The other day, I looked at my Twitter notifications. Here we go again, I thought.
First, a little background: I’m very involved in Twitter’s Writing Community (or #WritingCommunity). Every day, I post microfiction: stories that are 280 characters or less, short enough to fit in one Tweet.
I’d Tweeted out my daily story, and someone commented on it, telling me I had a typo. It wasn’t actually a typo, but that’s beside the point.
I was annoyed, because generally when a member of the #WritingCommunity posts a super-short story, we aren’t looking for critiques. I looked at the profile of the person who’d posted and saw that they were new to Twitter. They didn’t know they were breaking an unwritten rule by critiquing my piece.
I decided to write a blog post for those who are new to the community, or for those who’ve been around for some time but still aren’t sure how it all works. I Tweeted this:
And wow—the writers on Twitter came through!
This post will be full of embedded Tweets from other members of the #WritingCommunity, fantastic tidbits of advice to help you get the most out of your Twitter experience.
I couldn’t include all the awesome advice, so click on the original Tweet above if you want to read even more!
Don’t need all these tips? Below are links to every section.
Menu of #WritingCommunity Tips
Time to Get Dressed
Your Twitter profile, cover photo, and pinned Tweets
When you get dressed in the morning, you base your clothing on your plans, and others can usually tell something about you by what you’re wearing.
On your way to do yoga? You’re not gonna wear a wetsuit. Headed to work at an office? Time for a business suit or, if you’re lucky, jeans and a non-stained shirt.
Your Twitter profile is how you “get dressed” so others on Twitter know what you’re doing there. Here’s some great advice from Stephen:
When I’m looking through my recent followers and deciding who to follow back, I usually just glance quickly at profiles. If a follower is a writer or if I have something else in common with them, I follow back. Be sure your profile tells people you’re a writer!
Then, as Stephen said, go a step beyond and include something in your cover photo that reflects who you are as an author. If you have at least one book cover, you can include it in your image. Brand-new fantasy author? Go to a free stock photo site and download a cool fantasy image. You get the idea.
What should you use as your profile picture? It’s up to you. I don’t mind people seeing my face, so I use the same profile photo for all my social media. Other people prefer to stay anonymous, so they use an image that represents their interests. I’d suggest not changing your profile picture very often; it can confuse your followers.
Cathleen has another great tip for setting up your account:
A pinned Tweet is a Tweet that stays at the top of your Twitter page. I agree with Cathleen that, in most cases, your pinned Tweet should reflect your writing. This is a totally acceptable time to promote yourself! Here are some ideas:
- If you’ve published books, link to them.
- Link to your blog.
- Link to an online journal where your writing is published.
- If none of those fit you, you can pin an introductory Tweet or one of your favorite microfiction Tweets. (Don’t worry, we’ll get to the topic of microfiction soon!)
To make a pinned Tweet, post a regular Tweet, click at the little arrow in the top right corner, and click Pin to your profile.
Now that your profile is set up, it’s time to say hello to the #WritingCommunity!
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“Hello, My Name Is…”
Introducing yourself to the #WritingCommunity
Now it’s time to introduce yourself and start connecting with other writers! Check out some great advice from Cate:
It’s annoying when someone constantly begs for Twitter followers! However, I think you can get away with it in certain, very occasional, instances, if you’re nice about it. One of those times is when you’re new to the #WritingCommunity.
As Cate said, you can post once, telling the #WritingCommunity that you need followers. (Be sure to use the #WritingCommunity hashtag!) As you’re drafting your Tweet, follow Bob’s tip:
Your intro Tweet might look something like this:
“Hi, I’m Beth, and I’m new to the #WritingCommunity! I write YA fantasy, and when I’m not writing, I’m hanging out with my family, making sourdough bread, and trying to stay cool in the Austin, TX area. I’d love to connect with other writers, so I hope you’ll follow and say hi!”
Now that you’ve introduced yourself, and you’re starting to get some followers, how do you continue to connect with people?
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It’s a Numbers Game…or Is It?
How important is your follower count?
Let me begin this section by saying this:
You’re not defined by your follower count.
If you’re competitive and goal-oriented like me, you may need to remind yourself of this truth. Frequently.
Some people would rather not have a lot of Twitter connections. They want to build meaningful relationships with a few people instead of trying to connect with thousands. That’s a totally valid way to use Twitter.
The thing is, Twitter’s algorithms favor popular Tweets. In other words, if your Tweet gets a good number of interactions (likes, RTs, and comments), Twitter will show it to more people. To get those initial interactions, you usually need a decent follower count.
In fact, it wasn’t until I had a few thousand followers that I could count on most of my writing-related discussion topics getting a good number of responses.
If you don’t have a lot of followers, you’ll need to work harder to engage with the people you’re connected with, since Twitter’s algorithms generally won’t favor your Tweets being seen. That’s the case whether you’re actively building your follower count or purposefully keeping your numbers low.
If you want more engagement, you probably need more followers. If you’re using social media as a marketing tool (more on that later), you also need more followers.
That being said, we gotta keep it in perspective. JJ said it well:
His advice is a great intro to our next section. If you want more followers, how do you get them?
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The Pied Piper of Twitter
How to get—and how not to get—more followers
First of all, let’s talk about hashtags. Rich has some great advice:
When you’re posting about writing, use the hashtags Rich suggested. It may help people find you, and some of those people may interact with you and/or follow you.
It’s not enough just to put together a great Tweet with appropriate hashtags, however. Check out Vicky’s tip:
Dawn, R.R., Tom, and Simon all have fantastic advice about how to create genuine connections with other writers:
If you’re newer to the #WritingCommunity, it’s easy to look at people with a lot of followers and wonder if they really want to hear from “a newbie.” But someone with a lot of followers often got those followers by being generous and awesome! There aren’t many snobs in the community. Sean puts it so well:
Hopefully, you’re not just looking for followers; you’re looking for people to follow. There are some “shortcuts” to finding other writers to follow. Here are a couple of examples:
- #FF or #FollowFriday: People post lists of writers they recommend following.
- Writer lifts: People start threads encouraging those who want followers to post, so they can all follow each other.
However, Esmari offers a warning that’s worth heeding:
In fact, Twitter has other rules about following. It’s worth reading them at this link. Here’s a brief rundown:
- You can’t follow more than 400 people a day.
- Don’t follow a bunch of people, then unfollow them, to improve your follower-to-following ratio. It’s against the rules, and it’s super rude.
- Don’t follow a lot more accounts than the number of people who are following you. Once you’ve followed 5,000 people, if you don’t have enough followers, Twitter won’t let you follow anyone else.
Regarding that last bullet point: How do you keep that ratio under control? Don’t blindly follow mass numbers of people! Follow people because you want to see what they post. Let people follow you for the same reason.
You’ll sometimes come across “shortcuts” for finding followers, such as accounts or apps dedicated solely to building follower count. Just say no to these. They’re spammy and icky.
I’ve grown my follower numbers organically. In fact, I rarely look at a Follow Friday list and follow everyone on it. Normally, I follow writers who are already following me. Don’t try to get 5,000 or 10,000 followers overnight. Give it time!
Once you reach 1,000 followers, if you’re really active in the #WritingCommunity, you’ll probably find that your follower count starts growing a lot faster. And it’s okay if it takes a long time to reach 1,000!
When it comes to connecting with people (finding people to follow and finding followers), I’ve saved the best advice for last. In fact, it’s so important, it deserves its own section.
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How writing games can help you connect with others
Terri (Smarty Marty) has an amazing tip. In fact, this has been the key to me finding “my tribe” within the #WritingCommunity. You ready for this?
Writer games? What are those?
They’re hashtag-based games on Twitter, and they usually fall into one of three categories:
- Microfiction and poetry games: The game host provides a prompt word or theme, and writers are encouraged to write a one-Tweet story or poem inspired by that prompt. Examples: #vss365, #satsplat
- Snippet games: The game host provides a prompt word or theme, and writers use that prompt to share a one-Tweet snippet from something they’ve written or are currently writing (such as a book, short story, etc.) Examples: #Thurds, #Btr2sDay
- Writing-discussion chats/games: The chat/game host provides one or more questions encouraging you to talk about yourself as a writer or about what you’ve been writing. Examples: #AuthorConfession, #7amWritersClub
These games are an absolutely fantastic way to connect with other writers. As Terri (Smarty Marty) said above, don’t just participate in the games by Tweeting. Read what others are writing. Comment on, retweet, and like their posts.
Microfiction games (especially #vss365) have been the biggest factor in me connecting with other people on Twitter. As I said at the start of this post, I post microfiction every day. I do that using the #vss365 prompt word. I’ve connected with thousands of writers this way.
You might find your tribe in the snippet games (which I also participate in) or the chats (which I don’t participate in—but they look super fun). Jump in. You don’t need to be a “member” of any group. Just search for the hashtag. Start commenting on others’ posts, and then join the game with your own post!
To participate in #vss365, a daily microfiction game, search Twitter for #vss365 #prompt. A different person posts the prompt words each month. (If you can’t find today’s prompt, click “Latest” at the top of the search results.) Write your own tiny story or poem using the prompt word and the hashtag #vss365.
How do you hunt down all the other prompts, themes, and topics of discussion? @TheWritePrompt generously provides a daily list hashtag games.
Once you get involved in these games, I bet you’ll find yourself connecting with other writers, just as I did. It’s good to keep in mind this advice from Simon:
He couldn’t be more right!
As I mentioned earlier in the post, there are some unwritten rules in the #WritingCommunity. Our next section addresses one of the biggies.
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It’s Open Mic, Not a Critique Circle
Why you shouldn’t give constructive criticism in hashtag games
There are groups online where writers critique each other’s work. It’s understandable that people enter the #WritingCommunity on Twitter, expecting it to be such a place.
Here’s what happens. Someone, let’s call him Bob, finds the Twitter #WritingCommunity. Bob sees bit of microfiction or a snippet of a longer work (often posted as part of one of the hashtag games we just talked about.) It’s a decent piece, but Bob thinks it could be better. He responds to it with a Tweet like this:
“Hey, cool story! When you described the dragon’s fear, I think you could’ve down more showing and less telling. But great stuff, look forward to reading more!”
Or perhaps he points out a grammar error. Either way, Bob walks away, happy that he’s been helpful to another writer.
And then the #WritingCommunity attacks like a mother bear, protecting one of our own. “This isn’t the place for critiques!” we cry.
Bob’s advice to other writers has always been accepted in other groups; after all, he sandwiches a critique in between two really nice compliments! He’s befuddled, not quite understanding where he went wrong. Perhaps Laura can help him:
Exactly. This goes for all microfiction on Twitter. It even goes for snippets of someone’s work in progress (which may be a first draft, still full of grammar errors and telling-not-showing!)
The #WritingCommunity on Twitter is more like an open mic night than a critique circle. It’s a safe place to get together and share.
Some of you are reading this, saying, “Sheesh, what a bunch of pansies. If you can’t take constructive criticism, you shouldn’t be writing.”
I agree that constructive criticism is vital for writers. That’s why I have a group of alpha readers. They read my novels as I write them, providing feedback to make my writing better. It’s why I have a large group of beta readers. They give me feedback (sometimes harsh!) about my revised manuscripts. It’s why I’ve hired an editor in the past.
Many people in the #WritingCommunity are battered by critique all the time, and rightfully so. We all need to know where we can improve if we want to sell stories and books.
However, when you’re dealing with tough feedback from betas and editors and/or rejections from agents and publishers, sometimes you just want to hang with other writers, practicing your craft without worrying about critiques.
Are there exceptions? Of course. For instance, if I have a huge typo in my pinned post (“I hope you’ll by my book!”), you might want to point it out to me. If so, you can do it in a DM (Direct Message) to avoid embarrassing me. But if you just think I used a crappy metaphor in my 280-character microfiction, or if I missed a comma in the book snippet I posted, please let it be.
One more bit of wisdom on this topic, from Lindsey:
Just as some people come to Twitter expecting it to be a critique circle, others come expecting it to be a place to sell books. Let’s talk about what’s wrong with that mindset.
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“Please, PLEASE Buy My Book!”
How not to be a self-promoting nuisance
When I first decided to connect with other writers on Twitter, I was mostly interested in sharing snippets of the books I was writing. And you know what? I didn’t get much interaction.
That’s because I was coming in with marketing as my goal. Oops. Thankfully, I ended up engaging with other cool writers, especially through #vss365.
My focus shifted to connection instead of marketing.
It’s been a whole lot more fun this way. And I’ve sold a surprising number of books to people on Twitter, because that isn’t my main focus.
If most of your Tweets are focused on selling books, you’ll turn people off. It’s fine to try to sell books, but those Tweets should be the tiny minority of what you post.
But don’t take it from me; listen to Ryan, Barlow, Brian, and DK:
As bad as it is to constantly post about selling your books, there’s something even worse. Much worse. It’s another unwritten rule of the #WritingCommunity. Please, please, listen to Leilani:
There are services that will automatically DM (Direct Message) every new follower for you. These services are a fantastic idea if you want to lose a bunch of followers. Don’t do it. Just don’t. Heed this advice from Aspen and The Awkward Bard:
Remember, it’s the #WritingCommunity, not the #WritingFleaMarket. Connection first, selling second.
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This & That
Tips on muting, untagging, acronyms, and more
We’ve covered most of the big things that a newcomer to the #WritingCommunity needs to know, but you still may feel like you’re lost in an unfamiliar country. I hope these final tips help you feel more at home.
As you connect with more people, your notifications might become unmanageable, or, as people often put it, “My notifications blew up!” This is especially the case if you get tagged in some sort of game.
These games are different than hashtag games. A tagging game might go something like this:
“If your book is made into a movie, who should play the main character? Answer and tag five people!”
By the time you get tagged, there may be 48 other people tagged, and suddenly, you’re getting notifications every few seconds as other people comment. This is also the case with #FF or #FollowFriday posts as well as other writer recommendation Tweets.
Here’s some great advice from Alain:
Alain hits on a couple of important tips:
- Mute conversations if you want to slow down your notifications. Muting a conversation means you no longer get notifications for it. Just click the little arrow at the top right of the Tweet you were tagged in, and click “Mute this conversation.” Don’t feel guilty about doing this! We all have lives outside of Twitter, and it’s okay to want fewer notifications. It’s even okay not to participate in tagging games!
- Untag people if you don’t want everyone in the conversation to get notified of your response. Sometimes, you just want to thank someone without dozens of other people getting that notification! They’ll appreciate it if you untag them in your reply. When you click the Reply icon, it’ll say “Replying to” with a list of names. Click on those names, and you can choose who to untag. (I need to do this a whole lot more often than I do!)
Jaime hits on something else that might make you feel like a #WritingCommunity outsider:
Thankfully, Darryl has an awesome list of abbreviations! Click on the Tweet; he has even more examples in the rest of the thread.
I’m pretty good with these acronyms, only because I spend too much time on Twitter. Faye has some advice that I should probably print out and post above my writing desk:
However much time you spend on Twitter, there’s one tip that’s perhaps the most important of all. Here it is, in Alain’s words:
Wrapping it up
Whew! I know that was a ton of information. I hope it was helpful! If you have more questions, feel free to leave them in the comments.
And if you haven’t found me on Twitter, please do! I love to connect with fellow writers! I’m @CBethAnderson.
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