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What does your author social media persona tell us?

I’ll be honest. I’m reluctant to spend money on self-published books if the author isn’t a professional writer of some type — say, an employee newsletter writer at a corporation or a magazine article writer.

Here’s why: I spend a lot of time participating in online discussions among self-published authors so that I can learn as much as possible about their book marketing challenges and help them solve their problems. I’ve noticed that some people come off as knowledgeable, competent, and just plain smart while some do specific things that make me think, “I won’t buy anything written by that person.” Their online behavior makes me think  that I won’t enjoy reading their books.

The importance of a writerly social media persona

Think about it: I’m getting the information I need to accept or reject books sight unseen from social media personas.

The rejections come from four author patterns I’ve noticed in social networks. Perhaps these behaviors don’t influence anyone but me — but I doubt it. I can’t be the only reader who wants an author to use their/they’re/there correctly on an ongoing basis.

The influencers for me don’t relate to foul language or political preferences (although I will admit to disconnecting from people who make racist statements). They’re specific to an author’s ability to craft a book that meets conventional publishing standards.

Are any of these four behaviors interfering with your self-publishing success?

1. Arrogance.

If you act like you know everything there is to know about just about everything, I’m going to think that you haven’t bothered to research your topic or craft. If you’re writing nonfiction based on your own knowledge only, your book won’t be thorough enough for me. If you write fiction, I have the impression that you haven’t taken any courses on novel writing or haven’t been open to feedback on your manuscript. There’s a good chance that your book isn’t as good as it could be (or as good as you think it is).

2. Consistent typos or spelling mistakes.

Most people make mistakes now and then and it’s no big deal. But if you’re somebody who consistently writes “your” instead of “you’re” or just plain can’t spell on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or anywhere else, you’re giving me the impression that your book will be riddled with those errors, too.

This is less of an issue if you have a traditional publisher because that model includes professional editors who catch and eliminate those mistakes. But too many self-published authors skip that professional editing step, so what you see in social networks is also what you get in the finished product. I know that some people can overlook these issues in a good story, but I can’t. There are many other books without those problems that will be less frustrating to read.

3. Jack of All Trades Syndrome.

Perhaps you truly are gifted, but most great writers are not great cover designers or manuscript editors. Pay for specialized help. If you don’t, your book won’t live up to your own expectations.

4. No rules at all. 

I suppose some people are just too busy to even use the shift key when posting on a social network, let alone try out a few commas or an occasional period. Sentences that have no capital letters at all and no punctuation give me the impression that the poster is either e e cummings or a lazy writer. Lazy writers don’t write good books (and e e cummings is long gone).

Tips for presenting the most writerly social you

You can pay a copy editor to find and correct the misspellings and grammar errors in your book, but what can you do about those problems in social media?

First, learn how to spell. This probably sounds petty, but it’s more important than you might think. One of the best ways to learn how to spell is by reading articles and books. Not so coincidentally, the people who write those articles and books also read a lot of articles and books — because they know that to be a better writer, they have to read a lot. You learn from the work of others. The best writers — and spellers — are typically big readers.

You can also run everything through your word processing spell checker before posting it.

Second, proofread what you write before hitting the submit button. Honestly, when I forget to do this, I always regret it because I make mistakes when I type too fast. Even worse (quite frankly), sometimes my brain isn’t forming sentences that makes sense to anyone who isn’t in my brain! So I need to fix them. Proofreading gives me the chance to do that.

If you re-read your tweet, status update, or discussion comment just once before sharing it, you’ll not only find any mistakes, but you’ll have one more opportunity to ask yourself, “Is this what I really want to say about this topic to these people?”

I want to buy your books, but I need you to show me that you’re a good writer before I do that.

Am I being unfair? Does an author’s social media persona reflect what we’ll find in a self-published book, or not? What do you think?

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  1. I agree with everything you’ve said.

    Are you being unfair? When judging from a professional standpoint, no.

    As to a social media persona, it can be difficult to communicate consistently when choosing to interact with a broad group of followers. The Facebook “lists” feature helps. Twitter is more complicated as there isn’t a feature to broadcast just to certain lists.

    Still, someone like myself who uses Social media for personal connection as much as business promotion, might appear a little unfocused. So it’s fair to take that into consideration.

    Some professionals get caught up in posting nothing but quotes. That bugs me. I want to know them. Others post preachy stuff or, like you said, “know-it-all” stuff. Many don’t engage in two-way conversation. Many don’t ever seem to “like” or comment on their follower’s posts, which I feel is stand-offish. All that might not matter to you as a publisher, however.

    I agree with getting professional editing done, but I don’t believe social media posts need to follow CMOS unless trying to get published is all I’m using social media for.

    1. Hey, Rosalie, that’s why I leave things like personal opinions, politics, etc. out of my assessment. For me, it’s not about whether the person seems like someone I’d like to spend time with — it’s more about whether I’d like to spend time with their writing. I’m with you on CMOS on social media posts, too, especially since we often have to use shorthand on Twitter because of the character count limit. I can see past people referring to me as “Sarah” or “Susan” in a LinkedIn discussion. But if you’ve written a book on cat care, for example, and you consistently refer to “katz” instead of “cats” in LinkedIn discussions, I’m going to wonder what else I’ll find in that book….


  2. You are being absolutely fair because that’s the way the world works. Everything we do or say is part of the impression we make on others, whether as fellow professionals or as potential customers.

    There are crucial differences between posts in the online world and everyday discourse. What you say online is, for all practical purposes, permanent. Moreover, unlike the offhand remark you make quietly to a fellow commuter on the bus, what you post online is potentially heard everywhere. If you tick someone off in your neighborhood, the price may be the cold shoulder, but if you make an enemy online, even by accident, the devastation can spread around the world. A single ill-thought tweet can end a career or garner death threats.

    That ought to make every writer think thrice before any social media contribution.

    1. You’re so right about the longevity and widespread impact of social media posts, Larry. Thanks for that reminder.

      I think it’s important to be “authentic” in your social media comments — if John Doe is a jerk in real life, I expect him to be a jerk on Twitter, too. And that extends to his writing style, which makes social media a window to his book. If he uses bad grammar consistently on Twitter or Facebook, it’s pretty likely that we’ll see that in his finished book, too.


  3. Hi Sandy,

    These are excellent points. I also find myself analyzing online personae, though not with quite the same criteria. I think it depends on the reader. For those of us who get frustrated with typos, for example, finding an author who writes very well online in a more casual setting is a positive indicator.

    I can see arrogance deterring sales, while at the same time I want the author to show confidence. It’s tough to balance the two. As a nonfiction author, it’s something I need to reconsider carefully. I’m glad you brought this point up. 🙂



    1. Thanks, Chris. You’ve expressed this so well!

      From my perspective, the difference between confidence and arrogance is this: A confident person writes, “This is my experience…what’s yours?” while an arrogant person writes, “I know what it is and this is it. Period.” Maybe arrogance is confidence w/out the room for conversation.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I always enjoy hearing what you have to say.


    1. I’ve noticed that too, Kathy. I’ve seen it with publishing coaches and virtual assistants who specialize in working with authors, too. Here’s what’s sad about it: The authors who need a professional editor the most don’t recognize those errors (that’s why they need an editor…) and end up hiring someone who isn’t going to give them as much help as they need. But you don’t know what you don’t know ….

  4. I made the mistake once of pointing out to one of these self-styled editing/writing experts that she might help her fledgling career by cleaning up her website and her LinkedIn profile. She replied with snarky email and attacked me in LinkedIn forums. So much for trying to be of service.

    1. Larry, it’s too bad she wasn’t smart enough to thank you and ask for other suggestions that could help her. Last year, someone on LinkedIn criticized my website publicly, saying that she thought it made me, as the owner, look sneaky and sleazy. I was surprised because I hadn’t heard anything like that before, and I took the conversation offline to ask her for specifics. I figured that if one person had that impression, maybe others did, too.

      Most of what she had to say was nonsensical, but she did note that because my header didn’t include my photograph, it looked like I was trying to hide. So…I added my head shot to it. Does it help or hurt? Who knows? (Who cares?) I did notice, though, that other site owners included their photo in the header, so it made sense for me to make that update, too.


  5. Though I feel I’m merely echoing the comments of others, I’d like to chime in with the opinion that it’s completely fair to use the criteria you’ve expressed to discern between potential reads. There is a large selection of content to be read out there and it’s hard enough to choose without the expressed indicators. However, if somebody has one of these red flags waving, it can help narrow things down.

    I’ll be honest and say that I have narrowed things down in some respects based on political and social views of the author as well, but only when the book in question is in some way related to the topic. I know, in that case, that I’m not likely to enjoy it, and I move on.

    1. Thanks, Justine. You make a good point about political and social views and their impact on the author’s work (and how you will probably react to it). I appreciate your thoughtful comments here. Come back and visit!


  6. Reminding me of when I was a secretary–the old fashioned kind. I’d type, I’d proofread my typing. I’d give it to the boss for his signature. He’d read it. If he found a typo, he returned it to me to fix. Lots of checking going on.

    Recently, I received a newsletter email from a writing professional. It had obvious errors in it. So we’ve eliminated the secretary role and are all putting out our own stuff with a “get er done” attitude. We type fast and press send, and so the question becomes: Understanding the way things are done today, how much grace should we offer? Are we too quick to dismiss people?

    1. I hear ya, Rosalie. My thinking on that is that we shouldn’t expect perfection now that most of us don’t have wonderful secretaries watching our backs. It’s not realistic, and it’s not fair. But we can expect someone who claims to be an author to show that s/he can communicate well and in a way that holds our attention, even if what’s written in a newsletter has a few typos. In my little world view, typos aren’t the same as a general inability to spell, form a complete sentence, or know when to use their/there/they’re.

      Thanks for chiming in. I always enjoying hearing from you!


  7. On another note, rules of good conversation should apply: Don’t talk politics, and be careful of the potential to alienate.

    As a Canadian, the interest in politics of my American friends is glaring. I have to say, I’ve sometimes changed my settings for those who talk too much politics or have radical viewpoints. I also resent getting a lot of sports play-by-play updates and Tweets. What a good way to alienate friends but to cheer for the opposite team of your friends.

    One pastor who’d moved up to Canada from the US started his Sunday message by asking how many prefer Starbucks coffee and how many prefer Tim Hortons coffee. Then he stated he preferred Starbucks and made a slur about Tim Hortons drinkers. I didn’t find it funny. Tim Hortons coffee is like a national treasure. I didn’t think it was wise for him to alienate all the Hortons drinkers. Good way for them to stop listening.

    Anyhow, just pointing out it’s important to consider who your posts might alienate too, correct grammar or not.

    1. Great points, Rosalie. Just 2 days ago I unfriended someone on Facebook because of comments that made me uncomfortable. It was clear that staying connected to her would serve no productive purpose for me.

      I love your Starbucks/Tim Hortons analogy. In the U.S., it’s Starbucks vs. Dunkin Donuts. He should have kept the debate down here!

      : )


  8. Sandy, I will say that a headshot is part of the public persona online. LinkedIn profiles without photos suggest “newbie”, “amateur”, or someone with something to hide. Webcam grabs or silly poses do not project a professional image. I remarked privately to you before that I thought your headshot really works, at once both professional and inviting.

    1. Larry, I had a head shot here on the site in the “about” section — it just wasn’t in the header. And that’s because my goal here isn’t to make it about ME — it’s about YOU. But I gave in and did what everyone else does with their headers, even though I’m not usually a lemming.

      Thanks for the kind words about the head shot. It was taken at a conference in NYC by a wonderful photographer whose good at making you forget you’re standing on a street corner in Manhattan.


  9. Just noticed that my posts here carry that mysterious and untrustworthy generic silhouette. Don’t know how to fix it. It’s another reason I prefer to stay on LinkedIn. I know you want to “drive traffic”, Sandy, but I do wish this discussion were over at LinkedIn where many more could follow along.

    (If you want to see my headshot, head over to LinkedIn.)

    1. I think you can solve that “no headshot” avatar by creating an account with Gravatar: http://en.gravatar.com/.

      As for having this discussion on LinkedIn, here’s why I like it here: People commenting here have read the blog post. People commenting on LinkedIn usually haven’t, so their observations aren’t specific to the information in the post. For the most part, people responding to LI discussions are responding just to the discussion heading. It makes for a less focused conversation.

      : )


  10. I find that the older I get, the greater the difference between my grammar skills (however imperfect) and those of younger generations. Like Sandra, I wonder why writers cannot master the proper use of they’re/there/their and you’re/your, whether online or off. And when I read in the post, “learn how to spell” (in bold) I have say, it almost made me laugh out loud because that is precisely what I am thinking much of the time.

    Possessives are often wrong, too, especially its/it’s. Even when, as a critique partner, I have carefully focused on these issues and explained them thoroughly, the next submission includes the same errors. I suppose I’ve become jaded by the blatant and frequent errors, but not a paying customer of them. I appreciate the “see inside the book” feature so I can discover the quality of the editing before spending a penny. And yes, the blog posts, emails, tweets, and Facebook posts are a potential warning sign that the book might not meet my standards. Maybe I shouldn’t say it here, but I will. I’ve read ebooks (by legitimate ebook publishers) that have gone through the editing process and come out the published end with plenty of errors. Since I was once a proofreader, I’m often tempted to tell them where they have erred, but reluctant to spend the time. My hands are in the air. What can I (we) do? I applaud you, Sandra, for telling it like it is, and maybe that is the best that can be done.

  11. Donna, this made me laugh!

    [ And when I read in the post, “learn how to spell” (in bold) I have say, it almost made me laugh out loud because that is precisely what I am thinking much of the time. – See more at: http://buildbookbuzz.com/author-social-media-persona/#comment-6046%5D

    I love the “inside the book” feature, too, for the same reason. It really helps.

    Thanks for reinforcing my decision to stick my neck out a bit — I appreciate it!


  12. Never mind the inside feature, I’ve found typos on the back covers we all (usually) see for free! What writer doesn’t check their cover?

    Well, I certainly hope if I get my eBook edited that when it’s uploaded it doesn’t have typos made by either the editor or typesetter (or whatever). That would tick me off.

    Right now I’m having an eBook critiqued for several hundred dollars, by a published author. I know it would be another several hundred for editing. This is something I have to think about because it was designed as a practical guide for purchase through my blog in response to a number of analytic I’ve seen. Chances are I won’t make back money I spend. Tough call, but I didn’t want it to be one of the many I’ve seen that are so inferior.

    Last year I took a copyediting course with The Christian PEN. I didn’t know the rules were so strict. It was eye-opening. For instance, looking a word up in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary isn’t acceptable. You have to use the Collegiate version (which you have to buy). I do understand, though, you’re not referring to this. You’re referring to a lot of other misuse. I agree, it’s hard to take a writer seriously when you see such errors.

    1. RosalieG,

      I’ll tell which writers don’t read the back cover: writers who have so many books under contract that they have no time to proofread the books in what used to be known as “galley” stage. (That’s the point at which the project has been edited by the publisher’s editor and sent back to the writer to proofread.)I’m not making excuses, only telling what busy writers who are struggling to meet contract deadlines have said to me.

      As for self-pubbers, there’s no excuse for back cover errors.

      Thanks for shedding light on the acceptable dictionary for copy editing. I just had a piece edited and the editor sent me to dictionary.com as a reference. I guess he doesn’t ascribe to the strict rule you were taught.

      1. I’ll add one more point…many self-pubbed authors don’t know those errors on the back cover are errors.


  13. Ms. Beckwith,

    You are so very correct. As with anything, presentation is key. I would not want to order a marvelous tasting wedding cake and have it showcased in a big lump with some icing thrown on. I believe we should consider our books to be the cake (the various scrumptious flavors), our covers are the icing, and our social media presence are the detailed decorations. Thank you for this reminder.


    Tammy Jo Burns

  14. I’m the exact same way when it comes to social media. It drives me crazy to see no punctuation, misspelled words, no capitalization, etc. I’m so bad about it that I even write proper text messages, using capital letters and proper punctuation. But when the messages posted come from an author, such as from someone in a Linked-In group, and they’re full of mistakes, I think, “And this guy’s a writer? I wonder what his book looks like.”

    1. Exactly, Marjorie! Because I write for a living, I also feel that people might hold me to a higher standard, so I’m careful to try not to disappoint, even with my tweets and status updates.


  15. Hi Sandy, Thanks for another great article. I receive your newsletter by email, so I don’t usually drop my to comment. I want to let you know how useful, informative and well-written I find your pieces to be. Much appreciated!

    1. Lisa, thanks so much for taking the time to click through and comment. I appreciate it! I think this means that you subscribe to the blog through e-mail, right? I also have a twice-monthly newsletter with different content that you might find useful if you’re not a subscriber yet — http://buildbookbuzz.com.

      Thank you!


  16. You’re so correct, Sandra. Standards were so much higher in the past when people took pride in a job well done. Proofreading books after formatting has always been the standard workflow in traditional publishing. So many indie authors skip this step to save money that this year I finally planted my feet and bundled the two services. We’re not going to add to the trash heap.

    1. That’s a smart move, Michele! It makes sense. One of the downsides to self publishing is that there are no built-in quality checks, so a company like yours has to add them.


  17. Sandra- I am finding that the kiss-of-death for any ebook or self pub author is discussing politics or stating political views on social media. Quickest way to be defriended, blocked, etc. I am also starting to come to the opinion that Facebook does very little towards helping launch or market your brand. Less than one-percent of FB users actually see your posts. Fortunately all my social media sites are linked so one post on FB posts to Twitter, Tumblr, and all my social media sites.You must have more than one. A half dozen are good.
    But as for the politics- don’t do it! no matter how pissed off you are at dictator Obama and his failures or crimes. If you absolutely must post- take it down a day later once the initial anger has passed or mark it viewable only by your friends- not the public.
    Great topic though!

  18. Kilburn, you’re so right about politics! It’s a reminder that what applies in face-to-face social situations applies in the virtual world, too — don’t discuss politics, religion, or how much you earn.

    As for the value of social media, while outcomes depend on who you’re connected to and how well you use social media yourself, it’s not the be-all and end-all that so many authors think it is. I’m always nudging the authors in my courses to rely less on social media and put more effort into developing an e-mail list (see my guest post on that topic here: http://blog.pubslush.com/the-what-why-and-how-of-e-mail-lists-for-authors/).

    Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment!


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