Online Etiquette Tips for Authors:

I recently asked three different author groups what are some social media/online gaffs that they see authors making that make them face palm harder than meme Picard. They had a lot to say.

Here are some of the top responses (with clarification and helpful ideas about what you can do instead).

Don’t add users to your lists without permission.

As tempting as it is when you’re trying to grow your social media or newsletter following to just sweep up everyone connected with you and make them your follower through any means necessary, this is not a great strategy.

For things like Facebook groups, it is mildly annoying to be added to groups without permission, and if you invite everyone regardless of whether or not they might be your intended audience, you’ll end up with large numbers but low interactions. It’s better to have 1 follower who is actually interested in your book than 10 or even a 100 that are just there because they felt socially obligated.

For email newsletters, it may actually be ILLEGAL to add people to your list without permission (depending on the spam laws in your country and the opt ins provided by your newsletter service). In fact, it’s more likely illegal than legal.

What to do instead?

If you come across someone IRL or online who you feel would be interested in your books and a good potential follower, give them links or hand them a business card. That way they can make the choice as to whether or not they want to follow you.

Don’t recommend your book unless you are sure it’s a good fit for the reader.

I’m in a lot of Facebook reader groups, and I don’t know how many times I’ve seen someone ask for “an Urban fantasy with a snarky female lead and creative magic” only to have someone go, “My book is an Epic Fantasy quest adventure with an aged male warrior hero who lives by the blade and bow … but I’m sure you’ll like it.”

I’ve seen this justified with, “Well, I know it wasn’t what they asked for, but if they gave my book a chance …”

And maybe that person WOULD also like your book. There’s a chance. The problem is they asked for something specific and you gave them something not that, which is A. not very respectful and B. not at all helpful.

It would be kind of like someone saying, “Hey, I’m in the mood for Chinese. Do you know any good Chinese places around here?” and you’re like, “My uncle runs the best hamburger joint this side of Kalamazoo.” … Okay, great, but that’s not what the person is hungry for. You did not fulfill their request. You did not meet their needs.

When you give bad recommendations, you’re not only wasting your time and the poster’s time, but you’re watering down the faith people in that group have about the recommendations. If they ask for one thing and get recommended the other, why should they trust any recommendations?

What to do instead?

Try recommending OTHER writers books that fit the bill. It gives the reader what they want AND builds good will within the author community.

Don’t send every new friend you get an immediate sales pitch.

It’s just irritating. It immediately telegraphs that your only interest in that other person is as a potential buyer, not a potential friend.

What to do instead?

Save friends requests for people who are actually people YOU are interested in. Don’t hide the fact that you have books, but if you are posting about them, people will notice. Let them come to you.

Don’t respond to reviews (with a caveat).

The general consensus is there is NEVER a reason good enough to respond to any review, negative or positive. I think this rules definitely stands with Goodreads, Amazon, and commercial sites where your book might be up for purchase. Responding to negative reviews can be seen as argumentative and confrontational. With positive reviews, it’s just more “not something that’s done.” Part of the reason is that most readers don’t leave Amazon reviews expecting to interact, and it can be kind of awkward, even if the review was a glowing one.

That said, if the review is mainly positive and posted on social media or a blog (especially if the reader tags you), a lot of bloggers do intentionally seek out the attention of writers hoping they’ll stop by and interact. In these cases, it’s generally fine. If tagged in a negative review, you probably still don’t want to engage, though, as they might be trying to bait you.

What to do instead?

Nothing. You don’t need to do anything here. Reviews are their own thing. Let them be.

Attempting to guilt friends and family into buying your book.

I get that it feels frustrating that you have 500 friends but not 500 book sales. If those people really cared about you, wouldn’t they pony up the paltry sum to purchase a book … but you don’t know what’s going on in those friends’ lives. Their financial situation. Whether they even like books (if they aren’t your intended audience, their purchases can actually make your book less discover-able because they confuse the Amazon “also bought” lists).

Everyone these days is getting sold to constantly be it from the friend who just joined an MLM or the aunt who crochets hats. Most people can’t afford to constantly support all their friends ventures, and acting entitled to their purchases and support is just a bad look.

What to do instead?

Pursue organic purchases from people who are interested in your actual book, not social obligation.

Tag Responsibly.

There’s nothing more annoying than getting tagged in a post that blows up and you get a thousand notifications about something that you really don’t care about … or maybe you care about it, but you only wanted to see it once and now since you’re tagged you’re getting dinged with a bunch of notifications you have to delete until you get a chance to delete the tag.

Sometimes these tag games can be “helpful” like “Friday Follow” or shout outs. I’m personally not a huge fan of them even then because unless a person asked to be included it might hit them on a day where they’re particularly busy and the noise of those unwanted notifications can drown out and hide things that they might actually want to see. However, it’s especially bad for “support me, share this, buy this” type of things.

What to do instead?

If you have a launch coming and you want people to help you spread the word, ask for sign ups, and only tag people who have given you a clear indication that they want to participate. Better yet, go with an email notification which is less “dingy.”

If you want to interact with someone professionally, DON’T send them a friends request to a personal account.

A lot of writers choose to have two online spaces, a personal one and a professional one. If your primary interest is professional, pursue them through professional means (pages, contact form on their website, etc). Not everyone wants to befriend everyone they bump up against in a writers’ group. Everyone has different standards for how much interaction they want with a person before they’ll accept a friends request. Try to interact before you slide onto their friends list.

What to do instead?

As mentioned, most authors will have professional contact methods available. If they don’t … that probably means they don’t like talking to strangers, so give them some space.

Learn to do your own research and respect the time of others.

There are two opposite sides to this, but both are equal in their irritation.

1. Asking simple questions that you could easily just Google.

2. Asking extremely complex questions that will require the person you are asking to give up hours of their time to walk you through the nuances of the matter.

Why not 1?

Maybe you like personal interaction and just want to ask a person rather than Google, but there are better ways to get interaction than popping up with simple questions like “Can an EMT wear a beard or is that against professional standards/health codes?” “What would be the likely cost of a 3 bedroom home in current day San Diego county?” “How long does it take to drive from St. Louis to Columbus?” (All three of those were things I’ve had to look up in the last couple of months for my writing. All of them were answered by Google in about a minute and a half)

If you have access to social media and chat, chances are you also have access to Google (maybe you can think of specific circumstances where you could ask a friend but not Google, but we’re talking online etiquette here so I’m making the assumption that we’re talking situations where you have access to a search engine of your choice). Asking these very simple questions instead of, you know, just googling it assumes that your time is more important than the person who, in all probability, will just google it for you to clear your answer out of the feed.

What to do instead?

If the reason you are asking simple questions in your online groups instead of looking them up is that you are lonely and want to talk to someone, that’s cool, but find a thing to talk about that will go further than “hey, I googled this for you.” I bet you can do it. (Plus waiting for the answer is time you could’ve spent writing).

Why not 2?

Often I think this is ignorance not rudeness. A new writer might assume there is a simple, paragraph long response to something that is, in fact, very complicated.

It’s not a bad thing to ask people who are more experienced than you are for help or advice. A lot of writers are happy to help newer writers along the way.

However, if you ask a big, open ended question like “How do I self-publish a book?” … that’s too big of ask to dump on some random person.

For one thing, there’s a ton already written out there on the matter that you could read up on. You can educate yourself rather than ask someone to reinvent the wheel typing out what a dozen authors have already set to digital page. I am occasionally asked to write up blog posts or even a book on how to self-publish. The main reason I don’t isn’t that I don’t want to help people … it’s that pretty much everything I know has already been written by someone else at this point. There’s no point in me doing it all over again.

Also, even if your question feels like it should be quick to answer, don’t assume the person will be immediately available to answer it. Don’t hound them with question after question. Be cognizant of how much of THEIR time you are taking up. Asking someone for five minutes and asking them for an hour plus are very different asks.

Also, some authors run consulting businesses, so you might be asking them to provide something for free that they’d usually charge for (ie, their experience and expertise).

What to do instead?

Keep your questions simple and few and far between if you are asking another writer directly (via email, DM, or messenger). If asking a group, try to break down your inquiries into reasonable chunks. Maybe ask for resources instead of answers. The majority of writers will have favorite blogs that answer the questions you would be asking.

If you have a negative response to another author’s work, it’s usually best to let it go.

Everyone has opinions. Sometimes you may come across a book by another author you feel is not as good as it should’ve been.

I am not of the mind that leaving a negative review is a “bad” thing. Readers need to know negative opinions as well as positive ones to make an informed decision, and that, after all, is the point of reviews.

However, once you become an author, the chances drastically increase that you might end up on a panel, working on an anthology, in a group discussion, or in a myriad of other author networking situations with an author whose work you dragged over the coals for perceived flaws.

You might get a hit of attention by piling on another author, but it’s generally speaking not worth the potential awkwardness of traveling in the same small circle as someone who knows that you trashed their work in a public forum.

Now what about constructive criticism?

Depends. If you can politely express a few flaws in a book you otherwise liked without piling on it, that’s probably fine. (Example: I enjoyed this book over all, but there were a few points it felt rushed.) I do feel authors who expect nothing but beaming praise of their books should control their expectations. That said, if your opinions would skew overall negative, or you’re not sure how it will be perceived, you are better off leaving it alone. Other readers will hit it with the negative reviews soon enough most likely. Your opinion doesn’t matter that much on any given book to be worth burning bridges.

What to do instead?

Different authors have different takes here. Some won’t review in their genre at all for fear of causing ill will. Some will only review if they can leave a 3+ star rating, some 4+ or even 5 only. You’ll need to use some common sense, but generally speaking do not be the person who gets a reputation for stomping on the works of others.

Turn off promotional mode from time to time.

A while back there was a group I was in where authors were linking their social media profiles. It was befuddling to me how so many major authors have social media profiles that are just AD, AD, AD, AD, AD, AD AD. Every single post is in some way selling the book. This does not encourage followers.

Other examples are bringing your book up in every conversation. People could be talking about favorite ice cream flavors and you’re like, “Oh, ice cream! Great stuff! The main character of my book loves ice cream. You can buy it here!”

In fact, a lot of etiquette boils down to respecting that people DON’T want to be sold to constantly. Sometimes they want to interact with you as a person, not a promoter.

What to do instead?

Be a person.

There are honestly a lot more things I could add, but this is already a rather long blog post. If you’ve done some of these things in the past, naively or otherwise, don’t fret. EVERYONE makes mistakes in this game, especially when starting out. What matters is gaining awareness of how such actions are perceived and changing them accordingly.

Good luck out there!

H. L. Burke is a fantasy author and founder of

the Fellowship of Fantasy.

You can find out more about her and her work at www.hlburkeauthor.com

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