I’m on Twitter as @LucyBlueCastle, and I have been for a couple of years now, and I’ve tweeted more than 2500 times, and I follow a lot of people and enjoy reading them a lot, and I have a fair few followers of my own. But it’s been brought to my attention that I don’t follow people back enough, that I don’t automatically follow back everybody who follows me, and that makes some people, particularly other writers, feel bad. I’m sorry about that; I really am. And actually, if somebody follows me, I always check their profile, and if it says they’re a writer or an aspiring writer, I almost always do follow them back. (The exceptions being the ones who make some explicit BDSM portrait of themselves or their spirit animal their identifying avatar – sorry, kittens; I go on Twitter at the office; I can’t have you trussed up like a Christmas goose on my HD screen for all the world to see. no matter how vehemently I defend your right to trussing.) But if the only thing a writer ever, EVER tweets is some version of “buy my book buy my book tra-la-la, buy my book!” I un-follow them pretty quickly. We know you’re a writer. We can guess you’re on Twitter because you want to promote your work. There’s nothing wrong with that – an occasional message from our sponsors is only to be expected, and some people do it very cleverly. But if you want a permanent slot on my scrolling wall of everything in the whole wide world 140 characters at a time, your slice of everything has be more entertaining or informative than that. Nothing depresses me more than to open my Twitter feed to find a whole screen full of one-sentence blurbs and links to e-books. And don’t even get me started on the people who tweet SEVENTEEN THOUSAND PROMO TWEETS IN A ROW IN ALL CAPS. Trust me, you might sell a book to somebody that way, but I can promise you, it won’t be me. The same thing goes for so-called professional Tweeters who dump seventeen thousand different promo tweets in a row for their seventeen thousand different clients. Again, it’s good sense to get the word out; that’s what your Twitter account is for. But if that’s all you ever do, if your personal broadcast is nothing but commercials 24/7, why should I keep tuning in? Even TBS occasionally gives me a little bit of movie in between the ads; as a Tweeter, you’ve gotta do the same.
And you don’t have to be Patton Oswalt, Wil Wheaton, or Stephen Fry. Snappy one-liners are always welcome, certainly. But I follow a couple of writers who tweet all the time about their day jobs, their kids, their struggle to find time to make art in the midst of very full lives, and I love reading them. I relate to them; I feel a kinship with them that makes me want them to succeed. And how can I help them succeed? Buy their books – and I do. There’s no need to get TOO personal – I un-followed someone last week who might conceivably be a big help to me in my career because she tweeted about the “food baby” she birthed following a big meal with a VIP at a convention. Ummm, ew. But don’t be afraid to be yourself, to share who you are as a writer.
Re-tweets are also a good way to keep your feed interesting. If you find somebody else’s tweet hilarious or interesting or important, chances are, your followers will, too. Just always be sure to give credit where credit’s due. There are people for whom Twitter is a major resource in their writing career; stealing their tweets is the same thing as stealing someone’s stories.
Selling books these days is hard, and social media, for better and worse, is the main way to get it done. But in that arena, before we care about your book, we’ve gotta care about you. If you’ve already captured your followers’ attention with your personality, your humor, or your taste in cute kitten videos, chances are they’re a lot more likely to follow that link and buy your masterpiece.