason and diffuse tension. They don’t want to diffuse tension. That is their choice. But, In these situations, remember that you also have a choice. Endure or disengage. The recommendation is to disengage and pursue other, more constructive interactions.
Perhaps those individuals—be they authors, readers, or purple people-eaters—will weary of others disengaging and adopt more socially compatible interactions. Or not. Again, their choice. The point is, you aren’t required to participate. Exercise your choice.
There’s so much more that could be said on this topic, but let’s end here with a repeated reminder that I hope will frame what authors most need to know about social engagement succinctly:
The Objective is to Engage not Enrage.
I hope this helps!
© 2014, Vicki Hinze