Originally posted in the Horror Writers Association newsletter.
The vast majority of an author’s fans have a Facebook page. Writing is a business, and savvy authors take advantage of this marketing tool. Love it or hate it, an author should use this avenue for connecting with their fanbase.
There are three separate types of Facebook spaces available to the author: the normal profile, the page and the group. The question is which one is right for an author to use as a promotional tool?
The Facebook Profile
Most users start with a normal Facebook profile. This type of space includes general information about the user, including sex, birthdate, hometown, location, colleges attended, relationship status, etc. Posts about author-related activities get mixed in with life events, general chit-chat, political rants and personal pictures. As an author progresses in their career, they would naturally pick up more fans. Normal Facebook spaces have a limit of 5,000 friends.
Because personal communications get mixed with professional posts, sometimes your message may get lost in the chaff. Posting political and religious views can alienate readers. Orson Scott Card, the author of Ender’s Game, has posted anti-gay comments on his blog and Facebook page, which has cost him a sizeable portion of his fans. Orson has a right to his opinions, but a new author cannot afford to alienate their market.
My suggestion for the normal Facebook space is to make it personal and private. Keep your communications, jokes and opinions restricted to family and friends you actually know. Personal pictures, including images of your children, should be shared with people in your life, not with random strangers.
Facebook pages, sometimes referred to as fan pages, allow an unlimited amount of users to click the “Like” button and follow your professional posts. Everything posted will get simulcast to your subscribed fanbase.
When viewing this type of page, the owner will have access to an administration panel. There are sections showing new fans, messages, and Insight. The Insight section shows you how many people are discussing you, your work, and your page. Facebook also includes a method to invite new fans.
Separating your fan page from your personal page focuses your message to your audience. Posts about new publications, works in progress, traveling to conventions, and other author-centric news allows your fans to keep abreast of what’s going on. Fans can see you’ll be attending a local convention and buy tickets. New authors can see you’ll be on a panel for new anthologies and circle that event. Folks can line up at your booksignings and pre-order copies of your upcoming novel because they saw your posts on Facebook.
There are some drawbacks to using a Facebook Page for your professional presentation. Anyone can join, and there are times where you will have rude individuals posting comments, otherwise known as trolling. Authors should be spending some time interacting with their fans. When a troll is discovered, you should delete the offending post and block the user.
Facebook Pages are the most-used method for professionally communicating with fans. Viewers without an account or who are not logged in can still see your full Facebook Page. The tools and focused messages outweigh the occasional poop cleanup.
Facebook Groups require new users to ask to join the group. You can set it to auto-approve or you can be more selective. There is even an option to keep it hidden from view, only visible to people who receive an invitation to join. This will take some time to administer, especially if your fan base is growing rapidly. The good news is you can assign the administration of your page to a dedicated fan or family member. The HWA, for example, assigned the administration of their Facebook Group to Andrew Wolter.
Group information is usually hidden from non-members. This can be useful, especially if you want to have dedicated fans who can see some of your works in progress or to get feedback from them. Members can post pictures and new topics. Administrators have the ability to post bulk private messages to all members, which should be used sparingly and only if there are less than 5,000 of them.
Which One is Best?
The answer to this question falls to the author to decide. My recommendation is to have a private personal profile, a Facebook Page for your “official” author presence, and a Facebook Group if you want to interact with your fanbase and reward them with restricted content.
One pitfall of having a large Facebook presence is that it can easily cause hours of quality writing time to disappear like magic. Either set a time limit on your Facebook time or find someone willing to spend some time keeping an eye on your spaces. Don’t let Facebook, also known as Digital Cthulhu, Destroyer of Free Time, keep you from advancing your career.