I sometimes take it for granted that everyone who writes has one foot in the geek world. Of course all writers use Facebook and Twitter. Of course all writers know how to blog. Of course all writers have played MMORPGs and tabletop RPGs. Ofcourse all writers are big Joss Wedon fans, have Sandman memorized and can discuss manga intelligently, and have ereaders. So imagine my surprise when I find out they don’t. It’s like finding sci fi fans who haven’t read anything past Heinlein and Asimov. Where have you been?
But seriously, I understand the urge to let other people beta-test new technology first, to figure out what works and what doesn’t. “I don’t have time!” “I just don’t see the benefit!”
The benefit of all social networking comes more from the networking and less from the promotion. And whatever you think about social networking specifically, as a small business owner (which is what you are, as a writer), it’s essential to learn how to network. Networking is how you pick up clients, jobs, babysitters, editors, book blurbs, bookseller advocates, and, in short, everything that can give you a behind-the-scenes edge in selling your books.
So here’s a short Q/A on how I use Twitter, to greater or lesser success. Please feel free to jump in and add your own responses in comments; I’m hardly the expert, just an enthusiast.
–Do you like Twitter?
Yes. Of Facebook, Google+, and Twitter, which I use on a regular basis, I like Twitter best, because it’s easier to babble. Google+ seems to trigger the most interesting conversations, though.
–Do you know how to get followers? If so, how?
Yes. Follow people who aren’t famous and are in the field(s) you’re interested in (use a search on some terms in those fields to find them). Some of them will follow you back; others will add you to lists. If you see good lists, follow everyone on the lists. You can follow 2000 people until you get about 2000 followers, and then you can follow more.
–Do you follow back?
Yes, unless it’s obvious spam. Even people selling furniture for a living like to read books. And you never know when you’re making a valuable contact or a good friend.
–Do you use lists? If so, why?
I have several lists, one of which is private. I use the lists to promote certain people that I follow–writers, for example–amongst each other. I use my private list for when I want to read other people’s stuff on Twitter, and I only have time to read the people I have met or talk to regularly.
–Do you feel Twitter helps you sell books?
Yes, but indirectly. I think I have to see an interesting book 4-5 times before I’m convinced to buy it or check it out from the library; I’m sure at least some other people are like that, too. On the other hand, I’ve bought books that I’ve seen constantly promoted, then stopped reading the author on a regular basis–it’s like, “I’ve read the book, so shut up about it already!”
–Do you feel Twitter helps you network?
Absolutely. However, I seem to have more luck picking up freelance work from Google+. Twitter is more of a writer support group/networking source for me.
–Twitter can be overwhelming. What ways have you found to make it less so?
I use my private list to filter out the great flood and cut it down to a stream for when I just don’t have time; also, if someone says something that annoys me, I try to make it a rule not to respond: it probably wasn’t meant for me, after all; it was just something they had to get off their chests at that moment.
–What do you think about hashtags in general, and #WW (Writer Wednesday), #FF (Follow Friday), #amwriting, etc.?
I generally don’t use them; I tend to avoid the people who make lists and lists of hashtags. For example–some people who are otherwise charming suddenly put up 50+ Tweets of people they follow that they want you to follow, too, on Fridays: that’s Follow Friday (#FF) for you. Annoying. They generally don’t make it onto my lists, either public or private.
–Who are your favorite tweeters, and why?
@DavidBrin1 (David Brin) – all kinds of geeky yet comprehensible and non-dry science stuff.
@pourmecoffee – Sarcastic comments about politics.
@ilovecharts (Jason Oberholtzer) – He loves funny charts. What can I say?
@bittman (Mark Bittman) – foodie news.
@PassiveVoiceBlg (Passive Voice Blog) – IP lawyer with an indie-writer wife. They fight crime!
@MrsTad (Deborah Beale) – Tad William’s wife (I’m a TW fan). He on there, too, but his wife is much more charming…
All of them are pithy, link to interesting blog things of their own and other people, and don’t monopolize the conversations going on around them. I think in order to hold followers, you want to tweet with similar guidelines–even if you’re tweeting about breakfast, be amusing about it; spend time being enthusiastic about other things and people (networking is not all about you, after all); and join in ongoing conversations.
–How much self-promotion is too much (this is the one I’m worried about right now)?
I think if you tweet more than 4-5 tweets in a row, you’re going to risk people skimming past your tweets. I know I do, unless it’s something incredibly gripping, and “buy my book” isn’t interesting enough to read. One of the very interesting parts of social media is that you can’t force people to smile and nod while you drone on boringly: they just ignore you. So you have to learn how to get people to pay attention without being able to guilt them into pretending they do. I think we all really do that more than we’re aware.
–Do you have more than one Twitter account? If so, why?
Yes; I have an account for my kids’ pen name and an account for my small press, and my main account. I wanted to be able to promote the pen name and small press separately, but they just don’t seem to have taken off, probably because I don’t spend as much time on them.
–Do you retweet? If so, do you hit the Retweet link or do you manually retweet (by typing RT before copy/pasting a tweet)?
I do both, but if you hit the retween link at the bottom of the post, it won’t show up on the lists that people make–for example, my private list. So I use the link as a “like” button and do the manual RT if I want people who may be reading off a private list to actually read the link.
–What do you think about searches–specifically, what do you think about doing a search relevant to your book, then sending a tweet to everyone who comes up on the search? Is it spamming?
I am incredibly uncomfortable with the idea of doing it and I feel like it’s spamming. But I know some authors have had success with it.
–What is something that other people do that makes you drop them from your followers?
I very rarely drop anyone as a follower unless they send me spam or let their account get hacked and don’t fix it. (e.g., They send me direct messages saying, “Have you see what this person is saying about you?” and the link goes to a sex site.) I move people off the private list if they’re a) boring, b) do a lot of #FF or #WW posts that take up too much of my time, or c) say negative things directly to me repeatedly. Life’s too short for haters.
–Do you know how to unfollow people who aren’t following you? Do you know how to follow people who are following you? If so, how do you do it?
I use Twitter Karma, a free service that lets you do both without having to search for them manually. I do it if every once in a while.
–Do you know how to get your tweets to go to your blog and vice versa? If so, how?
I use a WordPress Plugin from my blog, Twitter Tools, to handle that in both directions.
–Do you know how to get your Facebook posts to turn into tweets and vice versa? If so, how?
Yes, there are a number of programs. However, I ended up getting on a couple of feedback loops going from Facebook to Twitter and Twitter to Facebook (one was 80 posts long), so now I just stick with Facebook to Twitter.
–What’s the best way to attract people to go from Twitter to your blog? (I want more than one if you have it!)
I try out different (and often silly) blog titles throughout the day; the more people retweet it, the more successful I consider a particular title.
–What are the best times of day to tweet?
With Facebook/Google+, it seems like people read your stuff whenever they read it; no need to say it again and again. With Twitter, most people don’t read everything every day, so you kind of have to do more than one if you want to catch people at different times during the day. I tweet blog posts once in the morning when they go up, once around noonish for people in the UK (it goes up about 8 p.m. or so) and for people who aren’t up early in the morning, and then once the next day when I think of it. (I try to post 3x a week.)
–Should you tweet something multiple times?
Yes. People won’t always see it if you don’t, and I think people tend not to buy a book unless they’re reminded/exposed to it a couple of times, anyway. However, I am creeped out by it. I am, for some reason, perfectly okay with telling people what I ate for lunch and other TMI items, but uncomfortable telling people about my books. Still working on it.