Before you get all indignant and worked up, I'll reassure you: I think it's wonderful that social media lets readers connect with authors. As a reader, I love being able to keep track of upcoming books and events via my favorite authors' Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. I know authors who have built hilarious, caring communities online, and when it all works well, it benefits everyone. I know lots of authors who have made personal, in-real-life friends among readers via social media.
As in any social setting, however, missteps are bound to occur. I'm willing to give the vast majority of people the benefit of the doubt, and assume that when people do say or do something inappropriate, it's not from malice, but because they don't know any better.
All of the following guidelines are based on the fact that social media interactions are public. Having someone you admire Tweet back at you, or reply to a comment on Facebook, can feel like getting a gold star —literally, because that's how you mark a Tweet as a "favorite." That feeling of being noticed, recognized, acknowledged and rewarded is what we're all on social media for. It's lovely, isn't it? There's nothing like it. But this interaction happens on a platform that is open to the entire world. It's not a kiss behind a closet door; it's a high-five on a football field. Therefore, rule #1 is this:
Do not make a comment, post a link or share a photo that the recipient would be uncomfortable receiving in a public place that includes his or her parents, spouse, children, employers and clients. Any public figure's social media account is his or her virtual office. Social media is a dangerous place for private jokes, even with the people you're closest to.
Do say hello, let the author know if you liked the latest book, ask about upcoming events, post photos taken at public events, ask questions about the book and the characters (respecting concerns about spoilers, below). Do understand that most authors have a full-time job other than writing, so maintaining social media networks might be something they have time for only after everything else — after they've gotten home from work, met their daily word count, had dinner with their families, put the kids to bed, etc., etc. Please be understanding if timely responses aren't always possible.
And a few corollaries:
- Spoilers. Personally, I don't care about spoilers. I was lucky enough to see both The Crying Game and The Sixth Sense before anyone told me the endings, and if someone out there still doesn't know that Keyser Soze is [REDACTED], I don't feel responsible for keeping them in the dark. But basic courtesies apply, especially in situations where a book's publishing date varies by countries. Social media is international. If you wouldn't have wanted to know before you read the book, don't mention it in a public electronic forum without marking it as a spoiler. How do you do that on Facebook or Twitter? Good question. You could try starting the post with the word SPOILER in large angry letters, then hitting a couple of returns before posting the meat of your comments. Or you could ask the page administrator to set up a private area for discussion; Facebook lets you do that. Or you could wait a year.
- Corrections. It happens to me, too: errors in spelling, punctuation, timelines, geography, word usage, etc. jump off the page and sometimes pull me out of the story. I hate when that happens. But it does happen, and in a book of 125,000 words, it might happen more than once. (And as I always say, most heart surgeons would be happy with a rate of two errors per 125,000 words.) If it really, really, really bothers you and you think it might bother other people too, it might be possible to correct the text for the paperback edition or the e-book. In that case, the polite thing to do is to send an email to the author via his or her website. Almost every author on Facebook will have a personal website that lets you do this. Better yet, send an email to the book's publisher. Leaving these corrections on someone's public Facebook wall, or Tweeting them in the public newsfeed, is the online equivalent of standing up in a cafeteria and announcing that someone has a mysterious stain on their trousers.
- Promoting your own book/services. It's rude to promote yourself on someone else's professional page or news feed, regardless of the circumstance. Don't do it.
- Demanding quid-pro-quo. Following someone on Twitter or Facebook does not obligate them to follow you back, or to like your page. If you're following people on Twitter or liking their pages solely in an attempt to get likes and follows for yourself, you're doing social media wrong. You might benefit from my earlier post.
- Harassment/Stalking/Trolling. Everybody on social media knows someone who's left a network because it became too unfriendly or scary a place. Some people, sad to say, actually enjoy that. If you're a troll, you know that you are, and this post isn't for you. You already believe the world's a rotten place, and you want the online community to be just as rotten. Know this, though: most of us disagree with you.