Why Writers Should Use Twitter and Top 5 Tips to Get Started


The legacy of Cypress Gardens (waterskimag.com)

Some of the best articles I read each week are through fellow blogs, newsfeeds and links I find on Twitter (find me at elissafield).  That said, since Twitter has played such an important role in where I am getting and sharing this reading, it’s time I sound off on why I think Twitter is so valuable.

I bet many of you are still Twitter skeptics.  A year ago, I had 3 Twitter accounts and honestly… could not see the point. I used Facebook daily to communicate with friends around the world (literally). I set up a separate Facebook for writing, and had been connecting with writers at Poets & Writers’ Speakeasy since back when not all of us had email accounts (really).

But, man.  That Twitter just made no sense.

Last fall, between following a series of advice on how to use the thing and beginning to use it more regularly, something clicked.

I can say this: it’s like when my dad taught us to waterski as kids.  Those first hundred yards, as the rope between you and the boat goes taut and begins to drag you artlessly through the water, the skis and chunky ski jacket adding resistance so it seems impossible to imagine you could ever lift up and glide across the water, it was so tempting to let go and give up. Newbies do that, calling back to whomever goads them on, “It’s not working!” But keep those skis and body in the right position, lean back against the pull as the boat gains speed, and there it is: water rushing beneath lifts the skis and up you go.

Getting up on skis isn’t impossible, but it’s a matter of getting up on plane – letting the boat accumulate speed and overcoming resistance so you lift and skim across the water.

In this metaphor, Twitter isn’t gliding when you first sign up because you do not yet have the momentum of a community to lift you, and you are not yet actively using muscles to work with that lift, to engage in the community so that posting and reading feels as fluid as conversation.  Once you seek out that lift and engage yourself, you pull free of the resistance and glide.

Why bother?

Extending the metaphor, the reason I’d push people to make the effort with Twitter is that active tweeps (Twitter peeps) find it becomes their hottest source of information, just like waterskiers who come to dash, leaping, across wakes.

For one, Twitter has become my fastest and most reliable source of news. New York Times and Guardian UK post news alerts the moment news hits, before it’s compiled and released through other media. I read about London riots on tweets last year, before anyone knew of the first fires. Reporters at the front lines and witnesses on site post firsthand accounts, and the media post frequent updates, so I get a more complete and corrected picture than other media has time to serve.

But beyond news, I’ve gained a watercooler intimacy on issues throughout the publishing industry. Not only can you get periodic news from the magazines and publishers you admire, but can connect individually with their editors, as well as agents, book reviewers, independent booksellers, librarians, and writers, readers and educators, at all levels.

And, hey, we’re not all that serious all the time. Can I say how thrilled I was to trade tweets with Tom Colicchio as he live-tweeted through Top Chef, or to trade tweets with the Dowager Countess Maggie Smith?

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That said, here are my top tips for getting up on plane with Twitter:

5 Top Tips for Succeeding with Twitter.

1)  Identify yourself clearly. Establish your account in the name you use for writing, not a nickname. This is how people can find you. Take the time to write a bio statement for your profile, that lets people know who you are. Do you write? Say you’re a writer. Is it poetry? Fiction? Nonfiction? Add that. Most of us have a day-job, too, or we’re parents or have other interests that impact who we are as people and as writers. Note these simply, and unapologetically. If part of your schtick is that you’re funny, be funny. If not, don’t think you have to be. Just try to convey who you are. And, hey – you can modify it as often as you want, as your identity changes.

2) Get people linking to you.  The key to Twitter is to draw further connection, so make sure to include a link to you, in your profile. If you have multiple media sites (Facebook, Pinterest, a blog, Tumblr), assume people will only click one, so list the primary link that you want to draw traffic to.  For example, list your website or blogsite, and have links to Facebook or other media on those sites.  (Note: there is an option to create an About.me page, which is a splashy bio app, but don’t do that unless you have no other sites, as it will actually be diverting traffic away from your site.)

3)  Find key people to follow. Search out friends and colleagues. Search out authors, magazines and editors you admire. Follow your favorite news media or other influencers. Okay, not bad. When I was at this point, I was still a Twitter skeptic. The change from skeptic to being on-plane came for me when I discovered lists of the most recommended people to follow on Twitter.  Here are three lists of people to follow.  The first list is my own, posted June 14, 2012, and the other two each offer a different emphasis in selecting people to follow.

4) Use hashtags. Seriously, I think it’s a stupid word. We’ll move past that. Definition: hashtags are words, letters or abbreviations, preceded by the pound symbol: #. Wow do they make posts look ugly. We’ll get past that. They work. I really began to jump wakes with Twitter when I began making connections with others by participating in conversations I discovered using hashtags.  How? Keep one image in mind: growing community in Twitter is like the growth of crabgrass — you want to branch sideways, to reach more than just the people in your sights.

  • Use them when you post: When you post without hashtags, only your “followers” see your post. What if you’re new and are only followed by your mom and the account you set up for your dog? You found this great article on McSweeneys that jumpstarted your writing Monday morning, and posted the link. You had a Zen moment and posted a wise mantra.  You shared news that you finally finished novel edits. Unfortunately, the dog can’t read (What’s up with that? Lives in a house full of books, all that time on his paws, and still can’t read.), and mom is a twitter skeptic, so no one read your brilliance. When you add the hashtag (#writing or #amwriting, for example), it includes your post in the feed for conversations on that topic. Someone halfway across the planet you have no other opportunity to connect with now sees and clicks your link. They now: a. get the brilliance no one else saw, b. follow you to experience more brilliance, and c. retweet you, so the 2 or 200 or 2000 people following them now also see your brilliance.
  • Use hashtags when you read.  These hashtags are trickier — they tend to be tags you see included in an interesting post by a key player you are following. Don’t know what a hashtag means? Click it and see what people are talking about. Major conferences and events will establish a hashtag — for example, Associated Writing Programs used #AWP2012 during the annual conference that attracted some 10,000 writing and education professionals.  I’ve used hashtags to read the livestream of reporters attending a press conference for an international event who were live-tweeting before they even sent news back to their news desk (yeah, wow), and the livestream of publishing movers and shakers live-tweeting from panel discussions they were attending at an “un-conference” on change in the industry, held in NYC one Sunday morning. In both cases, not only did I gain remarkable insights by reading, but retweeting the genius I was witnessing convinced others I was genius as well, and led to many of my followers.
  • Use hashtags to participate in live chats. For nearly any topic you could want, there are live chats held on twitter, which you find by using the chat’s hashtag. I write adult fiction, but teach middle grades and ended up making connections with several young adult fiction writers, publishers, agents and teachers by participating in #YAlit (young adult) and #MGlit (middle grade fiction) chats I stumbled on to. I’ve met writers discussing their writing process by participating in “book tour” chats at #litchat, and discussed trends in education with teachers on various edu-chats.
  • You will notice that people also use joke hashtags, which is a funny way to make a point, although will not develop into a conversation unless everyone uses the tag. #works #pointmade #fewerwords That’s one reason for doing it. You can add an emotion to the post without having to say it in a full sentence, which the 140 characters don’t allow.  In twitter, I could have made the joke above with the silly hashtag #dogdoesntread #whatsupwiththat.
  • To get started, try this list of 40 Twitter Hashtags for Writers.

5) Number one suggestion is going down as number 5: participate. Reply to tweets. Comment on articles you read. Retweet articles that are worthwhile. I can give more specific advice about each of these, but will keep it simple here, because it is absolutely important to get this message: be genuine. Twitter is not for blasting demands. You may want people to buy your book or read your blog or follow you, but expect these things to happen naturally because you establish yourself as a participating member in the community. If you tweet and retweet things that are of interest, people will be drawn to find out more about you. Yes, share alerts when you post a new blog or get a story published, but readers will “unfollow” tweeters who only post “buy my book” updates. Don’t: harass, stalk, turn into a megalomaniac or post that you ate cereal for breakfast. Do: send thank you messages when people follow you, reply with interest when you liked a post or link, retweet the things you found worthwhile. Be genuine. Be mannerly. Be funny if it’s in you. Be helpful. Share what you know.

Those are my top five.  Feel free to start by connecting with me and seeing who I follow.  Leave comments to let me know how it goes, or post questions I could address in the next post.

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7 Comments

Filed under Social Media, Writing Life

7 responses to “Why Writers Should Use Twitter and Top 5 Tips to Get Started

  1. Linda Seay

    I found yoru post to be informative and most persuading. I’m “sold” and will pay more attention to Twitter. Thank you, Elissa.

    • Thanks, Linda. It takes a little patience, but Twitter is worth it if you can get it up and flying. Feel free to check out people I follow, to get you started. Best to you!

  2. Great tips, Elissa! I’ve been on Twitter for ages and I’m STILL trying to figure out the hashtags. :}

    • Thanks for commenting, Camille. Good luck playing with hashtags. It does help with making connections, and increasing good info. For example, today, writers around the country can benefit by eavesdropping on workshops at the MUSE wrters conference in Boston — participants are sharing insights from the workshops with the tag #muse2012.

  3. Very thorough post. I agree with everything and would just like to reiterate the importance of creating a hashtag. In a crowded twitter stream it is the way to identify your tweets/conversations.

  4. elissa field

    As this post continues to get visitors every day, do any of the newer visitor want to share their advice for how Twitter has worked well for them? Watch the site, as I am compiling and will soon post my Top 100 Twitter-folk to Follow. Thanks for visiting.

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