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June 18, 2012

How to avoid being a spam-bot and change the world in the process

This is Jessica Westhead. Basically, what I’m saying is: “Do it like she does.”

Two of the things I complain about most often in public are terrible examples of authors promoting their work online and women writers’ lack of representation in the media and in the world, and so it is amazing to me that both of these annoying things can be addressed with one solution.

But I will address the former problem first, those head-bangingly awful incidents in which it’s clear that authors don’t understand that the opportunity to shill their stuff an offshoot of social media engagement and not its primary purpose. Though I’ve met writers who go the other way, who get a poem published in a national magazine and think it’s bragging to put a link on Facebook. It isn’t. Linking to cool stuff is what people do on Facebook, on twitter and on blogs. But it’s when writers cross a line from, “Look at this!”” (link to published poem) to “Look at me!!” (link to published poem posted on twitter five times daily for months at a time, and also spamming link to other people’s feeds) that it gets to be a problem. When you’re a human who’s a spam-bot, you’ve clearly gone too far.

So how do you avoid becoming a human spam-bot? Easy: don’t post the same link more than twice. If you run out of links, do something new, something better. And in between those links, how about you talk about somebody who isn’t you? A book that isn’t yours? If you’re part of a literary community, you can talk about what your peers are up to. If you aspire to be part of a literary community, deposit yourself within it by engaging with that community’s literature online. If you’ve got nothing to do with any literary community, talk about the best books you’ve read lately and– ka-pow– you’ve just situated yourself in (close) relation to those books, those authors. It’s amazing. From these references, your readers will be able to figure out what you’re about.

When you have promotional opportunities– to write guest blog posts, to write your own blog, when you’re talking to a reporter or answering a Q&A– share your attention with other deserving writers and books. When someone puts a call out for book suggestions, resist to the impulse to chime in with “Mine!” and suggest somebody else’s. If there is a readers’ choice award going on, take a risk and champion a book that you didn’t write (which is the point of these things anyway. It’s not a “writer’s choice” award). If your book is up for a readers’ choice award, sit back and let the readers choose. (If you win a readers’ choice that you rigged, you didn’t win anything at all.) Engage with social media not just as a writer, but as a reader. It broadens your approach, and makes you that much more interesting.

And it also serves to promote a culture of readers, of reading. If you’ve already got someone’s attention, they know about your book, so why not suggest another? It increases the odds that whoever is listening will buy two books instead of one. And as a writer, you certainly stand to benefit when people start buying more books. When you reference other people’s books, it becomes less about your book than about reading in general, which is a terrifying leap to take, I know, but if your book is really good, it will only thrive in that healthy bookish eco-system. It means that you’re taking the opportunity to support other writers, and not in that annoying “rah-rah we all stick to together” way, but in that you have a platform from which to promote the work you really believe in, the books you’d like to see growing up alongside your own, the writing you admire.

And if you are a woman (and even if you’re not) and if the writing you admire happens to be written by women, then herein lies your chance to be part of the solution to the problem of women’s lack of representation in the media and the world. You don’t have to be a book reviewer or an editor to do something about it. You just have to be a reader as well as a writer, a reader/writer who champions the work of worthy women writers. Use your power as someone with a platform to shine a light on other books, other works. Support great work, be vociferous in that support, and understand how that support has greater impact when it’s a woman’s great work you’re supporting, that you’re helping to change the game for the better.

18 thoughts on “How to avoid being a spam-bot and change the world in the process”

  1. Excellent post, Kerry. And it applies to anyone in any artistic/biz medium who is promoting/shilling themselves.

    It bores me to tears to see the same messages repeated over and over and over again on Twitter and other social media. This practice is so common I thought it was just me, and that I didn’t really understand the rules of the game. Even some of the big names in blogging are guilty of this.

    If someone’s content is strong I will check out their website in great detail and return regularly without social media prompts, or subscribe to the RSS. If it’s not, I won’t. Neediness, reflected in oversharing, is a huge turn off.

    Interestingly, it seems to be a gender neutral practice.

    Kindest, Andrea

  2. Hi, Kerry. I think you are a social media maven, and I definitely look to you as a role model (I know I have lots to learn!).

    I wholeheartedly agree with so much of your message here, but I am deeply conflicted about what I see as the underlying premise: “if your book is really good, it will thrive in that healthy bookish eco-system.”

    As a writer, a reader, and a publishing-type 9-to-5-er, that’s just not necessarily my experience. I have seen the worst schlock soar to success and the best books get left in the slush pile. Contests and awards can be so arbitrarily decided, it’s scary. Residencies, grants, fellowships…don’t me started.

    Of course it’s not all doom and gloom, and a part of me genuinely believes the cream will always rise to the top (or at least the middle?), but I can also appreciate and even respect some ridiculously flagrant self-promotion. Goodness knows I’ve been guilty of it on occasion.

    Alienating readers is never a good idea, but sometimes I think it’s fair to play the game a little dirty. Everybody else is.

    1. Kerry says:

      And I think it’s better to change the game. Part of the problem is that we don’t have a healthy bookish eco-system, and writers supporting great work can do a part in remedying that. I also think that supporting others’ work will make your own self-promotion more effective, as readers will see that self-promotion isn’t all you’re out for. I suspect you’re zeroing in on what I’ve said about readers’ choice contests and the like– we all know that authors have been put in really awkward positions with these things and get pressure from all sides to push their stuff, but this author hijacking of reading communities undermines anything potentially positive about these endeavours. Nobody wins, really.

  3. Chad Pelley says:

    Great article, Kerry. Shout it from the rooftops. For example, there’s this one woman who spams Open Book Toronto’s feed so frequently I had to de-friend Open Book Toronto because her 5-times-daily posts got annoying … and cost her a sale. I was going to buy her book, but her TELLING ME TO over and over turned me off.

    You nailed it here, with regards to writers and social media. People talk about what’s going on in their lives, casually:”Off to the gym,” “Can’t believe it’s my son’s 3rd birthday already,” “I just won Prism’s Short Fiction Contest!” That’s not self-promotion, that’s sharing your life through social media and being thrilled at an accomplishment. When people get into telling me to buy their book: what’s the motivation? My newsfeed isn’t a pitching grounds. Self-promotion should be subtle, not pushy, and exciting for the receiver.

    Anyway. I’m rambling. I do agree with your and Laura’s comments here too. I loved Laura’s collection. Loved it. but I bet it was outsold by lesser books. Sadly, sales run on buzz, not merit. I.e: people buy books people are talking about, not books they’d actually enjoy, as a rule. I’d love to see a healthier book ecosystem too. And I’m thrilled that healthier system is coming around these last few years.

  4. Chad Pelley says:

    p.s – virtually all my favourite books were written by women, except the one that got me writing (Michael Winter’s This All Happened.) So if there is a lack of media attention devoted to female authors in this country, is a sad disservice to CanLit.

  5. Rebecca says:

    I agree with everything here. Also, is it just me that thinks it’s alarming to talk about your Amazon ranking?

  6. Sara says:

    I think you’re absolutely right, Kerry. It’s a tricky old balance and that the best way to talk about it is to celebrate the writers who are out there doing interesting things via social media (and I count you among their number!)
    I’ve recently started following Kyo Maclear -though her blog and via facebook – and she consistently provides interesting content and links.

  7. Tricia Dower says:

    Your message is important because if we exhaust others wit our posts, people will withdraw from contact with us. I recently got a Twitter account and, having no clever things to say about myself, look for opportunities to link to positive reviews of books by other authors and to retweet posts that promote Canadian writing.But I also retweet any mentions of Stony River; I think that’s fair, especially at this vulnerable pre-release phase. Kathryn Glovier and Charlotte Gill are among those who handle Twitter well.

  8. Tricia Dower says:

    Hmm, “wit”? Have another glass of wine, Tricia.

  9. Panic says:

    I think the Amazon ranking talk can be fun. If it’s, as Chad says, one of those “Ate cereal” “Oh neat, I’m #42 in Canadian Women Beginning with L!” If it comes across as just one of those things in your life you Tweet I have no problems. I also have no problems with “HOLY CRAP MY BOOK” because that’s super exciting for someone. I can’t tell you exactly when certain people/books have crossed the line, I have no metric, but there certainly has been a few times when I’ve started yelling “enough!” Maybe it’s technique like everything else.

    There are different types of social media users, though. You and I and everyone else on this comment thread are probably the type to follow people they like and find interesting, some of whom happen to be writers. However, there is another type, that use social media purely as a promotional tool (or to help maintain their personal brand, blech!). I wish those people would all just hang out on another part of the internet and pitch to each other, and leave the rest of us alone!

    1. Kerry says:

      Will never EVER fault an author for “HOLY CRAP MY BOOK”. Seeing that kind of excitement evokes the genuine connection that social media, at its best, is all about. I love it. And Tricia, if someone else is talking about your book, there is nothing wrong with sharing the conversation either. You want to bring attention to your work. But yes, when you find yourself shouting like a lunatic and it all starts to get a bit *echoey*, perhaps it’s time to shut it down.

  10. JK says:

    Kerry, thanks for this necessary post. What you’re suggesting is certainly the golden standard; hopefully it becomes the just the standard sometime soon.

  11. Chad Pelley says:

    I’ve had throw Salty Ink on a hiatus,
    but I’ve started a new blog where I post something
    I like every day — — and thanks to your article here I had a great idea for a year-long feature an CanLit female writers. “Pitch and Plug.” once a week for a year I profile a Canadian female writer I admire, have her pitch her book (a story behind the story, what her intent was, whatever), then she plugs one book by another female writer she’d recommend. I kind of love the idea. Thanks for inspiring it. That’s 1 of 5 weekly posts taken care of, for a year, with one email to 52 writers 😉

    1. Kerry says:

      Hey Chad, it’s a great idea. These kind of initiatives are important, as is happening change creep in organically.

  12. Chad Pelley says:

    … since the second topic in this article was about a lack of attention on women writers, I meant.

  13. Carrie says:

    Just wanted to chime in and say thanks for a great post. I have thoughts, but haven’t had my morning coffee yet, so will just say: yes, I’m in agreement!

    (Okay, one thought: it takes confidence in one’s own work to be open to championing others’, and that’s something that not every writer/human being has, though it’s an excellent trait to cultivate. Professional jealousy is fairly common in literary relationships, even good ones — and I speak as someone who LOVES reading literary biographies. But I much prefer the alternative that you’re championing here.)

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