I joined Twitter two years ago, but for a long time I didn’t get what it was good for. I tweeted at my favorite musician, Beck, and got no reply. I read my friends’ tweets, which were mostly funny things their kids said, or random thoughts they were having while standing in line at the grocery store. I linked my blog to Twitter, but I had no followers. How was this going to help me as a writer?
I’d heard that Twitter could help me build my author platform, as in make people aware of me and what I write so that when I have a book with my name on it, I’ll have a ready-made audience to sell it to. But I wasn’t sure how to gain followers, and I didn’t understand what made Twitter better than facebook or blogging.
It wasn’t until recently that I learned the secret: before Twitter can help you build your platform, you have to use it as a way to gather information. Once you have information to share, people will automatically want to follow you.
I am in no way an expert at Twitter, but here are some basics I’ve learned…
#1 Make Twitter a way to gather information on specific topics.
I started following authors, agents, editors, and organizations like Winning Writers, Writer’s Digest, Literary Rejections, Burlesque Press, Jen Violi, and Writer’s Relief. These entities constantly tweet info about writing conferences and contests, agents who are open to submissions, trends in publishing, and new books to read. They also tweet writing prompts, helpful links, and encouraging quotes. I’ve realized that Twitter can be an incredible resource.
#2 Follow people who have the info you need.
This pretty much goes along with what I said in #1. Instead of worrying about who’s following you, follow people who tweet the info you want. You can find these people by searching in the Twitter search bar, seeing who other people follow, or googling, for example, “Top Twitter Lists for Writers.”
Of course, you probably still want to follow your friends, too. And you might want to follow Ellen, because she’s funny, or Beck, because he’s amazing. Now, here’s where it gets complicated because your Twitter feed will start to get really full really fast, and you will be overwhelmed with the number of tweets to scroll through. That’s when you can start organizing the people you follow into Lists, which is a Twitter feature. For example, you can make a List of your friends and family, a List of writing people, and a List of miscellaneous. Then, depending on your mood, read only the tweets from one of those lists.
#3 Search tweets using hash tags.
I’m going to be honest, I don’t totally get hashtags — how do they get started, for one thing? But I do know they can be helpful. You can search Twitter via a hashtag and find posts from anyone who has used that hashtag, whether you follow them or not. Some helpful hashtags I’ve learned about are:
#querytip (tweets about querying literary agents)
#MSWL (stands for “manuscript wish-list” and is what agents use when they are tweeting about the types of submissions they’re looking for. For example, agent Julia Weber recently tweeted “I’d love to see mss about the model/fashion industry. I don’t mind if it’s fun or shows the darker side.#MSWL”)
If you’re not sure what hashtag to search for, try typing different things into the Twitter search bar, or look at what hashtags are trending in the side bar of your Twitter feed.
#4 Retweet and favorite
Let’s say you read a helpful or interesting tweet. You can retweet it so that all your followers now have access to that information. Not only can retweeting bring you to the attention of the person who tweeted (and maybe they’ll start following you), but if you retweet enough good stuff, people will take notice and start following you.
Favoriting a tweet can be nice, too, because although it doesn’t share the tweet with your followers, it is a way to mark a tweet you like so you can refer back to it later. (Twitter keeps track of your favorites.) It’s also a way to let the person tweeting know that you appreciate their content, and again, maybe they will decide to follow you.
#5 Repeat tweet.
I have my blog connected to my Twitter so that every time I post on In the Garden of Eva, a link is automatically posted on Twitter. Which is great. But, I’ve noticed from reading my own Twitter feed that it’s nearly impossible to read all the daily tweets, and it’s really easy for a great tweet to get lost in the shuffle. Which is why, on occasion, I will tweet the link to my blog post again the next day. I don’ t do it so many times that it becomes annoying, but just once or twice in case people missed it the first time.
My Biggest Twitter Success Story (So Far), or, Why Writers Should Use Twitter
I happened to be scrolling through Twitter about a month ago when I saw that Writer’s Digest had tweeted:
Spread the word: If you write fantasy or sci-fi novels (adult or young adult), pitch agents on Twitter during #SFFpit today.
I had done one of these Twitter pitches a few weeks earlier and nothing had happened, but I decided to try this one. Plus, condensing a novel into 140 characters is a great challenge. So I tweeted: When the Piper spirits away the children of Hamelin, leaving crippled Brigitta behind, she journeys to find them. (Lower YA) #SFFpit
This meant that any agent looking to obtain a Sci-Fi/Fantasy manuscript could search Twitter for #SFFpit and see my pitch, along with everyone else’s.
A few hours later, I got a bite! A new agent in Canada favorited my tweet, which meant she wanted me to query her with the first 50 pages!
I queried her, and she wrote back the next day, asking for the full manuscript. I sent her the manuscript, and to make a long story short, we talked on Skype and she offered to represent me. At the same time (because this is how these things go — when it rains it pours), I got an offer from Alex Christofi with Conville & Walsh, and, in the end, I decided to go with Alex as my agent instead.
But it was all pretty exciting, and that Canadian agent signed at least two other authors that she found on Twitter through #SFFpit. If that’s not a good enough example of why writers should use Twitter, I don’t know what is.
So go out there and get tweeting!