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Posted on Oct 30, 2018

How Authors Can Get the Most Out of Twitter

Nathan Bransford is the author of the Jacob Wonderbar series and How to Write a Novel, which NY Times bestselling author Ransom Riggs called “the best how-to-write-a-novel book I've read." He writes a popular blog on writing and publishing and is also available for book editing and consultations on Reedsy. In this guest post, Nathan explains his belated love affair with Twitter.

Let me tell you a story about how I joined the human circus, otherwise known as Twitter.

I didn’t join it at all.

In 2008, while I was boasting to friends that I would never do that whole social media thing, someone created a fake Twitter profile of me, photo and all, and started tweeting out my blog posts! Real people were replying to me and everything.

Once I got wind of what was happening, I wrested control of the rogue account and grumpily determined it was time to succumb to social media.

So yes. I now have around 93,000 Twitter followers and social media has become a foundational aspect of my entire professional career, but I can also relate to the deep reluctance some of you might have to engage with social media.

Take it from me: it pays to be active on social media. Even if you don’t want to be.

Here’s how to get the most out of Twitter.

1. Learn the basics

Let’s face it. If you're looking for the pulse of the publishing industry, Twitter is the place to go.

It’s where many important industry conversations are happening, it’s where agents and editors are tweeting their manuscript wish lists, and it’s where people get into spectacularly heated arguments about arcane publishing topics that may utterly bewilder you.

For the uninitiated, Twitter is essentially a stream of short posts. Twitter posts (“tweets”) are limited to 280 characters so there’s an incentive to be concise, punchy, and witty.

You can “retweet” someone’s tweet, which pushes that tweet out to your followers — some tweets end up going viral and are retweeted tens of thousands of times. You can also share links, post a series of tweets in a “thread,” and share photos and videos.

Speak your heart but mind what you say — everything but Direct Messages is public!

2. Start now

Photo by on Unsplash

Haven’t joined yet? Join now.

“Sure,” you might be saying, “someone who had Twiter foisted upon them involuntarily in 2008 might have benefited from it, but people like you had a ten-year head start! How could I possibly catch up?”

Here's the thing: it’s never too late.

In many ways, social media is still in its infancy. There are always new accounts that catch fire, and many more people who don’t have wildly successful accounts but who benefit from simply being active.

“But wait!” you might be protesting (I treasure our imaginary conversations). “I’m not a published author yet. I have nothing of value to tweet about.”

Not true. There are many unpublished authors who gained traction on social media by being super smart and engaging and overall fantastic.

Camryn Garrett is Exhibit A. Over the last few years, she posted great content and engaged with authors in a genuine way. She was soon on nearly everyone’s radar in the publishing industry. She now has a hot book deal and she’s still a teenager!

There’s no time like the present. Get going!

3. Listen and learn

Your experience on Twitter is almost wholly dependent on who you follow, so choose that list carefully. You can also click hashtags, where some conversations take place such as #MSWL (the aforementioned manuscript wishlist), and see what’s trending.

One of the most underappreciated elements of being active on Twitter is that it’s a terrific tool for learning more about the publishing industry. Follow the agents who represent your favorite books. Follow your favorite authors. Follow publishing experts. Participate in discussions. (And don’t neglect your favorite celebrities, either). You’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll come across interesting articles about the business, and how much you’ll learn through osmosis.

Also, while you’re listening, pay attention to what works on Twitter. Don’t necessarily imitate — it pays to be yourself — but think about what it is about popular accounts that contributes to their success.

4. Find your niche and provide value

If you’re aiming to build a following on any social media platform (and let’s face it, if you’re an author, it can’t hurt), think about the reason someone should follow you.

Most importantly: how are you providing value to your potential followers?

For instance, my following on Twitter has never really been about how clever I am in my tweets. Instead, I’d wager most people follow me as a way of keeping up with my blog, which is my true social media “base.” That’s the real value I provide people.

Other people on Twitter are super witty. Some are master content curators and share all the best articles. Some people are very engaging and spark interesting conversations, some people are wildly stylish, some people have the best takes on popular reality shows, and so on and so forth. Find a niche and stick with it consistently for a while, talk with other people in your area, and you’ll soon find your audience.

5. Mind your social media addiction

Twitter is fun. Twitter is heartbreaking. Twitter is maddening. Twitter is exhilarating.

Twitter is addicting.

Building a following is great, but not if you become so addicted to being on social media you neglect, ya know, actually writing. Especially with today’s current events and the political climate, it’s very easy to get sucked into a vortex of rage and anguish, no matter your politics. Make sure you’re taking breaks, both temporary and extended. Get some fresh air and talk to people in real life.

I recently noticed that I was so addicted to Twitter, I was getting in the habit of flipping it open whenever I had to wait for literally anything. Waiting on the subway? I’d open Twitter. Ten second ride in the elevator? I’d open Twitter. Someone who’s talking to me blinked? Twitter.

So I "hid" Twitter deep in my apps, meaning I had to actually go look for it whenever I wanted to open it. This helped break my muscle memory, and now I’m a bit more mindful about when I check in and how much time I’m spending on it.

Bonus Twitter tips

  • Invest some time in choosing a good profile photo, cover photo, and color scheme for your page. You’ll become almost synonymous with your profile photo because of the way it appears in peoples’ feeds, so choose wisely and try not to change it too often.
  • A great way of meeting people and gaining followers is to reply to people you like and whose followers are people you’d like to follow you. So use that reply button and converse freely.
  • If you want to have an active feed but save some time or keep from getting distracted, you can use a service like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck to schedule tweets in advance. That way you can devote, say, an hour to it on the weekend and spread a bunch of tweets out throughout the week. Careful, though — sometimes the mood on Twitter changes quickly when big events happen, and those scheduled tweets can stick out like a sore thumb.
  • Think twice and even three times before tweeting. You can quickly become famous for all the wrong reasons if you say something you really shouldn’t.
  • Don’t hesitate with the Mute and Block buttons. One of the downsides about using Twitter is that there are a whole lot of crazies out there who can pop into your feed and say horrible things. Block/report or mute those people, don’t reply, and don’t give it another thought.

Have fun and prosper!