by J.C. Steel
What is Twitter?
Twitter bills itself as a micro-blogging service. If you're looking at that and thinking 'that's just great, I've already got a website, an actual blog, and an Amazon page - I need more things to keep updated like a hole in my head', keep reading.
Don’t think of Twitter as 'oh dear god, not another one' and start thinking of it as an authors' coffee bar. Or Irish Pub. Or drum circle. Wherever you go to talk shop and meet like-minded people. What Twitter probably won't do for you is get you a ton of eager new readers. I'll be absolutely up-front about that. My following on Twitter is over 9,000, and I sincerely doubt I've sold more than a couple of books there. It's not a place to set a series of 'hey, my book's awesome, buy it here!!!' posts and forget about it, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile.
What Twitter has done for me is find me my cover designer, my logo designer, various reviewers, and a lot of fellow authors with excellent tips and experience to share. It's where I met the author group I mostly work with for joint promotions and blog hops.
Getting started on Twitter
Start small, grasshopper. Get an account, if you haven't already. Head over to https://twitter.com/ and sign up. If you're creating this account primarily for author-related stuff, do yourself a favour and pick a 'handle' (the part that comes after the @) that has something to do with your author name. Don't use a book or series title, unless you plan to start and keep up a new account for each book or series you launch.
Now set up your profile. You'll need a short bio, an author photo, or at least something that you're willing to be represented by (a lot of people won't follow back blank profiles), and a header image. If you head on over to my profile, https://twitter.com/steel_jo, you'll see I've used a book banner for my header, but you don't have to. They're easy to change.
Don't put your website link in your bio—that takes up valuable real estate and you get a separate spot for it in set-up. On the other hand, if you have a link other than your website that you want permanent pride of place for, get a shortlink (see https://app.bitly.com, for example) and stick it in.
Do use hashtags in your bio—not enough to overwhelm it, but two or three are fine and make you easier to find. Write horror? Try something like 'writing #horror, living da dream'. Like marathons? Hashtag it. The hashtags make you searchable. Rumours keep running around Twitter that the hashtags are no longer necessary, but I've been there 8 years and I haven't seen any actual footprints of that particular change, so for a whole extra character, I'd hang onto them. Hashtags are also the basis for Twitter chats, where you can tweet with people real-time. Learn more about that here.
Is this thing on? Nothing's happening.
Yes, it is, and now you've got, or possibly tweaked, your account, let's get stuck in.
Twitter is all about how many people you follow, and how many people follow you. It's not like Facebook, where 'friending' someone you don't know and have never met makes you a stalker.
So, if you just started your account, let's head out to find you some people to chat with. Two options: up at the top right, you'll see a 'search' option. If you know some people, type them in there and follow them. If you don't, then type '#amwriting' in there. You'll see a page come up with 'top', 'latest', 'people', etc. Head on over to 'People' and follow some of the people whose bios make you grin. Once you run out of those, try another search - I write #scifi, so I'd type that into search and repeat the exercise.
Don't get upset if not everyone follows you back - some of them will, and that'll get you started, and it'll give Twitter something to work with for that section on the right-hand side of your profile headed 'People to follow'.
As a regular exercise for Twitter, I recommend taking twenty minutes each weekend, and finding 50 or so new people to follow. The following weekend, unfollow all the folks who haven't followed you back, rinse, and repeat.
Following people is all very well, but if you never add any content, followers evaporate fast, so start Tweeting. Top right on your profile, right by the search option, you'll find the 'Tweet' button.
Tweets can contain text (obviously), photos, .gifs, and polls. The character limit is currently 280. Let's start simply and give you a tweet to 'pin' on your profile.
Put together something you'd like people to see as soon as they land on your profile (don't repeat your bio), something like an intro to your work. 'Hey, nice to meet you, I'm exploring what happened in #Oz after the Tin Man found his #heart—come and meet the cast!' plus a website link, for example.
Once you click 'Tweet' it'll show up on your profile. Usually, things you write, or retweet, show up in reverse chronological order, so your older Tweets vanish pretty quickly. To keep a Tweet at the top of your profile, click the little downwards-pointing arrow at the top right corner of the Tweet. You'll see 'share', 'copy', 'embed', and 'pin' options. Click 'pin to your profile'. It's considered polite to retweet pinned posts if you're visiting someone's profile - it gives their tweet a boost, and lets them know you're alive, while putting content in your feed. Win-win.
Change out your pinned post fairly regularly - at least once a month. Your followers should get a notification when it changes, which gets it a bit more traction than your run-of-the-mill 'Whoops, there goes my #coffee' posts.
Pro tip - Twitter lists
So you've found Jensen Ackles's profile, and followed him, and you're watching Twitter with baited breath for the moment he follows you back. Sorry, ain't never going to happen. Doesn't mean you can't follow him, but you don't actually have to follow him or have him follow you to see what he's posting on Twitter.
Enter lists, my favourite thing on Twitter after the .gif wars.
You'll notice, in your Twitter profile or the 'Home' view, you've got the search box, a little round photo of you, and the 'Tweet' button in a row up the top right? Click once on that round photo, and you'll get a drop-down menu. Second on that menu is the 'Lists' option.
Lists are collections of people whose content you want to see. You don't have to follow people you add to a list, and they don't have to be following you.
Lists are important, because once you pass about 200 people you're following, your Twitter 'Home' feed updates so frequently you'll never catch up on everything that happened while you were at work.
However, if you add people whose posts (Tweets) you really want to keep up with on to a list, you can browse whatever they had to say once you're at home with your feet up.
I keep a list of people who post useful marketing tips, a list of my close friends, a list of people I publicise with—you get the idea.
Be a real person
Even if your Twitter account is primarily for your writing, don't just blast your books there. Be a person. Tweet about the asshat who barged in line and kept you from your vital coffee and how you went mutant zombie killer on her ass before you woke up with your cheek stuck to the Starbucks table. Tweet about your pets, or your travel plans, or what you're reading, or how much editing sucks.
Retweet other people's posts. It gets you good cess, and inclines them to help you out by doing the same (that pinned post is really helpful for busy people - it give them something of yours to retweet without having to skim down twenty retweets in your feed).
Join a few chats, if you can. If you see an interesting news article, use the Twitter share option—or if there isn't one, you can usually copy and paste the link into a Tweet.
The golden rule is something like 5% blasting your stuff and 95% everything else. You can play with that a little - if you blog, for example, I recommend retweeting older posts that are still relevant once in a while—it gives your feed content and boosts engagement with your website—but make sure it's not a constant stream of 'My books are awesome! Buy my books!'.
Oh, and do check your Tweets before you post. There's nothing like typos in a post designed to showcase what a great writer you are to make people wonder, and there's no 'edit' function in Twitter—you wear it or you delete it, and even deleting can’t make it unseen by anyone who’s already viewed it. It’s worth taking a few seconds to proofread.
Now get out there and have fun!
J.C. Steel is the author of the Cortii novels, a compelling and action-packed series of science fiction thrillers, and Death is for the Living, a pirate-vampire adventure set in the Caribbean. Author lairs at http://jcsteelauthor.com/, and footprints are frequently found on Twitter (@steel_jo).