Twitter for writers
May 19th, 2011
I’ve been on Twitter for about six months. I still meet people who recoil at the idea, stating proudly that they wouldn’t dream of doing anything so trivial. ‘Why would I want to read about what someone’s had for breakfast?’ they cry, somehow feeling authoritative enough to pronounce on something they have clearly never looked at. Others are cautiously interested, but worried it’ll be too complicated. I’m no expert and not at all techie, but if I can do it, anyone can….so this might help.
What I love are the exchanges with other writers (often abroad – hello there, @SCallejo, @tomjarvis1). These include funny stories, opinions and links to articles of interest or writers blogs. Good sources of the latter include @elizabethbuchan, @nicolamorgan, @hprw, @david_hewson and @jodyhedlund. You can earwig exchanges between award-winning writers (such as @lindasgrant to @susanhillwriter etc). It’s very democratic and many well-known writers, such as @Joannechocolat, @LesleyPearse and @KatieFforde, don’t just talk amongst themselves but are friendly and helpful to everyone. In that sense, it’s like a rolling books magazine or being at a party in publishing.
Most tweeps also use Twitter as an information source: ‘I need to know about complications of pregnancy for a plotline’, ‘anyone know a good restaurant in Margate?’ and ‘my keyboard’s sticky, any ideas?’ are all typical examples. When @JessRushton recently asked for views on MBTs (shoes), she got an avalanche of first-hand experiences. And when @jojomoyes bewailed the misery of writing the first 30,000 words of a novel, she got sympathy from writers, while doubtless hugely comforting all the would-be novelists struggling with their own first 30,000 words. And there are the laughs: @jennycolgan is very funny, @meandmybigmouth and @benjohncock can be relied upon to ginger up the day, and the tweets directing me to the You tube story ‘Belgian Call Centre Prank’ were ace.
Twitter’s a natural home for writers, both published and to-be-published, because it’s about words and communication. You sign onto www.twitter.com, add a picture of yourself (known as your avatar) and a 140 character description of yourself. I used the cover of my novel, Lovers & Liars, until I got a good photo of myself (so good that no-one actually recognises me when they meet me in the flesh. It’s by Edward Mannering at www.edwardmannering.com if anyone wants similar photographic flattery).
Then start following, which entails typing a name into Find People, then clicking once where it says ‘Follow’. I started with @DorothyKoomson, who I’d corresponded with over No Man, the book of e-short stories she put together to raise money for Haiti. She followed me back, and generously tweeted a welcome so I acquired other lovely writer followers, such as @louise_candlish and @veronica_henry. It’s always worth following publishers (mine are@BtweenTheSheets) and, of course, agents: start with @caroleagent, @missdaisyfrost and @lizzykremer.
So what do you tweet? Start with ‘following’ at least 50-100 people, preferably authors, publishers and agents (once you start following, Twitter will come up with similar recommendations). Maybe your first tweets could just be replies to other people’s tweets. You’ll get the idea. Really.
And don’t worry about saying something boring or silly: people who equate Twitter with email think that you have to read or reply to every tweet, but in fact, a Twitter feed is a rolling wallpaper of passing comments, popping onto your timeline from everyone you follow (timeline = your incoming tweets) There’s no need to reply to or read any of them, and everything’s quickly forgotten. This means you miss stuff, so getting onto a programme which helps sort your Tweets helps: I use www.tweetdeck.com. This helps you filter incoming tweets into columns: the general feed, Direct Messages to you from one other (DMs are private, but you have to follow and be followed by someone to DM them) and a ‘Mentions’ column. This is where tweets mentioning your twittername are listed, so you don’t accidentally ignore someone who’s being friendly.
There are some great Twitter trainers, such as @marianschembari. Look up what she says about your 140 word description: Less of the airy-fairy ‘I float above the cares of the mundane’, is her gist, and more of the factual‘I write crime novels, ski, adore chocolate ice cream and have six cats.’ And if you want followers, you do need a description and an image, she says.
There is the terminology, #ff and RT being the two most important. When you read a tweet, hold the cursor over the avatar (pic) of the tweeter. You’ll be offered the option to Reply, Direct Message, Re-Tweet or Other. If you click on Re-Tweet (RT), that means that you’re sending out someone else’s tweet to your own followers. You’ll be asked if you want to RT immediately or edit first. One of the many great tips I got from @guyclapperton ( Social Media trainer, blogger and technology journalist) is that if you want to be RT-ed, make your tweets even shorter than 140 characters. RT-ing is how Twitter goes viral. @ReallyVirtual tweets that helicopters are hovering over Abbottabad, and his followers RT it. Within 30 mins, it can spread around the globe. Sadly, the news that @ninabellbooks will be launching The Empty Nesters in September 2011 is unlikely to travel with quite such speed.
Which brings us to promoting yourself via Twitter. Is having a name that’s completely different to the name you write under a bit self-defeating? Nina Bell was taken, although I managed to get @ninabellbooks. Historical thriller writer Andrew Williams found that every variation of Andrew Williams was unavailable, so picked the name of his first novel (@theinterrogator. (He decided that choosing the second, To Kill A Tsar, might garner him the wrong sort of follower.)
Some authors tweet and RT every single review, order, award and compliment, while others barely even mention that, er, sorry folks, but they’ve got an, um, book out. Everyone has a different line in the sand. Some say it’s fine to RT reviews, but not personal compliments (“your book kept me awake till 2am!”). However, there are so few reviews compared to the number of books published (and those who are already well-known get priority), so I think that’s a little unfair on new and mid-list writers. The main thing about Twitter is that it’s democratic, so I think those who don’t get reviewed should feel free to at least RT some compliments. But I’ve only ever RTed a compliment once, and it did feel a bit like running through the supermarket stark naked. And I’ve never RTed any of my reviews because I don’t know how to do the links. But I think I will, one day.
Everybody says they hate people who RT everything about themselves, but I’ve just checked the Twitter page of someone who is a relentless self-promoter and she does have quite a lot of followers! I keep following her out of fascination, then unfollowing again when the onslaught of fantastic career-enhancing news leaves me feeling too inadequate. Men seem more briskly pro-active than women, and often have a formulaic automated response: ‘Thanks for following, please check out my website…’ (and then they don’t reply when you say ‘I already have, that’s why I followed!’). Grr.
#ff is Follow Friday, when you tweet a list of people you’d recommend others to follow. I often #ff people who’ve replied to me that week, because interactive tweeps are such fun, or arrange them into categories: writers, etc. @trishaashley is great on #ffs.
So does being on Twitter sell books? I don’t know how much difference it makes. @talliroland did a brilliant Twitter campaign for her e-book The Hating Game, which propelled it into the e-charts, and I’ve certainly bought books I’ve found on Twitter, such as @JaneWenhamJones U Wannabe A Writer We’ve Heard Of? and @louise_candlish’s Other People’s Secrets, both of which I really enjoyed.
This represents just a fraction of the amusing, interesting or informative exchanges I’ve had with people on Twitter so far, but I still don’t know what any of you have for breakfast. Although I am sure that @benjohncock will let me know in detail, if he’s read this far.
PS If anyone understands how writers use Facebook, I’d love to know.
PPS: if I’ve mis-spelt anyone’s twittername or got anything wrong, please let me know, and please add your own tips and views. Thanks.