When I learned, in 2008, that my first book would be published, I didn’t even have a Facebook account. (I was also the last person on the planet to get an answering machine in the eighties and the last person to get a cell phone in the nineties.) In general, I like solitude, or being with people face-to-face. So it was with great reluctance that I signed up for Facebook, which as most writers know, is pretty much non-negotiable if you have a book out in the world that you actually want people to read.
I discovered that, even for someone who likes her solitude and face time, it wasn’t difficult to get hooked on Facebook. Let’s face it: It can be addictive. The good news for writers is that for at least part of the time you’re on Facebook, you’re doing legitimate work. The bad news: The rest of the time, you’re not — and you have to balance this Facebook time with writing your next book, with not ignoring your family, and probably with your day job also.
So I wanted to offer a few Facebook tips for writers that will help you achieve that balance:
– First, consider setting up a book or author page so that you don’t necessarily need to combine your author life with your personal life. (See below for more on privacy issues.) I have my own personal Facebook page, but I post the majority of book news on my Forgetting English page. While I know that most of my Facebook friends do care about the book, I also know that they have lives, and they don’t need to hear about every review or every event, especially if they’ve already read the book or have already been to a reading. So having a separate page also allows people to “Like” the book if they want updates, or not to if they don’t. Another thing to keep in mind if you don’t have a separate author/book page is that you may not wish to be Friends with every reader; you may want to keep your private life more private. (Again, see below for more on privacy.)
– Make friends. Facebook is a great way to reconnect with old friends, colleagues, acquaintances — I was thrilled to have recently connected with the high-school English teacher who played an enormous role in my becoming a writer; until now, she hadn’t realized I’d written a book — so this was wonderful. And Facebook provides an even better way to stay connected to new people you meet at readings and conferences (who needs business cards anymore?). So do be open to friend requests from fellow writers, readers, and others — but be sure to accept friend requests only from people you know or want to know (you can always de-friend them later, of course, but this is very awkward). And reach out and connect with readers, writers, and students yourself; try to include a personal message if it’s someone you don’t know or don’t know well, or someone who may need to be reminded of where he or she met you. (And if your friend request isn’t accepted, this article offers seven possible reasons why.)
– Don’t be overly promotional; it’s the quickest way to get hidden or even (gasp!) de-friended. I know I’ve been guilty of this on occasion — it’s hard not to be enthusiastic when your book first launches or when a great new review comes out — but you always have to balance this with the danger of becoming boring, or annoying, or worse.
— You’ll definitely want to show your personal side, but don’t offer Too Much Information. Readers love getting glimpses into writers’ lives — to a point. Stay focused on offering readers a little more than they can get from the bio on your book jacket without taking away all the mystery or freaking them out with details they may not want to know about you.
– Be respectful. If you want to attract a wide audience for your book, carefully consider political rants or offbeat humor posts before posting them. It’s not that you shouldn’t be who you are — you should, especially if you have strong opinions that define you; again, readers love getting to know writers — but just know that what you say affects how you’re perceived.
– Keep your social media separate. Different forms of social media are, and should be, used in different ways (I’ll be writing about Twitter for Writers in an upcoming post). Some believe that everything should be networked — that your blog posts and tweets and status updates should all be connected — but in fact, this can be counterproductive in that your followers/friends are then inundated with every single update in every format possible. And sometimes — especially around book-launch time when you’re in promotion mode — this can be too much, and you may be hidden or de-friended from the very people you hope to engage. So while it may take a little extra time, don’t bombard all your accounts with every bit of information you want to disseminate. Choose the best option for each outlet, and go from there.
– Be active. This doesn’t mean spending all your time on Facebook, however. I could lose myself for hours and always find it a challenge to stay active and engaged on one hand, and to get work and writing done on the other. Try setting yourself a schedule — a half an hour in the morning, a half an hour at night; one hour a day; one day a week — whatever works. My friend Kelli Russell Agodon inspired me to try Facebook Fridays, in which I only log onto Facebook one day a week. It works very well in general, but I do cheat when I have book news to share or vacation photos to show off. Find a rule that works for you, but give yourself room to be flexible about it.
– Safeguard your privacy, and that of your friends and family. Facebook has gotten a lot of bad publicity when it comes to privacy issues, but in fact, it’s often the users themselves who offer up far more information than Facebook does. The first line of defense is not to become friends with anyone you don’t know personally — but of course this isn’t realistic for authors trying to promote books; the goal is to reach out and connect with readers everywhere. So you may be opening up your Facebook profile to a lot of strangers — most of whom will be wonderful people, some of whom may not be. As this Wall St. Journal article reports, it’s possible that your Facebook page may be examined for anything from jury selection to custody battles — providing another good reason not to reveal too much to the general public or to friend anyone you don’t know. And check out this article about how much you may be revealing to criminals on Facebook without realizing it.
So here are a few good rules to go by in terms of protecting your privacy while being open to connecting with readers:
– Do not include on your Facebook profile anything that can be used to access any of your personal information (including email, banking, day job passwords, healthcare accounts, etc.). For example, I don’t include anything in my profile that you can’t find on my web site or blog. And, yes, this will exclude many of the things that make Facebook fun, such as your birthday, your pets’ names, your hometown, your alma mater, etc. But think about it: The passwords you use and/or security questions you answer to access your bank accounts or credit cards usually have to do with things only you will know (supposedly). So consider this before you share it all online.
– Adjust your settings to keep certain things private: your friend list, your email, your phone number, your address; any of these can be used to hack into a bank account either by phone or online. (And I’m not just being paranoid here; I’ve seen it happen.)
– Disable the Places feature that “checks you in” — which essentially means that everyone on Facebook knows exactly where you are when you post. If you’re on a book tour, naturally you’ll be posting about that — but do keep in mind that all of your connections will then know you’re out of town and for how long. Again, avoid putting your address anywhere, especially if your place will be empty while you’re away. And while you’re at it, you might also mention that you have a big, hulking neighbor keeping an eye on your home and dog-sitting for your Dobermans.
– Enable https, which is under Account Security — this enables secure browsing and will help prevent your account from being hacked into (surely I’m not the only one who’s gotten emails from friends saying, “Sorry, that nasty video wasn’t from me — my account was hacked!”). This is especially important if you’re using a wireless network or a public computer.
– Take care with apps and games. For increased privacy, one thing you’ll want to do is uncheck the boxes in the Info Available to Applications setting — Facebook encourages you to check all the boxes, saying “the more you share, the more social the experience,” when in fact, the more you share, the more vulnerable you are. And as this article outlines, even those fun “games” people enjoy on Facebook, like “25 Things About Me” and “Who Knows You Best” can reveal information that you don’t want the wrong people to have, especially if you use any of this sort of information to log into bank accounts. Remember that recent one about describing your first car? I thought that was a fun one too … until I noticed that this is one of the security questions my bank uses.
– Be careful what you post. If that WSJ article above isn’t eye-opening enough, I’ve also read about health insurance companies using Facebook to deny insurance claims. So be aware that your updates and photos may be telling others … and share only what you don’t mind the whole world knowing, just in case.
All that said, don’t be so paranoid that you don’t have fun on Facebook — in fact, the most fun for me on isn’t necessarily the ability to share but the ability to chat with others and to enjoy their photos and news. And perhaps this is the best way to view social media, especially as an author who uses Facebook in part for book promotion: To remember that while it’s a great way to get the word out, it’s less about self-promotion than about about the give-and-take.