Twitter for Writers in Ten Quick Steps

Twitterbirds I joined Twitter in September 2012. Certainly not an early adopter, but about eighteen-months after Twitter proved its usefulness as a worldwide tool of revolution during the Arab Spring of 2011. After I joined, it took me another two and a half years before I tweeted anything. To its credit, Twitter makes it easy; every owner of a shiny new account is provided a scripted first tweet to send, but it’s as cheesy as a wheel of Brie: “This is my first tweet!” Not gonna happen.

In a world tweeting about the toppling of Middle East dictatorships, what does a former English teacher tweet about her struggles to write Young Adult fiction matter? In the end, I spent far too much time over-thinking my first tweet (“Whaaaaat?”). In the end, nobody cares. No one sees your first tweet (or even your first hundred). My angst was wasted energy.

Writers have so many reasons to use Twitter. New writers often use it to connect with others who are in the same boat. They find support, encouragement, and ideas to propel their own writing to the next stage. Finding your tribe can help a fledgling writer through a difficult first draft, or find the guts to submit a piece for publication. Querying writers use it to find and connect with literary agents, to find beta readers for a finished piece, and to learn more about the agents we’re querying (some might call it ‘light stalking’) to determine their fit for our current manuscripts. Published writers can connect with their readers and lightly promote their work (more on this in a minute). No matter where you are in your writing career, Twitter offers avenues to connect with others.

If you’re interested in jumping in to see what all the fuss is about, I’ve collected ten easy to use Twitter strategies. If you’re brand new to Twitter, set your accounts apart from the noobs and spammers and begin building your writing community online. Here’s how to get started:

  • Sign up for Twitter. This one seems obvious, but this is the internet. Better safe than dealing with one hundred “I don’t understand!” comments on my feed. This step doesn’t count in my ten. Because it makes eleven. And “11 Tips” just sounds weird.
  • Use your name as your handle. If it’s taken, use something relevant to you/your purpose for being on twitter. Don’t use your book title or something related to your story; you’re building your brand and, eventually, readers will look you up by name. It’s harder to find @strangeusername than @yourauthorname.
  • Use a good profile photo of your actual face. I don’t want to follow your coy eyeball half-photo or an avatar. Upload a background photo as well. This is where you can be a little more whimsical—show your creativity and use something related to your work or to writing in general. You could use a picture of a vintage typewriter, but since I live in the land of Hipsters, that’s not particularly unique.
  • Fill out your bio with relevant info and a funny tidbit. If you must use a hashtag, you get one. ONE. Don’t hashtag the shit out of your bio. Include the genre in which you write (if you can narrow it down), your tribes, and the professional organizations you belong to. Need ideas? Look at the bios of others you admire or find amusing. Hillary Clinton established her Twitter bio with the plucky identifier “pantsuit aficionado,” a humorous nod to a well-known aspect of her persona.
  • Link to your website. Don’t have one? Think about getting one; it will be another avenue for publishing your short pieces and a way in which readers can connect with you. Plus, it makes your bio look #2legit2quit.
  • Tweets need to be fewer than 140 characters. The art of witty brevity is rewarded in the form of retweets (RTs). Crafting tweets is an artform. The writer in me relishes the challenge to reduce my message to the barest minimum while still being pithy. It’s smart to leave some characters on the table so others can retweet (RT) you. Word on the street is that Twitter is about to eliminate character counts, but many users are all a’twitter over that, so we’ll see. Yes, I did that on purpose, because I have to amuse myself while writing.
  • Don’t buy followers. I know how much work it takes to connect with others and I’m incredulous of a new account that has 31k followers and 24 tweets. If you’re @JKRowling, I’ll give you a pass. But you’re not (If you are, O please, let’s have tea! Tweet me?). Plus, you’ll look like those wanna-be hikers on the trail in their brand new Patagonia without a speck of mud on their boots. Don’t be that guy.
  • Do not spam followers with book promotions. I immediately unfollow anyone who clogs my feed with unending tweets about their books. Twitter isn’t a sales platform; it’s a community. Many new writers don’t know what to tweet about besides their own books. Here are some options: tweet about writing craft, what you’re reading, who else you follow that’s cool, what publishing trends you’re learning about, books you’ve loved, and even your non-writing hobbies. Follow some interesting writers and I promise you’ll see just how much there is to tweet about besides yourself. You’re welcome to promote your own work SPARINGLY. The rule of thumb is that 90 percent of your tweets should be community-oriented and 10 percent can be about your own books for sale.
  • Block the weirdos. I had a few of my more political tweets blow up on the BBC. I can’t tell you how many fascist, racist, and misogynist tweets I received. Apparently, having boobs and an opinion are thought by many to be mutually exclusive entities. Oddly, many men who think I’m an idiot also want to have sex with me. I find that dichotomy curious, but that’s another post entirely. Seriously, just do it.
  • Use lists. They’re your best friend for cutting through the clutter. Once you’ve accumulated more than, say one-hundred followers, Twitter can seem overwhelming. In order to read the tweets of the people you care about seeing, create lists to manage what you see. Online, click on lists and then on ‘create new list.’ Give it a name (Favorite People or Friends, whatever). Then, go to the profile of the person you wish to add to one or more of the lists you’ve created. Click on the gear to the left of the follow/unfollow button and scroll to ‘Add/Remove from lists,’ then on the list you wish to add them to. To read the tweets on any given list, click on the ‘lists’ link on your profile, scroll to the list you want, and click. The tweets you see will be limited to the people on that list. This is a much easier, focused way to interact with those you follow. Note that it is possible to add people to a list without following them.
  • Beware the “secret ratio” between followers and those you follow. Any new account can follow up to 2000 accounts without restriction. Beyond that, Twitter can limit the number of accounts you follow.
    • “But I’ve seen Twitter users who follow 12k?” This is when Twitter’s super secret ratio comes into play. You are not allowed to follow thousands of accounts if you only have 150 followers. Once you follow 2,000 people, the number of accounts you can follow is dependent upon the number of accounts that follow you. It sounds a little confusing, but generally, if the number of accounts you follow and are followed by are roughly equal, you won’t have any trouble. This is Twitter’s effort to limit mass followings (often done to gain attention and win followers).

For those of you secretly wondering What the heck is a hashtag, anyway? I’ll post next week about some of Twitter’s more advanced features. Our writing community is a supportive one. You’re going to meet interesting, creative, helpful people. Be brave! We’re waiting for you…

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12 thoughts on “Twitter for Writers in Ten Quick Steps

  1. Awesome post and post on, very useful. All ten points are excellent advice. “Don’t hashtag the shit out of your bio.” That’s brilliant; those kinds of bios shut down my brain. Also useful the “block the weirdos”. I’d say block the weirdos and psychopaths. 😀

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    • I love your addition! It’s amazing how many strange birds there are online. In the end, 99.5% of my interactions have been positive, but it’s that .05% that can ruin it. I’m so glad the post seemed useful; I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while, but I had an interaction with a writer yesterday who was brand new to social media. I spent quite a bit of time chatting with him about things he might want to try–and then all of those messages were crafted into a post! Glad the hashtag advice made you laugh 🙂 Have a great day, Aura! Thanks for making time to comment.

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    • Thank you for taking a minute to read, Rachel! I always appreciate knowing I’m not just shouting into the ether. I couldn’t agree more about the community aspect of Twitter. For people who spend so much time alone, pecking away at keys, we’re actually rather social when we crawl out of our holes for a few minutes. Have you found any Twitter tricks that I missed? I’m always looking to learn new steps! Have a lovely evening.

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    • Indeed it would 🙂 I think at the rate I’m going, it’ll be 2019 before I see that number! Thank you so much for making time to read. I’m glad you found something useful!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting post! It reminds me, once again, that I really need to borrow a camera and take a good picture of myself. The “coy eyeball half-photo” made me laugh. It’s like you wrote this for me.

    I didn’t know about the ratio. However, when somebody follows me and I consider whether I should follow back, I do look at the number of people they follow (especially if their tweets don’t seem too interesting at first glance). If they follow 10 times more people then their number of follows, I feel like it’s spam. And when people follow 12k people, regardless of their number of followers, it’s almost as if they followed none. I follow only 210 users, and I miss more tweets than I’d like. I do use lists, but with the reverse strategy: I add those I don’t care to follow on a daily basis. It might not be as effective to get followers, but for now I don’t really focus on that. I’m on Twitter for the interactions I can get with the writer community. I’m keeping the advice in mind though. Thanks!

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    • Hi Ida!

      Thank you so much for the comment. I LOVE LOVE LOVE your use of lists in reverse–way to subvert the dominant paradigm 🙂 It’s a clever idea; one that I’ll investigate for my own use. I’m often bummed out by the number of cool people I don’t get to chat with often enough. If anything, that’s the thing I hate about Twitter. So many cool people, so little time in which to interact. I also look at people’s feed when deciding whether or not to follow back. It’s when I see the same, spammy tweet again and again that I run for the hills! I’ll usually follow any writer (who doesn’t look spammy) and am often so pleased to discover new, interesting people via SM. I love it! I’ve learned loads from my Twitter writing community, and now honestly I couldn’t imagine writing without them! Happy to have made your acquaintance Ida. Tell me more about what you write, how you publish, and your goals for the future.

      Liked by 1 person

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