I am always surprised when I hear so many of my fellow authors say that they don’t get much out of Twitter or that they only use it for talking to other writers. Talking with other writers is awesome, but it doesn’t sell books or build a fanbase.
I on the other hand, LOVE Twitter. Like many of the writers that I talk to, I love it for talking with other writers. But more than that, I love it for connecting with readers. While I don’t claim to be a social media expert, I do manage to make Twitter work for me. And there are things that my fellow writers can do and avoid doing to help it work for them.
First, let’s be clear on what Twitter is and what it isn’t. It’s not LinkedIn. Your bio is not your resume. It’s not you Author Central page. You don’t need to list all of your books there, but you DO need to write a catchy interesting bio with a link to your website, Facebook page or Author Central page. It is most definitely not your personal advertising channel. We’ll talk more about that in another post.
I find that it’s best to think of Twitter as a big cocktail party. People are milling around in groups usually based on their interests, political leanings, and sometimes based on whatever they’re trying to sell. They’re usually putting their best face forward, though occasionally some of them imbibe too much and/or put their feet in their mouths.
Then you, the writer, walk in. Your dress shoes are already pinching or rubbing your heels. You try to unobtrusively smooth down the slightly rumpled dress or sport coat that you fished out of the back of your closet when you heard that this was a party you just couldn't miss. You grab a drink from a passing waiter and look around for some friendly faces.
The first group you spot is made up of fellow writers; your critique group or some folks you met at a conference. You head on over and they greet you warmly. You spend some time chatting with them. Now if you’re an introvert like me, and so many other writers, your first inclination is to comfortably spend the rest of the party hanging with your writer pals. They’re nice folks after all.
The trouble with that is that you should be at this particular party to meet READERS. I think part of the reason so many writers tell me they don't get much out of Twitter, is that they're not being strategic about how they use it. That begins with who you follow and who follows you. It’s great talking to other writers but if that’s as far as you go, you’re not going to sell many books. You need to get out there and mingle.
But who in the millions of users on Twitter should you be talking to? This is where choosing who to follow becomes important. The best way to build a following on Twitter is to follow the people that you want to follow you. If you follow them, many people will follow you back automatically. Others might be more selective and check your bio or your tweets before deciding to follow. This is where that snappy bio will be important. If you can spark their interest, they’ll follow you.
Not all followers are created equal. The key to building the RIGHT Twitter following is to know your audience. You can search Twitter to find people based on key words in their bios. For example: if someone says in their bio that they are an avid reader, they’re probably worth following. You can also target people based on other factors.
Search on topics related to what you write like your genre or subject matter. I write books about a Gaelic speaking folklorist in North Carolina. So, I search for people interested in Folklore, Gaelic, Scotland, and North Carolina. I also write historical fiction, so I look for people who are interested in American history.
When you get your search results, change it to show the accounts related to these things by clicking on More options and choosing Accounts. Then follow those accounts that seem worth following. If you’re trying to connect with readers, you probably want to follow more people than media accounts, although some of those media accounts may have their uses too.
I doubt that writing is your only interest. So search out and follow folks who are interested in the same things that you are. Chances are, some of those people might be readers too. I’m a crafter, so I like to follow a lot of craft accounts. Fortunately for me, a lot of crafters are also readers.
Hashtags are another way of finding followers. They are a great way of connecting quickly to a particular conversation in twitter. By clicking on a hashtag, you can instantly see what people are saying about that subject. It can also show who is interested in that subject. You can search on hashtags just as you do on key words, or click on a hashtag when you see it to see WHO is talking about that particular thing.
You are probably familiar with writing related hashtags like #amwriting or #amediting, but you should also get familiar with hashtags about subjects that relate to your book or genre. In my case, #Gaelic, #folklore or #gothic. These can help you quickly find people who share your interests, and when you use these hashtags in your tweets, it will also help them find you.
Another way to find readers and one that has helped me immensely, is to find people who are fans of the same writers that you like. Make friends with them. Don’t just tweet at them about your book, engage with them about the books that you enjoy. If you have written the type of book that you would like to read, odd are they would like it too. There is a reason why so many of my readers are also Outlander fans. It's not just I write about Scottish things. It's because I'm part of that tribe.
Also look for fans of writers who are similar to you. It’s lovely to think that all of us are special snowflakes in the literary world, but truth of it is that while each of our voices may be different, there are some of us who are similar to others. Whether it’s what you write about or your sub-genre or your writing style, there is someone out there who's not that different from you.
If you were to pitch to a publisher or agent, they would likely ask you for a comparable. As distasteful as that might be to some of us, it’s something that we all have to do. So, if I were to say that my book is like Southern Fried Susanna Kearsley or Outlander meets The DaVinci Code, I’m drawing a comparison to something that people are already familiar with. You can use that connection to find people to follow on Twitter. Find fans of writers that are similar to you, the more successful the better, and engage with them. With any luck they will follow back and begin listening to your conversation.
Maintaining your platform
You can’t build a good following overnight. It takes time, so if you're writing a book now, you should get started building that platform. You will probably encounter a lot of Tweeters who claim that for just $5 they can deliver you THOUSANDS of followers instantly. It’s honestly not worth the money. It’s much better to have a following that you have tailored to your audience than to have thousands of random and often fake accounts following you. This article gives some more great reasons why buying followers is a bad idea.
Once you have built a following, you’ll want to do some maintenance. About once a month, I use a tool like Crowdfire or Friend or Follow to identify accounts that may be dormant or aren’t following me back and unfollow as many as they allow for free.
Services like Crowdfire or Friend or Follow will let you pay to unlock more tools for managing your accounts. While all of those things might be helpful, and if you’ve got the cash to spend then go ahead. I would rather spend that money on advertising or editing services. I don’t pay for followers and I don’t pay a service. I just spend an hour or two a month managing my feed.
Next time we’ll talk about some of the DON’Ts of using Twitter for writers.
For some additional blogs from other talented fiction writers, see the Fiction Writer's Blog Hop.