What can Twitter do for you, the independent writer? Let’s look at demystifying Twitter in all its glory.
Demystifying Twitter: What’s the Big Deal About 140 280 Characters?
Twitter is essentially a microblogging service. You broadcast your thoughts to the ether. Some of those thoughts, to be sure, are more interesting than others.
Many of us know someone who tweets about everything in their lives. It’s dull, it’s dumb, and you want to throttle them half the time. Their cheesecake is not fascinating. Their slow bus to downtown is not riveting. You don’t much care why they didn’t buy a particular pair of sneakers.
We may also know someone who’s a lot more fascinating. I’m not talking about celebrities, who have other sources for their cachet. Instead, I am talking about people who just seem to be more interesting, or at least their tweets are. Or at least they are funny or relevant.
Guess which one you want to be like?
On much of social media, when you are an independent author, you lead two lives. There is your personal life where you have friends and family, but there is also your professional or semi-professional life. Even if you never sell (or never want to) a syllable of your work, if you want to improve, you’re at least in the realm of semi-professional.
Demystifying Twitter: Two Twitter Accounts?
That might not be such a bad idea. One for yourself, for your political opinions, your questions about the universe, your tweets to customer service when something goes wrong ….
The other? For writing. This can be for talking about what you’re doing, and even teasing it a bit. For reporting your NaNoWriMo progress, if you like, to your cheering section. Also, for #PitMad and #MSWL. For the hashtags #amwriting and #amediting, too.
Demystifying Twitter: A Little More About Hashtags
Engagement is the name of the game on Twitter. You want to, you know, actually tweet with people. Soooo…. what do you do? Well, if you start following hashtags you like, then you will start to see the content that you like.
And that means your stream will be more fun, more inspiring, and more of what you want. Pretty cool, huh?
There is more, of course. I’ll get to it soon. So stay tuned!
Now that you’re on, it’s time to start optimizing Twitter.
What are lists on Twitter?
You may have noticed people who have a rather different follower to following ratio than you do. What do I mean by that?
Let’s say you follow 100 people. And 1000 people follow you. The ratio of follower to following is 100:1000, or 1:10. This is fantastic. Celebrities often have ratios that look like this, or even better, where they might be following 100 accounts but there are 100,000 people following them.
Newbies often end up at the other end of the spectrum, with 1000 people they are following and 100 are following them, for 10:1. If you want to just read for the most part, this is perfectly fine, except it doesn’t mark you as a thought leader.
Now, most people don’t sit down and calculate ratios. But they do glance at profiles. Sir Patrick Stewart, for example, might be following some 200 people but he’s followed by 2,000,000. Hence people will really notice if he starts following them.
Does he (or any other celebrity, major or minor) have a sparse news feed? Probably not. Because he might be using lists.
Go to the profile of someone you want to follow but, instead of hitting follow, pull down on the gear wheel and select Add to or Remove from Lists. Your lists will show up, and you can add someone to several at a time, or make a new list. You can even decide whether you want your list to be public.
Go to your own profile (e. g. click on your profile rather than your settings) and you’ll see whose lists you are on.
Why use a list rather than follow? You’ll still see that person’s tweets in your feed, but your ratio won’t change. Furthermore, a public list tells everyone what you’re interested in. How about lists for indie authors, agents, or publishers?
You can also follow others’ lists. Maybe someone will find yours to be definitive and will follow it.
Who to follow
Who should you follow on Twitter?
Sometimes you want to publicly follow someone, rather than add them to a list. So long as you keep these people special, then this is perfectly great. I tend to keep friends as open follows and anyone more business-related on lists. But you may prefer otherwise.
Follow fellow indie writers (this is a community, after all), or publishers, or agents. Consider who can help you, and who you can help, and follow accordingly.
How to hashtag
What’s a hashtag, and how do you make one that isn’t lame?
A hashtag is a means of searching on Twitter. Hashtag something as, say, #amwriting, and click on that, and you’re led to a slice of Twitter of everyone who used that hashtag. Hashtags don’t look good if you use a ton of them. Don’t just indiscriminately hashtag! Also, keep them short. #ILovePuppiesAndDolphinsAndUnicorns is probably not going to be something used by anyone else, or at least not that frequently. But #ILovePuppies is pretty popular.
Experiment by searching before you hashtag. Beware, your innocent-looking hashtag might already be coopted for an unexpected usage. Just do a search on #NeverForget or #IStayedBecause and you’ll know what I mean.
Agents and publishers have seen it all, or at least they think they have. They are on the lookout for something new but not so new, if that makes any sense.
Huh? you ask. Originality is important, yes, but the main objective for both agents and publishers is to acquire works which will sell. Does your work have a coherent buyer persona, or ideal reader? Does it fit neatly into one or two genres? And what about works which are harder to define? What do you do?
If Manuscript Wishes were horses …
For #MSWL, at any time during the year, agents and publishers tweet about what they are looking for. Pay attention to their verbiage! Usually it’s something like Looking for cowboy version of The Hunger Games. If your manuscript fits the bill, answer them. If not, don’t waste their and your time.
A tip: if you’re answering an #MSWL, add something about your genre, e. g. #SF for science fiction, or #Romance, etc.
Above all, be sure to have fun with it. Who knows? It just might work out for you. However, there is a chance that it might not. In the meantime, you’ll keep getting better at presenting your work and, by extension, yourself.
We have all heard of what an elevator pitch is. It seems like it is the kind of stuff for overly eager new sales associates looking to make an impression on the big boss between floors.
But there is more to it than that.
Someone has just turned to you and said, “You’re a writer. What’s your book about?”
Don’t just stand there! You’ve got to be ready.
Your Verbal Elevator Pitch
Try something like this on for size.
Imagine if animals started talking, and they told you what to do in a topsy-turvy world.
My book is about Alice; she’s a young girl, a little bored on a sunny afternoon, when she spots a white rabbit. The odd thing about this rabbit is, he’s wearing clothes and talking. She follows him down a rabbit hole, but then she can’t get out.
That’s less than seventy words, and the person asking has the basic plot, the name of the heroine, and a reason to want to know more.
Your Pitch in Writing
Yes, you need one of these, too. But but a written elevator pitch a little different.
Even if readers know you for writing sweeping, epic sagas, you should still write some short stories. They can be in your universe, or not, although it might help with both marketing and your own personal creativity if they can fit somewhere within your universe.
They do not even necessarily have to be sent out for publication, but they could be good for anthologies. Don’t knock that; this is exactly how a lot of people get their starts. In fact, if you are having trouble breaking in, or want to impress a publisher, try submitting to anthologies. You can get a published credit and impress the publisher of the anthology. There’s a win-win right there.
Point them there, if someone wants to read a sampling of your work. Don’t make them commit to a 100,000 word novel.
Finally, have fun with it. Is your main character funny? What about quoting one of her best zingers, assuming you don’t need to explain the joke? Now there’s an idea for a pitch.
Keep in mind that Facebook is constantly A/B testing (e. g. checking to see if new layouts or color schemes, etc. will make you click more), so these instructions might be a little out of date after a while. This is what currently works. Caveat emptor.
Images are always helpful; use a measure of branding for your work, and always use images you have permission to post! If someone else created or photographed an image you are using, even if you now own the rights, it is a courtesy to link to them and give them a shout out. A lot of my father’s and husband’s photography is on my personal author page, and people like to see newer work from them. It’s just another way to acknowledge that this is a community and this solitary pursuit is far from being completely solitary.
Working On And Handling Updates
It’s all about the updates. You can schedule a few months in advance, so make a point of doing this. You can cover a lot more if you spread out your work and set it to emerge at various times; just look at your insights to get an idea of when people are online, and match to those times as well as you are able to.
Setting Up a ‘Buy Now’ Button
You will definitely want one of these. Right in front of your background image, there are three buttons. The one on the left (which is actually in the middle of your background) is a variable. Pull down on it and choose what you want to showcase. Select Edit Call to Action and enter a link directly to buy your work. Be sure it is a link directly to your work on Amazon or Smashwords or wherever. That is, clear away the extraneous junk on the URL. So for Amazon works, this is everything after the ISBN.
If you have nothing to currently sell, you can always upload a YouTube video and change the call to action to a call to watch a video on your site. There are other choices such as Call Now. So, use whatever works best for your needs.
So, swag is necessary when you go on the road. Work a convention at a dealer’s table, or get your book into a library, and you may need a little extra something to give away. Hence here are a few choices.
Bookmarks, a Very Common Form of Swag
Maybe the best and closest kind of giveaway item is the humble bookmark. In one sense, it’s perfect because it relates directly to books and reading. And you can spend as much or as little as you like. Plus maybe you only want something straightforward, perhaps a section of your cover, often printed on one side on heavy cardboard stock. And that’s great!
Because you’ve got some real estate, consider some additions, such as your website or even a QR code for a discount off one of your books. However, I suggest leaving one side blank for notes. While that’s not strictly necessarily, it may end up cheaper for you, not to mention it having an actual purpose.
Bookmarks are particularly useful because not only can you put them in your own books, you can put them in library or bookstore books. Yes, they might be removed and discarded. However, you need to consider that these are loss leaders; you need to be ready to lose some cash on these.
These seem hit or miss. If you go to conventions and run a table or booth, you will need cards. And again, try to keep the back blank. Pro tip: use matte. Shiny card stock costs more and it makes it harder to write on the card. Because you want people writing on your cards. Oh, and don’t be stingy with them. Give them away. Meet someone? Give them a card. Someone stops by your table? Give them a card. Like bookmarks, these will be discarded by a lot of people. Accept that as a cost of doing business.
These can work really well if you have a fantastic and memorable cover design, or a great catch phrase. Imagine a tee shirt which has your cover on the front and your catch phrase on the back. You can make people into walking billboards this way. Be ready to give a lot of these away, and maybe even use them as contest prizes. Most people will not purchase these unless you become really famous. Again, this is a cost of doing business.
Toys and Action Figures
Funko Pops lets you design your own male and female characters. But volume is an issue here. And so is the startup cost. The blank figures in that link are almost $10 apiece. Hence a large run of these may not be in the cards – so take advantage of their rareness and play on the scarcity aspect when giving these away or selling them.
For other types of action figures, look at prices and consider what you want to settle with. If the figure doesn’t end up looking a lot like you, how will that make you feel? If the answer is ‘terrible, of course’, then you might want to do something else with your swag budget.
Swag: Some Takeaways
Giving away swag may seem counterintuitive. After all, you want to make money, rather than spend it. But if you are new on the scene, it can be a great way to get noticed and show how you’re different from all the rest.
When we last left, I was talking about some things not to do. Here are a few more.
You Don’t Have to be Everywhere Online
Don’t become a one-armed paper hanger online. Just like with athletic training, rest (e. g. taking breaks) is a weapon. Furthermore, too many posts will burn you out and they will probably end up hurting each other.
Now, this does not mean you take three years between blog posts. It does not mean you never tweet! Rather, the idea is to say what you want and need to without overdoing it. You do not need to get back to people in five minutes. Even big-time professionals take some time. And yes, I am including big-time professionals who have people to do all of this for them. If it bothers you, you can always set an expectation on your blog or Facebook page or the like. But do yourself a favor: don’t be too specific, so as to allow for the occasional weird hiccups in life. If your laptop is damaged during a vacation, you’ll thank me for this.
Don’t Chase the Shiny Stuff
Here is a corollary to the previous tip. By shiny, I mean new platforms. Hot platforms are fun and they can be exciting. Furthermore, it can be helpful to get in on the ground floor, as it were. Or that can be a waste of your time. Most of us remember when MySpace was big, and Facebook was an upstart. But here we are now, years later, and we can be killin’ it on Facebook without having been there at the very start. So relax. And do some research. Maybe the shiny thing would fit your work and your readership perfectly.
Timing is Everything
We have all heard that expression, and it’s true on social media. But it’s also true in writing. When a big zombie television show stops making new content, for example, readers might be interested in almost continuing the story (I don’t mean fanfiction; rather, I mean similar works in the genre but they do not infringe on copyright). That could be an opportunity to ride the wave. Or maybe people are sick of those stories, and that’s why the show was cancelled. Without further information, either theory is plausible.
Use Your Spots But Don’t Be Annoying
What? While you should not be a 24/7 advertising channel (nobody likes that, not even born advertisers), you can and should take advantage of certain spots and placements. For example, when you add a picture to a blog post, what do you put in the alt= attribute? Nothing?Sacre bleu!
Excuse me for a moment while I swoon in horror. At the absolute minimum, put your blog post title in there. Even better, add your name or your blog’s name.
Or, are you published and your work is available on Amazon? If it is, then you need to take possession of your author page. Make it so that, if someone clicks on the author name (that would be your name), then they get somewhere. Somewhere with a bit about who you are, and what you are working on next. It is foolish to let this free real estate go.
When people click on the author’s name, they want information. So feed it to them.
But don’t force-feed them, by providing a Twitter stream that is a nonstop ad for your work. That brings me to my next point.
This is a Community. Act Like It.
Way back, when I was a kid (so, the late 1960s, early 1970s), suburbia was where you could borrow a neighbor’s hedge clippers. Or they would come over for coffee and bring a cake and you would temporarily take possession of the plate it was on. In both instances, you would return the articles as soon as possible, cleaned and ready for reuse. If you broke either, you told the owner, you apologized, and then you presented them with a brand-new one. Or if their kid had a recital and they invited you, you did your best to go. If your dog got loose, they helped find the beast. You get the idea.
People still help each other, of course. And I grew up far from Mayberry. So the concept here is: build each other up. Don’t break each other down. Got praise? Then tell everyone. Got criticism? Then tell the writer privately. Don’t lie on your public reviews, but don’t tear people new ones, either. Even bad writing can be considered unique or ambitious.
And that reminds me: if you get someone’s book, either free or cheap or used or at full price, review it!
Don’t Sacrifice Writing Time for Social Media
This one is important. Yes, you need to promote, and social media is a part of that. Promotions can also include holding book signings, or donating your book to your local library, or handing out bookmarks. But don’t lose your writing time because you’re out socializing (or in. You know what I mean).
I use my calendar program and I just make a weekday appointment with myself. Now, I don’t always keep that appointment. And the one hour I set aside sometimes means 2,000 words and sometimes it means 20. But the appointment is still there.
I urge you to make a recurring appointment so that writing is as important to you as visiting the dentist or changing the batteries in the smoke detector.
And Finally from Social Media Writing Part 3 …
Hard work is everything.
Overnight success stories take years.
You are worth it.
This has been Social Media Writing Part 3. Now back to you, in the comments section. Did I leave anything out of Social Media Writing Part 3 (of 3)? Do tell.
Let us return to our discussion. In the first part of this post, I talked about the current state of social media, more or less. Numbers are high. The avalanche won’t let up.
Now is the time to talk about you.
Your Definition of Success Will Define Your Book-Related Happiness. Choose It Wisely
What am I talking about?
What I mean is, if you go into writing thinking you’re going to become wealthy, stop right there, turn around, and go to actuarial school or something.
Er, I don’t know. Bear with me, okay?
Just, don’t consider writing as a super-lucrative career. That is rare, which is why most of the people who have become wealthy from writing are household names.
Furthermore, two of them, JK Rowling and Stephen King, both started in grinding poverty. They both played what I like to call Bill Roulette, where you have five monthly bills but only enough money to pay four. So you mentally spin a big wheel and choose who you’re going to stiff that month. Although they probably both dreamed of making it big, I imagine their initial goals were things like paying all the bills or getting the transmission fixed on the car.
Think you’re going to become iconic, like Harper Lee? You might, yes. It’s not wholly outside the realm of possibility. But don’t go into writing with that as your primary goal. For you will surely be disappointed. Furthermore, before your death, how do you even measure iconic status? If it’s by number of books sold, then you’re back to the fame and fortune dream, supra.
SMART Goal Success FTW
Instead, try defining success in bite-sized terms. And try defining it objectively. Usually that means books sold or reviews obtained.
Goal: sell 50 books. Get 20 reviews. Average 3 1/2 stars or better on the reviews.
There. That’s reasonable, attainable, and measurable. It’s a good old SMART goal.
You may or may not want to add a time component, but I personally would not. Why not? Because you’ll just make yourself crazy with a self-imposed timeline. What if, for example, your most devoted and reliable readers end up being middle schoolers? They might not have the time to read for pleasure during the school year. So if you limit your goal to the school year, you could end up feeling like a failure. And then summer would save you. So avoid the heartache and just excise the time element. You’ll be a far happier person.
Nobody Wants to See or Read a Nonstop Advertising Stream
Seriously. Stop doing that. That’s why people are on the Internet in the first place. If they wanted ads, they would be watching network television.
If the only thing you have to talk about is where to buy your book, I’ve got news for you.
So please don’t do that.
Instead, divvy up your time. And spend 30% or less of it on self-promotions. For your other time, take 40% for promoting others. And no more than 30% providing more personal information. Don’t talk about the weather or your lunch, but if you just broke through writer’s block, I bet your audience would love to know that.
Social Media Writing Part 2 Isn’t Done Yet!
Egad, I had no idea I would write this much! Time for part 3!
Teasing is a subtle art. It is a lot like a fan dancer’s moves or a shy person’s come-on.
Teasing should feel like a movie trailer because that is exactly what movie trailers do.
Teasers are usually a bit longer than blurbs and are meant to generate excitement. They often end with a question, but they don’t have to. Think of how films are teased if you’re stumped for ideas.
She was spoiled, rich, and beautiful, until the Civil War ended it all. Scarlett O’Hara has lost nearly everything. But there’s a rich man who’s interested, and he might
even love her. Can she win Rhett Butler
and save her beloved land, Tara?
Revealing too much
Don’t get too obvious! You do not do yourself any favors by spoiling your own book. Notice how the above teasing for Gone With The Wind does not go past maybe the middle of the film? And how it never mentions Ashley or Melanie Wilkes, the burning of Atlanta, or Scarlett’s first two husbands? I deliberately left the teaser off at just about when the first big reel ends. It used to be, in the theater, Gone With The Wind would have an intermission, the film was so long. This teaser ends just about a minute after intermission ends.
Revealing too little
This is another problem. If I just said Scarlett was a wealthy woman living a life of luxury on the brink of the Civil War, that would feel a bit incomplete. I can go a little further, plus adding Rhett Butler’s name to the teaser brings in the male main character. Marrying Rhett is one of Scarlett O’Hara’s main character drivers, whether it is to secure finances for her family or due to love on her part. Bringing Rhett into the conversation means the listener or reader gets an even better idea about who Scarlett is, and what motivates her.
Practical Teasing Practice
Can you write a teaser for a classic work? Try it in the Comments section, and let’s see how you do!
How do you go about starting a Twitter stream? Should you plunge right in, or hang back?
You need a name! Let’s say you’ve taken my advice (or decided this on your own), and gone with an account just for writing. If you want a personal account, you make a second one.
Fine, but you need a name. How about a word like writer or author somewhere in there? You can’t go beyond 15 characters. Fortunately, you’ve got both letters and numbers, so you could conceivably add wr1ter or auth0r if you liked. Go as short as you can while remaining coherent and unique.
Settings are important in Twitter as they are with every social network. Twitter moves them on occasion (every large site does beta testing, where they experiment with different layouts and looks to see what you’ll click on more often – this is normal); currently, they are under your profile image. Add a profile image and make it a head shot or at least a picture of the cover of your book, if you have one. Don’t keep the egg!
A background image is nice but not strictly necessary; Twitter has some pretty decent generic images if you are unsure of how you want things to look.
Who do you follow?
Spend a little time chasing hashtags. #amwriting, #amediting, #PitMad, and #MSWL are great for getting started. Know an author you like is on Twitter? Then follow him or her! Publishers and agents are also good choices, as are your friends from NaNoWriMo or Wattpad or the rest of the writing community, even the fan fiction writing community. Follow people who put words together into sentences and stories. Applaud their efforts and read what they have to say. It matters.