“Without leaving the house I know the whole universe.” – Lao-Tzu
This could also be the motto of the social-media platform known as Twitter.
For book authors and other writers who wish to use Twitter, I’ll offer some specific tips below.
And here’s a link to Twitter’s own help center, to walk you through the basics.
But first, a general shout-out for tweeting in general.
To my astonishment, Twitter is surprisingly useful. It’s a well-connected, active group of intelligent users, a place to connect casually with fellow literary types and to be generous about other people’s accomplishments.
It’s also a place where you can, now and then, toot your own horn. But the Golden Rule lesson is the same as for other platforms: what goes around, comes around. Start by sharing other folks’ stuff; they might share yours in turn. Revel in their success; they might revel in yours. Focus at first on sharing and complimenting others. (And if that’s all that happens, think of the karma credits you’ve gained!)
For your own news, Twitter is a place to share bits about your writing: catchy tag-lines, links to reviews, news of signings, conferences you’re attending, etc. Be brief, link to longer posts elsewhere as needed, and be gone.
And it’s a place to develop your literary “brand” (how others perceive you), by sharing ideas, inspirational quotes, and opinions on writerly things important to you.
I admit I’d shunned Twitter for some years to focus on Facebook and blogging, thinking the 140-character count would be a woeful limit.
But I’ve finally taken the plunge into the world of Twitter, and find it enjoyable, idea-rich, and mo’ better connected & filtered than Facebook, in comparison. Who knew?
For emerging writers, it’s a good place to see and learn from what others are doing and getting excited about. It’s easy to find and follow lots of literary professionals: writers, bloggers, librarians, teachers, review magazines. Follow the best writers in your field. And learn to present yourself well, with that same mix of confidence, charm, modesty, and delight in the crazy world of creative people and ideas, as does Neil Gaiman, or Guy Kawasaki or . . .
Over time, others will follow you and learn what you’re doing and what you’re getting excited about.
As with all social media, having an intelligent strategy for posting is what creates followers and true fans.
Here are some tips to get started with Twitter:
1. Retweet lots of good stuff posted by others.
This is a great place to start. Your first 10 or 20 tweets can mostly be retweets. It’s generous. It’s useful to others. And it helps you show up on the radar of those you retweet; they just might notice that you’ve shared their thought-bubbles.
2. Use a tweet style that fits you.
I personally prefer a clean, professional style: a statement, a link, maybe a hashtag (category) or two. Here are a few examples:
Claudia Bedrick of Enchanted Lion Books for children | Harvard Magazine Jan-Feb 2014: harvardmagazine.com/2014
Didn’t We Have Fun! is a glorious picture book with jazzy paintings by Hilda Robinson.
Is Ralph Waldo Emerson still a ghost among us? http://bit.ly/11vtqnW
“Chesterton argued that by changing the rules of the world, fairy tales remind us of the contingency of those rules.”
3. Use a URL shortening service to keep links short.
These are free websites you can use to shorten a long link (often crucial given the brevity of Twitter).
So if I want to link to my recent book, The Purpose of Fantasy, instead of using the long Amazon direct link:
I’ve gone to Bitly, entered that long URL, and presto, chango! . . . it created a permanent short URL that redirects to that Amazon page.
The bitly version is so much shorter: http://amzn.to/1bisNmv
I have a place where I record useful Bitly URLs, so I can re-use the ones I already created. Note: Twitter will, on its own, shorten long URLs . . . but the Bitly-type URL can be used outside of Twitter.
Hashtags are essentially categories. It appears in the tweet, and looks like: ##KidLitChat, or #FridayReads. Use of one of these tags (capitalization is helpful but optional) will include your tweet on a webpage that is a mini-Twitter universe of all posts with that hashtag. So if I use a popular hashtag like #amreading or #amwriting, or a genre tag like #fantasy or #mystery or such, my post appears in that sub-flow, where folks interested in tracking a field may go to glean ideas.
For example, if you’re on Twitter, first click on a tab at the top called “Discover,” and search for a hashtag, say: #haiku, or #micropoetry or #writingtips. You’ll see a page with all the posts tagged that way. It’s kind of cool. Like a lot of social-media stuff, it’s only occasionally useful, but it just might attract a new follower who is checking out that hashtag page, or a reviewer looking for certain types of books to review.
You can use hashtags right in your sentence, or you can drop them in at the end of your tweet.
Here’s a great #mystery you don’t want to miss. #amreading.
[Then, add a direct link to a book, to a blog post about a book, a review, etc.]
5. Study others’ tweets.
To get started, study and try to emulate the best of what you see on a couple of common writer hashtags:
For instance, click on this #WriterWednesday hashtag-page and look for posts to emulate:
Which of those tweets appeal to you? Why? Write your own versions and tweet away.
You can Google the phrase “hashtags for writers” for more ideas. Here’s another list of 10 writer-related hashtags; this great post has good examples of them in actual use.
Giles Kristian @GilesKristian
My new book arrived today! Always a big moment and you wonder quite how it happened. #amwriting #WriterWednesday
6. Publish similar material often.
You not only can, you probably need to. Unfortunately, people will only see a smidgeon of what you post. So you can probably post the same thing, more or less, with a few variants, several times in a day or over a couple of days. Separate the posts by some interval, say an hour or so; it’s unlikely the same people will see the same post, given the huge flow and how people pop on and off throughout the day.
There are programs that will help you do that from one dashboard, at one time. HootSuite is one. (I recommend, though, waiting till you get a decent sense of how Twitter works before automating any of it.)
I’m posting currently as my indie publishing house, Crickhollow Books (#CrickhollowBks).
You’re welcome to follow me into the Looking-Glass world of Twitter. I’ll share stuff I think is useful, and together we can enjoy discovering literary tidbits, captured in that quirky, fascinating 140-character limit. I think one of the real pleasures is the sense of a large community conversation; it can mean a lot to a solitary writer.
I #amwriting! I #amreading! How about you?