Writer or Spambot?

Got spammed by a writer this morning on Twitter. The fellow isn’t someone I follow, so he made sure it popped up into my queue by putting “@scalzi” at the front, followed by a generic plug for his book and a link to the page he made for the book. Given that the vast majority of the “@” messages to me on Twitter are by people who follow me and/or are clearly responding to me or at least talking about me, this generic spammy message stood out, not in a good way. I went back to visit this fellow’s page; every comment from him that wasn’t a retweet was a generic spam message about his book.

He has a reasonably large number of followers, so I clicked through to look to see who they were: words used at lot in the descriptions include “SEO,” “brand consultant,” “social media marketing,” “business coach” and so on. This suggests rather strongly that this fellow has amassed his followers by signing up for one of those circlejerk services in which you get a whole bunch of followers by allowing the service access to your account so they can make you follow a bunch of people as well, and then you (or the service) retweet their tweets.

Not that this guy follows me (or that I use one of those circlejerk services, for that matter). No, what it looks like is that this fellow figured out that I was a writer, and thus a fine person to spam regarding his book. So off the tweet went, into my queue.

All of which makes him indistinguishable from a spambot. And also makes him an asshole.

Here’s the result: He’s blocked, he’s reported for spam, and I will neither ever read his work nor promote him or his work in any way. Which is a shame for him, because, you know, I do a lot of promoting of other writers, including on Twitter. But I don’t like being spammed, and I don’t like writers who spam. So to hell with this dude.

Dear writers: Don’t be an asshole spammer on Twitter. Talking about your work on Twitter? It’s cool. Occasionally promoting your work to your followers on Twitter, as part of a larger stream of tweets about everything else, including life, writing, pets and food? Perfectly good. Asking for a retweet every now and again? Generally not a problem.

Making every tweet an unsolicited ad for your work? You’re an asshole spammer.

And also: You’re a boring asshole spammer. Spending your day cranking out the same damn tweet to random people and retweeting a bunch of people because your fake followers service told you to is no way to go through your social media life, son. It stinks of desperate.  It also marks you as the sort of person who doesn’t actually know how to be interesting. Which in itself doesn’t speak well about your ability to entertain someone with your actual writing work.

If you’re a writer on Twitter and you want me to be interested in your work, be interesting on Twitter. Use Twitter like an actual human being would, rather than approximating a virus program controlling a PC. And see other people on Twitter as actual human beings, not blobs to be marketed to.

In short: don’t be an asshole spammer. Life’s too short for you to be that. Certainly my life’s too short to tolerate you being that.

49 thoughts on “Writer or Spambot?

  1. Such spam is part of the reason I have such a low profile on Twitter. The other bit being that when I am fully engaged on it, I write less fiction…I don’t have your self-discipline that way.

  2. I don’t actually mind when other writers actively talk about things they’re working on, or announce when they’ve released something. If I follow a writer on twitter I expect some of that, because… what do writers spend most of their creative energies doing? Writing. You’d expect to hear about it a little

    But when they market it every hour on the hour I unfollow them and never look back.

  3. Urg. This happens quite a bit – I’ve had it happen on my personal twitter, and the one for Lightspeed Magazine. It’s annoying, because when you visit their page, you see that they’ve just cut and pasted it rapid-fire to a lot of people that I also know and follow. Even more annoying, it’s completely unrelated to what either feed is for, or something.

    This tends to happen a lot with the indie writer circles, and it happens consistently enough that I’m wondering where there’s people telling them to do it. I can’t imagine that it’s ever effective.

  4. Andrew:

    “I’m wondering where there’s people telling them to do it.”

    I’ve seen small time writers give each other “helpful” social media advice. Those who offer such advice often have just started using social media themselves. It’s a cycle of ignorance.

  5. Unfortunately there are “experts” that recommend doing this. And if you see others doing it than it must be the right thing to do. Plus it’s much easier than working on building a platform or writing the next book. And no matter how many times you explain to many of these people that “buy my book” type tweets/status updates annoy people many respond back with “but how will anyone know my book is available if I’m not mentioning it?” *head desk*

  6. This post came at a perfect time for me, Señor Scalzi. Just yesterday, I began the long arduous process of purging my follow list of people whose twitter accounts clearly serve as no other purpose than to tweet links to their books.

    Like many, when I first started using Twitter I was gung-ho about supporting the larger community of writers, and thus made it a point to follow back any writer who followed me. I made the rookie mistake of following lots of people I didn’t know, just because they were of the writerly ilk. It’s obviously perfectly okay to make new friends and acquaintances this way, if you actually bother interacting with them at some point. But as my following/follower list neared the thousands, my stream was taken over by plug after plug, promotion after promotion, until it became nearly impossible to dig through the amazon links to find the people that were actually interested in conversation.

    Now, I have to correct that mistake, but I’ve been torn as to whether or not I was making the right call about it (considering my own follower count will likely take a large hit, and I’ll probably end up hitting lots of genuine people with my barrage of unfollow arrows). This story, while obviously referencing a slightly different circumstance, has reinforced the feeling that I’ve made the right call in purging my twitter account of the spam-folk. So, thanks.

  7. I recognized a lot of mefites in his list of people he was spamming, so I figured he found a twitter list of us somewhere.

  8. Well stated. I look at a person’s tweets, stats & followers, especially before following or following back. If it’s nothing but self-promo, forget it. Ditto for 100% inspirational quotes, RTs, prayers, etc. Another red flag is when the person is following 2000 people, has 2000 followers, but only has 113 tweets. Not exactly a “real interaction” person.

    I get my RTs, followers and general social media jollies the old fashioned way: with decent conversation, clever wordplay and indulgent hashtaggery. I have books to sell, too, but the day I make that my major topic of conversation is the day I should shut up.

  9. > “I’m wondering where there’s people telling them to do it.”

    I am 99% certain that this is *not* the case. It’s more likely that he or she just paid some “marketing” agency to take care of Twitter for him, and they created an account on his or her behalf, and are now “marketing” his or her work.

    I’d bet a dollar that the author in question has never even logged into that twitter account, and has absolutely no idea what the marketing agency is doing.

    You’re a busy guy, but you might want to take the time and gently tip this author off to the fact that there’s a company out there making him look like an asshole, in case the author isn’t actually aware of the fact. (Not everyone is as social-media conscious as you are.)

  10. I’m one of the 99% or more of social media users fortunate enough to be completely unknown, but I still receive Twitter spam of various sorts. I have the luxury of acquiring followers so slowly that I can vet and block. The great majority of all followers I receive are spammers, which I block and report immediately.

  11. I don’t use twitter, but I have a relatively hard and fast rule when it comes to self promotion on forums/comments/social media…

    Golden Rule: During any post, about anything, the writer includes the title of his book instead of just saying “my book” or “my first/latest/nth book”, that writer loses 50% of their credibility immediately. If the title is in CAPS then that increases to 66%
    Caveat: If the book/writer is popular enough (globally or just on that particular forum) the book itself can act as a sort of social shorthand, this rule does not apply.

    I’m a cynic and a misanthrope at the best of times – so as soon as I see that I immediately suspect their entire reason to reply/post was to shoehorn in a reference to a specific book. Even if what they say appears to be worthwhile. In fact that might be worse: constructing something thoughtful, observant and meaningful purely as a vehicle to self promote.

    As I observed in my hilarious collection of short essays: SCREAMING INTO THE ABYSS – HUMANITIES MISADVENTURES ON THE INTERNET:
    ”Say something smart, say something funny, and I’ll see what else you’ve said. Tell me you’re selling something and I’ll have heard enough”

  12. Ugh. I have a livejournal (I know, livejournal) which I use infrequently and one of the features it has is a way for you to look at a list of your most recent comments – which is great, because if someone comments on an older post, you can see it right away, and respond to it. Except that I have so many spambots spamming my posts, so frequently, that they drive all the legitimate comments off the ‘recent comments’ list before get a chance to see them. If I could I would salt and burn all spam, but sadly there is a lack of a ‘set all this stuff on virtual fire and burn it all‘ option (if there was a button that did that, I would totally click it).

  13. I follow a lot of writers on Twitter because, being a writer myself, I thought it would be a good way to connect with other members of the tribe. Unfortunately, this happens more often than not.

    When my Web Goddess, who is very knowledgeable about social media, first tried to convince me to get a Twitter account, I decided that I would use it as another creative outlet. I started by posting a lot of puns (which still make up a large percentage of my original posts), since they are easy to write and easily fit into 140 characters. Since I started, I have added strange conceptual conceits to the mix (this month, for instance, is The Importance of Variation Month, featuring tweets like, “It’s not repetition. It’s agnostic on matters of faith.” and “It’s not repetition. It’s a revolution in postdermal enamel abrasion!”). I also retweet the tweets of others when I find them interesting or amusing.

    Of course, I tweet about my own writing, especially the weekly updates of original writing I post to my Web site. However, because I post a bunch of other things, I hope I don’t come across as “that guy.” Because I have to agree: that guy is an asshole.

  14. Huh. It’s not as if you don’t have a well-defined place for self-promotion, either — the Big Idea. Much harder to get accepted, but if they do they get a whole front-page post devoted to their work!

  15. I’m old. I have to admit it. I may be younger than Scalzi, but unlike him I’m not up on the beat, so for me Twitter is still the weird and slightly disgusting spit bucket of the internet. I’m the 80 year old 33 year old guy who still thinks Blackberry is a kind vinegum with fruit taste. I have a twitter though. And I have like 10 followers (and I sincerely don’t care how many I have, and I have no idea why these folks aren’t bored by me) and I say all the wrong things constantly, because of the character limits and the language barrier. But then again, I have nothing to sell over the internet.

    But despite all that, then yes, spamming isn’t cool at all. I’m obviously a nano-time guy on the net, so I’m only spammed by shaved guys with erections and girls with Photoshop breasts and messages like “fOLLOW bACK?” .. and I’m certainly sure John Scalzi gets those too (and probably in proportions that’d drive normal folks to insanity). It’s just shooting yourself in your own foot to spam the likes of Scalzi, Felicia Day or Wil Wheaton or whoever’s gracious enough to share new stuff or directing fans to new discoveries. Personally I’ll follow people who say interesting stuff. That means there are actually heroes of mine I don’t follow, because they are boring or more oftenly plain unintelligent on Twitter.

    Whoever buys the advice that to sell your crap on the internet you just need to spread their stench in every direction, really needs to stop and think for a minute. It’s 2012, soon 2013. People aren’t impressed by the wonders of the internet and the magic of messaging wirelessly anymore. Nobody utters: “Oh wow, this guy took the time to write to ME about a discount penis pill”.Talking to the Japanese is everyday life, not a revelation. Nobody clicks things that blink anymore.
    If these things are news to your, then you need to return your agent to his time machine and send him back to 1994 and replace him with one from 2012.

    Note: But I do admit to find Scalzi’s outbursts very entertaining.

  16. I get a lot of this–at least every other day brings a similar @-tweet–because I’m a writer with a track record of book reviewing and writing about the publishing industry, and, like Scalzi, my immediate reaction is to block and report for spam.

    Pavel makes an important point about how “there’s a company out there making him look like an asshole,” and while he’s certainly giving them a lot of help creating that impression, I think there’s a case to be made that some of these authors might not be assholes–at least in the sense that I understand the term to imply a certain self-awareness that one’s actions are annoying/disrespectful to others and then going ahead and doing them anyway. A lot of these authors strike me as critically mis- or uninformed, and it’s a shame the first resource they found on how to promote themselves online as authors WAS an asshole.

  17. Heh, that was funny. People. Ain’t they funny like that? Always amazes that someone can settle into such an awkward socio-logical place in their head to the point of submindlessness. And then comes the Mallet of Real to shatter that glass house.

  18. I follow a lot of writers on Twitter and maintain a list there of Hugo-nominated best novel authors. I also have the word “author” in my Twitter bio.

    I think there’s software out there being used by some authors that causes them to engage in a lot of spammy practices to promote themselves. Most of my new followers on Twitter are writers whose bios are all about promoting themselves and whose tweets are mostly self-promotional.

  19. I forgot to mention this small thing: Every time I mention @scalzi on Twitter (there can be many reasons for that, most likely something John wrote on Whatever) I gain five to ten new followers who’re all accidentially sci-fi writers themselves. And within a week they start to unfollow.

    It’s a little bit funny. Like @scalzi is a magic word.

  20. I follow no tweets. Really can’t think of a good use in my field or interests where Twitter is worth it….
    And LinkedIn is bad enough for spam.

  21. Once, when I was naive to the ways of Twitter, I made the mistake of following one of these people back because, hey, they had just followed me, and I didn’t have very many followers–I thought I was just being polite. Upon following this individual back, I received this rather creepy DM: “Thanks a ton for following me, hope you enjoy my company hehe.”

    I soon realized that my feed was just getting clogged with the same two self-promoting messages every half hour or so and unfollowed, but that “hehe” still lingers in my mind, making me think of men in white vans offering candy to small children.

  22. Hmmm… going to try to condense this quote down to a Twittter-sized bite:
    Dear Sir: Please be aware that someone is signing your name to a lot of spammy, asshat-y Tweets.

    Then block, report, and unfollow.

    I recently made the mistake of accepting a cousin’s LinkedIn invitation. I now get more spam from LinkedIn than actual contacts from people I want to know. My Twitter account is largely inactive for that same reason. How were we sold on the idea that virtual mass marketing is better than a physical mailbox full of junk mail?

  23. When I did my Kickstarter, I was surprised at the number of my fans who sent me @-replies and DMs asking if I’d asked Famous Person for a retweet. My instinctive response was “no, that’s not how I want to play this game.” But I also got my initial burst of internet followers (several years ago) by doing exactly that, back when Twitter wasn’t so saturated and people really did read every link sent to them.

    It feels like the old piece of advice to walk your resume into the building and ask to see the CEO. That technique worked for such a very brief blip of time, but the mere fact that it WORKED kept it in the archive of tips and tricks long after it should have died.

  24. Condolences on the spammer. We’ve been having a battle with spammers flogging Ugg Boots and other stuff on the forums I help moderate. We clean up their threads, send them to banland and don’t look back.

  25. Was it by any chance a Spanish-sounding name? My public Google Community for the Wheel of Time quite coincidentally got a spam post from a writer a couple hours back. It sounds like it might be the same guy. He’s banned now, of course, and the comments how spammy he is are showing up in his public profile now.

  26. I don’t do twit, but insofar as I understand it, you seem to be Right On, as usual, As a fairly-long-time (since c. 1958) Science-Fiction Fan, I agree whole-heartedly with your implication that (within this microcosm) being obnoxious might be bad, but being boring is absolutely fatal.

    (As an Aside: Harlan Ellison has always been more of a self-promoter than most of the people I know consider proper, and — especially as a teen-ager — he’s often been cataclysmically Obonxious, but I’ve never even _thought_ of “boring” in connection with him. [Okay, "asshole" occasionally, but that's part of being human & outstanding.])

    But yeah, I’m willing to be (a dollar or so, that is,) that this writer you’re annoyed by is either an asshole or (depending on his age & maturity) just being clueless.   I’d kinda like to discover his name, in order to follow up and see if he learns anything. (Not enough to try to find it, mind you, and I have enormous respect for your not mentioning it — social groups need more of the “Attack the sin, not the sinner” approach.)

  27. I’m just ‘starting up’ blogging and such like.
    I deleted my Facebook account sometime ago and may have created a twitter account I have never used. I have been writing dark fantasy for a while now though, (deleting FB as it was a distraction) yet it seems after completing my second story last month that social networking may have to be approached again to promote myself and my work, and to do that I need to generate traffic to my blog. I have always found attention seeking behaviour vulgar; hence my termination of my FB account.

    Life has been better without it.

    Surely I don’t have to dive back into that shark pool?

    Essentially I agree with what your saying about spamming etc to get hits, followers, traffic – whatever, it’s rude. I wrote a similar piece about this today but only had one visitor who answered. I was considering linking that here – by way of adding to the discussion – but that seems like 8∆Ɖ ₣ØЯM too! :(

    I feel like I’m stuck in a rock and a hard place at the moment.

  28. Wow! The death penalty for a first offense Not that I blame you or think you are wrong. I would guess in your position anything less could easily translate into an unmanageable torrent of spam. Its just so rare for people to get the death penalty.

    Rule 1 never ever f with “oatmeal”
    Rule 2 never ever spam Scalzi

  29. Madlibrarian @December 17, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    I find Linkedin to be an ugly spammy entity. It sends multiple messages implying I have new contacts etc almost daily and I hate it. The problem is a lot of headhunters use it and it generates a lot of business for me. I may be able to drop it one day soon but for now I curse it regularly and put up with it.

  30. @redzepp77: I’d suggest getting over the attitude that “attention seeking behaviour” is “vulgar.” Unless you want your stories to be read exclusively by your family and friends, you’ll need to promote them some. I get that you realize that, but it’s a tad unseemly to take the position that encouraging people to pay attention to your work is somehow beneath you. The implication — which you may not have intended, but which comes through any time someone claims that self-promotion is “vulgar” — is that those who seek attention are somehow lesser for it.

  31. Re Hillsy, who said:

    Golden Rule: During any post, about anything, the writer includes the title of his book instead of just saying “my book” or “my first/latest/nth book”, that writer loses 50% of their credibility immediately.

    I think you have your Credibility Killer Ray set a little too high. By the mere mention of the book title, it makes the author less credible? Here’s a tweet I posted earlier this year to my followers: “Very happy to report we’ve reached 100% manuscript on Adobe Dreamweaver CS6: Visual QuickStart Guide! Now more editing, then off to print.” Then when the book came out a month later or so, I also wrote another tweet saying it was available, as I usually do. I write a fair number of books (2-4 per year) and the tweets are there partly to tell people interested in the subject that I wrote a book on that subject. It would be impossible to do that without the book title.

    The idea that an author should be wary of using the name of his/her book in a tweet would certainly muzzle our esteemed host. John has used the word Redshirts about a zillion times in his tweets in the past year. Not once did I think he had done so inappropriately. Had he consistently said “My Nth book” instead, I would have thought it weird. It’s like actors referring to “the Scottish play.”

  32. I misread the title of this post as “Whither our Spambot?”

    Filed it under “awesome short story titles,” then realized I don’t write short stories. Y’all can have it, without need for attribution. You’re welcome.

  33. I do have to wonder if there’s one or more places selling writers and artists on annoying crap like this. A month or two back, a longtime and well-known SF/fantasy artist used a bot to “confirm” a Facebook friend request _that I never sent_ and promptly spam my Facebook page with plugs for her work.

    She got a prompt un”friend”ing and a nastygram post (crossposted to several other venues) for her dime, and I’ll be damned if I ever buy so much as a cameo sketch from her.

  34. I’m not sure what i find more offensive-the asshole factor or dude’s shocking-and frankly, inexcusable- ignorance of social media marketing.

  35. @ Tom Negrino.

    Thankfully you didn’t CAPS it, therefore your credibility remains at 50% rather than 33%. But just this once I’ll let it slide – you get points for context and humour.

    I did throw in the caveat that I don’t use twitter – my comments were directed at communal areas – but I should’ve clarified that I don’t target Blogs with my Irrelevance Ray.

    I consider Twitter like a micro blog or a facebook feed; it’s a private area. Whatever is on there is a representation of you; it’s you interacting with people who choose to follow/stalk/mock you. That’s all cool. However, the comments, or a public forum site, are public; I’ve commented on this post as my offering to a broader discussion, and that’s all I’ve bought into. Not someone waving a flyer in the corner shouting “ME! ME! ME!”

    A simile would be a restaurant. I’m fine with the staff making recommendations, but if one of the customers comes over and starts talking about THEIR restaurant, their going to find chilli sauce squeezed into their eyes. You, the blogger/tweeter, are the staff. You the commenter/replier are the customer.

    …..and don’t get me started on the comment-bombers with their “Wow! I just blogged about this….[Link]”…..Eesh, grow a shame gland will ya!

  36. @KSB: Maybe I didn’t explain myself very well, but yes I think they can be lesser for it. I think the work should speak for itself as much as it can without slinging out promotional posts left, right and centre. Obviously I’m just trying to find the right balance – I completely agree with what you’re saying, there is no point writing if no-one reads what you’ve written. I believe Hillsy put it very eloquently above. No-one likes chilli sauce in their eye…

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