Online Etiquette: Are You Making these Mistakes as an Indie Author?

When I meet new people and they ask me what I do, I say "I'm a Marketing Person". Most Specifically, I am a Marketing Manager who specializes in Book Marketing, Media, and Publishing. I work as the Marketing and PR Director for Acorn Publishing, a hybrid-style publishing house. (Let me just plug for my job by gushing over how much I love it.)

Our books are works of art. We craft pages, fine tune sentences, we create a deeply personal and essential piece of artwork.

But then, we need to sell it.

The fact of the matter is, most writers do not start as experienced business people. There are a lot of Marketing Mistakes people make when presenting and trying to sell their books that make them come off as pushy or pandering. When authors seem pushy online it makes potential readers backpedal faster than a unicycle rider going uphill. Here are some of the most common mistakes I see that authors make on social media when marketing themselves or their books.

"The Girl Scout in a Movie Theater"

I like to look at social media like a movie theater. When I am not working, I am here to be entertained.

Picture this, you're in a theater with friends, you get settled in, and soon the movie starts, a Girl Scout comes into the theater shaking cookie boxes at people.

Girl Scout Cookies are delicious. It is just a fact of life. You like girl scout cookies a lot too.

This Girl Scout is not obstructing your ability to watch the movie, her Thin Mints are not thick enough to cover the screen, she is not Do-Si-Do-ing loud enough to drown out the movie.

So, why is this a problem?

She's not stopping you from watching, but selling Girl Scout cookies in a theater is a huge violation of your personal space. When you see another person trying to plug their product in your personal space (by commenting on your posts, posting on your timeline, etc.) it is exhibiting poor business etiquette and it makes people much less likely to want your product.

Here is a real-world example that shies away from cookie analogies. I posted picture of my dog on my Instagram, it had nothing to do with work, books, reading, or anything. An author who I did NOT know commented, thanking me for a review of their book on Goodreads and asking me to buy the next in the series. This happened to be a book with a sexual title. Not only is this intrusive, but it's poorly placed, and because of the book title, it's embarrassing to me, the reader. The choice that this author made guaranteed that I would NOT by her next book.

Not only are these messages SPAM, but they also have NOTHING to do with me as a customer at all. Reaching out to your reader base in this way is beyond rude and a large violation of personal space. If you want to reach out to a reader, and it is somebody you know personally, you can do so privately, politely, and personally, through their messages, don't slap your "PLEASE SHARE MY POST" all over their wall.

To put it as plainly as possible, commenting with plugs for your book or posting ads on other peoples posts and/or timelines is rude, and unprofessional, but it turns readers away and is the least effective method of selling your self. Not only is this rude, but this is considered SPAM and could get you removed from your social media accounts.

Lack of Personality

Social Media is all about communication. Marketing is about effective communication. Effective communication for authors is very commonly "Two-Way Communication. Two-Way Communication involves two parties, you talk to your readers and give your readers an opportunity to talk back.

A lot of authors, however, use One-Way Communication on their Social Media profiles to market themselves. One-Way Communication is when a message goes from one party to another with no expectation or opportunity to receive contact back.

This method involves the subtle (and some might say underappreciated) art of jumping out of an alley at people with a megaphone yelling "BUY MY BOOK".

When Marketing yourself online, it is important to take into consideration that not everybody will want to talk about your book all the time.

Your communication to your reader base should not exclusively be one liners filled with hashtags and capital letters that do not communicate any interest to the outside world.


Your reader base wants to connect with you because of who you are. When you entire social media is filled with communication that is just about yourself or your book and not inviting to your readers, it lets them know you are not interested in communicating with them. This drives engagement down, which makes other people less likely to find you. Talk about things you enjoy, other books you're reading, reach out with blog posts or writing tips, just try to vary your social media content so it's not exclusively promotions.

Here is a tweet by Goodreads that shows excellent use of two way communication.

When you get to somebody's website and the first home page has a giant "BUY NOW" Sticker slapped to the front before anything else, there is a huge disconnect between the author as a person and their book as a product. This isn't personal, it doesn't tell your reader you care about them or that they should invest as a person. It might as well be a big "F*ck you, Pay me.".

When we leave ourselves open to communication, we give online people opportunities to become real-life friends who want to read our stories. Be kind and considerate, and Social Media may give you more than just a book sale.

Not Respecting the Time of Your Audience

Using Social Media needs to be seen as a conscious choice readers are making, and you need to respect their time because of it. As a business person, you need to respect that your reader will spend their time the way they want to.

If a reader chooses to share a post for your book they are spending their time to share your content. This should be appreciated as a choice that they have made, not an obligation you have put upon them because they are a close friend/family member/etc etc..

When a business person bombards their reader base with constant requests to share their posts, review their work, and buy their book, this business person is not being respectful of the time their reader should be spending enjoying social media. You should never have to publicly ask somebody to share your content. A good rule of thumb is to make sure your content is something people want to share without being asked.

While, for the most part, people are willing to spend a lot of time online, it is safe to make the assumption that people will not take multiple steps for something. For example, if you post "My book is for sale on Amazon!" It is not likely that people who do not know you personally will go through the steps to find the sale. You have not specified the title of your book, the sale price it is being sold for, or a link to the book.

However, posting, "My Memoir, "Living with Pugs" is on sale today for 99 cents! Here's the link to get it on Amazon." not only states the title and the price, but it gives a direct link to the book itself. This method is immediate as it is efficient.

Being a self published author is a small business, for the most successful of us it's a full time job. When presenting yourself as an author you need to be the best version of yourself you can present. Often, authors focus so much on the "selling" aspect of their books they forget that they are communicating and talking with real people. While, as an author, you are selling yourself and your product online, the execution of your presentation needs to be personable, polite, and respectful of those around you.

347 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All