Twitter for authors

May 25th, 2013

Every few days an author emerges on Twitter, often because their publishers have suggested it. Some take to it quickly, others make an embarrassed stab at it, before giving up. I initially found Twitter baffling, so I decided to find out more. Now people are referring friends to me for advice, so I thought I’d sum it up.

Firstly, do a bio and photograph. Nobody wants to follow a blank head. Use a photograph, however obscure. The cover of your book is OK, but not forever. Then do a sensible bio. All that ‘I write therefore I am’ or ‘I am a creature of the universe’ will turn people off. You write x, you like y, you are published by z. Maybe add your home town. Writer @benjohncock says that you should say what you want to be known for (ie ‘writer’ rather than ‘unpublished writer’ or ‘wannabe writer’).

Then make sense of the stream of tweets with a programme like www.hootsuite.com . This organises your Twitterfeed into columns. The first is your ‘Timeline’ or the tweets that arrive every minute from the people you follow. The second is the ‘Mentions’ or people who have mentioned you or directed a tweet at you. The third is the DMs (Direct Messages), which can only go from you to someone who follows you and vice versa. The fourth is the ‘Sent’, which is the tweets you’ve sent. If you don’t see your ‘Mentions’ easily, you will ignore people trying to communicate with you. Twitter is a conversation, so if someone replies to you, it’s nice – but not compulsory – to reply back.

Hootsuite means you can also schedule your tweets. Click on ‘compose message.’ Write it, then look at the symbols below on the right. One is a calendar. Click on that and you can specify what day and time your tweet goes out. So you can send out all your tweets for different times at once. But check back every so often to see if what’s going on, or if anyone has replied to you. Twitter can be unexpected fun, and you don’t want to miss out.

The key to getting lots of followers, unless you really are terribly famous, is to follow people. Social media trainer @zoe_cairns recommends following 20 people a day. Follow people who might read your books. Follow industry pundits and other authors who might be fun or interesting. Follow writers you’d like to talk to. Follow agents or publishers if you want an agent or publisher. Check everyone else’s lists of ‘followers’ and follow them. Follow people who follow you unless you don’t like the look of them. Don’t ‘buy’ followers. Social media analysts @socialfresh warn against automatic programmes that promise you thousands of followers – they’ll be any old person in Outer Mongolia. You want people who are interesting, from whom you can learn about the publishing industry, who might read your books, or who you’d enjoy chatting to. I’ll do a list of good booky tweeps in a few days time, but essentially what you read on Twitter is just as important as what you broadcast about yourself.

Every so often, sign onto www.justunfollow.com and see who has followed you back. If someone isn’t interesting, and/or they haven’t followed you back, then unfollow them. That means holding the cursor over the ‘following’ sign and clicking. Hootsuite also has an ‘unfollow’ button. Sometimes unfollowing happens by accident, so if you find that someone you know in real life has unfollowed you, don’t take it personally. People fall off Twitter feeds all the time.

Hashtags are the next important thing. A hashtag # is a topic or an industry. Including a hashtag means that your tweet will be seen by everyone who follows you, plus anyone who clicks on that hashtag. So hashtags increase your profile. If you reply to a tweet with a hashtag, use that hashtag. It will mean you’re properly in the conversation. Book-y hashtags include #writing #writetip #amwriting #fridayreads (books to recommend, on a Friday) and so on. Look up popular hashtags on www.twubs.com. Another hashtag on Friday is #ff or Follow Friday. It means you’re recommending tweeps for other people to follow. So, on Fridays, you might tweet #ff lovely authors @elizabethbuchan, @fannyblake1, @alimcnamara and so on, so that other people can follow them. They often do the same to you and you all get more followers. You get the idea. Twitter is about being nice to each other. Up to 2 hashtags increases people’s interest in your tweet. More than that is spammy. I’ll be doing Twitter etiquette in a later post.

Next up is Retweet or RT. Hover the cursor over the tweet and you will see RT pop up. If you click on RT, you can send that tweet to all your followers. If it’s interesting, your followers will like it, and it saves you thinking up something new. If someone RTs you, that gives you more publicity. It’s win-win.

Links are important, too. Say you have a new launch or blogpost, or you have found an interesting article online. Click on and highlight its web address. Then click on ‘compose tweet’ and write your tweet. Then hover the cursor over the other symbols until you find ‘links’. Hootsuite has a shortening links box. Paste the link in, click on ‘shorten link’ and it’ll be inserted into your tweet. I like to put Amazon links to people’s books when I wish them ‘Happy publication day’. It gives your followers something to check out, and maybe other authors will include my Amazon link back on my next publication day.

Ann Patchett recently said that publishers should involve authors more as part of the publishing industry. I think one good step would be to engage authors like me (or even me – I’m for hire!) to help other authors get started with social media. It would be a relatively inexpensive way of making a big difference, rather than simply setting up a Twitter and Facebook page for a new author, then letting them muddle along with just a few starter tips.

My next blogposts will include ‘Good Book People to Follow’ and ‘But What Do I Actually Say in My Tweet? And What Not?.’

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