Sunday, April 14, 2013

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

by Bill Johnson

Twitter is a website ( 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

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

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 (  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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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.