A few folks have asked me about Twitter over the years and how such a terse medium can be helpful for writers. What content can one even get communicated in so few characters?
The answer is: a lot. If we stop thinking about Twitter as the site of traditional content that takes eight hundred or more words to convey, and start thinking of it as a touchpoint and springboard or longer form pieces, then the possibilities open up. There are scads of great posts out there on growing followers, how to identify good accounts to follow, and so on, so I’m not going to reinvent the wheel. Here are a few of those, as introductory Twitterverse items.
The thing for writers (or anyone, really) to do to get started on Twitter is to set up a profile, find people who are already on Twitter who you know or by your interests, and start generating content. Let’s take these in turn.
For writers, I suggest you not use a clever moniker (Monika87*), just use the name you write under for most or all of your work. You have two name-ish fields here, the name that comes after your @ that people will use to connect to your account, and the descriptor name. I could have, for example: @everettmaroon FatWriterGuy, but for other reasons I’ve got my name in both places.
There’s also the short bio. I like to state upfront that I’m an author, because that is mostly what my Twitter account is for—talking about my writing, connecting to writers and readers, giving the public my authorial persona, etc. Yes, I write about LGBT youth, running an HIV nonprofit, living in rural America, being a dad and partner, and current events, but check it out, all of those things inform my writing. It all comes back to center. So my bio, my thumbnail photo, my larger photo, and my background image all are about my writing or this persona. Seeing consistency in my profile helps people who don’t know me understand that this is not some spam or bot account, and hopefully it gives them a sense of what kind of content they’ll get if they start following my tweets.
The nice thing about Twitter is the powers that run the system don’t really care what name you use, unlike Facebook, whose moderators do a bit of policing around things like names. So if you wind up hating the way you construct your profile, no worries, you can just change it. Do think about what you’d like to project before you start filling up your bio with descriptors, and your screen with a tiled photo that looks terrible.
People to Follow: Have a list of favorite living writers? Use the search field at the top to see if they have a Twitter account. But don’t just follow uber-famous authors. Sure, J.K. Rowling has a Twitter account, but she only posts rarely, and isn’t really a connection point for writers. Which is another priority for finding accounts to follow—think networking. (25 writers to follow)
For example, @writingspirit is well connected and tweets often about finding one’s writing mojo and other issues pertinent to getting the work done. She also runs a regular chat under the hashtag #writechat. Which brings me to…
Use Hashtags Wisely: #writechat, #litchat, #bookmarket, and #YAlitchat are all great group conversations on Twitter at set times. Other hashtags like #amwriting, #writerwednesday, and #nanowrimo are great for finding other people who are writers at some stage of publication. Actually, hashtags can be used for group discussions, networking, finding relevant content and content producers, and getting yourself noticed in the crowd. If there’s something in the list of trending hashtags on the Twitter main page, consider writing a few tweets of your own using the tag, and you may get some new followers out of it, as well as retweets. (44 hashtags for writers)
Create Lists for Simplicity: Once you start following more than a couple of hundred accounts, it will get difficult to keep up with all of the content. Twitter doesn’t try to give you a “most relevant” feed like Facebook does, so you will see all of the posts in real time. If you’re following authors, agents, editors, and bloggers, set up lists for each. Click on “Me” at the top and at the left you’ll see a link called Lists. You can create your own lists here, and if others like your lists, they can subscribe to them. You may also be added to other people’s lists, which you can find by toggling the “member of” link.
Make Outside Content Fit: If there’s a link you think your followers and friends should know about, copy it and paste into into a tweet. Once upon a time you had to use a third party link shortening site for this, but now Twitter shortens them automatically. So I can post a link to a short story of mine and Twitter will carry the whole link if not the verbose URL that goes with it, like this:
Older Friday Flash by me, for your enjoyment: http://transplantportation.com/2013/05/24/friday-flash-the-tree-planters/ …
If there’s a link about writing, a new book release, a book signing event, a writing conference schedule, or whatever that you’d like to share, go for it. This is the kind of content that broadens Twitter’s horizons and interests other users. Curate your content carefully enough for long enough and you’ll notice that other domain experts will start following you and retweeting you or favoriting your tweets. And click on the links that trusted accounts you’re following share on Twitter. You’ll get a good sense of if they’re worth continuing to follow. Also, if you like their content enough, click on their profiles and see if they have lists that you can subscribe to, or find more users to follow.
Some don’t for newbies, by way of keeping Twitter a courteous place:
- Don’t tweet only about your own work or incessant pleadings for people to buy your book. At some point you’ll be labeled a spammer.
- Don’t get into flame wars if you can help it. If someone starts getting out of hand, just block them and move on.
- Don’t direct message (DM) someone you don’t know to buy your book. A lot of people will block you just for that.
- Don’t air grievances about publishing on your Twitter account. If agents are considering you and they read that stuff, they may not want to work with you.
- Don’t pick fights. Just post the things you think are useful, share your successes and others’, signal boost other writers and their projects, and be transparent.
And above all, have some fun with it.