Twitter For Shy Persons—Secrets of Stress-free Tweeting

Twitter terrifies me. Seriously. It’s been described as the world’s biggest cocktail party and that sounds about right: cacophonous, shallow, time-consuming Hell for shy, writerly persons.

But many experts say authors who are serious about publication MUST be on Twitter.

So a year or so ago I steeled myself and crashed the soirée. I now have 850+ followers and a Klout rating of 49. (Not Twitterific, but respectable.) And it’s where I get most of my blog traffic. Ten times more readers find this blog through Twitter than click through Google.

BUT I HAVE NEVER ONCE TWEETED WHAT I HAD FOR LUNCH. And I only spend about 5 minutes a day on the site.  

So how did I do it?

After making a lot of mistakes (and probably pissing off a lot of people—sorry if I stepped on cybertoes) I finally realized that since it’s like a Hollywood party, I had to follow the rules of the classic Hollywood schmooze:

Here are my shy-person secrets for Twitter-schmoozing:

1)     Get a good head shot. Nobody follows an egg, so you gotta get a picture up there right away. Actually, it doesn’t have to be of you. I used my Mad Men caricature for six months. But a fun, smiley picture of yourself is best. Skip the glamour shots or you may be taken for a porn spammer.

2)     Inform, amuse, but never offer TMI A profile like: “Retail slave, romance writer, seeker of chocolate” is better than “I’m an English major and overweight single mom who has been a greeter at Walmart for 20 years.” But do let people know something about you that makes you worth following. N.B.: If you write, ALWAYS put “writer” in there, even if you’ve never published a thing, so you’ll be tagged as part of the writing community.

3)     Use your @ownname. This is about building platform, remember? So unless you’re writing books under the pseudonym @shysuzi, you’re wasting your Twitter time if you don't use your name. If it's long, shorten it, since you want to get retweeted, and you’re limited to 140 characters.

4)     Remember paranoia is creepy. I have no idea why people “protect their tweets.” It’s like going to a party in a burka. It doesn’t make you invisible; it makes you weird. If you don’t want people to read what you write, just stay in your cave and keep pounding out those 350K word literary neo-Nazi thriller/chick lit/westerns. When you want twittering, you can get a cuckoo clock.

5)     Don’t just stand there; say something. Trying to get followers with 0 tweets can make you look like a spammer, so tweet before you follow. Not about your 2 for $20 lunch special at Applebees, though. Say something cute and helpless like “Hi there, Twitterverse. I have no idea what I’m doing.” People love to help newbies as long as they’re humble and not selling anything.

Now you’re ready to party

6)     Start by following people you know. Like me. I enjoy following people who only have one follower. If I’m 50% of your audience, I feel special.

7)     Then follow some you don’t know. Like agents, The New Yorker, and Twitter deities like Nathan Bransford and Jane Friedman They will NOT follow you back. But now that you have a couple of followers, that won’t hurt your feelings, right? You’ll learn a lot from their god-like tweets. I like to follow the news agencies like Reuters, too—that way I get breaking news. Not important for platform, but it makes me feel like I’m not wasting my time entirely. But don’t choose too many. Following 500 with only 2 followers makes you look wallflowery.

8)     Whenever you open your home page, check for @messages and REPLY. Old Twitter did not have an obvious @message button, so I didn’t see any of my messages for, oh, probably a year. People must have thought I was the most awful snot. Don’t do this. And be sure to send your reply through the “reply” window, not a direct message. Direct messages should be sent sparingly. They sort of infringe on personal space.

9)     You don’t have to thank somebody for a follow. And if you must, do NOT ask them to visit your blog or buy your book. It looks spammy.

10) Follow people back. I follow pretty much everybody who follows me unless they’re obviously trying to rack up follower numbers. These are the people who’ve been on Twitter for 8 hours and follow 500,000 people. I also tend to avoid anybody with no tweets or profiles; people who tweet random nonsense phrases; car dealerships on other continents, Super! Enthusiastic! Salespeople! and writers with no tweets except “buy my book.”

11) Make lists. This is another place I messed up. It’s really hard to sort and list 800+ people, so I suggest you make lists now and add people as you follow them. Listing is good because: 1) people might list you, too (It looks best to have your list number at least 10% of your followers.) 2) Once you start gathering followers, you don’t have to wade through every single boring tweet to find the important ones.

12) RETWEET, RETWEET, RETWEET. Every time you click on a link to a great blog or read something inspiring, click the retweet button. Also tweet links to articles or posts of interest to your followers (there’s almost always a “t” button somewhere on the page.) This makes you a fountain of knowledge and inspiration. And everybody’s grateful for a retweet. They’ll often thank you and give you a follow.

13) Skip the personal stuff. Social media gurus will probably have me twit-canned for saying this, but you don’t really have to tweet personal stuff at all. I don’t—unless you count my daily tweet about my blog. I learned this from mystery author Elizabeth Spann Craig. She reads 100s of publishing blogs and tweets links to her favorite posts. (Alas, she doesn’t follow me, so I’m not often a favorite, but I love her links anyway.) And: I’ve never seen her tweet anything personal. But she has nearly 9000 followers and a Klout rating of 66. (Nathan Bransford’s is 68 and Jane Friedman’s is 71.)

14) Use #hashtags. You’re much more likely to get read if your Tweets are targeted. (It took me way too long to learn this.) If you want to Tweet your blogpost about editing, leave space for the 10 characters in #amediting, and people who are currently editing their WIPs will be able to seek you out. Other popular writing categories are #amwriting #writequote #writingtips #pubtip #indie #bookmarket, and #writegoal. And there are many more. Look around to see how tweets that interest you are tagged.

15) Spread the love. I don’t actually do this, but I adore people who do. If you have favorite tweeters, give them a mention on #WW, (which means something Wednesdayish) or #FF Follow Friday.

No lunch menus. No sobbing about rejections. Just be helpful. 

And maybe someday you will reach my personal Tweetdom best and have somebody tweet #FalseFacts about you. Like this wonderful tweet from @WendySparrow last Friday.  

#False Friday “Catwoman from the Batman comics is based on @annerallen 's real life story... only less leather was involved."

Not true of course. There was LOTS of leather.

I’m not going to lie to you. Twitter isn’t always fun for non-party persons. And it’s full of ruthless corporate types who are only there to use and manipulate you. People will follow you, then unfollow the minute you reciprocate. (Although an app called Tweepi can help you weed those out.) Others will spam you unmercifully. Or tweet inanities every two minutes. The A-listers will never respond to your messages, even if you’re congratulating them on a recent triumph.

But, like a huge Hollywood party, it provides a chance to meet interesting people who are useful to know. They’re probably not celebrities, and are more likely to be carrying trays of canapés than flashing bling and touting their latest project. But they may visit your blog later and you might even become friends.

Friends are good. Even if you never do publish that book.

How about you, fellow scriveners, do you tweet? Are you a shy person? What DID you have for lunch?

Coming Soon—in two weeks, I’ll have another guest post from a bestselling author: Ruth Harris. Ruth has not only had several books at the top of the NYT Bestseller list, but she also worked as an editor at several Big Six Publishers, so she has all the inside skinny. She’ll blog about REJECTION, and what it really means. May 22. Watch this space!

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,