Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Using Twitter, A Short Guide for Authors New to the Twitter-verse

by Bill Johnson

Twitter is a website (www.twitter.com) that allows people to join and post messages of 140 characters. When you join (it’s free), you can both ‘follow’ others and have ‘followers’ who receive messages you send (this message passed 140 characters with the word followers).

Twitter began as a way for people in a business to send messages (“meeting time changed to 1:30”), but it quickly became a way for people to send ‘tweets’ to friends, acquaintances, or anyone who signed up to follow a particular person.

Which made it of interest to writers looking for a way to promote books, events, blogs on writing, or just to stay in touch with other authors.

Willamette Writers, as an example, follows 2,015 people and has 2115 followers. I use the WW twitter account to send out announcements about WW meetings, activities, and events. But WW started at zero followers.

How do you gain followers?

If you’re a member of Willamette Writers interested in promoting yourself, click on the list of WW followers and find fellow authors to follow. A percentage of people you follow will, in return, follow you back.

(I suggest people limit this to 30 new followers a day. Past a certain point, you’ll get an automated pop up from Twitter saying you’re overdoing it. If you violate too many of Twitter’s guidelines (posted on their website), they will suspend or cancel your account.)

The Willamette Writers bulletin board has a new feature; you can post your name and twitter handle (the WW handle is @wilwrite; my handle is @bjscript) to ask people to follow you. It’s at http://willamettewriters.yuku.com/forums/12/Twitter-Follow.

You do need to pick a twitter handle that isn't being used by someone else.

If you want followers who have a specific interest, say science fiction conventions, you can look up Orycon in the Twitter search function and follow Orycon’s followers.

Personally, when I get new followers who are writers, I try to find a message of theirs I can ‘retweet’. This means I’m passing along someone else’s tweet, so it’s going out in their name, to my followers. Now that I do this, I pick up 10-15 new followers a day.

You can also, if it’s appropriate, copy and paste someone else’s message into a tweet that you send out, so the information goes out in your name. For example, you might pass along the name of the winner of the Oregon Book Award for fiction.

Once you join Twitter, you’ll find that all some authors do is send out messages (sometimes hourly) promoting their books. I do promote my book (A Story is a Promise & The Spirit of Storytelling), but I also make an effort to pass along information of interest to others writers. Folks I feature for retweets include Jane Friedman (helpful tweets on the world of publishing and self-publishing), Porter Anderson (Porter attends writing conferences and posts about events and workshops), and Grammar Girl (posts about writing).

I also have a general rule: if someone retweets one of my tweets, I retweet one of theirs.

Being retweeted greatly increases the reach of Twitter. I have 3,485 followers. If I send out a tweet that is retweeted by someone with their own list of 3,000 followers, my tweet has now reached 6,000 people.

But… and it’s a big butt… the more followers someone has, the faster those short tweets accumulate and pass out of sight. So, if I follow one person who follows me, and we send each other one tweet a day, we’ll each see our tweets all day. But when I send out a tweet to 3,000 people, who also have their own lists into the thousands, those messages only appear briefly. I have found that when I send out a promotional tweet with a link it gets 30-60 hits.

You can see the value, then, of tweeting something that is retweeted. That’s why I post tweets about articles on writing I have posted at my website at http://www.storyispromise.com.

You can also post live links in a tweet, or include a photo (which counts against your 140 characters). Here’s an example of a recent WW tweet,

Registration information about the 2015 Willamette Writers conference Aug 7-9 PDX now available,

(Feel free to tweet this announcement).

If you’re counting characters, you’ll notice this is longer than 140. Twitter will automatically shorten a link (as long as it includes the http://www).

Of course, for most of us, jobs, responsibilities, family, movies, and sleep take up much of our days. The great solution to that is a program called Twuffer (http://www.twuffer.com).  Twuffer is a free program that allows you to schedule tweets in advance. I can schedule a tweet to run, say, at 3 am and another at 6 am, when I’m normally asleep (or abnormally awake; or Abby Normal, to YF fans).

Here’s a recent tweet I posted to run late at night,

Registration information for the Willamette Writers Aug 7-9 PDX conference available: Willamette Writers Conference

Here I’ve used Bitly (www.bitly.com) to shorten a link, because anything posted on Twuffer has to be 140 characters or less or it won’t upload to Twitter.

You can also add a Hashtag to a tweet; that's a complicated name for using the pound sign, #. For example, if you are doing a book promotion on Amazon, you could add the hashtag #Kindle or #FREE or #Mystery. Anyone who types in the word Mystery in a search will more easily find your tweet. In 2014, WW used the hashtag #WWCon14 to help people attending the conference 'find' each other on twitter.

Twitter allows you to post a profile, which can include a link to a website and a photo or logo. If you're an author, it's important that you have a quality head shot or a good image of a book cover. What you post in your profile will help others find you. I have come across profiles so vague, I couldn't tell if it was for an author. Sometimes you can be too clever.

Once you start putting yourself out there in the twitter-verse, be aware you’ll get followers offering to get you thousands of new followers for $100 or less. Avoid this. You get computer generate ghosts (for more about this, Google the topic). You’ll also find yourself being ‘followed’ by people with services they want you to buy (you don’t have to follow them back) or people offering sexual services (you can block unwanted followers).

You can send a DM or direct message to people on twitter if you want to comment on someone’s tweet or introduce yourself, but DO NOT send DMs to strangers promoting your novel. Your account will soon be suspended or cancelled for sending out spam.

If you follow someone and discover it’s not the right fit for you, you can easily unfollow folks, but avoid following and unfollowing large numbers of people in the same day. It violates Twitter’s guidelines. You can use a program called ManageFlitter (www.managerfllitter.com) to find and unfollow people who rarely tweet or who don’t follow you back.

Personally, I unfollow anyone who tells me what they had for breakfast. If I wasn’t there, I don’t care.

You will come across people who have 50,000 plus followers. I would probably marry someone sight unseen to have access to that list, but that’s a topic for another day.

Twitter is not the be-all, end all for book promotion, but it is a tool that has its place, especially with a program like Twuffer to help with scheduling. And, there are many other tools (use Lists on Twitter to organize followers) and apps like Hootsuite (www.hootsuite.com) that allow you to easily track what's happening with your tweets and followers.

Twitter can seem daunting from a distance, and time consuming, but using a few simple tools can make it a more productive experience.

Good luck, and happy tweeting.


To read some of my longer reviews of popular movies, check out my writing workbook, A Story is a Promise & The Spirit of Storytelling, available on Amazon's Kindle and Smashwords.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Lyrical Writing, Notes on E Annie Proulx's The Shipping News

by Bill Johnson

Annie Proulx's The Shipping News is a great example of lyrical writing.   While her writing might seem to violate conventional writing, her style always aims at getting to a deeper truth.

Many years ago I attended a reading of published romance authors and unpublished authors. The published authors use lyrical writing judiciously.  The unpublished authors seemed to have bought adjectives on sale in 50 gallon barrels. Every pair of lips were some degree of throbbing, turgid, and swollen. It communicated nothing, unlike the published authors and Proulx.

In The Shipping News, the lyrical writing in the opening has the purpose of conveying the deeper truth of Quoyle. It is entirely organic, yet also part of a clearly defined structure.

Hitching that lyrical writing to a purposeful structure is part of what makes Proulx’s writing so dynamic and potent and insightful.

First line.

     HERE is an account of a few years in the life of Quoyle, born in Brooklyn
     and raised in a shuffle of dreary upstate towns.

This sentence offers commentary about Quoyle and the quality of his life
growing up. The language conveys much more than several pages of small towns. The
sentences gets to the heart of a truth about Quoyle.

Next paragraph.

     Hive-spangled, gut roaring with gas and cramp, he survived childhood; at
     the state university, hand clapped over his chin, he camouflaged torment with
     smiles and silence.

Another sentence and two more truths about Quoyle and his childhood and
college years.

Struggling writers usually invert this process, trying to get bland,
pedestrian details to convey something important.

     Stumbled through his twenties and into his thirties learning to separate
     his feelings from his life, counting on nothing.

This describes a character who's life is contracting, becoming less
important to him by the year.

     He ate prodigiously, liked a ham knuckle, buttered spuds.

Fat and lard, two of the most popular medications in America. As his life
contracts, Quoyle expands.

Next paragraph.

     His jobs: distributor of vending machine candy, all-night clerk in a
     convenience store, a third-rate newspaperman.

A life of no ambition and no feeling, until he becomes a third-rate
newspaperman. That sounds dramatically interesting.

Next sentence.

     At thirty-six, bereft, brimming with grief and thwarted love, Quoyle
     steered away to Newfoundland, the rock that had generated his ancestors, a place he
     had never been nor thought to go.

Grief and thwarted love apparently send Quoyle off to the place of his
ancestors to stew in his more recent failures. I'm assuming Proulx will get to what
set off this grief and thwarted love. We've quickly moved through an over of
Quoyle's life to its beginning in this novel.

Next sentence.

     A watery place. And Quoyle feared water, could not swim. Again and again
     his father had broken his clenched grip and thrown him into pools, brooks,
     lakes, and surf. Quoyle knew the flavor of brack and waterweed.

Sending Quoyle to Newfoundland and water  creates a vehicle to offer a
reason why he fears water. This is organic writing.


     From the youngest son's failure to dog-paddle the father saw other failures
     multiply like an explosion of virulent cells--failure to speak clearly;
     failure to sit up straight; failure to get up in the morning; failing in attitude;
     failure in ambition and ability; indeed, in everything. His own failure.

This language conveys why Quoyle separated his mind from his feelings and
why he withdrew into himself. The world via his father started pounding him inward
at a young age.


     Quoyle shambled, a head taller than any child around him, was soft. He knew

"Ah, you lout," said the father. But no pygmy himself. And brother Dick,
the father's favorite, pretended to throw up when Quoyle came into a room,
hissed "Lardass, Snotface, Ugly Pig, Warthog, Stupid, Stinkbomb, Fart-tub,
Greasebag," pummeled and kicked until Quoyle curled, hands over his head,  
sniveling, on the linoleum. All stemmed from Quoyle's chief failure, a failure of 
normal appearance.

In a short time, Proulx communicates the truth of Quoyle’s life.

            A great damp loaf of a body. At six he weighed eighty pounds. At
            Sixteen he was buried under a casement of flesh. Head shaped
            Like a Crenshaw, no neck, reddish hair ruched back. Features as
            Kissed fingertips. Eyes the color of plastic. The monstrous chin, a
            Freakish shelf jutting from the lower face.

Then, after Quoyle drops out of college…

            Nothing was clear to lonesome Quoyle. His thoughts churned
            Like the armophous thing that ancient sailoers, drifting into arctic
            half-light, call the Sea Lung; a heaving sludge of ice under fog
            where air burred into water, where liquid was solid, where solids
            dissolved, where the sky froze and llight and dark muddled.

Here Proulx moves from an outer description of Quoyle, to language that conveys the truth of his inner life.

Qyoyle is a man who has been damned since birth, who, during the course of this novel, travels to the edge of the world to find a place he might belong. This will not be an easy journey, but it will be one deeply felt by the novel’s readers.

This kind of lyrical language works when it takes a story’s reader deep into the heart of a story and it’s characters, and Proulx does that here.


Bill Johnson is the author of A Story is a Promise & The Spirit of Storytelling, available on AmazonKindle for $2.99 and on Smashwords.  He teaches workshops on writing around the US. He is currently the office manager for Willamette Writers, a group in the Pacrific Northwest with 1,700 members.