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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Is Twitter useful for writers?

I've had my Twitter account since January 2010. After my first week of tweeting I blogged about the uses of Twitter for writers. You might be interested in reading that post before this one.

Back? Good. Now after two-and-a-half years tweeting I can say that Twitter can be a useful tool for writers, and also has some serious limitations.

First off, it's a great way to get readers. I tweet everything I write for this blog, my guest posts on other blogs, and my travel writing on Gadling. I also retweet interesting stuff from other writers, historians, etc. These tweets, with their generous use of hashtags to bring in a wider readership, really up my hits. Blogspot allows me to see the source and timing of hits and I see a spike every time I tweet.

It's also a great way to keep abreast of current events and trending stories. I've found a fair amout of material for travel blogging thanks to Twitter.

But what every writer wants to know is, can Twitter sell books? It seems not. I do tweet about my books but I've seen no evidence that it translates to sales. I don't hard sell on Twitter, and don't follow anyone who does, but about one in ten tweets is related to my books. Too many writers nowadays seem to be on Twitter for the sole reason hawking their wares. Judging from their Amazon rankings, it doesn't seem to be doing much good. Twitter users want content, links to cool stuff, not sales pitches.

Fellow blogger and indie author Alex Cavanaugh told me about a Twitter app called WhoUnfollowedMe. I've found two trends from this useful app. The first is that some people, so far entirely indie writers, will follow you so you follow them back, and then unfollow you. When I catch a person doing this, I unfollow them. I don't like being used. Also, some people follow me and then unfollow me after a few days when I don't follow them back.

Sorry, folks, but I only follow Twitter feeds that I find interesting. If I like your stuff, I'll follow you (unless you pull a fast one). If I don't like you're stuff, don't leave in a huff. Chances are I wasn't going to buy your book anyway. It's not like I expect everyone who I follow to follow me back. I'm pretty tickled that Clive Barker follows me, though.


  1. Clive Barker follows you? Whoa!
    I know a couple authors who swear Twitter sells books, but I've not seen evidence either. Then again, I rarely Tweet anything about my book.

  2. I'm thrilled when I come across another Horror writer in the blogosphere, so I'm following with no plans to un-follow. That's too much work -- why do people do that?

    You just listed a great bunch of reasons for me not to worry that I don't Tweet. And one awesome reason why I should -- Clive Barker ! Wow! :-D

    1. I always like meeting other horror writers too. I checked out your blog and see you live in Egypt. Nice! I spend a lot of time further south in the Horn of Africa. I'll probably be going to the Sudan later this year. Have you ever been there?

  3. Great call on Twitter...I got tired of the whole "unfollow" thing from other writers so I just stopped following people back. And these days, it's not even a blip in terms of my overall traffic. Of course, I'm not the most active tweeter to begin with so maybe I'm just not making the best use of it...

  4. I know what you mean, but funny enough, last night I sent out a Tweet about my novel being available for sale in Trade paperback form, and within 15 minutes, I got a reply that someone "clicked and bought it".

    I think you also need a really responsive base of followers. If you're John Scalzi or Wil Wheaton and your fans hang off of every brilliant Tweet, I'm sure that Twitter announcement that your latest book is on sale causes a gold rush, but those people have tens if not hundreds of thousands of followers. I'd bet you that for every 500 followers, one person actually buys a book, and then for every ten people who buy, one of them retweets, and so on. The math becomes very "percentage of a percentage of a percentage" very quickly.

    So if you have the numbers, AND post enough "cool" content where people have your tweets fed into a special timeline they look at more, you might be better off. But I only follow ~800 people and I can't even begin to keep up, so I imagine those people who follow thousands, there needs to be a particular reason they look at your Tweet, otherwise, it is lost in the crowd.

  5. I also hate when people follow me just to get me to follow back. I use ManageFlitter to keep track of who follows me. Now I unfollow anyone who isn't following me unless they're someone I followed for a specific reason.

    I no longer follow people to garner follows, because I'm trying to coax my follow count over 2000 without twitter limiting me.

    1. I'm hovering at around 1200 right now. I'm on holiday in Orkney at the moment so I haven't been tweeting, but on normal weeks I'm tweeting almost every day. Many of my followers come to me via my work on Gadling.com, a travel blog I write for.

  6. Hmmm. . .long-term use of WhoUnfollowedMe is getting depressing. I've noticed that some people have followed me in the hopes of a follow, then unfollowed me, and then followed me again. Obviously they're mass following everyone they can find and aren't even paying attention to who's who!

  7. I'm on twitter almost as rarely as I'm on facebook. i do tweet my blog posts, and sometimes I tweet what I'm doing, but good grief. Who can follow 8000 people and deal with 8000 more following? Doesn't it all get lost in the flood?

  8. Not that I do this, but a lot of people who rely heavily on Twitter use TweetDeck, which is very good at building specific feeds. So if you're an author who uses Twitter for multiple purposes, you might have a Feed or Channel (I forget what they call it) for Fellow Authors, Fans, Writing News, Friends & Family, etc..

    You can also build feeds based off of specific hash tags, so if your fans know to post tweets regarding Book X as #bookx, you put that as a feed and check to see if anyone's tweeting about your book.

    Essentially, if you're REALLY going to use Twitter, you can make it do what you want, but you have to invest some time in it.


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