Online etiquette for authors

Few people look at Debrett’s Guide to Etiquette and Modern Manners these days. Just for those unfamiliar, this book covered how to reply to an invitation, how to address H M The Queen and which knife and fork to use for each course, amongst other subjects.

Old fashioned as these things sound, they are all based on consideration for others. Modern equivalents could be replying promptly to an email, getting through an interview with the chief executive and networking at a business conference. (Although I’d probably run for a copy of Debretts if I received an invitation from Buckingham Palace.)

But back in the everyday, this means being polite to the supermarket cashier, not running over somebody’s toes with your suitcase at the airport and remembering your pleases and thank yous.

Sadly, thinking of others and being considerate of them seems to have gone completely offline in the brains of many online. So here are a dozen dos and dont’s.

1. When commenting on somebody’s post, do NOT insert a link to your own book. If pertinent to the discussion, you can just about get away with posting a link to a post on your blog. Just. I recommend you don’t do it or you’ll look amateurish and annoying. But if you must, ensure you delete the preview or you’ll look spammy.

Tied to this is ‘piggybacking’ where an author posts on their own profile/page/blog that they are (for example) promoting/selling their books at an event and then you insert your own event/sales opportunity in the comments. This is regarded as very bad form. Your comment will be deleted and you’ll be VERY lucky not be be unfriended.

2. Do NOT direct message anybody AT ANY TIME with a cold call announcement of your new book. My reaction on Facebook is to unfriend immediately and you’ll be known very quickly as a pest. Set up a Facebook author page and promote from there and in promotion groups.

3. As soon as somebody has accepted your friend request, the same applies. You may in good conscience send them an invitation to like your author page – that’s what author pages are for. Your new friend may elect not to follow you there, but that’s their choice.

4. Everybody is entitled to a little rant and it’s best to put a warning up as the first line, but don’t be rude or libellous. Keep swear words to a minimum, but if appropriate and in context then you have to use them. But be judicious; you may lose friends this way.

5. Try to remain cool and rational even when people are determined to provoke and don’t be concerned about withdrawing from a conversation. If something is truly unacceptable, on Facebook report it to the admin by clicking on the (almost invisible) down arrow or three dots at the top right hand of the post or comment in question. Reporting to Facebook is useless; reporting to admin will probably get somewhere.

6. Politics. Hm. Some say keep away, but if you remain polite and rational, I think you can post about it. Religion – don’t go there. Be aware that others may disagree, and sometimes in an unfriendly manner. Your choice.

7. On Twitter, read your tweets before posting. It looks really silly to have spelling mistakes in such a small number of characters. (I say this as the world’s worst typist.) Two possible reactions: others may not want to retweet what would otherwise have been a sensible tweet, or if they retweet a post with a careless mistake, hundreds, possibly thousands will think you’re illiterate.

8. Be aware that not everybody cares about a photo of your hotel breakfast, but in general posts with photos/images will attract more attention.

9. A bit of advertising/marketing  now and again is perfectly acceptable, but keep it to your page on Facebook, not your personal profile. It’s against Facebook ‘rulz’ to use your personal profile for financial gain, including competitions, book draws or, Zuckerberg forbid, selling direct. The Facebook police do patrol and I know at least one person whose author page and personal profile were zapped overnight – five years’ work down the digital pan.


10. Don’t create multiple or fake name accounts including book characters on Facebook. Mr Zuckerberg’s minions are looking for you and others may well report you.

11. Read the group or community rules. Each group will have individual rules. Ignoring them often leads to deleted posts and for serial offenders, permanent exclusion. Hint, they are often to be found in a pinned post which is not usually open for reading on mobiles. I suggest you click on it.

12. As well as staying professional, do check your privacy settings. But remember that whatever those settings, a post on social media is forever.

This all sounds a trifle negative, but not doing all these silly things is only good manners. You’ve heard many people say the important thing about social media is the social bit. True dat.

And what to post on any social media? The BBC mantra – inform, educate, entertain – is a good one as a content guideline.

A last point which sums up all the others
A few years ago, pre-social media, I went to a talk on marketing at a very high-flown business event – suits and serious faces all round. The guru was famous and had been flown in from the US to give a forty minute high-powered talk and to reveal the secret of successful marketing. We listened, rapt, and nodded at appropriate moments. We even laughed politely at his jokes. And eventually, he asked us if we wanted to know the secret. We sat on the edges of our seats. The whole room was silent. Only a faint electrical hum of the audiovisual equipment was left.

His key tip?

“Go forth and be nice.”



Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, is now out.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

12 comments to Online etiquette for authors

  • kathysharp2013

    All very true. Good manners are always attractive – but some of us forget that in our anxiety to sell our books. Lovely article.

    • Alison Morton

      Thank you, Kathy. I’m the world’s keenest promoter but years of training by my properly brought up mother just about stop me at that crucial point. 🙂

  • Don’t always put down to malice or impoliteness what is sometimes just ignorance of social media mechanisms!

    • Alison Morton

      I can understand that people often don’t know all the ins and outs of social media, but it all comes down to manners and consideration. Those standards can be easily transferred into social media. For instance, butting across a conversation at a party, gatecrashing an event, walking up to strangers in the street and pushing your book in their face. I think we’d all cringe at doing these things!

  • Tegels

    Great post! Unfortunately I have been on the receiving end of a new author who rather over did it. But most authors are lovely (hurrah!)

  • 13 should be “when you review another author’s book on Amazon or elsewhere, don’t include a link to your own book.”

  • Elizabeth Ducie

    Great post, Alison. I’ve not seen any of this behaviour for a while, but it pops us occasionally and certainly grates every time.

    • Alison Morton

      I hadn’t seen it for a while but twice in a week was too much! I wonder how they’d feel if they had a “For sale” sign on their house and somebody else nailed their sign below theirs saying, “Buy my house a bit further down the road.”?

  • All good advice. Fortunately, in my experience, other authors are sensitive to the dos and don’ts of online etiquette. Just occasionally, someone transgresses and drops a link to their book in the comments to one of my posts. I generally ignore. Very occasionally, I delete and unfriend.

    • Alison Morton

      I’m a tad more draconian than you, nessafrance. 😉
      I think much of it is ignorance and eagerness to bring their book/event to the widest possible attention, but it’s so RUDE as well as being a blooming cheek. Hopefully experience will mature their approach…

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