Twitter. Facebook. Snapchat. Instagram. Periscope. There are so many options in social media that it can be hard to choose which one(s) to use. If you aren’t on Twitter, don’t know why you as a writer might want to use it, or don’t know what to do with the Twitter account you have, perhaps this post will be helpful.
First, what is Twitter?
An internet discussion/social network where messages are 140 characters long. Some refer to this as microblogging. You can say what you want, whenever you want, and your followers can read it whenever they want. Messages are referred to as “tweets.” Messages can include links to a website or blog, photos or videos, gifs, and polls.
My Reasons for Using Twitter
I started using Twitter to connect with other kidlit writers and to get better acquainted with editors and agents. It’s a good place for those purposes, both which are really about connection.
Find People to Follow
Following someone is how you get to read messages in Twitter. Your Twitter feed, your timeline, is made up of messages posted by anyone you follow, plus messages you send. It’s how you listen in on the conversation. It’s how you join public conversations or start conversations. Messages are in chronological order in your feed with the most recent messages on top.
I started by following some writer friends. Then followed some people my friends followed. Since then I add people I meet, read about, read their books, hear speak, or find through retweets, or through Twitter suggestions. I may or may not follow those who follow me.
If I don’t know anything about a person, I read his/her bio and some sample tweets. Sometimes I follow someone and later unfollow them as their tweets bother me (it could be language, or too much self-promotion, or too much discussion of politics.)
Because I now have an adult ebook out from Clean Reads, I have a Twitter handle for that pen name @SMFordwriter, too. I’ve found that the children’s literature community–just as they are in person–are more open to conversation, helping each other, sharing, etc.–than the adult literature community.
The Conversation: What Do You Say on Twitter?
Answer questions. Here’s an example that @KSonnack posted yesterday: “I need some book recs. #1: for an 8yo who just moved to a new city and is having trouble adjusting. Go!”
Follow links to articles, then comment or retweet the original tweet. (Retweeting means sending the tweet out again from your user name.)
Share articles. This from August 11th: “The 11th hour villain. I agree with this concept. http://www.starpowercomic.com/the-eleventh-hour-villain/ …
Use the heart to “like” what someone says.
Comment on or retweet tweets. Such as: @Corinneduyvis on September 2nd: “Hugely important part of writing for me: my plot notebook. I take pen, paper, and just talk my way through scenes and problems.”
Share good news, links to blog posts, writer quotes, and book recommendations.
Celebrate others’ good news and sympathize with bad.
You can also have private conversations by using DM (direct message) through Twitter. This only works for people who follow you. You can DM a single person or a group. More info here.
Twitter is searchable and the main tool to use is a hashtag. Hashtags can be anything anyone creates using the pound symbol (#) followed by a word or words with no spaces, but common ones start becoming known, such as #amwriting or #writingtips or #writingchallenge or #kidlit. Some are just initials or abbreviations that have become great tools.
Some of the most useful writer hashtags for submitting are #MSWL (manuscript wish list), #PitMad (pitch madness), and #PitchWars (a contest).
- #MSWL also has a website–both the hashtag and the website offer editors and agents to post “what they are looking for.” This is amazing!
- #PitMad is a chance for writers to pitch manuscripts during quarterly events. Basic information can be found here. One of the most important things about it is that tweeters must also indicate the genre of the manuscript with another hashtag, such as #PB #MG #YA.
- #PitchWars is a “a contest where published/agented authors, editors, or interns choose one writer each, read their entire manuscript, and offer critiques on how to make the manuscript shine.” See full details for 2016 here. What a deal!
These latter two give you a chance to see if your pitches are working. Do they garner any attention or not? You can often offer different versions to try pitches out.
Search for a specific editor or agent–one you’d like to know more about–by name. You may find links to interviews or blog posts by this person. You may find comments about the agent or editor. If the agent or editor has an account, you can read his/her tweets. Seeing a “I hate squirrels” tweet would let you know not to send a squirrel story to that specific person.
One of the tools on Twitter is the ability to assign those you are following to lists. I normally add someone to a list when I follow them. That means if I want to see what Picture Book writers are saying today, I can just see the posts of the people I’ve put on my PB list. (Would need to use Tweetdeck or HootSuite). Lists can be public or private.
Setting Up Twitter
When you sign up for an account, you create a user name or handle–mine is @SusanUhlig, my pen name for my children’s writing. The @ symbol is the common way to indicate a Twitter handle. Once you have someone’s user name, you can view their page by typing in your browser twitter.com/username. So in my case it would be twitter.com/susanuhlig. Once you go to my page, you’ll see Sue (Susan Uhlig) followed by @susanuhlig.
Actions you need to take asap are upload an avatar–usually a picture of you–and create a bio. You don’t have a lot of characters, so keep it short and pertinent. Mine says: “Children’s Book (PB, readers, MG, YA) & Mag Writer. Writing helps/book recs on my site (‘cuz I always have an opinion). SCBWI Oregon. ICL Instructor.” You can see I used some of my bio space for affiliations. I also get to list my location and my website in addition to my bio. Another fun option is adding a header photo, but that can come later. However, often people won’t follow those who do not have an avatar.
Of course, Twitter itself has articles and FAQs that can help you get started.
Once you are set up, you can join the conversation. If you find you are spending way too much time on Twitter, set a timer for how long you want to be on and when it goes off, close that Twitter window.
Making Use of Twitter
You can also set up a Twitter widget on your website that will show a specified number of your most recent tweets. It’s one way to have frequently changing content on your site. (How you do this depends on your website software.)
Someone once asked me if I could explain Twitter in 140 characters. As you can see, I can’t. But I can sure tweet this post.