Facebook for Authors: Getting Started Guide

Facebook for Authors

Facebook has more than 1 billion users worldwide, and it ranks as the No. 1 site (or No. 2, depending on whom you ask) in the United States. For this reason alone, it’s often one of the first topics of conversation when discussing an online marketing plan or author platform. Should it be?

For many authors, yes. Can you get along without it? Yes. The following guide will help you decide:

  1. If you want to make it an area of focus or forget about it entirely.
  2. Whether you want to use your personal page or start an official fan/business page.
  3. What kind of strategy might be appropriate for you.

If You’ve Found Facebook Ineffective in the Past

Before we get started, I want to address why Facebook—and social media in general—can have weak or no results.

  1. You tried to make something happen without a strategy (and possibly without a supporting author website).
  2. You weren’t patient enough. I find that most writers abandon their efforts too quickly, and assume failure.

Many writers have to be in this for the long game, since your major works might be released years (or at least months) apart. If people are entertained, informed, or fascinated by your long-term activity online—and let’s assume they enjoy your writing work—they’ll stick with you. If friends or fans feel like you’re only there to market to them, rather than be a community member, they’ll ignore you.

If You’re Unpublished

Some people advise writers to get on social media before publication in order to grow their audience, and this can make sense for nonfiction authors who need to build visibility and authority in their field. For fiction authors, it can make little sense. How can you build readership around work that hasn’t yet been made public? You can build relationships, and be part of a community, but you’re not necessarily cultivating a readership. A potential readership, maybe. But there’s a big difference here that’s not frequently enough acknowledged, and also leads to a lot of frustration and claims that social media doesn’t work.

If Your Publisher Has Told You to Get on Facebook

Let’s be honest: many authors have been told to get on social media in preparation for a book launch, and have no interest in using it beyond the marketing and promotion utility. That people feel this obligation or burden is one of the greatest failures of the publishing community, but I’m going to set that aside and instead speak to how to manage this stage authentically without rubbing everyone the wrong way.

Facebook (and most social media) is excellent at building awareness and comprehension in the community of who you are and what you stand for. Over time, you become more visible and identifiable, because you show up consistently.

Important: Facebook is not a replacement for an author website, even if your publisher says it is. That would be a very short-sighted move because (1) Facebook isn’t meant to function in the same way as an author website, (2) you don’t control what happens on Facebook, and (3) Facebook may (or will) eventually fall out of favor. Read more about this here.

Personal Profiles vs. Official Fan Pages

One of the biggest questions I get is: Should I start a fan page separate from my personal profile?

Fan pages take work to be meaningful, so I like to respond by asking: Are you prepared to develop a content strategy for it? Are you prepared to spend time on it, and possibly double the time you spend on Facebook (assuming you have a personal profile as well)? If you’re not crazy about the idea of the additional work, then I recommend you allow people to follow your personal profile instead. You can make any of your personal profile posts public, and your followers will see those posts in their news feed without being your friend.

Here are scenarios where a fan page is helpful and merited:

  • You have significant privacy concerns and need to keep your personal profile very locked down.
  • You need to keep your personal life and author persona strictly separate (e.g., you’re a K-12 teacher who’s writing erotica).
  • You write under a pseudonym (but you could set up a personal profile using the pseudonym—more on that below).
  • You already have thousands of friends on your personal profile, and you’re constantly filtering requests and messages.
  • You’re an established author with a fan base already in place.
  • You want (and know you’ll use) the additional functionality and metrics that go along with fan/official pages. Note: You need to be rather advanced in your platform building and author career to benefit from the added features of a fan page. E.g., personally speaking, as developed as my own platform is, even I don’t see the need for it in my career.
  • You have assistants or consultants help you with social media strategy and posting.
  • Would you prefer to shut down your personal profile but still have a Facebook presence? I see this happening more often, where authors create a fan page (or sometimes a personal profile), that’s strictly for authorship/platform activities. You may be “done” with Facebook but realize the importance of having a presence there for marketing purposes.

Here’s a good litmus test on this issue: If your first step in developing your fan page is to blast your Facebook friends with “Go LIKE my page!”, that tells me there’s no real divide—yet—between your personal friends and target audience. (That’s not a bad thing; your friends are often your first circle of supporters who love to know what you’re doing and want to be supportive.)

However, if you do need to have both a personal page and a fan page, still don’t solicit one group to join the other group. You don’t need to reach them in both places.

Here are scenarios where I’d consider using your personal profile (with the “follow” function turned on).

  • You’re an unpublished author or have very little work available.
  • You’re new to social media.
  • You hardly know what to do with your personal profile, much less a fan page.
  • You don’t like Facebook.
  • Your personal profile reflects your personality, yet you tend to use it in a more professional, business-oriented capacity.
  • You don’t have any privacy issues, and your following probably won’t be (soon) in the five figures.

A couple more reasons to potentially favor the personal profile over the fan page:

  • Personal profiles have more, well, “personal” interaction options. Fan/business pages can’t interact with “real” people in the same way once they leave their own profile (e.g., commenting on a person’s post), nor can business pages tag individuals in status updates, photos, etc.
  • Facebook continues to greatly limit the visibility of any posts made by official fan/business pages. Out of 1,000 people who like your page, you might only reach 50-150 with any particular post. To reach the entirety of your fans, you may have to pay, and most authors aren’t interested in that. However, see the end of this post for how author Claire Cook effectively uses her fan page to engage people without paying.

Do personal profile posts get more visibility? It’s hard to say—much depends on how much you interact with your friends and followers, and how they interact in return.

For those using pen names: To abide by Facebook’s official guidelines, your personal profile should use your real name. However, this policy is controversial and been disputed by users (just do a search for “Facebook real-name policy”); in practice, Facebook doesn’t remove profiles for breaking this rule unless they are flagged or reported by users for inappropriate behavior.

In conclusion: I find the choice between profile and fan page to be a personal decision, so do what you’re comfortable with and makes sense for your audience. It’s hard to offer general advice because everyone’s situation differs. Just remember that maintaining two pages on Facebook increases your workload.

How Do You Get Likes or Followers?

This will happen naturally over time, as you produce more work that people see and read, whether online or in print. But mainly, people will end up liking your Facebook page for one of the following reasons:

  • They visited your website and clicked on a link to your Facebook page.
  • They found you elsewhere online (e.g., Twitter), and looked for you on Facebook.
  • They finished reading something you wrote, and went to like you on Facebook.
  • They received your email newsletter, and clicked on a link to Facebook.

Some authors run specific campaigns to get Facebook likes; I think this is largely a waste of your time. I also don’t recommend advertising or paying for likes or follows. Let your following grow organically, and it will be more valuable and loyal in the long run.

Mind the Difference Between Your Profile and the Newsfeed

You should fill in the gaps of your profile (whether personal or official) and make sure to include:

  • A link back to your author website and possibly your Amazon author page
  • A decent bio in the “About” section, with mention of your books

Keep in mind that no matter how Facebook changes profile page structure, most people are interacting with your posts in their own newsfeed. Very few people visit your profile unless they have a reason to research you or be extra curious based on something you’ve posted. (That’s why Facebook’s limitations on post visibility, as mentioned above, can make it feel like you’re invisible to your audience.) So don’t sweat your profile (and its formal “timeline”) too much, except as it pleases you.

6 Key Principles for Using Facebook

1. Like attracts like. If you post helpful, interesting, or valuable stuff on Facebook, targeted to a particular sensibility, you will attract an audience who matches what you post—and will reward you for it through likes/shares. If you like to talk politics, or be argumentative, or complain, you’ll attract the same.

This is a critical principle for just about all online activity, but particularly important on Facebook because people tend to treat the site like their living room. They’re comfortable saying or doing anything.

If you don’t like the activity or conversation surrounding you—or you’re not getting the results you think you should—look at what you’re putting out. Don’t assume you need to increase your fan/friend count.

2. Target your posts appropriately and reduce the noise. For Facebook personal profiles, I’ve always advocated the use of lists, back when it was a hidden feature, and long before Facebook created automated lists.

It’s still a good idea to create unique lists, going beyond the automated list feature. While it takes time, having people tagged by how you know them, where you met them, or what your connection is becomes invaluable when you decide who should see each Facebook post.

Why should you care? Studies show that one of the biggest annoyances for Facebook users is people or companies that post too often. However, instead of unfriending or unliking someone or something who posts too often, we mute them instead.

I’m a strong advocate of the “less is more” philosophy when it comes to content and social sharing. We all have too much to read anyway, so why bother sharing anything except the absolute best and most essential stuff?

That said:

  • There is no one “right” frequency for posting. It all depends on what you’re posting about and your audience’s appetite for your POV or personality. For some people, frequent posting (to the point of TMI) is their shtick, and if you want to ride that personality wave, go ahead. Just accept its limitations in terms of who you’ll attract.
  • During special campaigns, such as a Kickstarter or book launch, people’s tolerance for your posts will often increase, because they know—eventually—the campaign will end. When you do run special campaigns, keep the tone humorous and entertaining—don’t hesitate to poke fun at yourself for yet another post about your newest book. (But, as emphasized, you should find creative ways or angles for talking about it.)

3. Avoid automated posting. Automated posting is when you use a third-party service to automatically post to Facebook for you. This is almost never a good idea and typically has very poor results. People don’t like to engage with bots. Plus, you’re missing an opportunity to say something geared toward the audience you have on Facebook—e.g., asking a compelling question to spark a discussion, or to offer your perspective and personality. Usually a more intimate approach is successful on Facebook (that living room phenomenon).

4. Interact. This goes hand-in-hand with #3, particularly when using a personal profile as your base of operations. If you want to show up more often in newsfeeds, that generally means interacting with other people’s posts, which will lead them to interact more with you. It’s a virtuous circle. If you’d like to helpfully make sure someone sees a particular post or conversation, tag them. (Don’t do this en masse; do it selectively, and make it clear you’re talking to them specifically.)

5. Don’t just post links—offer context. A little hand-holding goes a long way when you share links or content—whether it’s your own content or someone else’s. Explain why you’re posting it, share an interesting quote from it, or otherwise introduce the content so people understand why it deserves their time. Be a thoughtful curator, not a blaster.

6. Copywriting skills matter. It takes practice and skill to get people to read and possibly click or respond to whatever you’re posting. When you write the post, think about how you can answer the question (from your reader’s perspective): What’s in it for me? If you can’t answer that question, then hopefully your writing is witty, humorous, or otherwise compelling.

5 Facebook Behaviors to Avoid

You can break all of these rules and still do fine; you just may be pushing the boundaries of what most people tolerate.

1. The Overactive Poster. Are you posting to Facebook every hour? Are you constantly asking people to do something for you? It might be time to shut up. Instead, think about: creating new and valuable content, sharing interesting articles, asking people questions, listening to what the community is saying.

2. The Boring Beggar. You send Facebook messages or updates that plead: “Like my page!” or yell some version of “Buy my book”—repeatedly and with very little personality. While you should undoubtedly post about your book, request reviews, etc., you need to be more creative than writing what amounts to a boring ad.

3. The Event Planner. Do not send a blanket invite to “events” that aren’t really events. We’ve all been invited to participate in some “event” that didn’t even have a physical location, and was a thinly veiled blast. Don’t do that. You should also avoid sending invites to people who wouldn’t in a million years attend your event because of location/geography/investment. In short, do not misuse the event functionality as a pure marketing play.

4. The Uninvited Guest. Unless asked, do not post a promotion for yourself on other people’s personal profile walls. I hate this and so does everyone else. You’ll get shunned for this type of behavior over time. Also, do not “tag” someone merely to get their attention for something that’s not related to them. That’s the same behavior as posting a promotion of yourself on their wall.

5. The Private Badgerer. Do not send a private message to your friends, groups, or fans asking them to market or promote your stuff, unless it’s something very easy they can do (like take 2 seconds to vote for you in a contest). If you need to bring someone’s attention to something important, consider a personalized email (unless you know they use and prefer Facebook messages).

What Should You Post on Facebook?

I believe the really meaningful (platform-building) social media activity draws on the same creativity and imagination that’s part of your “serious” work. That means that whatever you post ideally connects back to the motivations and themes that drive your writing work. For that reason, what you post will be as individual and unique as you and your work. But here are a few considerations.

1. Be interesting. Post updates or links that reflect your perspective on the world, or that play on themes that fascinate you. Have fun in what you share. See what happens. Experiment. Respond to other people’s stories/updates with your own take (but don’t be an ass or a proselytizer).

2. Be helpful. If someone asks a question or otherwise is looking for assistance, and you’re in a position to be helpful, earn some good karma.

3. Be open and curious. If you have a question on your mind, ask Facebook for their thoughts. If you’d like to gather ideas and feedback, ask your community.

4. Be a little personal. We all know there’s a line, so don’t cross it. But if you share things that don’t have any impact on you, or don’t touch your life, or that you don’t feel anything about, then you might be a bore.

5. Be a little vulnerable and unpolished. It’s much easier to like someone when they have flaws. While you don’t want to run to Facebook to reveal all your insecurities, always presenting a perfect, polished front can get stale or not offer much authenticity.

6. Post links to your new writing, blog posts, etc. Some people skip this because they think it’s too heavy-handed or marketing focused. But most fans/friends will never visit your website or blog on a daily basis (or ever), and may not have any other way of knowing about your new work. So the link that you post on Facebook is their cue that you have new writing available. On a personal note: I can tell from my own website traffic that thousands of people every month rely on seeing my Facebook link as a reminder to read my latest blog post. In fact, the No. 1 referral to my site is Facebook.

7. Don’t forget about photos. Photos tend to get far more attention on Facebook than text-only posts. While there’s no “right” content or updates, try experimenting with different types of media to see what gets the best engagement. Many authors I follow focus on posting photos of themselves at literary events, with other authors, with students, etc—and for good reason. It works!

8. Ask questions. Inviting a conversation is a time-honored Facebook strategy. However, if the discussion ever breaks the “living room rule” (if a comment would cause you to kick someone out of your living room), you should step in and moderate. Your comment thread doesn’t have to be treated like a free-speech zone; I recommend cultivating a respectful and thoughtful tone.

Bottom line: The most important thing you can do is share things that you care about—to express something meaningful rather than dutiful. Never throw up a link or a photo without giving the story behind it, or why it matters to you. People crave meaning. Facebook is an excellent tool for delivering that.

The Whole Point: Stay in Touch With Readers

For published writers (regardless of how you publish), Facebook can be a key way to stay engaged with your readers. It’s a place to be informal, fun, and casual with people who have already expressed some level of interest or affinity for what you’re doing. If people friend you or “like” you, they’ve given you permission to be in touch and offer updates. Such people may not have any other alerts or notices about you except for what appears in their Facebook newsfeed. You’re creating an impression, and sometimes a bit of a relationship, each time you post—what do those impressions add up to after a week, month, year? Are you conveying a personality, voice, or image you’re comfortable with?

Inspirational Models

Here are some authors I follow on Facebook who I admire for their long-term use of the platform as a means to communicate with friends and readers and bring attention to their newest work.

Michael Ellsberg. Michael is the author of several nonfiction books and is a full-time writer. His personal Facebook profile has more than 26,000 followers. He’s known for the longform Facebook post, which just goes to show it’s possible to do things your own way—break all the rules—and be very successful at it. He also demonstrates the qualities of openness and vulnerability. Read about his philosophy here.

Margaret McMullan. Margaret, one of my creative writing professors when I was an undergrad, is an established YA author. Her personal Facebook profile is open to followers, and she has a significant number of friends—but no official fan page. She’s a great example of someone using photos to their best effect, as a way to keep people updated on what she’s doing and also bring attention to other authors.

Claire Cook. Cook is a bestselling novelist (Must Love Dogs) who has both a fan page (16,000 likes) and a personal profile. If you’re unsure what should go on an official fan page, looking at Claire’s page will help you get an understanding of the use of photos (both fun and promotional) and how to successfully mix together personal messages with more community- and marketing-driven posts. She kindly gave me permission to share a few of her posts below.

Claire Cook Facebook photo

Claire Cook and cats on Facebook

Claire Cook Facebook engagement

Getting Started with Facebook: The following guide will help you decide: If you want to make it an area of focus or forget about it entirely. Whether you want to use your personal page or start an official fan/business page. What kind of strategy might be appropriate for you.


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Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

Jane currently teaches writing and publishing at the University of Virginia and is a columnist for Publishers Weekly. The Great Courses just released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (2017).

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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49 Comments on "Facebook for Authors: Getting Started Guide"

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[…] Facebook has more than 1 billion users worldwide, and it ranks as the No. 1 site (or No. 2, depending on whom you ask) in the United States. For this reason alone, it's often one of the first topic…  […]

T.O. Weller
1 year 8 months ago
Thank you so much Jane! As someone just starting to build a professional writing presence online, I was finding Facebook somewhat frustrating. (Twitter, on the other hand, made much more sense.) It was the whole “fan page versus profile” issue. I’m working under a pen name so I ended up creating a fan page, but then I couldn’t network with it (join groups, etc.). Nor do I have that many fans at this point; a number than made me rather sad, regardless of how much sense it made considering I’ve only been working full out for two months! To solve… Read more »
Amy Reade
Amy Reade
1 year 8 months ago
This was an honest, informative post that I’m putting in my “Marketing” file. I have both an author page and a personal page, and I do my best to keep them separate so that the people who have friended or liked me aren’t getting a double dose of me. My publisher recommends that I update my status on both my personal page and my author page every day; I’ve found that to be a little forced at times. If I’m really not feeling it, I don’t post. Also, I never, ever put family photos online, so that limits what I… Read more »
Annie Rehmann
1 year 8 months ago

Thank you for this detailed post. You have helped me clarify what I really want to use Facebook for. I have a personal profile which I hardly use and created an author page a while ago, but don’t seem to be able to publish it.
You’ve convinced me that my normal profile will be enough for my purposes, as I don’t really use Facebook for personal use. I am much more active on twitter, but like the widespread use of Facebook.
Thank you again! I will keep an eye out for future posts on your blog.

RobynBradley
RobynBradley
1 year 8 months ago
Great tips, and I especially like your suggestion about being vulnerable and a little unpolished. There’s so much “spin” out there that I think people appreciate seeing someone who is willing to be real with them (while still balancing the respect boundaries, of course). For me, I’ve had a ton of luck using FB ads to sell my books. I can get really granular with my targeting and can control my daily budget spend. I’ve had more luck with the newsfeed ads, believe it or not, than the ones that run in the right-hand side bar. I also love the… Read more »
Marcy Mason McKay
1 year 8 months ago
You are seriously amazing, Jane. Thank you for this. I plan to go through your post again, paragraph by paragraph, to decide what’s best for me. My problem is I have a personal Facebook page (just plain ol’ Marcy), which I LOVE connecting with friends. I also started a fan page for my blog, Mudpie Writing, because I didn’t want to cram writing down my friends throats. I HATE that the MPW feels like WORK + double-duty keeping up with both pages. I have 536 Likes on the fan page, which isn’t much, but you’ve got to start somewhere (and… Read more »
Linda S
Linda S
1 year 8 months ago
Excellent and enlightening! I’v been torturing myself over whether or not to have an author Facebook page – my debut release is in July 2015. I have a Facebook business page already (https://www.facebook.com/RokkiHandbags) and I’ve become increasingly frustrated at the algorithms. It hurts to read that a post was seen by 26 people when you have over 1000 likes/followers. As an author, I can imagine myself feeling even worse if that were to happen. I don’t want to put myself in that position. It would be demoralizing! I’m good with sorting my personal FB posts among friends and public, so… Read more »
Selene
Selene
1 year 8 months ago

I though it was against Facebook’s rules to have a profile under a pen name and, if you’re found out, Facebook can delete it? Then all your work in building a community goes down the drain…?

Katie Andraski
Katie Andraski
1 year 8 months ago
I think you’re right about posting pictures on Facebook. Last week I posted a picture of my horse that I took with my iPhone, that won a slot in our breed registry’s 2015 calendar. I got close to a 100 likes from both a breed group and my personal page. So maybe it’s gotta be pictures for a bit. When I post links to my blog I get very few likes but I have noticed that people are clicking through to the blog. I have done the FB boosting post thing. Right now I’m running an ad and I’ll see… Read more »
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[…] Facebook has more than 1 billion users worldwide, and it ranks as the No. 1 site (or No. 2, depending on whom you ask) in the United States. For this reason alone, it's often one of the first topic…  […]

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[…] when discussing an online marketing plan or author platform. Should it be? For many authors, yes. Da Facebook for Authors: Getting Started Guide di Jane […]

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[…] Facebook for Authors: Getting Started Guide from Jane Friedman. Peek: “Fb shouldn’t be a alternative for an writer web site, even when your writer says it’s.” See additionally Survey Outcomes: What Agents, Editors and Art Directors Look for Online by Debbie Ridpath Ohi from Inkygirl. […]

Liz Melville
1 year 8 months ago
Thank you for an interesting article. Some excellent tips on how to use Facebook in terms of what to post. However, I do think care needs to be take in advising use of a personal profile over a page to promote a book, and there are several key points which writers need to consider. Anyone who is serious about marketing a book should be approaching it as a business, and it is against Facebook T&C’s to use a personal profile for commercial purposes. Writers should also bear in mind hat using a personal profile means missing out on a raft… Read more »
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[…] Ever-reliable advice from Jane Friedman in “Facebook for Authors: Getting Started Guide.” […]

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[…] Facebook for Authors A very good post by writer Jane Friedman over at her blog, on how to build the right kind of presence on Facebook. Bear in mind Edie Melson’s posts though (above). […]

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[…] Jane’s Post – Facebook for Authors: Getting Started Guide […]

tlhopkinson
1 year 8 months ago
This is a great article! I was happy to see my approach to using Facebook along with my poetry/writing tips blog seems to be on the right track. I’ll be sharing this article with my followers in the next day or two. Thanks for all the excellent info in a concise, yet highly informative format. One of the things I do like about using WordPress to share my blog posts automatically on Facebook for me is that I can schedule several posts in advance and still post daily without having to actually manage it daily. I’m still learning what works… Read more »
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[…] thorough and easy to read Getting Started Guide by Jane Friedman advises authors how to manage their Facebook presence. She provides advice on […]

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[…] presents Facebook for Authors: Getting Started Guide posted at Jane […]

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[…] I also believe every writer should have a social media presence.  Sacha Black gave a wonderful run down of what to do on social media if you’re a writer.  Another great post specifically for marketing yourself on Facebook is Facebook for Authors: Getting Started Guide. […]

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[…] Facebook for Authors: Getting Started Guide | Jane Friedman. […]

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[…] Facebook for Authors […]

Amanda McTigue
1 year 2 months ago

This is the most thorough, useful article I’ve seen on navigating these choices. I will take a look at your recommended examples. Thank you.

Cyd Madsen (@CydM)
1 year 2 days ago
The “living room law” is the best way I’ve seen Facebook described. Thank you for that and other guidance that’s in this post. It’s helped me make some tough decisions. I’d like to add that after much experimentation with others, anything coming from outside Facebook, or not paid for on Facebook, won’t get any attention if it’s shared. None. Not even if you add some comments. I don’t see those people I’ve liked or followed in my newsfeed unless I’ve clicked “Get Notifications.” If you do that, then you have to be very careful about the number of posts or… Read more »
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[…] that you have a page. It may take some time to build a good following, but be patient. According to Jane Friedman, “most writers abandon their [Facebook] efforts too quickly, and assume failure.” She […]

Carole T Beers
Carole T Beers
3 months 25 days ago

As I work with A-Argus Books to publish “Saddle Tramps,” a lighthearted mystery that also is my debut novel, I deeply appreciate any social media marketing advice. I worked as a newspaper journalist for many years. But fiction, other than published romance stories long ago, is fairly new to me. I want the FB presence as well as Twitter, and maybe Pinteret. But would rather spend more time writing than tweeting!

Konn Lavery
2 months 13 days ago

Thanks for writing this Jane! I’ve been in the process of thinking how I want to tackle pages vs personal profiles and ways to engage current and potential fans without being boring on social media.

Cheers,

– Konn

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[…] you’re really stuck again, and go and do more research. You read this writer, and understand that your Facebook author page is a great place to produce more content. […]

Mr. D
14 days 11 hours ago

Oh jeez, I’m looking at some of these “don’ts” and sinking into my chair. I’m totally sharing this blog. Great information! Thank you!!!

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[…] Jane Friedman shares more tips, including using photos in posts, posting links, and not simply automating posts. […]

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