Twitter for Writers

At the weekend I attended the annual Writers’ Toolkit in Birmingham, organised by Writing West Midlands. One of the sessions was Making the Internet Work for You with Sathnam Sanghera and Kate Feld.

Many interesting questions were asked about making social media work as a promotion tool for writers. The outcome of the session was that Twitter is an essential part of a writer’s toolkit.

It shouldn’t be used to post family & friends stuff – Facebook is the place for that – and it shouldn’t be used to continually shout ‘buy my books!’ I get the impression it’s purpose is to engage in sensible conversation and to follow those who may be tweeting useful information such as agents, publishers etc.

I think I’ve mentioned previously that I’ve yet to dip my toe into Twitter and perhaps I’ve dragged my feet so much that by the time I string together my first tweet, everyone else will have disappeared off to the next big social media thing.

So, I’m asking all you Tweeters to give me your advice:

  • What do you tweet about and how often? Is it OK to repeat yourself on Facebook and Twitter (as long as it’s not a cat video or other ‘silly’) or do you attract the same audience on both platforms?
  • How much time do you spend tweeting and/or reading other people’s tweets?
  • How do you get followers?
  • Is it expected that you will follow everyone who follows you? (I believe there is a ‘mute’ button if you want to switch people off).
  • Do you think Twitter is beneficial and if so, in what way?
  • Anything else I need to know?

Please feel free to put your Twitter handle in your comment too.

On a different subject and to show that writers come in a multitude of guises, at the Toolkit I came across someone who used to write labels for museum exhibits and someone else who used to write Ceefax pages for the BBC.

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  1. #1 by Debbie W on December 2, 2014 - 10:30 am

    I try to follow as many people as possible following me but will always check out their profile and tweets first before committing myself. There are a lot of accounts on there that bear no interest to writing and if it’s obvious I’ve been followed in the expectation I will automatically follow one of those, then I don’t follow them. So no, it’s not a requirement to follow everyone who follows you.

    I am @EWGCompetition if anyone would like to find Erewash Writers’ Group writing competitions info.

    Good luck with it, Sally. Further advice I have for you is to plan being on there for a scheduled time only then get off it, otherwise it will rob you of valuable time.

    • #2 by Sally Jenkins on December 2, 2014 - 1:59 pm

      Thanks, Debbie. Your final point of being robbed of valuable time is one thing that particularly worries me about Twitter. It might be a case of setting the kitchen timer!

  2. #3 by Tracy Fells on December 2, 2014 - 10:36 am

    I use both Twitter and FB but only for writing – not for family or personal use. I try to concentrate on tweeting about competitions, opportunities and anything to do with writing or publishing. I promote my own work and successes but make an effort to promote others too – I think this is important. Now I steadily get new followers ever day without really trying.
    I honestly don’t spend much time on Twitter each day and try to limit FB. I only follow back people I’m interested in. Others will soon drop you if you don’t follow them back, but I’m not worried about that as they are usually only interested in bombarding you with links to their ebooks etc.

    • #4 by Sally Jenkins on December 2, 2014 - 2:01 pm

      Tracy, I like the thought of ‘steadily getting new followers every day without really trying’ but I’m sure it can’t be that easy!

  3. #5 by Nicola on December 2, 2014 - 10:44 am

    An interesting post, Sally. I too have avoided Twitter, so far. I have always tread carefully when engaging in social media and it took me over a year to pluck up the courage to start my blog. My main fear is the commitment that a social media platform requires as well as the amount of time it takes away from actual writing projects. I must say, I have been motivated to write regularly for my blog and thoroughly enjoy the blogging world, but I don’t really want to be constantly glued to my phone and responding to tweets at this early stage in my career. On a recent seminar I attended, several successful authors told the audience that they actually pay someone else to keep their social media coverage going (facebook, twitter etc) because they don’t have the time. I feel this is cheating the readers. Don’t authors have a responsibility to their readers? Maybe when I am a published author, my views will change but at this point I feel that my readers deserve my personal attention. Please let us know if you join Twitter and your experiences as they happen. All the best.

    • #6 by Sally Jenkins on December 2, 2014 - 2:09 pm

      Nicola, you sound very much like me! I enjoy the blogging world and all the virtual friends I’ve made through it. But I’m scared of being constantly glued to a wi-fi device. I don’t have a smartphone yet (but it might be coming at Xmas …) so once the PC is turned off then I’m out of contact – which is good, I think. I will need to ration my Twitter time or use it as an end of writing session treat, as I do with FB.
      Interesting what you say about successful authors paying for social media coverage – is it any different to paying a publicist to do anything else?

  4. #7 by Sharon Boothroyd on December 2, 2014 - 10:48 am

    Sally, there’s a great article in KISHBOO e-mag called ‘Twitter for beginners’. I’ll email you with my experience as it won’t fit in here!

    • #8 by Sally Jenkins on December 2, 2014 - 2:09 pm

      Thanks for the link, Sharon – I’ll take a look.

  5. #9 by Alison Williams on December 2, 2014 - 12:37 pm

    Love Twitter, never tweeted. Keeps me up to date on things that interest me. Jump in and you will enjoy it.

    • #10 by Sally Jenkins on December 2, 2014 - 2:11 pm

      Alison, I’m worrying about what to tweet, how often etc Maybe I could do like you, join and lie low for a bit before spewing forth my first 140 characters.

  6. #11 by Patsy on December 2, 2014 - 3:00 pm

    I’m @PatsyCollins

    I don’t think twitter is much good for selling books but it’s good for lots of other things. I often tweet questions and get the answer in seconds and use it for finding out about competitions, markets, offers and freebies, as well as discovering blogs (or reminding me to visit those I’m interested in) I use it to promote my own blog posts (which are usually about free to enter writing competitions)and to chat to other writers.

    I wouldn’t automatically follow everyone who follows you. Most will only follow for that reason and will unfollow the next day. I only follow people who post things I’m interested in, or who’re likely to interact with me in some way. If they don’t do one of those two things, I unfollow them.

    • #12 by Sally Jenkins on December 2, 2014 - 3:28 pm

      Thanks for the advice, Patsy. I’m guessing that Twitter, like any other social media, has to be used with a very light touch when it comes to selling books. But it sounds like it’s a great resource for getting information.

  7. #13 by Nick Daws (@nickdaws) on December 2, 2014 - 5:55 pm

    I’ve been on Twitter for some years (@nickdaws). I use it mainly to help publicize my blog posts and to share interesting links I find. To be honest, I’ve cut back quite a bit recently, though. I don’t find that nearly as many people are clicking on the links I share these days. My impression is that many people are on Twitter solely to promote themselves, and have no real interest in listening to or interacting with anybody else. I have about 2500 followers so I’m not planning to abandon it completely, but I think the benefits to a writer are marginal, to be honest. Although I do agree that it can be a good way of discovering interesting links (just in case you needed any more online distractions!).

    And no, I don’t automatically follow anyone who follows me. I’ve never really seen the point of that.

    • #14 by Sally Jenkins on December 2, 2014 - 7:47 pm

      Interesting comments, Nick. You must be doing something right to have 2500 followers but I guess the quality of those followers is important too. I don’t really want anymore online distractions – that’s why it’s taken me so long to get into FB! But also I don’t want to be the dinosaur who comes along too late to the party, although from what you say, it sounds like I might already be that.

  8. #15 by Wendy Clarke on December 2, 2014 - 6:46 pm

    I joined twitter a few months ago @WendyClarke99. I only follow those people whose profiles look interesting and I certainly don’t follow everyone who follows me as a lot are spammers.

    My experience of it has been mixed. I find it a great way of promoting my blog and finding interesting information from other writers. I create lists and use a programme called TweetDeck to place these lists in vertical columns so that I can see tweets easily. My lists are titled Blogging Friends, RNA writers, FB friends etc. This way, I can make sure I don’t miss tweets from people I like/might find useful. I follow around 800 people and it is impossible to follow the stream of tweets from everybody so I think you have to be selective. Having said that, by using lists, it means I hardly ever see tweets from anyone not on my lists.

    When I first started, I followed everyone I already knew from FB who followed me back. I then found other people started to follow me (I have around 10 new followers each day – which probably equals the unfollowers!) and only occasionally initiate a follow now. I usually tweet’ retweet about 5 things a day.

    I have to say, I don’t like Twitter as much as FB or my blog but it has a place.

    • #16 by Sally Jenkins on December 2, 2014 - 7:49 pm

      Wendy, thanks for letting me know about lists. Sounds like you have to be organised to get the most out of Twitter. And interesting to know you rate it below FB and blogging.

  9. #17 by Helen Baggott on December 2, 2014 - 7:58 pm

    I find Twitter a fun and powerful business tool. Plan a strategy and use TweetDeck or Hootsuite to schedule your messages – then you won’t waste too much time.

    I look for different things from different tweeters – humour, info, news etc. Using TweetDeck allows me to sort tweets into different categories. I only follow tweeters that I’m interested in. I don’t automatically follow back.

    Each evening I tweet a link to a book review. I schedule those weeks in advance, I don’t sit by my computer at 10pm every night… actually I do, but not to tweet!


    • #18 by Sally Jenkins on December 2, 2014 - 8:04 pm

      Thanks, Helen – it sounds like you’ve got it sussed. I like the idea of scheduling in advance – I tend to do that with blog posts. Seems to me that organisation is the key to not wasting time on Twitter.

  10. #19 by Christine Cochrane on December 3, 2014 - 8:56 am

    I use it in a ‘business’ way for my writing, music etc. I follow things to do with writing, mainly. I look at it about twice a week, and I tweet infrequently – it’s useful for publicising when I’ve done a blog post or had a competition win, but I don’t want to give the impression of always going ‘hey, look at what I’ve done’. A bit of twitter modesty is tasteful. Follow me at @cochrane_c 🙂

    • #20 by Sally Jenkins on December 3, 2014 - 7:31 pm

      Thanks, Christine. I think it must be a fine line between alienating people with boasting/selling and letting people know what you have to offer.

  11. #21 by Anne Harvey on December 3, 2014 - 2:08 pm

    Sally, I’ve only recently joined Twitter so I’m still learning. Here’s my few thoughts in answer to your questions. I usually visit a couple of times a day to see who’s tweeting. With tweets coming fast and furious, it’s not possible to see them all. Most of them are ‘buy my book’ tweets. If it’s someone I know, I do retweet. I prefer the more interactive tweets and always respond to those. Once you’ve tweeted a few times, people tend to follow you. And it’s not obligatory to follow them in turn. To be honest, I’m not that keen but see it as a necessary evil to ‘get one’s name out there’ particularly when you’ve something to see. I much prefer Facebook.

    • #22 by Sally Jenkins on December 3, 2014 - 7:33 pm

      Anne, I’m scared of these tweets ‘coming fast and furious’ – I barely have enough hours in the day as it is! It does seem that FB is preferred – more friendly perhaps?

      • #23 by Anne Harvey on December 4, 2014 - 3:42 pm

        Another thought occurred to me – that I will only know if it’s beneficial when I find out if I’ve sold any books because of it. For that, I’ll have to wait until I receive a report from KDP. Will let you know more in due course.

      • #24 by Sally Jenkins on December 4, 2014 - 6:23 pm

        Anne, will you be able to tell which sales came via Twitter?

  12. #25 by hilarycustancegreen on December 4, 2014 - 12:32 pm

    I went onto twitter several years ago after a similar workshop. I’m afraid I have only put up about 12 tweets in that time, so I am a wallflower. I follow some interesting people (journalists and psychologists), but I am uncomfortable with the medium. Perhaps this is because I have not hooked up with the writing community at all. I fear anything I might have to say in brief will sound either pretentious or trivial. A major concern is the way is is so continuous and can dominate your life if you join the flow.

    • #26 by Sally Jenkins on December 4, 2014 - 1:55 pm

      I’m sure you wouldn’t sound pretentious or trivial, Hilary! I think I will join and lie low, like you until I’ve got the hang of what makes a good ‘tweet’. And do my best to not become addicted to yet another time-wasting activity!

  13. #27 by Keith Havers on December 4, 2014 - 3:34 pm

    Sounds like an interesting session, Sally.
    I opened a Twitter account on the advice of other writers who said that agents and editors often look to see what Internet presence you have when you submit to them. I use it mainly to brag about magazine successes and congratulate other authors but I also add a few bits on family and cycling.
    I don’t do Facebook.
    I don’t always follow back.

    • #28 by Sally Jenkins on December 4, 2014 - 6:22 pm

      Thanks, Keith. Don’t blame you for bragging about successes – if we don’t blow our own trumpets, who will?

  14. #29 by helenlaycock on December 4, 2014 - 7:04 pm

    Hi Sally, it seems as though mostly everything’s been said, but I’ll add my penneth anyway!

    I visit Twitter in fits and starts. Often, I’ll just ‘witter’ about nothing in particular and attempt as much humour as is possible within the 140 character limit, i.e. not much! This was one of my first entries which worked out at exactly 140 characters:

    A writer that wanted to witter
    Signed herself up to Twitter
    The character limit
    Forced her to trim it
    Cut off in its prime was her liter…

    These tweets often attract followers and get comments. At other times, I’ll have a blitz and try to promote all twelve of my books, one after another! Because there is so little space to make an impression, I have a list of ‘one-liners’ saved as a Word document so that I can copy and paste at will. Another tip is to use which shortens links to some 26 characters. Occasionally, I’ll post a picture of a book cover, but this uses up precious space.

    I only follow those who interest me or who are connected with writing/promotion. I put all my followers into lists so that I can select a group of people at one time to see what they’re up to – useful for agents’/publishers’ news.

    My aim is to get more followers than I follow. I RT (retweet) something relevant to the other Tweeter as thanks for RTing something of mine. I seem to get new followers every day. I have no idea where they come from!

    Helen Laycock


    • #30 by Sally Jenkins on December 4, 2014 - 7:56 pm

      Helen, I love the limerick! Also like the sound of saving tweets to re-use again – no sense in re-inventing the wheel again!
      Because you’ve all been so helpful, I’m feeling I now have no choice but to take the plunge and join you all!

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