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Ask Annie: The Line Between Self-Promotion and Spam

Ask Annie Neugebauer Writer Unboxed logo [1]Today I’m only tackling one question, because it’s slightly involved and also because I feel it’s an incredibly important topic for writers on Twitter. The submitter has asked to be kept anonymous, so some of the details of the writer’s specific situation have been changed or omitted to maintain privacy. Anonymous writes:

Hello Annie,

Thanks so much for the informative blogs on Twitter. Do you have an example of a line not to cross in self-promotion?

My publisher stipulated up front that they expect their writers to help with marketing, etc. No surprise there, but it’s a big job. I’m feeling a bit desperate in a way. I’ve been reaching out on social media, but I got my hand slapped the other day by a blogger/writer I’d made contact with on Twitter.

Here’s what I had sent her: [Includes a promotional image with a book review quote.] “Look what my publisher sent me today! Almost a month away!”

She said: “Please don’t spam people about your book. It results in exactly the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve.”

To be fair, I have sent her other stuff from time to time re: this novel, but I always try to make it at least interesting – with a catchy quote from a review or saying where it’s available… I hadn’t sent anything to her within the past 2 or 3 weeks…

The gaffe included the @ addresses of 3 others in the industry along with hers. Wanh – wanh. I’m so embarrassed to be called out.

I have gotten it right with some relationships, but you can’t really have a ‘relationship’ with as many people as NEED TO KNOW about my book. (Reviewers, bloggers, bookstores, distributors, libraries, etc.) So…?

Can you tell me what’s wrong with this picture?


[pullquote]Do: Tweet your news occasionally from your own profile into the general timeline.
Don’t: Tweet your news at people by tagging them.[/pullquote]First of all, Anon, let me say that I feel for you. I really, really do. Pressure and isolation and desperation: What writer hasn’t struggled with these things? It’s a crowded marketplace out there, and how is one lone writer supposed to market themselves amid the din? Not to mention that each social media platform has its own set of standards, cultural expectations, and nuances. It’s tricky to master any one of them, much less keep up with them all. We all make faux-pas sometimes.

Unfortunately, I’m afraid that’s what you’ve done here. I do think that your attempts at self-promotion have crossed that invisible, subjective line into spam. But almost equally important: the woman who “called you out” on it has committed a faux-pas of her own. In my opinion, she was extremely rude. If your tweeting bothered her she had every right to unfollow you or even, if need be, block you – but to publicly call you out and embarrass you is unnecessary and, frankly, inexcusable. She has nothing to gain from shaming you. I’m so sorry that happened.

Now let’s move on to more productive things, namely: where this line is and how to avoid crossing it in the future.

The most important thing to remember about Twitter is that it’s social media. Emphasis on social. Want an easy trick to decide if a behavior is acceptable or spammy? Pretend that Twitter is a large party. Seriously. If everyone in your timeline were in one large ballroom socializing, that’s Twitter.

So you’re at this party. Sometimes you talk; sometimes you listen. Sometimes you start a conversation amidst a crowd and see who will scoot closer to join in. Other times you wait, wandering from cluster to cluster until you find an existing conversation that you’d like to join. Not everyone in the ballroom will hear everything you have to say; not all of them will even want to. That’s impossible, so go ahead and adjust your expectations accordingly.

At this party, you might want to tell people about your book. Why not, right? Let’s get the word out and see who’s interested. How would you go about that?

You would not climb onto a table at the end of the room and scream the news over and over. You also wouldn’t walk around, tapping people on the shoulder one at a time, and tell each one of them immediately and without preamble that you have a book out. Those would all be rude, right? Well, Twitter’s the same way. Don’t constantly shout the same thing and stomp your feet when people don’t do anything with it. And don’t tweet at people.

How would you handle this at a party? One person at a time, as the conversation naturally allows for it, if and when the person shows interest. You wouldn’t walk up to someone and say, “Hi! My name is Annie and I have a book published. Would you like to buy it?” But if you’re chatting and they ask what you do, then you could tell them about the book and gauge their interest as you go. If they aren’t expressing interest, you certainly wouldn’t keep bringing it up in future conversations, would you? This is all the same on Twitter.

To break our analogy down to a slightly more practical form, let’s look at some specific dos and don’ts.

Do: Tweet your news occasionally from your own profile into the general timeline.
Don’t: Tweet your news at people by tagging them.

Do: Strike up interesting conversations and make friendly connections who might become interested enough to check out your Twitter profile (which leads to your book info, of course!). Think of your profile as your business card – which you “hand out” by talking to people who can then look at it – and your author website as your booth in the selling room – which means interested people come to you, not the other way around.
Don’t: Direct message or even @ message new followers with a book promo tweet.

Do: Share good news and review quotes from your book on your own timeline.
Don’t: Share them constantly and in the exact same form each time.

Do: Make your book easy to find by placing the pertinent information in your Twitter profile, main author website, and possibly a “pinned” tweet at the top of your timeline.
Don’t: Beg people to buy your book, directly ask people to read your book, or “share” book information directly with people who haven’t shown any interest in it.

Do you see what I’m getting at, Anon? Your original tweet was spam because it was directly addressed to people who hadn’t asked about your book or expressed interest in learning more. If you were to tweet the same promotional image/quote from your own timeline with no one’s @ handle tagged, it wouldn’t have crossed that line because anyone who wasn’t interested could easily ignore it and scroll right past it – no offense taken.

I think the root issue here is in your very understandable and honest desire to get the word out to all of the people who “NEED TO KNOW” about your book. The problem is that, I’m sorry to say, no one needs to know about it. Do you want them to? Yes, of course. Would they be interested if they knew? Maybe some. Does that mean you should tell each of them personally and directly? I’m sorry, but no. That’s simply not how social media is done. If you want direct contact, you’ll need direct, paid advertising, and even that doesn’t have a high return rate.

Remember, no one on Twitter owes you anything [2]. You have every right to tweet how you want, but the better you tweet the better your results will be. Spammy tweets are actually counter-productive. Try to hold onto this “If I were at a party…” perspective and you’ll be on the right track.

And don’t let this negative experience scare you away from Twitter. If you tweet well and kindly, there are plenty of people out there interested in chatting, and that’s how connections are built. I wish you the very best of luck, Anon.


Do you have a question about Twitter that you’d like answered here on Writer Unboxed? You can leave your question in the comments below, fill out this quick, easy online form [3] – there’s an anonymous option if you’re shy – or simply tweet your question with the hashtag #AskAnnieWU [4]. (You can send them to me directly @AnnieNeugebauer [5] as well.) I look forward to getting more of your questions!

What do you say, writers? The line is subjective: when do you think self-promotion becomes Spam? Follow-up questions, additions, and thoughts are welcome below!

About Annie Neugebauer [6]

Annie Neugebauer is a two-time Bram Stoker Award-nominated author with work appearing and forthcoming in more than a hundred publications, including magazines such as Cemetery Dance, Apex, and Black Static, as well as anthologies such as Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volumes 3 & 4 and #1 Amazon bestsellers Killing It Softly & Fire. She’s a member of the Horror Writers Association and a columnist for Writer Unboxed and LitReactor. She's represented by Alec Shane of Writers House. She lives in Texas with two crazy cute cats and a husband who’s exceptionally well-prepared for the zombie apocalypse. You can visit her at www.AnnieNeugebauer.com for news, poems, organizational tools for writers, and more.