How to Navigate Twitter as a Writer

Twitter can be difficult to manage for writers. You just want to write your books and sell them, but how do you pull off the latter? You could do nothing and have your publisher do all the lifting (good luck), you could just self-publish and sit there (good luck, lol), or you could make use of one of the best platforms for writers, Twitter. If you put some of my advice to use, you could have a better experience and actually sell some books while maintaining a great feed. Let’s try some things.

Timeline Management

I. Follows

Curate your timeline, i.e., be selective with who you let in your Twitter-house. No one wants loudmouths, crybabies, or drama queens inside their actual homes. And likewise, you don’t want those jamokes in your timeline, either. Pay attention to people’s behavioral patterns. Determine whether their posts are worth seeing, worth interacting with. If they’re not, don’t follow. Now, we are all adults operating with fully developed pre-frontal cortices. (Or are we?) We can separate following on Twitter from being friendly and receptive to other writers. Just because you like someone’s fiction doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy their tweets, or vice versa. No one owes you a follow, and you don’t owe anyone else a follow. You are the grand curator with your magic wand. Conjure up a pretty timeline.

II. Following:Follower Ratio

It’s best to keep a low following-to-follower ratio. We’ve all seen accounts that follow four, five, twenty-thousand accounts. There really is no point to that. A timeline with that many accounts posting daily is impossible to scroll through. Stick with a manageable number of accounts to follow so you can be receptive and supportive of their content. Do not employ age-old strategies from MySpace days a.k.a. “follow4follow.” Why should every new Twitter relationship be reciprocal if you do not enjoy the other person’s posts? Let’s be reasonable and respectful adults. Also, the ratio isn’t all that important if no one engages with your content. We’ve all seen accounts with 50,000 followers yet their tweets receive maybe five likes and one or two retweets. Engagement is the most important metric and you can look extra silly if you follow every account just to try to force engagement.

III. Retweets

Be mindful of your retweet frequency. It can be jarring to your followers if you flood them with several retweets in a row like a machine gun emptying its 30-round mag. No thank you. Please do not do this. Don’t abuse RTs with that itchy trigger finger. If you do, you may force your followers to utilize their “Turn Off Retweets” option for your account. Then your RTs will reach fewer and fewer timelines and be less effective. After all, Twitter is a highly curated social media experience, if we want it to be. People don’t often want “outsider” tweets being sprayed into their feed. If someone abuses RTs, feel free to use that option. Go to their profile page, click the options button (with the three dots), and choose Turn Off Retweets. On the flip side, if you abused this unspoken rule before and suspect many followers have disabled your retweets, you can quote tweet the said tweet instead and add a useful comment. *hot tip of the day*

IV. Muting

Hold up your Twitter remote and mute that damn noisy TV (person). Holy moly, why are they talking so much? It’s overwhelming! I’ll be honest: I never mute accounts. If someone is abusing their Twitter timeline, I unfollow if our bond ain’t that strong. If it is, I get over it and scroll past the silliness. Muting is sort of pointless. It hides an account’s every post but you remain as an acknowledged follower. It’s sort of a weird way to “keep cool” with people you find annoying. Which—why? Just unfollow, maaaan.

V. Blocking

Whoa. Blocking?! Isn’t that a last resort? Nope. Twitter blocking is mental freedom, mental peace. Twitter is an extension of humanity and because of that, there are toxic people online just as there is out in the “real world.” Luckily, in this quasi-virtual space, we can zap annoying people out of existence. You don’t owe them anything. This is the best tool for nipping harassment in the bud. It can be stopped before it’s even really started. We create our own Twitter reality. We have these wonderful tools at our disposal to make it a pleasant experience to sell books and interact with our friends who are also writers, or reviewers, or anyone else for that matter. Blue Oyster Cult wrote a hit song about the block button. Don’t be afraid of it.

VI. Twitter Lists

Lists can be extremely useful as they can be both private or public. Lists are straightforward. You can add a number of accounts to a category, name it, and you will have a private (or public) timeline to scroll through. You can use these as hyper-curated friend timelines, as in add your absolute favorite accounts to scroll through all their updates, missing nothing. Or you can create a list of accounts that only post about certain interests, e.g., horror movies, puppies, cats, Batman, feet pics, etc. Another benefit to Twitter Lists is they are scrollable timelines sans advertisements.

VII. Notifications/Replies

Twitter can be overwhelming. Luckily, you can control how much of it overflows into your mentions. Twitter allows you to control WHO can reply to your tweets with three options: Everyone, People You Follow, or People You Mentioned. The first is self-explanatory. The second allows your curated list of people you follow to reply to your tweet, which is, yet again, an important reason why you should care about who you follow. And the last option is super restrictive, so only use this for posts you don’t want anyone to reply to, or the only accounts tagged in the tweet. This can really dampen your engagement but it can be useful for preventing jerks and the like from entering your space when unsolicited. Twitter also allows you to mute, not hide, but mute, notifications from accounts that don’t have a certain aspect, such as no profile photo, no confirmed email or phone number (typically spam but not 100%), etc. These mentions or interactions will still show in your notification feed, but you will never be notified. Probably better that way.

Engagement

I. Replying

How about you actually respond to people if you have time? It doesn’t hurt. No, you absolutely don’t have to field every reply, every comment. If we did this, we would just be staring at screens all day. Pick your battles, they say. The more you try to be yourself and just chat on Twitter, the more likely people will enjoy your demeanor, your tweets. We want to follow people we relate to or we find interesting. I personally follow people who produce good conversations, cool content, or tweet things that make me question my own sanity and/or morals. Every single interaction can produce a positive outcome for you, if you want it to.

II. Explore Tab

You can increase your Twitter audience, a.k.a. potential readership by responding to popular tweets or tweets in currently popular topics, or even events that occurred that day. This is obviously optional, but it could help if you already find yourself browsing the Explore tab, anyway. Why not jump in and participate in some fun convos? I usually jump into fun tweets about horror movies or food or whatever if I have a minute to kill.

III. Pose Questions to Your Followers

Everyone likes to butt in and share their opinion on something. Tweet things that require more than a pointless yes or no answer. I like to engage with both general Writing Twitter and Horror Twitter. Obviously the questions would differ, you have to know which audience you seek to interact with. I’ve also had fun coercing people to choose between food items… just because. Or create polls with hard-to-choose options. Whatever you can do to get others’ minds off of the reality that we are on a cold, spinning rock in the middle of an impossible expanse of space waiting for our central star to explode.

Promotion

I. Optimal Tweet Timing

Twitter is just a microcosm of people all over the world who tap into the virtual realm whenever they wanna escape their meat-reality and escape into something “elsewhere.” But, there’s a limiting factor there. People will only see your book promos when majority of people are peeking behind the blue bird blinds. When the hell do they do that? Well, typically, almost no one uses Twitter post-5pm Eastern on Fridays, almost barely on Saturdays, and never early Sunday mornings. There are studies that analyze global behavioral patterns and such, i.e., when people actually tweet and scroll. The best timing seems to be during the work week (Whodathunk? People want to escape the monotony of work??) when people are checking their phones during bathroom breaks, lunches, and immediately after work, slowly decreasing into the night. Promoting on the weekends or after work hours is almost like throwing your promo tweet in the garbage and stomping on it. Dammit, is that the moldy banana from a few days ago?!

II. Attach Media to Tweets

Did you really just try to promote your book, WIP, contract, announcement, etc. without a damn picture attached?! What are you doing, m8? All studies show that tweets with attached pictures or videos get the most engagement. Always include a picture or video in your promotional tweets. They catch the eye more. They are more fun to look at. And while I’m on this line of thought, make sure your text in your promotional tweet is easily legible without a follower having to click on the image and double tap to zoom. Lots of engagement happens from outside of Twitter’s “Detail expands”. When you add an image to your tweet, you best make it in the 16:9 ratio. It’s still the best despite Twitter changing image dimension cropping on mobile apps. It still hasn’t carried over to the website. And hey, if you don’t care about that, feel free to post 1:1 (square) or 3:2 (vertical) images as well. The fun thing about these is: square promo images can be easily cross-posted to Facebook and Instagram, and portrait 3:2 images take up more of the screen real estate on mobile—when someone scrolls to your tweet, all the attention is on you. Better not sweat from that blazing spotlight, young lad.

III. Always Include a URL

For the love of god, did you just promote your book and not give followers an easy-to-click URL in the tweet?! Why do you hate them and hate making sales so much? Never forget to include URLs to your books, projects, merch site, etc. If you forget, delete the dang thing and re-do it all. Do not attach a second tweet to the original with the URL and clog up everyone’s timelines even more. No, no, bad dog!

IV. Books2Read URLs

Speaking of URLs, please consider using Books2Read URLs. This is a service provided by Draft2Digital, but anyone can use them as they aren’t tied to their services. They are essentially landing pages for your books for readers to purchase a copy. Instead of throwing up a link to Amazon, you can use a universal B2R URL which lists all stores your book is sold through, including Amazon, Apple Books, Kobo, Scribd, B&N, Audible, etc. They also provide analytics if you care to track that sorta stuff.

V. Giveaways

Giveaways can be effective if you put a little work in. Say you have some spare author copies of your latest paperback taking up space in your room. You gotta get those suckers out into the world! Create some hype for free signed copies once in a while, but attach some eligibility requirements. Require those who “enter” your giveaway to be an active follower of yours, share a particular post, and maybe even share a created hashtag. The ball’s in your court. Every entry into your giveaway spreads your giveaway tweet through RT or quote tweet, and it increases the likelihood of gaining followers, i.e., potential new readers. Just go into them knowing you have to cover shipping, materials, and the book copies themselves. To not break the bank, feel free to do this with ebook copies. Obviously, the hype will be diminished as an ebook can hardly compare to a signed physical copy. Either way, have fun with it! P.S. The giveaway can be other writers’ books, too. Just shows that you’re a good sport and want to spread other writers’ work and make it fun.

VI. Promote the Work of Others

Yes. Promote fellow writers. Promote their contract signings, new books, old books, neglected books, work-in-progress updates, etc. One super simple way of promotion is showing Twitter your #BookMail. A simple photo of the books you’ve received in the mail can make someone’s day. I know my day has been made when seeing someone else bought my paperback and shared it on Twitter. But don’t do any of it with the Rule of Reciprocity in mind, or else you’ll become a cold, cynical mofo that no one wants to interact with. Do it only if it feels right, only if you actually want to lift up others and share their awesome work. Most people in life don’t reciprocate, so do not seek that out whatsoever. Just do what you can to be a good part of the writing community. And, hey, some will possibly reciprocate. Some will find time in their busy schedules to shout you out, to boost your book or project or whatever it is to their audience. Be a good hype man as you follow the previous tips (e.g., do not retweet other writers endlessly and flood Twitter enough for some dude with a long, gray beard to come along and build a huge boat for some animals).

Profile

I. Profile Photo

No hard and fast rules here, but why not use one that is easy to spot as a tiny thumbnail and that shows you being you? It helps readers if you have a uniform profile photo across social media platforms, but it’s not entirely important.

II. Header Image

Same here. Do what you’d like, however, it can be useful to create some authorial branding here. Perhaps a logo, similar text from your author website, etc. If you’re the type of writer who likes to appear professional by strangers, it may help to have a clean header image that does something for you as a writer. It’s the first thing new readers and potential agents see when they land on your page. Spice it up. Make it interesting.

III. Bio

The bio is key to every Twitter profile. It’s where we can speak a little about ourselves, add a little info that is always present. For writers, it’s useful to include your most recent titles here, your literary representation, your forthcoming projects, some pertinent message, or even some tidbits about yourself. The cleaner, the better. The location isn’t exactly important but it may help as an identifier for potential agents, fellow writers, or readers to identify with you geographically, to give them an idea of where the heck you are. You can put the nearest big city, don’t have to put a location pin on your head, do ya? One of the best parts of the Twitter bio for writers is the website slot. If you have a website, please utilize this space! It’s a super quick way for people to reach your site whether to buy your stuff, read reviews, read your blogs, or even contact you in a professional manner (assuming you place your writer email on your site, or at least a contact form).

IV. Pinned Tweets

You can choose any tweet from your arsenal to pin to the top of your profile. No matter how much you shake your phone, that tweet will remain there. Be strategic with pinned tweets. If you have an event coming up, pin a tweet that mentions it, that has pertinent info that shouldn’t be buried in the rest of your tweets. It is literally the first tweet a new person will see when they visit your profile. A lot of writers pin tweets that showcase all their books with links to buy—this is a great call. It can stay there forever, if you want. I tend to rotate mine. I’ll pin my recent favorite tweets there, allowing newbies to spot it if they come across my profile. In the end, choose something that will help you out as a writer. Because, why not?

Mental Health

I. Know When to Take a Break

We all need to take good care of ourselves. Social media platforms, like Twitter, allow immediate exposure to the world at large, whether that be good or bad things. When too many bad things are injected into our eyeballs, or when too many people are being jerks, cynics, bitter, etc. we need to clear our minds and avoid toxic timelines (and users). No, you don’t need to ever announce a break from Twitter. Just do it. Go relax, self-reflect, do something positive, etc. Come back with a fresh mind.

II. Give the Benefit of the Doubt

Twitter can elicit light-speed interactions and reactions. Everyone is available at their fingertips. When mental health isn’t in tip-top shape, we can jump to conclusions, make assumptions, or interpret other writers, reviewers, etc. in the least charitable of ways. My advice is to never make assumptions online. That saying including the ass really comes into play if you are incorrect about your assumption. It’s better for everyone’s mental health and day if we just charitably interpret someone’s tweets. If there needs to be clarification, ask publicly or privately—your call. I’ve noticed some terrible trends on Twitter with rapid assumptions, ill-willed replies, and embarrassing follow-ups after each party understands the other fully. Just be cool, be kind. If someone says something weird, do something else, literally anything else, instead of creating a conflict and the potential for digital dog-piling to ensue. Hey, you, yeah, you. Be cool!

Histrionics

I. Twitter Drama

Just don’t. Don’t respond. Don’t engage. Be an adult, yeah?

II. Be Kind to Reviewers

Reviewers do free labor on writers’ behalf. Hell no, they don’t owe you a starred rating. Hell no, they don’t owe you a written review or blurb. Time and time again, we see some writers really lose it on reviewers. If you have this bubbling in your veins, revisit the Mental Health section just above. Maybe it’s time for a Twitter break to reevaluate yourself. Reviewers are small-scale heroes. Without reviewers, i.e., people who read your book and boost it with a rating and/or review, what would you do as a writer? We’d all be helpless. And if you send your book or ebook to a reviewer, their review is not guaranteed. And it’s not guaranteed to be positive. What if they thought your book sucked? Should they lie to coat your ego in a nice wool blanket? Nah. Let reviewers have their space and be professional with them. Know that majority of them review books in their free time, outside of a paying job, outside of their partners and children and other hobbies. Be grateful. Reviewers are awesome.


Thanks for reading.

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Twitter: @shanehawkk /// PayPal: @shanehawk

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