Sunday, October 1, 2017

Advice for the Timid Twitterer

By Julie Tollefson

Confession time: Twitter scares me.

Should be easy, right? Say something in 140 characters, hit send.

But I agonize over those 140 characters. Do I sound witty or dull? Will people misunderstand my intent? Is anyone out there really reading what I write?

My friend Peggy Rothschild, author of Punishment Summer and Erasing Ramona, has a terrific Twitter presence, so I've asked her for advice for the timid Twitterer.

What's your approach to Twitter? What do you recommend for people like me, who worry over every character?
I love Twitter—it’s my favorite social media platform. It’s a great way to share things I think are funny, interesting, or intriguing. The character limit can sometimes prove a challenge, but it also helps keep things simple. If someone’s new to Twitter, maybe start by retweeting things from friends or people you admire. I follow a number of blogs and often tweet links to interesting posts. I think the big thing to keep in mind is Twitter’s not about the number of followers you have—it’s about sharing information. 

Since I mostly tweet about writing, art, and the outdoors, I’m not worried I’m going to offend someone. And, while there’s no “edit” key for Twitter, there is a delete option if a tweet goes out riddled with typos or inaccuracies. As for finding an audience, in truth, there’s so much content on Twitter, there’s a good chance a tweet won’t be seen. But once you find out which hashtags relate to what you’re tweeting about, you can broadcast your message to a wider audience.

Hashtags! These are words or phrases marked with the # sign that help you find tweets of interest among the hundreds of thousands flying past every minute you’re on Twitter. What are some hashtags you’d recommend for writers?
There’s a lot of wonderful motivational quotes under the #amwriting hashtag—as well as practical writing advice and links to how-to articles. Other favorite hashtags include #amreading, #writers, #writerslife, and #writetip. I also periodically check #tenqueries—where agents share their responses to queries, giving the genre and reason why they passed or asked for more pages (the author and manuscript title are never revealed). There’s also at least one twitter writing event every day of the week, including #MuseMon, #2bitTues, #1lineWed, #Thurds, #FicFri, #SlapDashSat, and #SunWIP—just to name a handful. Plus there are writing contests during the year which usually have themed chats under their hashtags—like the upcoming #NoQS (Nightmare on Query Street), #PitMad, #QueryKombat, and #PitchWars. Some of the hashtags are useful for sharing information about writing and others provide an opportunity to interact with writers.

You often tweet about art and nature. Are those special interests of yours? How do they relate to your writing? 
I was a Girl Scout and our troop went camping all the time, so I grew up with a love of the outdoors. I still love to hike, kayak, and bird watch. Nature did figure heavily into the writing of my YA adventure, Punishment Summer. Though Nicki (the main character) doesn’t start out loving being stuck living among the trees and wildlife, over the course of a summer, she falls in love with that world. The manuscript I just finished is also set in an isolated locale, which made a great excuse for more “research.”

I was actually an art major in college and enjoy visiting artists’ studios, galleries, and museums. In the three books of mine that have made it out into the world, my love of art didn’t really figure in. But, in the last manuscript I finished, the main character is a professional photographer and sculptor. I’m planning to delve deeper into the world of art with my next manuscript and am reading up on famous art thefts as a possible background for the mystery.

It’s always fun having personal interests intersect with story when it’s time to head down another research rabbit hole.

Do you set goals or a schedule for your tweets, like "tweet at least once a day" or "spend half an hour a week in Twitter conversations"?
I’ve never set any number goals for tweets per day, but, if someone is kind enough to retweet something of mine, I make a point of visiting their feed. If I see something there that resonates, I retweet it. While I don’t need to set a time minimum to spend on Twitter, I do need to set a maximum. I can spend WAY too much time scrolling through my feed or checking out the tweets of writers, artists, and pundits I admire.

For weekly events like #1lineWed and #Thurds, I allot a little more time and frequently use a service like Tweet Buffer to schedule my tweets so they’ll go out on the assigned date if I’m unavailable. For #1lineWed and #Thurds, you find lines in your manuscript that include the theme-of-the-week word. I don’t always have time to participate in both, but I try to take part in at least one a week. It’s a fun way to connect and get a peek at other writers’ work.

What connections have you made through Twitter? What's your best Twitter story? 
I can’t remember how I heard of the author Margaret Mizushima—it might even have been on Twitter. When I read her first Timber Creek K-9 mystery, I was hooked and thrilled to learn a second book in the series was already out and the third would be out soon. I tweeted how much I loved the book and the characters and—YAY!—heard back from the author herself. We now follow each other on Twitter, which means I’m going to know the minute her next book comes out! I’ve also been blown away by the friendliness of well-known authors, the kind of well-known where I’d likely not have the nerve to talk to them if I saw them in public. These authors have taken the time to thank me for tweeting about their books, and I’ve gotten recommendations for some great reads from them. But for me, the bottom line is: Twitter is fun.

Any other advice, tips, or tricks you'd like to share?
I have two bits of advice for Twitter. The first is, don’t be the “Buy My Book” person who only tweets about their books. If your book is on sale, yes, tweet it out! If a new book has a publication date, tweet it out! Just don’t be the one-note tweeter focused solely on yourself. The second thing is, it’s sometimes a good idea to check out the feed of someone before following them back. I follow-back anyone who interests me, but usually make sure they’re who their mini-bio says they are. (An early lesson I don’t want to repeat as I have zero interest in winding up with porn in my feed!)


Peggy Rothschild grew up in Los Angeles. Always a mystery-lover, she embraced the tales of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys before graduating to the adult section of the library. An English major in high school, she switched to art—her other passion—in college. At present, Peggy lives in the beach community of Ventura with her husband and their cats. (The cats frequently act as consultants during the writing process, attacking pages they don't think are quite up to snuff.) In her spare time she focuses on transforming their yard into a drought-tolerant paradise. Find her on Twitter: @PegRothschild


  1. I spend time and money on Twitter and I do wonder whether it does a darn bit of good. I have roughly 2500 followers -- and again I have no idea what that metric actually means.

    I have NEVER had a tweet gone viral nor do I ever expect one to be.

    ~ Jim

  2. Twitter fascinates me, but like you, Jim, I have no idea how to measure whether it means anything. I guess to me, it feels too much like public speaking - another skill that does not come naturally to me.

    Thanks, Margaret! Happy to give this a whirl with friends!

  3. Peggy - Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions today! Here's another one, if you have a minute: Are there other authors who you think do a really fine job using Twitter to build audience or who have an interesting Twitter presence?

  4. Julie, my feelings exactly! I know there are people who love twitter and do it so well - JK Rowling, George Takei. But for me, it's a spinning merry go round - I lack the timing to jump on and ride it.

  5. Peggy, thank you for your insights and the recommended writing hashtags. This is why I stay on Twitter - there is some good stuff there.

  6. Perfect metaphor, Shari! By the time I've agonized over what I should say, the moment has passed.

  7. Thanks for some good information. Some people obviously make good use of it.

    I have to admit that I don't use Twitter at all (sometimes in new articles I do read some of the more "interesting" things our president sends out, and I can't say as that inspires me to use it.)

    I wish, though, you'd asked my basic question about it: What, exactly, is the point of Twitter? I have yet to figure that out.

  8. I have gone from never using twitter to regularly using it, but I haven't made use of the #s. Thanks for the information.

  9. Twitter moves so fast I haven't figured out how to use it properly. Thank you for demystifying the hashtag thingie. Do hashtags count against the character count? Guess I'll find out! Twitter always sounded like to much fun--kind of like the cool kid parties in high school--so I'm looking forward to peeking in on the show.

  10. It took me years to feel comfortable about going on Facebook, but once I did, I became addicted and find that I waste a lot of time reading stuff that is either informative or alarming. So as a result, I am reluctant to go into the Twitter world and waste even more of my time.

  11. I don't use twitter, nor do I text. I rarely go to Facebook, either, unless it's someone I know having a birthday, or something else interesting. I rarely post anything on Facebook, either. I have enough trouble keeping up with the Guppies. I consider everything else a waste of time that I could be using to more advantage.

  12. Hi Julie,
    I follow a number of authors and think Craig Johnson (author of the Longmire series) does a great job. He doesn't tweet a lot, but the Longmire Posse retweets all his posts, so they get a lot of eyes on them. Other authors, like Steve Hamilton and Don Winslow are super-supportive of other thriller writers. Again, I don't know if this gains them followers, but I like them because I get leads on a lot of great reads. :D