Twitter can be a great way to pass the time when you’re standing in line at the post office, but if you’re only following Taylor Swift and Ellen, or tweeting about how annoying it is to stand in line at the post office, it may be time to reconsider how you use this social media tool.
A few years ago, I joined Twitter because I heard it could help me build my author platform: 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 who wants to buy it. But I wasn’t sure how to gain followers, and my tweets went unread.
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. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned about Twitter, and how to use it to benefit your writing career.
#1 Make Twitter a way to gather information on writing.
I started following authors, agents, editors, and organizations like Winning Writers, Writer’s Digest, Literary Rejections, Burlesque Press, and Writer’s Relief. These entities tweet regularly with info about writing conferences and contests, agents who are open to submissions, trends in publishing, and new books to read. They also tweet interesting articles, writing prompts, helpful links, and encouraging quotes. Agents often post their pet peeves, and what they would like to see in their query slush pile. Twitter can be an incredible resource and learning tool for writers.
So instead of worrying about who’s following you, follow people who tweet the info you want. You can find also find these people by searching in the Twitter search bar, seeing who other people follow, or by Googling, for example, “Top Twitter Lists for Writers.”
#2 Make use of the Lists feature.
Of course, you probably want to follow your non-writer friends, too. And you might want to follow Taylor Swift, or Bears Acting Human. But your Twitter feed will start to get really full really fast, and you might be overwhelmed with the number of tweets to scroll through. That’s when you can start organizing the people you follow into “Lists” on your Twitter account. For example, you can make a List of your friends and family, a List of agents and editors, a List of favorite authors, a List of miscellaneous, and so on. Depending on what information you want to see, read only the tweets from one of your Lists.
#3 Search tweets using hash tags.
Hashtags have devolved into a way to make a quick joke, but they can still be a helpful search tool. Search Twitter via a hashtag and find posts from anyone who has used that hashtag, whether you follow them or not. Some helpful hashtags for writers 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.)
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.”
When you read an interesting or helpful tweet, retweet it so that all your followers have access to that information. Not only can retweeting bring you to the attention of the person who tweeted it (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 tweets.
I have my blog connected to my Twitter account so that every time I post on my blog, 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. You can also use the acronym “ICYMI” (in case you missed it) to let people know it’s a repost.
#6 If you’re looking for an agent, keep an eye out for Twitter pitches
Sometimes agents will participate in Twitter pitches. For example, a few months ago I was scrolling through my feed and 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 tweeted my pitch (condensing a novel into 140 characters is a great challenge anyway), and all the agents who searched the hashtag #SFFpit were able to see my tweet. I ended up getting a manuscript request and an eventual offer for representation from an agent! So these opportunities can definitely be worth your time.
#7 But don’t spend all your time on Twitter!
Once you get into the Twitter world, it can be hard to get out. Like everything else in life, it’s about balance. Go on Twitter, but don’t neglect your writing. I only spend about ten minutes a day on Twitter — usually while I’m eating lunch. If I see a link to something interesting, I email it to myself to read later. I try to limit the amount of time I spend on all social media, and I never check Twitter when I’m in the middle of writing!