Poor chap? Hang on! His book has done fantabulously well, so surely his bugging-people-on-Twitter strategy worked? Why should he feel any embarrassment?
BUT he has sold stacks and stacks of copies, so he really shouldn't care if he's annoyed anyone, should he?
Well, here I come to my second point: it depends whether he (or any writer who crosses invisible lines) minds what people think. And that is entirely up to the individual; everyone's skin is of a different thickness. So, I will not say he or anyone "shouldn't" have crossed the lines he crossed. I will not say he should be embarrassed.
But I would be.
And this is at least part of my main point, moving on to the wider question. "How much promotion is too much" depends both on you, the writer, and on you, the reader.
Everything is a judgement call. Every blog post, every tweet, every Facebook status update, every email to a festival organiser pitching an event. Every time you tell a personal friend about your latest short-listing, every time you say "me" or "my book", every video trailer, every pile of postcards you order from Vistaprint. Every quote you add to your email signature; every new review you put on your website. All of it, every single time, is a judgement call.
But how do we make that judgement? Are there any objective measures? What things turn people off? Well, probably not exactly objective but there seem to be some general lines that a decent number of people would agree on. Let me tell you what my own guidelines are. They are the lines which I try not to cross and the crossing of which by others bugs the pants off me, to the extent that I'm highly unlikely to buy their books or want to help them in any way. (Like anyone, I may occasionally get over-excited and accidentally put my toe over a line - I would then try to pull it back immediately.) They are the guidelines which I sense many others follow and approve. You don't have to follow these guidelines - you have to find what's comfortable for you.
So, here are my guidelines:
- Give far more than you ask for. In other words, if your blog/FB timeline/Twitter feed is mostly giving people information, support, or entertainment without asking anything, it is fine if you sometimes plug your own work or ask your readers, colleagues and friends or "followers" to consider doing something for you. (Bearing in mind other points below.)
- I've heard a 90% rule given - 90% of your online activity should be giving, and then you can use the other 10% for blagging. (Bearing in mind the points below.) I've also heard a 60/40 rule from marketing professionals, but I definitely prefer the 90/10 one, which is for mere humans.
- Be generous in your praise of others. Be nice. And if you can't be nice, be silent.
- When you ask people to do something (such as read a blog post or click a link or buy your book) do so generally and openly, not individually or privately. (See below.) If you make it general and don't address your message to anyone specific, you make it easy for people to ignore it, which is as it should be.
- Ask a stranger or slight acquaintance to do ANYTHING for you. (This is where complaints came in.) Not even the smallest thing. Not even to retweet your tweet. So, on Twitter, never send a DM (private message) to someone who is not genuinely a good friend to ask them to do even the smallest thing. Even to do something you think is fun. (Someone said, "But surely you wouldn't mind if I DM'd you to ask you to do something you'd enjoy?" Only I can be the judge of what I would enjoy. You don't know me, so don't assume.)
- (Don't) Forget that no one loves your book as much as you do.
- (Don't) Forget that there are eleventy million other books for people to buy.
- (Don't) Assume that all your friends will buy your book. They can't all afford to and they can't afford to buy all their friends' books, especially if they are writers, because writers have many friends who are writers.
- (Don't) Ask people to review your book, except as a very general and light request. I'm cautious about doing this at all, as I think it can sound needy, but I will occasionally in a very careful and tentative way. Also, again very occasionally, if someone privately tells me they absolutely loved one of my books, I might cautiously ask if they might possibly have time to write a quick recommendation on Amazon (or something) but I would also make it very clear that I absolutely wouldn't mind if they didn't. I will make it easy for them not to.
- Don't do what you don't like others to do.
- Give far more than you expect to receive.
- Never ask even a tiny favour of someone who you don't feel is actually your friend. Especially if that person is busy.
What about Facebook (your Author page, not your personal FB profile) and your own website?
Ah, now this is where you can do much more. People come to your FB page or your website to find out about you. They expect to find links to reviews, newspaper articles, videos of you, or news of awards and short listings. So, putting those items as prominently as you like in those places is absolutely fine, though I would never advocate cockiness or boasting. Saying, "I've been shortlisted for such-and-such" is not the same as saying, "I'm a totally fabulous famous author. Kiss my feet, losers." The point that makes your FB author page or your website a place where you can play by different rules is the element of choice that the visitor has in coming there and why they came: to see you and find out what you've done.
I stressed that I'm talking about the FB Author Page, not your personal page. This is a matter of opinion, but I know that I and many writers and readers who I respect don't like their social space overwhelmed by promotional updates. So, my advice is to keep your "normal" FB page social, soft, supportive, and to do your promotional stuff on your Author page. It doesn't matter if it sometimes overlaps, but I really think the 90/10 rule is best applied to social networks. I think it's fine to post links to your blog sometimes though, as long as that's not all you do. Just don't do the "Ooh, look how freaking successful I am!" thing. Apart from anything else, there are a lots more writers amongst your friends who are feeling very vulnerable and you just trod all over them. They won't thank you.
Back to Twitter, where this began: personally, I think the writer who was being discussed has used Twitter very successfully. Good on him. But I don't like using Twitter. I like enjoying it. Therefore, I can't in all honesty recommend the bugging-the-pants-off-people approach. Even if it works for him.
PS I can't tell you what I'm doing today, because that would be blatant self-promotion. I may casually drop it into conversation on Twitter and hope people will notice. Mind you, if I actually