As a writer, Twitter is going to be your best friend and your worst enemy. Because it’s the best, most fun waste of time you’re ever going to have.
I’ve wiled away many an hour on Twitter, responding to tweets, retweeting clever remarks, or coming up with something funny and thinking, “I’ve got to send this out right now!” all while my deadlines dripped slowly away.
But rather than treating Twitter as a den of inequity to be shunned and picketed, it can be a useful and valuable tool designed to help you, whether it’s meeting new writers, finding possible topics and story ideas, or even finding new readers for your work.
Here are a few ways you can use Twitter without feeling totally guilty about it.
Use Twitter search to find other writers.
Twitter search is a powerful tool useful for not only finding particular hashtags, phrases, or even people. One relatively new thing it will do is search for keywords in a person’s bio. So go to the Twitter search page, Twitter.com/search-home, and search for certain keywords, including “specific phrases” inside quotes (that will return exactly that specific phrase, and not just a combination of those words).
Search for words like “author” and “writer” in combination with specific genres — “romance writer,” “science fiction author” — and see what comes up. Follow those people, and create a list to keep track of them.
Create Twitter Lists of Writers
Lists and search columns are a great way to keep track of writers or specific topics. Go to tweetdeck.twitter.com, and trick out your Twitter account. Set up columns for any search terms, like #amwriting (see below), as well as putting your new writer friends into any Twitter lists you’ve created. Then, just visit your Tweetdeck page instead of Twitter.com to read your tweets, and check in on those other columns to see if there’s anyone to respond to.
Look for #amwriting and #amediting hashtags.
A hashtag is basically a word or phrase people are using to label the topics of their tweets. For example, if you want to tweet something about your writing progress that day, you can add #amwriting to ensure people using that hashtag — other writers — will see it and possibly respond to it. The serendipity of discovered hashtags can lead to some interesting developments. That is, you never know who will see your #amwriting hashtag and connect with you.
Promote stories. Do it more than once.
Twitter is a wonderful promotional tool. You can’t just write a book or short story and expect it to magically sell itself. You have to be on Twitter (and other social media), shouting about the book’s existence, and urging other people to check it out. Ditto your blog posts, articles, and even your interviews and podcasts.
And don’t feel like you have to only tweet your promotional items just once. Remember that not everyone following you is waiting for your tweets at the same time of day every day. Some will see you in the morning, others will see you in the afternoon, and never the twain shall meet.
So send out your tweet in the morning — “Just published a new ‘Sally the Robot Pirate’ short story on my blog.” — followed by the identical tweet, but with ICYMI (In case you missed it) first: “ICYMI: Just published a new ‘Sally the Robot Pirate’ short story on my blog.”
That’s because Twitter won’t let you send identical tweets, and even the ICYMI in it makes it a brand new tweet. Post this a few times in a week, rewriting as necessary, until you’re sure most people have seen it. Just be sure you’re tweeting plenty of other interesting stuff that’s not about you in between.
Find readers via Twitter search.
Remember what I said about finding fellow writers? Do this for readers too. Look for people who, say, “love romance novels” or are “avid scifi reader.” Follow those people, put them in a private “Readers” list, and cultivate relationships with them. Communicate with them, respond to their tweets, retweet them, and share their work. Then, as you publish new work in their favorite genre, they’re more likely to pay attention, and read and buy your stuff, as well as share it with their fellow genre enthusiasts.
Don’t yo-yo follow people.
I believe I’ve talked about this before, but please don’t become one of those people fixated on their follower numbers. I’ve lost count at the number of people — and writers seem to be the worst offenders of the bunch! — who have more than 100,000 followers, yet have only sent a few thousand tweets. (To give you an idea, I have less than 19,000 followers, have sent nearly 58,000 tweets, but have been on Twitter since December 2007.)
Those people are Twitter cheaters and should be judged harshly. For one thing, those followers are not gained naturally. They follow as many people as they can, wait for them to follow back, and then unfollow them and start all over again. This lets the cheaters add more and more followers, while constantly dropping and adding, dropping and adding. It’s slimy and dishonest.
It’s all being done for possible sales. After all, the bigger the audience, the more your sales (assuming a purchase rate of 1% or less). Why not instead build an audience of 1,000 dedicated fans who absolutely love your work, and will buy everything you write? Those 1,000 fans will come back again and again, and can keep you plenty profitable. But trying to get 1,000 readers out of 100,000? Good luck. You’re probably not even a blip on their radar.
In the end, you shouldn’t feel guilty about using Twitter, whatever you do. There are plenty of things to feel guilty about, like stiffing your wait staff on a tip or eating the last of the ice cream. Spending a few extra minutes on a social network is not one of them. Just like reading every day makes you a better writer, using Twitter makes you a better marketer. So any time you spend on Twitter is going to help you become a better Twitter user, which will help you be a better writer too.