Twitter for Writers – don’t get your tweets in a twist

This is a version of a post I did over at Strictly Writing some time ago…

I’m a huge Twitter fan. I probably spend more time than is healthy scrolling through my newsfeeds – I use it as a source of information and entertainment, as well as a nice way to waste time when I should be doing something more productive. But I’ve also found that it’s an enormously helpful marketing tool (I’ve had several gigs off the back of it, sold some books and made some useful contacts). But many writers are either scared of using Twitter at all, or use it badly. Here are some tips on making the most of your Twitter feed… so get tweeting (and come say hi! – I’m under the profoundly misleading name @thriftygal)

Bridesmaid cover 1

Avoid the hard sell: One of the biggest mistakes writers make is to use their Twitter feed as a stream of constant self-promotion. Nobody minds you promoting stuff – after all, that’s the purpose behind a lot of feeds, whether they are theatres, brands or artists. But if that’s all you do, it gets boring very quickly. I unfollowed one author recently because all he did was tweet quotes from his own books; I’ve read his books, so what’s the point? People want a person they can connect with – so tweet about what interests you, what you are working on, etc. Create an online persona that reflects who you really are, and people are much more likely to engage with it. (Aim for no more than 20%-30% of your tweets to be ‘plugs’, although it’s fine for it to be more for a while if, say, you have something new out or big news) If you want to see examples of writers using Twitter well, check out Joanna Bolouri (@scribbles78, author of The List, Redshirts author John Scalzi (@scalzi) and Joe Hill (@joe_Hill) who wrote Horns. All are worth following in their own right, and post about their opinions, etc, but also do keep you informed of upcoming projects you might be interested in.

Build relationships: To get the best out of Twitter, use it as a conversation. If someone tweets something you like, tell them! If someone asks a question and you can help, answer it. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you attract like-minded people. While you shouldn’t just think of them as potential customers, obviously this is widening your potential readership. It’s also fun: I have a whole batch of people I interact with regularly, none of whom I know in ‘real’ life, but it makes for some great exchanges.

Support other users: Retweet posts that you think are clever, or funny, or thought-provoking (or where people are asking for help/information); although it’s not as popular as it used to be, you can still use Follow Friday (#FF) to promote tweeters who you like or who you think your followers would be interested in, or just mention them in one of your tweets.

Sinclair final

NEVER troll! Remember, your tweets are public and identifiable. Don’t ever tweet anything abusive, and try to be measured if you are stating a negative opinion. Be aware that some people follow thousands of users so won’t see every tweet, so don’t think it’s OK to tweet something then ‘contextualise’ it (eg, tweet something inflammatory/racist/homophobic that you mean ironically, then follow up with something like ‘obviously I’m joking’ – I’ve seen it done! What tends to happen is people will see the first tweet then think, hell, I’m not following this nutter any more…) Remember that tweeting libel, threats or abuse is not just rude, it’s illegal, and while obviously you can criticize TV shows, books etc on Twitter, it’s bad form to include the user-name of anyone you are referencing. So, for instance, ‘I loved the new book by @thriftygal!’ is fine, but if you’re criticising, stick to ‘I was disappointed in Tracey Sinclair’s new book’ (Please don’t say that, though)

Be careful of hashtags: Hashtags can be a great way of joining a conversation or finding out about topics you are interested in (for instance, you can tweet about your writing and mark it #amwriting, or about being an indie writer with #indie) and to keep up with publishing events such as bookfairs or discussions (for instance, digital network evening @bytethebook sometimes livetweets discussions on the book industry under #bytethebook). But if you see something trending, make sure you check out what it relates to before using that tag, or you can make a terrible gaffe. A pizza delivery company recently joined in the #whyIstayed discussion with a joking ‘because they had pizza!’ tweet without realising it was a serious tag aimed at highlighting domestic abuse: cue outrage, and days of apologies. Don’t be that guy.

Don’t approach bloggers for reviews on Twitter or by DM: I mentioned this in my post on dealing with book bloggers, but while Twitter can be a great place to find blogs, and interact with bloggers, almost all book bloggers have a strict policy about soliciting reviews and don’t want to be approached on Twitter. And be very careful DMing – some people (myself included) think it’s rude to DM someone you don’t know, it’s like spamming them.

Animal pictures are always fine: OK, maybe that’s just me…

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Clueless as to how to get started? I’m assuming a basic knowledge of what Twitter is and how to use it, but if you’re completely in the dark, do check out an earlier post I did on Twitter for Business which is aimed at absolute beginners.

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