Long before I was published I loved following authors on social media, and now that I’m an author myself, I thoroughly enjoy chatting to readers and writers online. It is, however, an area fraught with risk. How much promotion is too much? Where is the line between personal and professional lives? What sort of posts are interesting to readers?
I’ve read many articles written by authors and social media experts about what authors should be doing, but none of them presented opinion from readers – surely the very people we should be consulting.
I took to Twitter and Facebook to ask readers their views, and was struck by how little disagreement there was. It seems that, although we all like to read different things, we are very similar in what we like and dislike from authors on social media.
Authors on Social Media: what readers like
It’s not always easy to find out when an author’s next book is out, and social media provides this information straight from the horse’s mouth. Readers appreciate information on release dates, book signings, festivals and tours.
- Book-related background
Finding out what has influenced an author to write a book adds a new dimension to your reading, so it’s no surprise that readers love to hear about an author’s motivation, and the work that went into writing the book. Photographs, snippets of background research, links to related articles… all interesting content.
- Book recommendations
If there’s one thing we all have in common, it’s a love of books, so it’s hardly surprising that book recommendations came high on the list of what readers like to hear from authors on social media.
An obvious one, but important to include because of the strength of feeling from readers. Social media: the clue’s in the name. Readers like the opportunity to chat to their favourite authors, and receiving a reply – particularly from very well known writers – is a big deal.
Giveaways of signed books are very popular, and it was interesting to see that – generally speaking – readers don’t feel ‘sold’ to when the promotion includes a prize. So dig out those author copies and run some competitions!
- Reader involvement
Need a name for a minor character? Can’t remember the word for that thingy-ma-jig? Ask Twitter! My (not at all scientific) survey revealed that readers enjoy being involved in the writing process, and are happy to help with research questions or creative ideas.
- Sharing lows as well as highs
Much as we’d like it to be, a writer’s life isn’t all champagne and caviar. In fact, sometimes, it’s a bit rubbish. Bad reviews, writer’s block, builders drilling morning till night next door… So it was good to hear that readers are happy to take the rough with the smooth.
- Personal insight
This is a tricky one for authors, who are often quite private people. Lots of readers said they followed authors on social media in order to gain insight into what they were like as people. They enjoy hearing about their daily routine, their pets, their houses.
Authors on Social Media: what readers don’t like.
Happily, the list of things that readers DON’T like from authors on social media is significantly shorter.
- Too much advertising
Readers were unanimous in this one; authors shouldn’t use social media to try and sell to their followers. An interesting distinction was made between retweeting complimentary tweets – not at all popular – and sharing positive reviews or blog posts, which was generally seen not only as acceptable practice, but as useful and interesting content for readers.
- Third-party posting
Readers are unimpressed by social media accounts that appear to be run by personal assistants, publishers or agents.
- Never replying
Whilst conceding that a very popular author would find it impossible to reply to every message, readers don’t like it when authors on social media never make personal replies.
Finally, the only area in which readers were divided. Several readers who mentioned politics said that they would unfollow authors who ‘banged the political drum’, and many more admitted finding it off-putting. A handful of readers disagreed, saying they liked getting an insight into an author’s personality. I guess the jury’s still out on this one…
With huge thanks to all the authors, readers and book bloggers who contributed to the discussion on Facebook and Twitter about authors on social media. Do add to the conversation in the comments, or elsewhere online – I’d love to hear your thoughts.