This post is part of my ongoing series on author & book promotion, which is aimed at helping fellow authors build their audience and establish a platform to promote their work.
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A social media presence is essential for modern authors, and the writing community has embraced Twitter more than any other platform. There are simply so many benefits to the up-and-coming author, such as:
- A vibrant writing community. Hundreds of thousands of aspiring, emerging, and established authors are active on Twitter every day. There’s no better place to meet and engage other writers online.
- Pitching contests. Events like #SFFpit and #PitMad, which happen entirely on Twitter, allow authors a chance to pitch directly to agents or editors. They also let participants meet one another and build relationships.
- Useful hashtags for writing-related content. These range from general writing (#writetip, #amwriting) to query advice (#querytip, #MSWL) to publishing industry insights (#pubtip). There are 100+ hashtags relevant for authors, and that number keeps growing.
These are only the tip of the iceberg of Twitter benefits for authors. Yet sometimes, as I watch other authors tweet or read their profiles, I encounter things that annoy me. Things that make me (and probably others) hit the Unfollow button quicker than Jimmy Fallon can say hashtag.
10 Twitter Commandments for Authors
In hopes of addressing these egregious practices, I’ve gone to the mountaintop and come back with ten commandments of Twitter for authors.
1. Thou shalt have no other social media before Twitter.
Twitter is very application-friendly, meaning that you can automatically tweet links to posts on other platforms (Facebook, WordPress, YouTube, etc.). When this is the only source of your tweets, it’s obvious to anyone who looks at your feed. It does not count as being “on Twitter” and it won’t gain you followers.
2. Thou shalt not retain the egg as thine profile image.
The default Twitter profile image is an egg. The first thing you should do is change that to something else. Anything else! Because that image shows up everywhere. Not just on your profile page, but right next to your tweets as well. Nothing screams amateur like the egg image.
The best Twitter profile image is a photo of you. If you’re shy, and prefer to use a photo taken from distance or of a group or even a caricature, that’s just fine. Anything is better than the egg. If you don’t believe me, read the AdWeek article on why you won’t be taken seriously if you’re still an egg.
3. Thou shalt not take the name of a book or series.
When you choose a Twitter handle, it’s a fairly permanent decision. You can change your profile name, of course, but the handle is fixed. It bothers me when authors choose the name of a book or series, rather than their own name (or pen name). That’s what websites and fan pages are for. Twitter is for making personal connections.
In other words, I don’t want to follow your book. Because I know that all you’ll be doing is trying to sell me your book.
4. Remember the golden rule.
Twitter is a social network, not a platform for self-promotion. If you treat it like the lone guy preaching total strangers in the airport, you’ll get about the same response. The best way to get people to follow, retweet, and favorite you is to follow, retweet, and favorite others.
Sure, Twitter is a great place to promote links to your book or blog, but do so in moderation. A good rule is that for every 1 self-promotional tweet, you should put out 10 that are not.
5. Honor they feed and thy followers.
You honor your followers by engaging with them, by following back, and by supporting them with retweets or mentions. You honor your feed by posting regularly, being respectful of others, and not spamming. Also, unless you have a very good reason to, don’t protect your Tweets if you want to actually build a following.
Nothing is more annoying than the self-published author who only uses Twitter to try and sell a book. This is not a classified ad (ask an old person if you don’t know what those are. Think Craigslist, but in hard copy). When all of your tweets are Amazon links, or quotes of reviews that your family/friends gave your book, it’s spam.
6. Thou shalt not auto-DM.
A number of free (and paid) online tools integrate with Twitter to help you manage and interact with your followers. Many of these let you set up an automatic direct message that’s sent to someone who follows you. Some social media “gurus” encourage people to use this to immediately engage a new follower, and maybe point them to your Amazon page or Facebook profile. Do not, under any circumstances, do this!
An auto-DM is just about the most annoying thing. If I follow someone and get an auto-DM, you know what I do? I hit the unfollow button as quickly as possible. Especially if the auto-DM is some crap about TrueTwit validation. Resist the urge to do these things. If you want to engage new followers, that’s just fine. But do it with a directed tweet (@) and do it manually.
7. Thou shalt not smother.
Hey, you found a favorite author or editor or dream literary agent on Twitter, that’s great! Please don’t RT and favorite every single tweet that person puts out. It reeks of desperation. Along similar lines, don’t direct your tweets (with the @ symbol) to literary agents to pitch them, or to reviewers to ask for reviews, unless they specifically have indicated that they want this. Most people don’t.
8. Thou shalt not over-hashtag.
Hashtags offer a powerful tool for connecting people with similar interests on Twitter. You can use them in both tweets and your twitter profile, and doing so boosts your visibility. However, there is such a thing as hashtag overload. That’s when all of your tweets devote as much space to hashtags as they do actual content. The same with profiles. Two or three hashtags is about the upper limit if you don’t want to come off spammy.
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness to bestseller status
All right, I admit that I’m straying into personal pet peeve territory here, but I spend a lot of time reading the Twitter profiles of authors. About one in five claims some kind of bestseller status. That’s a statistical impossibility. Most of them, I’m guessing, make that claim after:
- They gamed the Amazon algorithm enough that they reached the #9 slot in some deep subcategory like Books > Adult > Fantasy > Epic Fantasy > Dark Fantasy > With Dragons > Gunpowder from midnight to three a.m.
- They wrote a nonfiction book on a somewhat-obscure topic and bought (or had their company buy) thousands of copies. Sadly, even the NYT bestseller lists for non-fiction are usually bought and paid for.
This sucks because so many people claim to be a “bestselling author” that it no longer has meaning. It impresses no one. Side note: the same is true of the phrase award-winning; unless you’re talking about the Hugo, Nebula, or Campbell, I’m not interested.
If you truly made the New York Times or USA Today bestseller list, that’s a big deal. It means you sold a hell of a lot of books. I still question the necessity of putting that into your Twitter profile. I think that authorial success, much like good breeding, never draws attention to itself.
10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s following.
Some people put far too much stock in the number of followers an individual has on Twitter.
Yes, it can be a rough metric for someone’s influence, fame, or notoriety. But you should not get caught up in the actual number, for a couple of reasons:
- Many followers are bound to be bots or spam accounts. These are a major problem on Twitter, but there’s not much an individual can do (please don’t try to address it with TrueTwit)
- It’s easy to build huge follower counts through questionable means. You can buy them, or just follow a crap-ton of people yourself.
- You will never match the following of most minor reality television stars. Sorry, that’s the way of the world.
Thank you for reading this far. Now, go be fruitful and… you know the rest!
Thou Shalt Spread the Word!
If you liked this article, please share it with your writing friends using the buttons below. You can also click to send a ready-made tweet:
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