My writer-friends and editing clients have been begging me for a Twitter how-to specifically tailored for writers/authors. So: here it is! For newbies, the Twitter-verse can be a confusing jumble of 140-character-length nonsense. Often, I hear writers whining, “Why? What’s the point?”
The simplest answer is this: You just can’t afford to avoid or ignore Twitter any longer. Not if you are serious about your writing career. An author/writer might say that she is on Facebook, LinkedIn, Authonomy, GoodReads, Blogger, etc., and another social network will take too much time. This might be a valid point. But the most important social network of all? Twitter. If you do nothing else, use Twitter and create a Web site. Why? Let me count some ways.
Reasons to join the Twittersphere:
- Twitter isn’t as insular as Facebook. Anyone in any free country can follow you (unless you block them). Not so with Facebook. You have to accept friendship requests there. It makes the process more clunky.
- Authonomy.com is also an insular world. A site built for and frequented only by writers. Authonomy is for critiquing and learning to market your work. It is a microcosm of the book marketplace, but ultimately, it isn’t where your potential buyers are.
- Blog sites like WordPress, Blogger, TypePad, and LiveJournal have an important place in the writer’s marketing toolkit. But some of us aren’t good bloggers, either due to lack of time or lack of a sufficient platform. Blogging can be quite time consuming. I know my blog posts usually take me a week to publish because I have very little time and they require a great deal of research and thought.
- Twitter’s best value? You can tweet anytime anywhere. Yup. That’s its greatest feature.
For the naysayers
You’d be surprised who you’ll find on Twitter. Granted, some folks who come to Twitter feel they have to participate “because everybody’s doing it.” But a great many are on there exchanging pub info and articles as well as tweets about their daily writing lives. Who are they? Pubbed and aspiring authors. Agents. Editors. Publishers. They have information to share—why not exchange ideas? I, myself, have been corresponding with agents and editors on Twitter lately. It’s amazing that they’ll take the time to share and answer questions. That’s micro-blogging for you. Most of us do have time for a 140-character conversation. It’s quick. That’s Twitter’s staying power.
Why do I want to listen to people blab about what they had for breakfast?
I’m sure some Twitterers do this on a daily basis, but I don’t follow their tweets. I follow those who are tweeting about their daily writing ritiuals and trials though. Why? Because I like to know how others work on their craft. I might learn new insights and better ways of working and reworking a novel draft. And it’s nice to know that others find the process difficult too. Tweets are small windows into individual worlds. Sometimes the tweets are irrelevant to me, sometimes they are just what I need to hear.
I don’t have time for Twitter.
Blogging generally falls through the cracks for me. It’s difficult for me to fit into my schedule because it usually requires several hours of research, writing, editing, and uploading to make one go live. Every hour of my day is usually accounted for. However, tweeting fits much, much more easily into my on-the-go lifestyle. As I mentioned before, I can tweet from my phone, which means I can tweet any time, anywhere. I can give real-time updates on conferences I’m attending (I recently uploaded video and pictures I had taken of Ursula le Guin speaking at a conference while it was happening), retweet breaking industry news from insiders, and share the latest info about my novel. There are a number of powerful Twitter apps that allow more flexibility and the ability to update multiple social networking sites at once, so that speeds up the process as well.
As of January 2010, Twitter has skyrocketed to 75 million users, according to RJMetrics Inc., but 80 percent of those have tweeted 10 times or less. (Check out a Twitter expert Brian Solis’s blog post “The State of the Twittersphere 2010” for more detailed statistics.) What does this all mean for you? Get talking! Twitter is pointless unless you are joining the conversation. You want to talk with those in the publishing industry who are using Twitter too. You are engaging with an audience that takes iPhones on the Subway, that joins literary hashtag discussions. These folks are comfortable with emerging technologies and social media. These are the folks you want to learn from and talk to. So get on it. No more excuses!
Twitter Success Stories
Read these Twitter success stories to see how Twitter has worked for other writers:
Writer Debra L. Schubert (@dlschubert) found her agent on Twitter. Guess who? Bernadette Baker-Baughman of Baker’s Mark Literary Agency—the same lovely lady who signed me just this year! Debra also co-hosts #yalitchat. Here’s her inspiring story: “Did I mention I’ve Got an…”
Author Karen Rivers (@karenrivers) shared her story with me via E-mail: “After letting go of my old agent last summer, I was looking around for someone new and specifically someone in the US (I’m Canadian). It seemed almost impossible to figure out who I liked and who I didn’t until I stumbled on a few agents on Twitter. I submitted to Colleen [Lindsay] because I liked her Twitter personality and she seemed incredibly well-connected, frequently tweeting back and forth with editors, etc. The rest is history!
I also found an editor who I already knew of and really liked and started following her on Twitter. While I was waiting to sign with an agent, I subbed to her and she ended up also offering (but I can’t tell you who it is because the deal hasn’t been announced yet). So, two Twitter success stories in one!”
@StirlingEditor’s cool story: I attended Writers Digest Editor Jane Friedman’s (@janefriedman) fascinating talk on publishing online at a local conference last year. We got to talking before her talk, I participated in a discussion about Authonomy.com during the workshop, and about 20 minutes after the talk, she found me on Twitter and started following me. Wow!
Step 1: Sign up
First off, sign up for an account at Twitter.com. I don’t think you can sign up anywhere else actually. Feel free to post a comment in my comments section if that’s not the case. The three most critical items at this point are your username, bio paragraph, and avatar.
Writers should probably choose their pen name, or whatever name they will publish under. Mine should be CheriLasota (usernames are case sensitive), but I started my Twitter account originally for Stirling Editing, so I went with StirlingEditor at the time. I might change it in the future though. That said, here are some non-name usernames that I certainly found intriguing:
TIP: If the username you are thinking of using is difficult to spell or pronounce when spoken aloud, consider something else. You never know when you’ll be talking in person to an agent, editor, or writer who wants to follow you on Twitter.
Your bio is critical. In a few short seconds, potential followers will make a judgment call about whether to follow you. In my opinion, the best bios inform, entertain, and provide links. Let me explain. First off, tell us what you’ll be tweeting about in your bio. That will let us know whether we’ll find your topics relevant to our interests and help us rule out whether you are a spammer. Be sure to include a link to your blog, Web site, or Facebook fan page as well.
Example: @LiaKeyes — British writer Lia Keyes pens tales of murder, magic, mystery and mayhem for teens with curious minds. Host: #ScribeChat on Thursdays.
Example: @DebraLSchubert — YA & Women’s Fiction writer represented by Bernadette Baker-Baughman of Baker’s Mark Literary Agency. Slave to six feline captors and http://debralschubert.blogspot.com.
Example: @AudryT — Go away—I’m wrestling with my muse, and I’ve almost got his pants off.
Example: @PJJohnson — Yukon Poet Laureate, Author, Playwright, Actress, Musician, Composer. 100% Yukon. Lover of Life. http://www.youtube.com/user/TheYukonraven
Your avatar, or profile picture, is important as well. If you are actively seeking an agent or publisher, upload a high quality headshot. You want to look professional yet approachable. I was lucky enough to work with a brilliant, up-and-coming local photographer (Beth Furumasu) recently, but that isn’t necessary. If you have a great amateur photo that captures the essence of your personality—whether serious or funny, quirky or dark—try and clean up the color, etc., in a photo program, and then upload it.
Step 2: Customize your background
Rather than blather on about this particular topic, I’ll defer to SocialMediaExaminer’s fantastic and comprehensive article on the subject: “How to Create a Custom Twitter Background Design.” What I will say is this: I highly recommend differentiating your Twitter.com page with a new background—either a photo or custom design of some kind. The main reason for this is because you want potential followers to see in an instant that you aren’t a spammer. You are a legitimate Twitterer, with quality information and conversation to share. I hope to have my own custom background up soon, but in the meantime, I am using a free picture I found on TwitrBackgrounds.com.
Step 3: Sign up for HootSuite.com
Don’t just use Twitter.com to access Twitter. It is woefully lacking in features. Shop around and try a couple of different Twitter applications to find out which one works best for you. I tried many before settling on TweetDeck (laptop), Echofon (iPhone), and Hootsuite (both iPhone and laptop). Here is my personal take on the ones I’ve tried.
Tweetie: Not bad. Hard to follow live chats. Not as many features as HootSuite or TweetDeck, but easy to switch between multiple Twitter accounts. Currently available on Mac, iTouch, iPhone. Tweetie 2 is coming soon for iPhone and iPad.
TweetDeck: Until I found HootSuite, this was my Twitter app of choice. I still love it. Works great for streaming live chats. Robust, with lots of cool features. Available on PC, Mac, Linux, iPad, and iPhone.
HootSuite: My favorite app thus far. It’s main draws are scheduled tweets and the ability to post to multiple social networks—such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and your blog—with one click. It also has feature-rich integration with Facebook. Available on PC, Mac, Android, and iPhone.
Echofon: I have used Echofon extensively on my iPhone. While it doesn’t have scheduled tweeting, I prefer looking up users on Echofon as opposed to HootSuite on my phone. Available on iPad, iPhone, Mac, Firefox, and Facebook.
There are many more applications, I’m sure. Feel free to weigh in on them in the comments section of this post.
I thought about doing a tutorial on HootSuite, and then realized others had already done so in a much more erudite fashion. Here are some links to orient you to HootSuite.com’s feature-rich application:
HootSuite Video Tour on YouTube
How to Use HootSuite: Part 1
How to Use HootSuite: Part 2
Learn the lingo
DM = Direct Message
A direct message is private, not public. When you select “direct message”, only the person you call out in the message will see it. This can be helpful when you want to take a conversation offline—whether because it is of a personal nature or you are discussing business details about a potential working relationship, etc. Depending on the program you are using, there are a variety of ways to send a direct message. Echofon says “Send a DM,” HootSuite says “Send DM,” and TweetDeck says “Direct Message.” Twitter.com requires you to click on your own direct messages link from your home page and then search for a follower with a handy drop-down menu.
NOTE: You cannot DM a Twitterer unless he/she is following you. Keeps down the spam messages, you know.
NOTE 2: You can easily direct message somebody by simply typing a d + space before a person’s username, like so:
d @StirlingEditor: Yo, wassup!
RT = Retweeting
Retweeting is good twetiquette as well as a quick way to share information or inspirational snippets of conversation among your Tweeps (see below for definition). Retweeting is simply forwarding someone else’s tweets to your followers. I highly recommend this as a way to join conversations and get to know people. We’re always grateful for a retweet. =)
According to Solis, “120 is the new 140. If you leave room at the end of your tweet for @username and potential commentary, you make it effortless for someone to RT you.”
A variant of the word “peeps;” as in “Gonna go hang with my peeps.” Peeps and Tweeps are shorthand for friends.
The world/universe of Twitter, or anywhere you can tweet using any application.
Still want more Tweet Lingo? Knock yourself out:
Twitter Lingo: A Quick Guide A few basic terms.
Twictionary A ridiculously comprehensive list.
Twitter Dictionary A lingo list, but scroll to the bottom and you’ll find a cool hyperlinked list of Twitter-related tools, widgets and applications.
Who do I follow?
- Don’t start following others until you have around ten tweets of value under your belt. When you do start following others, the first thing potential followers will do is look at your bio and your tweet stream to ensure that you aren’t a spammer and that you have something of value to add to their Twitter home feed.
- Before you start searching for Tweeps, think about what you want to use Twitter for. Do you want to network with those in the publishing industry? Start following other writers/authors first and foremost. Join a live chat about the industry once in a while. Start discussing topics of interest to you and other writers. Retweet their tweets. Once you have a healthy following of writer Tweeps, start following agents you are interested in querying as well as those who agent outside of your genre. All will have great information to share. Also check out #askagent.
- You don’t have to follow everyone who follows you. It is best to check their bios and tweet feeds briefly to ensure the topics they tweet on are relevant to you. You’ll also want to make sure they aren’t spammers (easy to spot because they usually only have one tweet in their feeds or multiple spam tweets).
But what do I talk about?!
Ah, yes. The perennial question. Easy answer? Whatever you want. Longwinded answer? Here we go . . .
- Do let us in on your day’s happenings. Did you go to a conference, get some writing done, go to an author reading? We want to know about it! Really. We do. Why? Because we’re all voyeurs. Don’t you want to know what a typical day is like for an agent, an editor, a NYT Bestselling author? Of course. Doesn’t everyone?
- Do pay attention to what others are tweeting and how they are tweeting. Most of us are kind retweeters, which allows the original Twitterer to potentially gain a new audience among your followers. Most all participate in #WW (Writer Wednesdays) and #FF (Follow Fridays), which are two ways Twitterers like to get the word out about their fellow Tweeps. Do people share links to articles and blogs about industry news? Yes! You should too. Spread the news and spread the love.
- Do learn more about hashtags and how to use them. For a goldmine of information on these little conversation groupers, check out this master list of how-tos: “Secrets of Twitter Hashtags (For Those Still Unsure).”
- Do participate in live chats about the publishing industry when you have time. They increase your visibility and allow you to find new folks to follow. Here are some of my favorites:
- #LitChat: Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, 1-2 p.m. PST/4-5 p.m. EST
- #YalitChat: Wednesdays, 6-7 p.m. PST, 9-10 p.m. EST
- #ScribeChat: Thursdays, 6-7 p.m. PST, 9-10 p.m. EST
- #SciFiChat: Fridays, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. PST/2-4 p.m. EST
- #ScriptChat: Sundays, 5 p.m. PST/8 p.m. EST
- #WriteChat: Sundays
- #PBLitChat: Sundays, 6:30 p.m. PST/9:30 p.m. EST
- Don’t let your Twitter feed rule your life. I don’t want to be responsible for social networking breakdowns . . . Here, check out this nifty blog post by Dr. John Grohol, founder of PychCentral.com: “The Psychology of Twitter.” It might put things into perspective. Yes, the conversation is always on, always running. And yes, you may eventually have hundreds, even thousands, of followers, but you can’t follow everybody’s feeds all of the time. Not humanly possible. If you want to find out what a particular person is tweeting about, simply check out his or her feed updates. No need to browse the slush to find it. But if you have a five-minute break, why not scroll through a bit of your home feed and see what everyone’s talking about? That way you can retweet or respond to tweets that interest you.
- Don’t just complain about life or work on Twitter. If you are perpetually negative or whiny, your followers will start to drop you. Wouldn’t you want to unfollow someone like that? Just think about what you’d want to read, and that will be a great guide as you begin tweeting.
- Don’t discuss very personal details about yourself, such as your home address, phone number, bank account numbers(!?), etc. It’s just commonsense.
What does @StirlingEditor tweet about, one might dare to ask . . .?
Here’s a small sampling of some of my recent tweets below to give you an idea of what you might tweet on.
Imparting thoughts on writing
@StirlingEditor: Fiction writing is such a gift. A way to express our most intimate thoughts in the guise of an imaginary and invincible self.
Discussing the process
@StirlingEditor: I’m missing my writing a little bit today. 🙁 But I’m doing my marketing and editing work like the good girl I am. *polishes halo*
@StirlingEditor: Watch the book trailer for my YA historical romance, Artemis Rising, at www.cherilasota.com.
This post is getting ridiculously long, but as you can see, I’m merely scratching the surface when it comes to what Twitter and Twitter apps can do. Feel free to share your two cents’ worth in the comments section or post a link to helpful blog posts/articles/apps you’ve tried and love. Tweet away, my writerly Tweeps!