Whatever other social media platforms you may be on, Twitter seems to be the main one where writers hang out. Maybe we like the fact it’s almost all text based. Maybe we like the brevity.
If you’re an author setting out on your Twitter journey, here are a few do’s and dont’s that really seem to help.
USE A HANDLE THAT WILL STAND THE TEST OF TIME
Using a cute name may be an option if you want to stay anonymous online, but if you want to build an author platform, it’s probably best to use your own name (or pen-name) as your @ handle. You may also be tempted to use the title of your debut book, but I would advise against it. Hopefully, you’ll write many more books, and might regret being forever saddled with the title of your first, especially if those later books do much better.
CREATE A PROFESSIONAL BIO
People are going to need a reason to follow you, so give them one! Tell us who you are and why you’re here. If you’re an author, say so. And if you can tell us your genre, so much the better. There’s about a bazillion “bestselling writers” on Twitter, so you need to find some way to stand out. If you really are a NYT or Sunday Times Bestseller, then mention it. Also mention any awards or relevant experience. If you write sci-fi and once worked for NASA, mention that. If you don’t have anything like that, try telling us why you’re writing.
GET A DECENT PROFILE PICTURE
Your profile picture will be a huge part of your Twitter “brand”. People will recognise it as they scan down their feeds, and associate it with you. So, maybe ditch the picture of Garfield or Rick & Morty, and use something that epitomises who you are. I use a professional-looking headshot on my profile, because I am open and personable on Twitter. What you see is what you get. Others may choose to use book covers or caricatures of themselves, which is fine, but think long and hard about how you want to be perceived.
DITTO FOR THE HEADER IMAGE
A header image is another opportunity to give your tweets context and tell us something about who you are. It’s also a great chance to show off your book covers or post up an image that reflects the tone and subject of your work. So, if you write gritty murder mysteries, you could use a darkened city street. If you write international romances, maybe a yacht or a tropical beach.
Twitter allows you to ‘pin’ a tweet to the top of your feed, so it will be the first thing seen by visitors to your profile. This can be a handy way of posting links to your latest books, deals, or news. But agressive “buy my book” tweets can be off-putting, and the visitor may click away without reading the rest of your feed. So, try to be welcoming. Show off your wares, but don’t try to jam them down our throats. Also, it’s a good idea to change your pinned tweet every now and again. A pinned tweet dated six months ago gives the impression that nothing much of interest has happened since.
DON’T BE A JERK
There’s a line in Bugsy Malone that goes, “You give a little love and it all comes back to you / You’re gonna be remembered for the things you say and do.” And this applies double to social media. The way you appear online is the way people will think you really are. So, if you act like an agressive jerk, readers will assume you are one. And if those readers include prospective agents and publishers, you could be shooting yourself in the foot. Nobody wants to work with an asshole, far less read their book or be friends with them, so be careful how you behave.
I try to treat Twitter the same way I would treat a bar full of people I want to get to know. I’m polite, respectful and try to be helpful where I can. I don’t wander around starting fights, or jump on the table shouting “BUY MY BOOK!”
People don’t react well to a hard sales pitch. If I follow someone and they immediately hit me with an automated “check out my book / facebook page / website message, I immediately unfollow them. At the very least, I will mute them.
The same goes for hijacking other people’s conversations. If two or more people are discussing something, don’t leap in with an advert for your book. And don’t use popular hashtags to try and get exposure for your work, either. Not unless it’s relevant. If people are using a hashtag to talk about a political issue and you jump in with an advert for your murder mystery, you’re going to look like an idiot (however, if you’re a political pundit whose book happens to be relvant to the discussion, feel free).
QUALITY NOT QUANTITY
When it comes to followers, you want people who are interested in what you have to say. Trying to get a million randos to follow you won’t be nearly as useful as having 1,000 engaged and interested friends. The former may buy a book from you, the latter almost certainly will. At the very least, they’ll retweet your tweets and help you spread your message.
BE CAREFUL WHO YOU FOLLOW
Follow people who are relevant to your interests. Use the list function to segment your timeline. Have one list for agents, another for editors. Create a list for your most engaged followers, and your favourite authors. Choose successful authors and watch how they use twitter. Learn from them. Listen to what they’re saying and how they say it. Maybe even reach out to them to ask them questions about their craft.
But don’t just follow other writers. Try to follow readers and reviewers, bloggers and publishers. Anyone with an interest in your particular genre. Because it never hurts to know what’s going on in your field.
And for the sake of your mental health, block anyone who trolls you. Don’t try to argue with them, just block and move on (and report if necessary). Mute topics that stress you out, and try to cut as much negativity from your feed as possible.
But most of all, have fun!
You can find me @garethlpowell where I regularly host question and answer sessions for aspiring authors, post writing tips and offer encouragement, and occasionally share pictures of my cats.