Writers Write but Should We Tweet?

A Twitter Trial

For the last four days, I have conducted a very scientific trial into the benefits of Twitter to the marketing plan of a would-be novelist. Here are my findings (in 'bad news first' format)...

The Case Against

  • I love it! This is not as good as it sounds. It is totally addictive and as impossible to ignore as a ringing phone. Every time I feel it is safe to leave the Blue Bird of Twitterness for a few hours and go back to my editing, I notice a new follower and feel compelled to log back in to see who it is. This is BAD. Don't do this.

  • It may not necessarily be the best showcase for your work. For one thing, you have only 140 characters at a time to play with. Despite the fact that I read an agent in the US claiming to have picked up two novelists on the basis of retweets (tweets that someone has forwarded) I'm pretty sure that's not typical... yet. Unless your book is about philosophical quotes or other 140-character friendly content then Twitter's not going to show what you can do with words.

  • It may not necessarily be the best showcase for your blog. This starts from the basis that your blog is the perfect place to show off your writing talent. It may be. If you write fiction and your blog is dedicated to sharing this fiction then you have a point. If, like me, you devote your blog to writing non-fiction and connecting with your followers then maybe not. Blogging is conversational. It lends itself to fast hang-the-grammar-and-who-cares-whether-it's-passive-voice writing. Not the kind of writing I'd submit to an agent or publisher. That said, a writing blog is a wonderful thing. You connect with your readership. This has a couple of great payoffs. First: you build a readership for your published/soon-to-be-published work. This is handy from a business sense (it helps the writer, agent, publisher and retailers) but also from the reader's perspective. Not only are you more likely to buy and promote books written by someone you actually know and consider to be a friend but you'll also have more fun reading them.

'Hang on!' I hear you cry. 'This sounds like good news. Didn't you tell us it would be bad news first? Bad writer. Go to your room and think about what you've done.' Aha! I'm one step ahead of you. The good news was about the blog. I was establishing for you the good-news-ness of blogs. Blogs are great news. This post is about Twitter - the sting's in the tail. Twitter may not help your blog. For one thing, through my time on Twitter I have not gained a single smiling face on my follow board here at From Brain to Bookshelf. Twitter is not an extension of your blog. It's a whole different country.

This brings me to the final bad point about Twitter.
  • It is not a country to which everyone has - or wants to have - a passport. If you want to connect with your readers, you'll need more than Twitter.
The Daily Show puts it better than I could.

The Case For

  • I love it! I'm fairly sure I can conquer my addiction. It'll lose its new car smell pretty soon.

  • It may not be the best showcase for my writing but in only four days I already have more followers on Twitter than I've pulled to this blog in the last six months!

  • There would be more but I've blocked a load. It turns out that marketing in any obvious way on Twitter is a giant bore so I kick off those aggressively offering to make me rich etc. You may think I'm leading up to something that should go into the 'points against' section: you can't sell on Twitter. Not so. It doesn't matter that you can't - or shouldn't - sell on Twitter because you can do so much more.

  • What you can do on Twitter is: start a conversation; make a connection; have 'normal' chats via direct messaging with agents, publishers, readers and celebrities. This is something I've managed in only four days!
Stephen Fry Follows Me!

This is the biggest thrill. He's my fave celebrity - as fans of the blog will know. Many years ago, I had a wonderful evening of pizza and chat with Mr Fry and a couple of his chums. It was a bizarre experience and utterly utterly charming and fun. A few years later, we met again at the BAFTAs and although it was quite obvious that he didn't remember me, he bluffed his way through the experience and was just as charming. Imagine my grin when I scrolled down my followers on Twitter a decade on and found that I am now able to direct message Stephen Fry. Thrilled.

So - Twitter: Writer Friend or Writer Foe?

London Belle passed on a little nugget of disgusting wisdom the other day that I think I will now share with you.

'procrastination is like masturbation, at first it feels good but in the end you’re only screwing yourself.'

In short, the enemy is not Twitter but procrastination. If you feel the need to procrastinate then Twitter is a terrible place to go. If you're a procrastinator and you have a deadline to meet then STAY AWAY!

Twitter is a drinks party. You go in, meet some people, have a chat, scoff some cheesy-nibbly things and have fun. Maybe you stay for a few minutes. Maybe you're drunk in the kitchen after all but a few die-hards have gone home. It's your choice. Much as I'm fond of drama, you know I'm going to hit my self-imposed deadline. I always do. Twitter doesn't scare me. Just one more glass of virtual Pol Roger and I'm off back to my manuscript.

Happy Tweeting.

Angie Ledbetter  – (19 May 2009 at 11:48)  

Hey, could I just pay you to do the whole tweety thing for me? :)

Bonnie  – (19 May 2009 at 18:53)  

You couldn't have wrapped Twitter up in a better nutshell than that! I have noticed that the urge to Tweet comes and goes. There will be weeks where I don't log on and then there will be days where I feel as if I post every 2 minutes. It doesn't help when I have the application literally at my fingertips on my blackberry.

Good luck finding/keeping the balance :)


Eric  – (19 May 2009 at 21:02)  

Your last point is the exact reason I have avoided twitter at all costs. I am the worst procrastinator on the planet.

Rebecca Woodhead  – (19 May 2009 at 21:47)  

Angie - you don't want me to do that. I can't take the drugs for you. I've got a bad enough problem with my own habit!

Bonnie. You're fab. That's all I can say.

Eric. Maybe you should approach with extreme caution!

Rebecca Woodhead  – (19 May 2009 at 21:50)  

Thanks to Brian yesterday and London Belle today for staging Twitter interventions.

When I hit my deadline I'll be grateful. Right now though I've got the twitter-jitters!

Sandra Leigh  – (20 May 2009 at 06:15)  

I'm rather ambivalent about Twitter, too - but less so than at first. It's fun. I already knew about your reunion with Stephen Fry, because I saw it on Twitter. I get ideas for my blog by checking Twitter. I follow Rachel Maddow and Jamie Ford. Some people I've never heard of follow me, for reasons I'll never fathom. The scale still tips toward For, as far as I'm concerned (but then, I am a notorious procrastinator).

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