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Sunday, May 11, 2014

5 Annoying Author Habits on Twitter

I spend far too much time on Twitter, which means I read a lot of tweets from a lot of authors.  Some authors are great at interacting, carving out their little niche and creating a kind of Twitter persona to represent them.  Others, however, are kind of like social media bacterial infections who must do everything they possibly can to sell their own work; they basically turn into walking spam monkeys.  And still others present themselves as bitter, rage-infested monsters fit for the Mos Eisley Cantina in Star Wars.  Neither of these latter two groups are particularly fun to engage, which might explain why the five things I've listed here haven't actually helped many of these individuals develop a steady writing career.

Here goes:

Constantly Complaining About Your Career
There are two kinds of career complaints:

  1. Legitimate grievances which occasionally happen and need to be addressed in a public forum (or privately in a different context)
  2. Unsubstantiated complaints about why your work isn't doing as well as you'd like

Whether or not it is actually true that there's a conspiracy to keep you from being successful, constantly harping about such things makes you look less like a victim and more like a bitter failure.  I have seen authors rant and rant about how their careers aren't going the way they want, but it's not their fault; someone else is responsible for the fact that their books don't sell.  It's certainly possible that you're being sabotaged by individuals or an -ism, but it is more likely your work isn't selling for reasons within and beyond your control:  your writing isn't good enough, you don't know how to market your work, you are writing X when the market is tired of it, nobody actually knows who you are because you're published by a nobody, the previous book sold better than the second because it got into more bookstores, many of which are now closed, and so on an so forth.

A lot of the times, the first two are the most likely culprits.  Not everyone is a great writer.  Some authors have pushed ahead too soon, expecting that their writing will meet the demands of the market.  There's no easy way to tell these folks that they need to spend more time developing their writing style and learning the craft.  If you say anything, they'll go back to the conspiracy theories about how you're out to ruin their career or whatever.  I've yet to see one of these conversations go well on Twitter, which I suppose is to be expected.  Regardless, this perspective on the world of publishing is an annoying one, as the individual who believes it tends to become engrossed in the conspiracy against themselves, turning bitter, angry, and sometimes rude.

Inserting Yourself Into Every Vaguely "Relevant" Hashtag
Hashtags are a great Twitter tool.  They're useful for spreading opinions about a topic among a wider range of users.  I've started running a hashtag called #monthlyreads, which is designed for a once-a-month sharing of the things you read.  I expect this hashtag to get abused.

Most people are pretty good about hashtags.  They understand that they are for having a conversation or sharing information, and so they use it for that single purpose.  But then there is that minority of people who believe every hashtag that is vaguely related to their work is a perfect place to insert said work.  This happens most often in hashtags for sharing works of literature that fit within a category (diversity, for example).  Everyone else shares their favorite books while some random author pops up to suggest their own work.

There's nothing inherently wrong with mentioning your own work on Twitter, but there is something tacky and downright annoying about constantly inserting said work into these hashtag conversations.  Hashtags are not exclusively promotional in attitude, and so it is blatantly obvious that an author is trying to hawk their work when they join these conversations.  Authors who do this are also rarely good writers.  There's something off about their work, either because it is substandard and has been self-published on the cheap or it is released through questionable means or the author is simply desperate and doesn't know how to properly advertise.

Hashtags are not about you.  They are communal.  Using them incorrectly is, frankly, irritating.  It doesn't bode well for you as an author if a portion of your potential readers identify you and your work with negative emotions.

Constantly Being Angry About Stuff
It doesn't matter what you're angry about:  local politicians, racism, bad food, the fact that monkeys stole your wallet, sexism, liberals, how much you hate Country X, conservatives, gerbils, people who tweet about their cats...doesn't matter.  If your Twitter account is a long stream of angry tweets about anything in particular, it gives me the impression that you are an insanely angry person and, therefore, unapproachable.  In my mind, that's a bad thing.  I'm an aspiring author and a podcaster.  If I have little interest in interviewing you because you seem bitter and angry all the time, then I can assume other podcasters, interviewers, and so on might feel the same way.

This isn't to suggest that you shouldn't complain about things that bug you.  Twitter is a social network, after all, and that means you should use it to, well, be social.  Anger is part of our social culture.  But it should be clear that you also like things.  Movies, hamburgers, recycling, the smell of new books...whatever.  If the entire world pisses you off all the time, maybe you need to re-evaluate your entire life.  There are good things on this planet, and your social network presence should show more than just the things that drive you up the wall.

There's also a separate issue here:  people who are bitter and angry all the time (or most of the time) are also more likely to fall into the confirmation bias bubble.  This can lead to a kind of absolutist bandwagon wherein anything vaguely related to your anger trigger, well, triggers you.  Most of us get trapped in a confirmation bias bubble at some point, but those who are truly embedded within one are almost impossible to extricate.  There are plenty of examples in our community of this very thing, on both sides of the political aisle.  Everything is about X and Y, and A, B, R, Q, and Z all confirm it.  Also J, K, and P.  And G, I, and O.  And on and on and on.

Sometimes, it's best to take a break and try to explore the things you love.

Complaining That People Aren't Helping You and That People Suck For Not Doing So
I have seen authors complain on Twitter that somehow it's our fault that they didn't raise enough money for that thing they were doing.  Another author once claimed that because not enough of us would support then through Patreon, it was somehow our fault that there isn't enough diversity in genre (a specious claim, for sure).

In both cases, the author has translated "failure" into an attack on potential readers, which is rarely a good thing.  Brian Bendis can get away with calling some of his readers sexist turds because he has a lot of readers; losing one jackass who thinks comics shouldn't include women as the protagonists isn't going to hurt his career.  But not all authors have his readership, and so any attempt to blame the reader for the failures of the author in their attempts to fund or promote a work is akin to blaming the nurse for your heart condition.

There are all kinds of reasons why a Kickstarter or Patreon thing didn't work.  Maybe your project wasn't interesting enough.  Maybe it was poorly put together or too expensive.  Maybe you caught potential readers in a time of financial scarcity, which you couldn't have predicted.  Maybe not enough people know about you to give their money, or they don't feel like they know your work well enough to warrant donation.  After all, short of a medical condition, the fact is that people support Kickstarters or Patreon accounts either because they like the project, the person in question, or the person's work.  Exceptions exist, but let's not pretend that dozens of people will randomly come out of the wood works to support a project on the basis of having heard about it.  They have to have a reason.

When I see an author using Twitter to bash readers for their own failures, it puts a bad taste in my proverbial mouth.  How dare you blame me for the fact that not enough people supported your Patreon thing... I know for a fact I didn't have the spare change to toss in $50 to your "fund my writing for a month" cause, so the idea that it is somehow my fault that you didn't raise enough is patently absurd.  It is equally absurd to claim that my inability to fund your thing means I am somehow against diversity or gender parity or whatever.  What incentive do I have to support you in the future if I will be accused of horrible things when I'm unable to help?  None.  Don't bite the hand that feeds you, as they say.

To sit there and blame everyone but yourself is disgusting on so many levels.  Grow up.  You know what I did when my Worldcon fundraiser didn't have the success I had hoped?  I asked some of my friends (three of whom had been involved in a crowdfunding adventure before) for advice.  I looked at the way the thing was set up and considered whether I needed to make changes.  I consider, per a note from a friend, that maybe I had caught people in a time of financial scarcity (the U.S. still being in a sort-of-recession).  I thought about all the ways I might have failed instead of blaming everyone on Twitter for the lack of interest.  The fact of the matter is that it's more likely I had failed than random people on Twitter had decided to vindictively screw me over.

Auto-DMs or DMs of Any Kind for Promotional Purposes
Most of us who use Twitter have faced this thing before.  I don't need to explain how annoying auto-DMs are.  You probably know.  They are also lazy.  An author who uses an auto-DMing system to peddle their work to a new follower is an author who just wants to sell books, not interact with potential readers.  That will always rub me the wrong way.  My response:  I immediately unfollow that person.  I'm on Twitter for the social aspect.  I'm not there just to buy your stuff.  An author who doesn't get that is an author who doesn't deserve my attention.

What about you?  What Twitter habits bug the hell out of you?

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  1. Interesting post. I'm a very new user of Twitter - don't think I've come across anything like this. (Hopefully it will stay that way!)

  2. Anonymous10:43 AM

    I'm so little invested in Twitter that I have no hesitation unfollowing a writer or blogger whose tweets bug me. If I'm following someone, I'm aware of whatever of theirs is coming out soon, so there's no point in continuing to follow them if they're just using Twitter as a shill platform. Excessive negativity comes second.

    On the plus side, I love to see links to interviews and essays an author has done, because I don't necessarily follow every single genre blog. Or anything, no matter how small, that lets me know about the writer as a person outside their work.

    1. Agreed. Twitter is a social network, not a promotional tool alone. Anyone who uses Twitter just to sell their work is unlikely to get much attention from me. Oddly enough, I tend to tune out promos that don't come from friends or authors I really like, so a lot of this promotional nonsense tends to get lost anyway.

  3. I can only remember unfollowing one author and that was for over promotion. Not only did he tweet about his book once or twice per hour but he threw out a ton of discussion starting questions.

    Only problem was, if you tried to engage him based on one of those questions, he had no clue what in the heck you were talking about. He sent out so many, on autopilot, he didn't remember what he had asked or when. Totally pointless.

    The only other thing doesn't annoy me, but makes me sad. I love watching author banter. It is hilarious and entertaining but I wish I could join in. Some authors will interact and joke around with me but most seem to belong to some kind of secret handshake club.

    Oh I understand why. Things would get out of hand if a gazillion fans all jumped into the conversation, but it still makes me sad.

    1. A lot of authors hang out at cons together, so they become close friends or banter buddies. It's hard to break into that if you're not part of that group. It can suck sometimes, but it does make sense.