Tuesday 30 April 2019

A Few Dos and Don'ts for #Writers new to Twitter

If you've just started writing your first book, or if you've recently published and have heard that Twitter is a good place to spread the word, you're probably wondering how best to go about it.  I've seen lots of new users asking for advice lately, so I thought I'd compile a quick, easily accessible list.  Please note: it is mostly applicable to writers who have work published, but it's all worth bearing in mind!

There is so much conflicting advice, on blog posts and in 'how to' books; I've read some articles by social media 'experts', and wondered if they actually use the site at all.  One I read recently advised the busy writer to 'do' Twitter quickly each morning by going down their feed and 'liking' all the posts...  😬

I make no Twitter 'expert' claims, but I have over 90K followers, have run very successful promotions for my books and gained lots of readers via the site, for both my books and my blog.  I have also made good friends in the writer/blogger community, some of whom I have met in real life, too.  If all or some of this is what you are aiming for, I hope you find the following helpful - it's not much to take in all at once, just basic dos and don'ts in bullet points.

  • Be friendly, and take an interest in others' work.  Be generous; share and retweet your followers' posts.
  • Be genuine, and helpful.
  • Tweet about stuff other than your book.  Places you've been, photos you've taken, TV shows and music you like, observations, a funny cartoon, a helpful or interesting article.
  • Ask questions.  Most writers and bloggers are happy to share their knowledge/experience.  But not those 'What do you prefer, breathing or yawning' ones, unless you want to alienate anyone who has more than one brain cell.
  • Follow, follow, follow ~ not just other writers, but book bloggers, avid readers, and those who share your interests outside the book and writing world.  If all your Twitter activity consists of cheerleading with other writers, you won't reach the reading public.
  • Make your profile picture a photo of YOU, preferably smiling, or at least looking approachable (or cool, if you're very good looking!).  Not your dog, or your child - save those for Facebook.  Not your book cover, either - this gives the impression that you're only on the site to sell your book.
  • Block anyone who is needlessly rude to you.  Don't engage, just block.
  • Retweet, don't just 'like' ~ clue's in the logo and name; Twitter is all about spreading the word.  If you have found a tweet interesting/funny/useful, chances are your followers might like to see it, too.
  • Understand that Twitter is not Facebook ~ it will not be possible to interact or keep up with everyone.  In a way, it's a numbers game; out of all those you follow and who follow you within a week, a few may become people you talk to regularly, while most won't.  But that doesn't mean they won't be interested in anything you tweet about, and vice versa.
  • Take it slowly; at first, have a look at what other writers do.  Find them on hashtags like #WritersCommunity, #WritingCommunity, #Writers, #amwriting #writerslife - but, as mentioned previously, don't get too caught up in discussions about what your MC might like for breakfast, or those threads that ask you to post a gif expressing what your protagonist's third cousin might think about you getting a book published.  There's a whole world out there.
  • Pin a post to the top of your page, by clicking the little arrow at the top right hand of the tweet.  Change it often, at least once a week.
  • Add pictures to your tweets; you can add up to four, or one gif.
  • Make sure, if promoting a published book, that your tweet contains links to where it can be looked at/bought.  Sounds obvious, but you'd be amazed how many Twitter newbies smother the book promo tweet with hashtags, but leave the link off.  No, people won't go to Amazon and look it up.  If there is no link to click, they'll move on to the next tweet. 
  • Enjoy it.  If you don't, if it becomes a chore, it's possible that Twitter is the wrong site for you. That's okay; I've never been keen on Facebook, and this year I finally decided to close my account.  Different strokes, and all that.
  • Retweet stuff that isn't about writing and books, too.  Beautiful scenery, interesting articles, funny one-liners, etc.
  • Try not to do too many retweets all at once.  It can put off followers who don't want to see a hundred tweets by people they haven't chosen to follow.  Yes, I know, I do too many, sometimes; it's an easy practice to fall into.  Incidentally, if you want to follow someone but don't want to see all their RTs, click onto their page, then onto the three little dots by the 'follow' button.  This gives the option to turn off their retweets.
  • Reply, if someone gives you a bit of advice you've been seeking.  Don't just 'like' the tweet; it only takes a couple of seconds to say thank you, and this will make all the difference to the person who tried to help; they may help you again, but are less likely to do so if all you could manage by way of thanks was a quick mouse click.
If you do all this, you will develop a following and, hopefully, find people who are interested in your work. 

Now, I'll balance this out with some advice about what not to do....

  • Expect to obtain lots of followers, book sales and reviews within a couple of months.  Building up your 'platform' on social media is a long game.
  • Introduce yourself to people by providing your book links, either by tweets or DMs.
  • Send auto DMs to new followers, with links to your book/blog/website/Youtube channel/Patreon/requests for votes in an online competition/offers of a free book if they sign up for a newsletter/anything else at all.  This is a huge Twitter no-no, and a large number of people unfollow those who do it.
  • DM/tweet to new followers/strangers/random people asking them to read/review your book.  Everyone moans about this.  Yes, you may get the odd taker, but these will be far outweighed by the amount of people you piss off.  Seriously.  Just don't do it.
  • Make your bio all about your book, and (even more don't!), never use the words 'check out book here', 'buy book here' or anything similar in it.  This is your bio, not a 'buy my book' desperation headline.  Also, don't write it in the 3rd person, as this gives the impression you have someone 'doing your social media' for you; at the very least, it looks a bit pretentious.
  • Take notice of those who send those auto DMs - especially not dodgy looking profiles that try to sell you book promotion, claiming thousands of readers in your genre, or whatever.  Often, they just want you to pay for advertising space on their site, or tweets that you can do yourself.  Scammers of all types have been cashing in on the Kindle gold rush since it began just over 10 years ago - please don't get sucked in! (See item 2 of the article on this link for others to watch out for)
  • Communicate mostly in the blurred gifs you get by clicking 'add a gif'.  Most are pretty lame, and Twitter is about words, first and foremost.
  • Make it all about getting reviews.  Some people do general tweets offering a free copy of a book in exchange for an honest review.  It's up to you if you want to do this or not.  But it's a bad idea to ask for them in a promotional tweet.  Even if the book is free; never, ever tweet anything like 'please download and review'.  Wait until someone has read your book and told you that they've enjoyed it, of their own accord; then you can judge whether or not it's okay to ask them to review it.
  • Call yourself a 'best selling author' if you're not.
  • Hard sell.  If someone expresses interest in your book, just thank them and answer any questions.  If they want to buy it, they will.  If you hard sell (i.e, by telling them how much they'll love it, quoting from reviews, offering them free copies of other books if they buy it), it may put them off.  Most of all, don't ask them to review before they've even bought it.  They might not like it, or might not read it for six months, and it's too pushy, anyway.
  • Engage in a gif game with one or two friends, while 48 other people are tagged in.  Nobody wants to log on to find themselves tagged in 30 blurry gifs of 1990s sitcom stars/yawning chimpanzees.  You want to play gifs - untag everyone else.  Yes, I know they can mute if they don't want to see (the mute option is in the little arrow, top right of a tweet), but it's nicer if you do the job for them.  If you're mentioned in an #FF (Follow Friday) tweet, untag everyone else before saying thank you.  All too often I log in to find myself with over 100 mentions, the majority of which are people I don't know talking to other people I don't know.  Lots of people moan about this - untag, untag, untag!  You do this by clicking on 'Replying to' and unticking the box 'Others in this tweet', and saving it at the bottom.
  • Ask strangers for retweets.  You know, you follow someone back and within a couple of hours you get a DM saying 'Hi, thanks for following!  I'd be so grateful if you could retweet my pinned tweet.'  If you want retweets, do retweets.  With luck, others will reciprocate.  Oh, and please don't ask for them in your bio.  This is super-naff!
  • Ask people to follow you back.  If they want to, they will.
  • Overdo hashtags on your tweets.  I'd say two or three max for a book promotion tweet.  More if it's an advice post or one of general interest, because you want it to reach the right people, but don't go overboard. 
  • Hashtag hijack - by which I mean checking out the trending hashtags, and adding them all to your tweets in the hope that this will improve your 'reach'.  Yes, more people will see you, but they will also wonder why this idiot is tweeting about his book on a hashtag that's for football fans, or whatever.
  • Let your stream become nothing but endless streams of book promo retweets, with one pinned tweet about your own book at the top, without ever interacting.
  • Forget the 'social' in social media!

For more advice for debut authors, here is a list I compiled of useful articles:
List of Useful Articles 

If you would like to read more about how to use social media, I particularly like this article by Emma Lombard, which gives practical, up-to-date advice on how to use Twitter. 


  1. A thousand thanks from a Twitter newbie! I truly appreciate these tips.

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting, Candice! Let me know if there's any other area I can help with :)

  2. Hi, Terry:

    This is a very spot-on blog and you've offered some great advice for people who are just coming onto Twitter or who have been there awhile and still not gotten the hang of it.

    It really bugs me that many think Twitter is simply a free billboard to post your promotions. It is not. I've gone to follow back an account and when I've seen that nearly EVERY tweet is about one book, I move on. Accounts like that never get a follow back.

    And often, if I get an auto DM (direct message) right after following someone, I will just unfollow. More than that, doing so will result in exactly the opposite of what the person hoped.

    I work hard to vary the content I tweet and look for articles of interest. It's not just that I want to provide interesting content, but I've developed many new relationships just from a discussion that emerged from a tweet. There's one author I met because she liked the pasta recipes I tweeted out. .

    Like you say, it is SOCIAL MEDIA and people should not forget the "social" part or the importance of building a platform and establishing connections. Like you, I have met MANY people over the years. Too many to count actually.

    We all have to find out what works best for us, but it's worth the investment for most of us.

    1. I agree with everything you say, Lisette - and it's why I've recently advised a couple of new writers promoting their debuts not to make their bios all about their books. Otherwise, it looks as though you're only on the site to get people to buy it.

      Some people ARE only on the site to get book sales, of course, but it doesn't work. Neither does 'doing' Twitter via retweeting app, or Hootsuite only. This is about as effective as buying 5* reviews!

    2. I wouldn't think of having an app doing my RTing! Horrors! I like to be in control of everything I RT and when. Not a good idea at all. And buying reviews ... just NO and NEVER.

      I also don't advise people writing bios in the 3rd person. Few do it, but it's very off-putting. It sounds like someone else is behind your tweets.

    3. A lot of people used to use that thing called Roundteam a few years back to thump out RTs 200 at a time.... I don't know if it exists anymore, so I assume it didn't work!!

  3. The best promos come from other people interacting and recommending your books. And that can happen in the most unexpected areas. I'm (as Terry knows) a big anti-Brexit campaigner, both on Twitter and in 'real life' (yes, there is such a place). When I started getting more political, various writer friends warned me that my sales would suffer as I wasn't going on writer platforms, or interacting on the appropriate #s. Unexpectedly, though, I have sold more books in the past 2 years than ever ~ and mainly to fellow campaigners. The riff has always been: I discovered you through Brexit, and I bought your books on the back of what you posted. Weird, but great. Oh, I also recommend joining any of the Tweetalongs that accompany your fave prog. I'm on #thearchers. Works in a similar way. xx

    1. Having recently done a BookBub promotion, I would say that the best sales aid of all is Amazon visibility, which BookBub gives you - I sold more books in the two months after this promo than I had in the previous two years. But aside from this, which is expensive and hard to get accepted for, I agree with you absolutely - it's only recently occurred to me that all my tweets and blog posts about The Walking Dead might have had a knock-on good effect, as my series is the same genre!!!! And it's generally the best selling of all my books. Yes, your experience does indeed validate what I said about not only tweeting about writing and your books. When you expand your Twitter life into other areas, you connect with the (reading) public, generally.

  4. Lots of excellent advice here, Terry, so thank you. I've only been on Twitter for about twelve months, so still very much a newbie.

    1. Glad you found it helpful, Penny - sorry for late reply, have been away for a few days. Anything else I can help with, do ask :)

  5. Hi Terry - I've been waiting to read this ... as you've enlightened me a great deal. I don't do Tw or FB ... but know when I start promoting I'll need to participate, so your advice makes so much sense. Great advice - thank you ... cheers Hilary

    1. Glad it helped, Hilary - it's a good idea, by the way, to start up your Twitter profile BEFORE your book is published. That way you can start 'networking' (I hate that word!) with other writers and bloggers early on. My advice is to just do Twitter - don't bother with Facebook, it's too difficult to navigate around all the different pages and groups if you've never used it before. I think it's best to do one site, and do it well - and more of the book bloggers are on Twitter, from what I can see. Just 20 minutes or half an hour is all you need to do at first. Anything else I can help with, do ask.

  6. As always, a great review of ideas and a few new tips. Thanks Terry!

    1. The one about turning off retweets is one I find that few know about!