Sunday, 8 March 2015

Why (Most) Authors Don't Need a Facebook Page.

By Candy Gourlay

If your name is JK Rowling, please ignore this post.
Facebook Page: formerly called a fan page, it's for businesses, brands, products, public figures. More

Facebook Profile: for individuals. More
So you're an author or about to become one, your publisher or maybe your agent thinks you ought to create a Facebook Page, so that you can start the social media ball rolling. Should you?

What do you want from your Facebook Page?

1. Do you want to win new readers? 

Facebook Pages serve existing fans. Readers will like your Facebook Page because they have already discovered your books. So if you have written a bestseller, you can be guaranteed there will be many Facebookers eager to connect. If so, go ahead, create that FB page.

But what if you're just starting out? What if your book is not a bestseller? What if it's just moderately successful? What if you have yet to be discovered? Why will a reader who hasn't read your book like your page? You will find yourself begging friends and family to like your page to avoid the embarrassment of non-existent fans.

2. Do you want to sell your book?

As in, to tell your fans: 'BUY MY BOOK'?

Bad idea.

Put yourself in the shoes of a reader who has clicked on your like button. Why did she do that? Because she liked your book. She did not click on it because she wanted to be sold something. Do YOU like Facebook Pages because you enjoy being told to buy stuff?

She clicked the like button because she wanted to get close to you, she wanted glimpses of your life, she wanted behind the scenes stuff.

Which is all available on your Facebook Profile -- and you don't have to friend everybody, just enable the 'Follow' button so that fans can subscribe to your public posts.

Note 1: if you do this, you will need to be hyper aware about setting who you share your posts with.

Note 2: when people try to add you, they will automatically be subscribed to your feed. So you don't have to add them if you don't want to. If you do add strangers, you don't have to see them in your feed. You have the option to unfollow them. Don't worry, Facebook won't tell them you're not following them. Everyone has a right to sharpen up their FB feed.

3. Do you want to communicate and engage with your readers?

Fan pages used to be fantastic at this very thing. You could have daily conversations with your fans, meaningful exchanges, actually build relationships.

But then Facebook changed. It went public, and Page owners began to see a new feature that informed them how many people their posts were reaching (not very many) ... and another feature that made it possible for them to pay to increase the reach of their posts.

Facebook is filtering the information people receive from Facebook Pages. Even though liking a page means you've opted in, that you want to see all its posts, you probably won't.

Read Facebook is Hiding Posts From You written by a small business owner - "Without paying Facebook’s advertising fees, anything we now post is seen by roughly 5% or less of the people who have requested to see our content ...Facebook’s community bait and switch is forcing small businesses, artists and more to pay exorbitant amounts of money just to share news with you that you’ve already asked to receive."

A growing number of authors -- including yours truly -- have opted to use their personal Facebook Profiles to engage with the public.

This was because, having expended quite a lot of energy trying to build engagement on my Tall Story Facebook Page -- which was very successful to start with -- I was baffled and exasperated to find that the number of people seeing my work was dwindling to tiny numbers. I had more than 1,000 fans and yet Facebook was hiding my content from them. Messages began to pop up: 'Want more visits to your website?' 'Promote Page!' which led to invitations to pay for ads.

Journalist Lisa Hall Wilson writes: "Some authors find that content posted on a Profile gets seen by more people than a Page, especially a Page with a low fan count or Edge Rank. There are more than 50 million Pages on Facebook, and competition in the News Feed is staggering."

Read Five Reasons to Use a Facebook Profile (Not a Page) to Build a Platform


1. Build a good website

I know, it's boring and to some, it might even seem old fashioned. But a website is a solid foundation for building an online platform. It is not ephemeral - unlike tweets and Facebook posts, it will not be quickly superceded by new material. Your fans will expect you to have a website. It will give you a base from which to share your own content. It will be searchable for some time to come.

Websites are a whole other long blog post, but I'm happy to give you two bits of good advice:

  1. Develop your website's unique voice and personality. You are a writer - tell stories. This is what your reader is hungry for.
  2. Build a website you can update yourself. 

2. In developing your social media strategy, go where your fans are

Before Facebook turned up I was an eager member of a social network called Multiply. I loved it. My small circle of friends and family shared photos and videos and chatted everyday in real time. When Facebook emerged, I resisted joining because I was so content. But slowly my friends drifted to Facebook, following their other friends. I had to make the decision to move my engagement to Multiply. There's no point being on a social network if your friends are not there. Poor Multiply eventually closed shop.

Being found means being present where your audience us. Being a photography buff, I  am a keen Instagrammer. On Instagram, I am not promoting myself, I am just sharing and looking at photographs. But recently  I noticed that  my followers on Instagram increase every time I returned from a school visit . I realised that a lot of my young readers are on Instagram. I  keep that in mind now, making sure my Instagram posts have value to young readers by telling stories and not just captioning my pics with geeky f stops and shutter speeds. I've also discovered that my Filipino fans enjoy my travel pics. For them, it's a window to the world.

Of course going where your audience hangs out requires you to do some work. You will need to find out what differentiates the various social platforms and who are using them. You will ned to fit in, learn what your audience wants/gets from the platform, forge your identity. You will need to learn how to create content that will engage and build an audience.  You will need to understand how the algorithms that rank and filter information in each platform works. Here for example is a piece on Facebook's constantly changing algorithms

3. Be found

Yes, set up profiles on Facebook,  Goodreads, Twitter, Instagram etc.  Be found wherever there is social media. But do not feel compelled to service these profiles. Try them out to discover what you enjoy. And having chosen, make sure you do it well.

Use your profiles to point readers towards your one true presence, be it your website, Twitter or your Facebook profile. Be clear about where your reader can truly engage with you.

4. Protect yourself from yourself. Remember that social media is not what you do. You write books

You only have to go on Twitter to realise that we authors are suckers for wall to wall procrastination -- we now have a name for it: self-promotion.

How many chapters can we write in the time it takes to retweet ten tweets? At least when we used to procrastinate by doing the ironing, the ironing got done.

Having a plan means building boundaries - protect your writing time from the overwhelming sucking power of social media. Read If everyone's now got a platform how are you going to stand out?

5. Be human

Ages ago, in pre-social media days, I gave a talk on the internet in which I advised authors to look at themselves as brands. The concept worked until the social media scene exploded and the whole world began to act like brands. At the last talk I gave with my internet know-it-all hat on, I said the opposite. No, don't be a brand. Being human is the best kind of marketing.

And finally, here's a helpful Getting Started Guide -- Facebook for Authors


A Note to Slushpile Readers: Surprised to see somebody blogging on the Slushpile after months of inaction? I'm pleased to say we've been mostly head down, writing, setting a good example for all you procrastinators out there. In fact I'm here because on Monday I handed in a draft of my next novel.  I'll be going back into the writing cave at some point, but not just yet ...

Candy Gourlay's new book Shine was nominated for the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize. Visit her author blog My Happy World Book Day In Which Tall Story Got it's Own Book Bench


  1. I have a blog. People can reach me there if they want. But you have to post regularly. If you decide to set a good example by not procrastinating, you might as well just not have a web presence at all. Twitter is something I signed on for because it enables me to find out what's happening in my world. I use it as a tool, to communicate with other writers, readers, teachers and librarians, and not to miss events that are only mentioned there. It is, of course, fair enough not to have one of these profiles. What irritates me are writers who have a profile on Twitter and Goodreads and don't use them. I suspect most havr been told by their publishers to get a social media profile. They don't communicate with fans, so fans can't communicate with them - on Goodreads they keep them firmly out by making their profile only available for those who want to become fans, not friends. What earthly use is that profile if it's never updated? "Oh, but if I waste time communicating, I don't have enough time to write!" they exclaim. Well, there are plenty of wonderful writers who manage to get terrific books written while still letting their readers know they are human beings. Even George R R Martin has a Livejournal page. So does Barbara Hambly(who has a day job).

    Thanks for the advice about Facebook. I don't have a FB profile or page and no intention of starting one.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful post, Sue.

      To be fair to authors who have profiles but don't use them,social media really is overwhelming, we can only do so much. Some big authors have assistants to maintain their human face to the outside world. I can't afford such a thing. I get fan messages (I get one or two a day, usually asking how you write a book). I reply briefly but I promise to respond using my blog when I have time.

      After I read your comment I added a new point ... Be Found. Sthanks for that.

    2. Sue, I just want to respond to what you said about posting regularly on a blog. I think it's more valuable to post meaningfully than to blog frequently. There is so much clutter on the internet as a result of advice to blog often in order to build an audience. If we only blog when we have somethong useful and considered to say, our posts will continue to be searched for and found for a long time to come. There is so much going on online, when our voices are absent, we are not really missed. And Facebook and Twitter are forms of blogging too, so not posting on the main blog does not necessarily mean your readers are not being served. The most important thing for authors is to strike a balance that does not impinge on their writing.

  2. Hallelujah. Truer words never spoken.

  3. That's fab, Candy! All very true. In response to Sue, I highly encourage illustrators to get a Twitter profile with their website link in the profile, even if they never tweet. That way they can be mentioned in lists of festival appearances, tagged in images, etc. if they don't have a linkable Twitter profile, often they won't be credited at all, it left out of listings. If people want to find out more about them, they can click to their page, see they don't tweet, then go directly into their website. Otherwise even name mention is a dead end.

    1. Very good advice, Sarah. Instagram works a lot like Twitter in the sense of hash and name tagging and I'm always surprised and pleased when random readers tagging me now and then to let me know they enjoyed my reading books.

    2. Fab adice, I can fell my brain saying 'doh...of course!'

  4. You mean your shirts are wrinkly due to all this writing?

    1. You noticed my shirts? I've actually invented a new style of ironing which involves a lot of shouting at young people in my house.

  5. Excellent post, Candy! I've been wondering recently if my "fan page" is doing any good at all or simply adding to the general clamour. After reading this I've decided to dump it.

    1. Don't dump it, Sharon. Just make sure it's set up so when it's found it points in the right direction. I was going to dump my Tall Story page but decided to leave it there it does no harm apart from irritating me everytime I notice it. Besides, Facebook is changing all the time. You never know.

  6. Huzzah! I love being human! Thankyou Candy for blogging about something sooooo useful.

    1. Thanks, Addy. I've been wanting to do this for ages but I needed to write my book.

  7. Really useful piece, Candy - thanks!

  8. Thanks, Candy. Human sounds good.

  9. Really useful & welcome advice, Candy. Can't thank you enough.

  10. Thanks Candy for your generous and detailed post. Music to my ears! I am taking facebook author page off my to-do list. Hooray!
    I'm glad your writing is going well. :)

    1. Hmm did I really want to give you that kind of permission, Jeannie? Congrats again on your new book!

  11. Thanks Candy, interesting reading.

  12. I agree that social media is overwhelming and I'm absolutely behind you in "don't bother with a Facebook page". I just don't think you should keep ANY social media profile if you're not going to update it. When I was trying to get in touch with a certain US writer on behalf of my students, who wanted to do an online interview, he had a Twitter account with three tweets and thousands of followers. No way to get in touch there. As a reader, I was merely irritated. He has no web site of his own, so I tried his Goodreads profile. Sorry, thousands of fans, but no friends. No contact. I emailed the Miami Herald, for which he writes. No reply. Finally, I tried his publishers. There was a reply. It was "no." ." No sorry, he's busy writing us a book. Just "no." Written, I suspect, by an intern. At least they replied.

    And I know about these things. I understand. Imagine an average young reader's reaction when they can't contact their favourite writer at all.

    I doubt the writers I found on Livejournal had assistants chatting on their behalf about which baseball team they were following(and losing, dammit!) or what classes they were teaching next week.

    Kate Forsyth, VERY busy children's writer, has found ways to make herself available to her fans, even if she has to send a form letter(there are some questions she gets often).

    Charlie Higson, who says on his website that he doesn't often answer because he's writing, did answer and agreed to allow one of my students to interview him for my blog.

    Li Cunxin, author of Mao's Last Dancer, flat out arranging a ballet company tour, replied immediately and answered the student questions in less than a day! That post has had several thousand hits, by the way. And the kids couldn't have been more thrilled. They had watched him on YouTube before creating their questions - not just the film, the actual footage of him dancing during his career.

    Those children's writers I know personally who are on Twitter still manage to get books written. And they're available. That should make some sales.

    Looking forward to seeing your point "be found", Candy. :-)

    1. Thanks, Sue. Yes I agree there's no point being found if you have no intention tof make yourself available.

    2. And just to add ... my fellow authors will appreciate your putting forward the perspective of the target audience!

  13. This is brilliant advice - really useful comments too and HOORAH for next book. Can I read it now? Can I? can I? Don't make me sneak into your house at night and steal it....:) xx

  14. I put up an in-depth and thoughtful reply. It appears to have vanished!

    1. Come on, can't you remember what it was?

    2. Let me see, it was something like this...

      I can see the point of just having one presence on Facebook, and having fans subscribe. But I like having two separate places, and most of the time put different things in them (though big news will appear on both). I think if I was constantly switching between making public posts and posts to just friends that sooner or later I'm sure I'd mess up and make something public I'd rather I hadn't.
      My fan page does get quite a lot of posts and interaction with readers - particularly readers who are in other countries and reading translation versions. I don't see them so much on my website or Twitter, so perhaps Facebook is more of a thing in some countries than others?
      But this is all an academic discussion for me: I kind of have to keep my Facebook fan page - it's linked in all my books and promo stuff.
      (I won't tell you what 'promo' just mistyped as; suffice to say, I'm glad I caught it)

    3. Interesting. You must have readers who actively visit and engage - lucky you! Most of us will have audiences of the more passive kind who will wait for postings to appear on their feed (which is where FB exercises its power to hide you).

  15. Regarding the quality vs. quantity question, I feel that I should point out that this is the first post on this blog in almost 9 months, but it's still attracted 25 comments in one day! If you post it, they will come :-)

    1. Nick, I was feeling bad about our inactivity and wondering whether it was time to call it a day. It's a relief to see the traffic. As an avid blog follower, i must say that I tend to stop following blogs that post too frequently not just because of quality but because I just cannot keep up.

  16. Yes yes yes - here's to being able to keep up with less quantity and more wonderfully informative posts like yours Candy! Great comments here too! Interesting what Sarah McIntyre says about illustrators having a link to their site on twitter at the very least. Did anyone mention YouTube? I was recently told that even short 30 sec videos - not to mention trailers are the best way to reach our target audience - kids. Ive been looking at Youtube videos about how to film drawing etc - a lot of pioneers out there coming up with weird contraptions for overhead filming yet Zoella manages well with a simple board and markers - because her content is funny. Yes the human touch is key.

  17. Great article Candy! Understanding the FB distinction really helps.

    P.S.: my initials are J.K. ;-)

  18. This was a fantastic read! Thank you! I was always overwhelmed by social media, tending to be more of a private person. Slowly, I learned how to maneuver it, and I started a FB business page for my children's storytelling business. I've watched as FB changed and changed and changed again. Some of my posts get one or two likes, other days it's 30 likes with several comments. It varies wildly, but for me it's worth it both for business and for just being "in touch" with folks. I so agree with the idea that "being human is the best kind of marketing." And... I've been a writer in various forms all of my life, but for me, doing a blog is a constant debate in my head. These days, I'm trying to take stories that I perform and get them on paper. My writing time is so tight, and I don't want to blog just to have a blog post out there. I want it to be meaningful. I fear that the pressure I'd feel to blog every day, or once a week, would sap my energy for the writing I really should be doing. Hearing you talk about making it meaningful not necessarily frequent really resonates. Thank you!


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