Twitter for Writers 101
Editor's Note: There's a thriving writer community on Twitter. If you plan to promote yourself as an author, mastering this platform is a must. This post assumes you're starting from zero, but feel free to skip ahead if you already grasp the basics.
I had no clue what Twitter had to offer writers until I sat down for coffee with one of my writing buddies. I was using Twitter but didn’t really understand how it could help me as a writer. She gave me some Twitter basics but when I sat down and began to closely examine the platform, the light went on.
Since that coffee date about three years ago, my followers have jumped from about 400 to close to 9,000. Let me explain what I learned and how I expanded my followers.
What is Social Media?
Social media includes a wide range of networks and apps that allow you to set up social networking. They help individuals, professionals, celebrities and businesses connect and share with peers, clients and other people with similar interests and backgrounds.
There are hundreds of social media apps and new ones starting up every week. Each app provides different functionality but there’s a lot of overlap.
Many in the writing community are active on social media. The most popular networks are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Skype, Reddit and personal blogs.
It’s fine to use multiple social media sites but you need to invest time in each account if you are going to be networking with others and derive any benefits. I’m most active on Twitter and will limit my discussion to that app here.
My main objectives in using Twitter are to:
- Connect with other writers,
- Learn more about writing and publishing, and
- Use social media to market my work
There is a close knit, global group of writers with similar objectives. By no means are they a homogeneous group. My writer contacts range in age from 17 to 75 and every conceivable genre is covered. They live in North America, Europe, Asia and Oceania.
What is Twitter?
Before I discuss how a writer can use Twitter, let me quickly go over what Twitter has to offer. Twitter is a microblogging system that allows you to send and receive short posts called tweets.
Tweets can be up to 280 characters long and can include links to relevant websites and resources. You can tag your tweets using hashtags. For example, if you tweet about the holidays you can add #Christmas to your tweet.
People looking for Christmas tweets can do a search for tweets that have used that hashtag. There are few tweets that I post without at least one hashtag.
Twitter users follow other users (for those familiar with Facebook, it’s the equivalent to friending someone). If you follow someone you can see their tweets in your Twitter 'timeline'. You can choose to follow people and organizations with similar interests to you, such as other writers.
You can create your own tweets, or you can retweet information that has been tweeted by others.
Retweeting means that information can be shared quickly and efficiently with a large number of people. There is an ability to like other tweets and leave comments similar to Facebook.
Although the two social media platforms have many similarities, Facebook is about networking people while Twitter is focused on networking ideas and topics.
Like many other social media platforms, Twitter allows you to send a private message to a follower, called a direct message. Direct messages don’t have character limits and are not seen by others.
Connecting with Other Writers
There are a few ways to connect with other writers on Twitter including:
- Following other writers
- Participating in hashtag games and chats
- Liking and retweeting their tweets
- Leaving comments on tweets posted by other writers
When I come across an interesting writer or someone other than a writer, I usually decide whether I want to follow them.
In some cases, they have followed me, and I might follow back. Remember, when you follow someone, all their tweets appear in your timeline.
So, why might I decide not to follow someone? For a number of reasons including:
- Their tweets are mostly ads promoting their books or services. I don’t find self-promotion to be very interesting.
- They only retweet other people’s tweets (many of which I may already follow).
- They appear to be more interested in collecting followers than connecting with people (more about that later).
- They post a lot of political tweets. You may be interested in that, but I find politics to be very polarizing. That’s more appropriate for a personal account than a writer account.
- The account appears to be a bot (software that imitates a real person).
You decide what criteria works best for you. New users follow almost anyone to build up their follower numbers, but I like the idea of having more followers than people I follow. That ratio suggests I might be someone worth following.
One of the first things I did to connect with writers was participate in some of the many hashtag games and chats that are directed at the writing community.
Each game or chat has a theme for writers. Some are weekly (e.g., #MuseMon, #Better2sDay, #FriTease) and others are daily (e.g., #WIPTruthOrDare, #authorconfession).
Chats take place on the same day and hour either weekly, biweekly or monthly (e.g., #JustAddTea, #StrongWomenWrite). A writer hosts each event and there is even a blog that maintains a list of all writing events (micascottkole.com). This person also lists writing events on Twitter each day using the @writevent account.
These writing events are not just about having fun. I use them to try out lines from my manuscript by tweeting them as part of the hashtag games.
Writers may choose to respond to the tweets by “liking”, retweeting or commenting on them. Over time, I start to collect information on what lines are popular with readers.
I also use these writer events to establish my brand. I’m a humour writer and I reinforce that as often as I can.
One of the best ways to connect with other writers is by leaving comments on their tweets. This signals more of an interest than just liking or retweeting.
That person might respond to your comment. Over time you may actually get to know and truly connect to some of the people you follow.
So, what should you tweet?
Anything you want. But it really comes down to how you want to use your account.
To attract followers, you need to post on a regular basis. I dedicate 30 to 60 minutes on most days to my Twitter account. This is why you don’t want to be managing too many social media accounts.
But you can often post the same material on both Twitter and another account, for example, Facebook.
I will post several tweets under that day’s hashtag games. I pull lines from my manuscript, published books or make up lines to fit the theme.
I’ve found this generates interest in my work. I effectively used this approach to build interest in my second book before it was released.
Once a week, I may tweet something promoting my books and where to purchase them. I avoid anything more frequent. I believe it’s a turnoff to continually post ads.
I think it’s more effective to promote yourself and not your work directly. That means branding yourself. Not an easy thing to do.
Before I post something, I ask myself, is this consistent with my brand? That’s why I avoid political tweets. I occasionally might tweet some political satire but only if I feel it is not going to get some people out there upset.
Twitter users who are annoyed or offended by your tweets and may decide to unfollow you. In some cases, they will block your account which means they will not see any of your online activity including retweets and comments left on other accounts.
I will also tweet about anything that pops into my head that I feel is funny. I want people to check out my account if they are looking for a laugh. I might even drop a tweet about writing in general.
In summary, I try not to bore and offend. I want to entertain and inform.
Managing Accounts that you Follow
After a while, the number of accounts you will follow will grow so that your timeline is constantly loading new tweets. There are ways to manage and organize these accounts. You can organize people you follow into lists.
For example, I have a list of Canadian writers, people who have great blogs and funny Twitter accounts. If you go to one of your lists, it will display only the tweets from those on the list. That way I’m only see tweets from maybe 100 people instead of 4,000. It’s a great way to segment all those accounts.
Others on Twitter can subscribe to your lists. That means that they can also go to one of your lists and will also only see tweets from those people. My list of Canadian writers has quite a few subscribers.
One thing I would like to mention is that some Twitter users are very focused on collecting as many followers as possible. I see no reason to connect with everyone out there. You need to choose for yourself.
Writers will use something called a writer’s lift. What that entails is getting as many writers as possible to like or retweet your post. Then everyone participating follows anyone that responds who they aren’t already following.
Do that a few times a week and you can get to thousands of followers in a couple of months. There are writers who have accumulated the same number of followers as I’ve collected in three years in just three months.
I don’t participate in these events because my focus in in quality and not quantity.
Learning the Writing Game
I worked mostly on my own when I wrote my first novel. Writing is clearly a solitary activity but that doesn’t mean you should be working in isolation.
That was a mistake I made. I still have a lot to learn about writing and there are some good people on Twitter to learn from.
There are many benefits from networking with writers. Other writers will provide you with support and encouragement when you are going through a rough stretch.
They can make you more accountable. If you tweet your writing goals, some people will check back with you to see how you’re doing. You might develop even closer relationships with a few writers and agree to be critique partners and beta readers for each other (topic of a future post).
Some of my writing friends have shared marketing tips and publishing advice. Every aspect of the writing process will eventually be brought up by someone and shared with others.
If you are looking for an editor, or someone to design a book cover, you can find them on Twitter.
If you are in the process of querying your manuscript, Twitter can help. There are pitch events several times each year where you pitch your manuscript in a tweet, using a specific hashtag.
Agents and publishers are aware of these events and some review the pitches. If an industry professional is interested in your pitch, they will like the tweet. It’s an invitation to query them directly through their regular submission process.
You can mention in your query letter that they had invited your query through a Twitter pitch event. I found a publisher for my second novel as a result of pitch event.
Marketing is something that turns off creative people. That’s fine if you are truly writing for yourself. But if you want other people to read your work, you need a plan on how to reach out to readers.
Even traditional publishers expect that you will do a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to marketing. They will want to see you active on social media with a website and/or blog.
Marketing will always be your biggest challenge. Social media should be part of your marketing strategy.
However, some writers are mistaken in thinking all you need to do is advertise on social media and you will sell books. Many are disappointed when they don’t.
As I’ve already mentioned, I’m using Twitter to establish my brand, specifically my genre and writing style. I want to engage other people online but at the same time I don’t want to come off as being someone I’m not.
It’s a delicate balance between connecting with people and selling yourself. In addition, writers are avid readers. Every writer talks about their lengthy TBR (to be read) list. I want to be on people’s TBR.
My approach to Twitter has been constantly evolving as I become more comfortable with it and as my needs change.
There may be a day when I cut back on my Twitter activity. But for now, I’m sticking to what I’ve been doing.