The indie author’s guide to Twitter for beginners – Part I

Twitter? What’s that?

I must start by declaring loudly that I am NOT an expert. This is all about my own experience, what I have learned, and what I wish I had known first. But if you are thinking of becoming an indie publisher you may find something useful here. At least, I hope so. This post is aimed at the people I have met on my author journey who do not have a Twitter account, and don’t really understand what it’s all about.

It’s a recognised fact that if you are going to be successful with your indie publishing venture, you need to create a PLATFORM. So what does that  mean? I will quote Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn – “The author platform is how you are currently reaching an audience of book-buying people, or how you plan to do so. It is your influence, your ability to sell to your market. It is your multi-faceted book marketing machine!” You can check out The Creative Penn blog here – it’s full of useful information.

Twitter is not the only answer to creating your platform, nor is it the complete picture. But it’s a start, and it is an incredibly powerful way of communicating with your potential readers. The good news is that there are some clever tools that you can use to help you build the right followers, create interesting content and stop following people who are not really interested in what you have to say – ie they don’t follow you back. So don’t despair.

When I published Only the Innocent, I thought I had been very clever. I had created a website, set up a Facebook account, and created a Twitter account. But that was it. I’d set them up. I’d done nothing with them. I’ve still not done much with Facebook, to be honest – but that’s another story and we’ll come back to that. I published Only the Innocent with just 9 followers on Twitter.

And the reason? I just didn’t get Twitter at all. So this first post in a series of three is about the basics. What Twitter is, and what it can do for you. If you’re already up to speed with this, move on to the next post.

New to Twitter?

I do know that there are indie publishers out there who have never used Twitter. I meet them all the time in various discussion groups. I review books, and often the authors tell me that they don’t have a Twitter account. So for those of your reading this who think this post is pretty basic stuff – you’re right and it’s intentional. For those of you who don’t use Twitter, but want to – this is for you.

Twitter has experienced massive growth in the past few years, and it’s a huge resource for finding out the latest information on just about any subject you might be interested in. Yesterday we discovered that a tennis match we wanted to watch wasn’t being transmitted. We were keen to know how it was progressing. No problem – we just searched on Twitter for somebody who was watching and got a blow by blow account as the match progressed. Not as exciting as watching the play – but at least we were up to the minute with the information.

So let’s start with the basics.

If you haven’t used Twitter before, it’s easy to set up. Just go to https://twitter.com/ and set up your account.  It talks you through the process, and you can be up and running in seconds.  But if you want to just have a look at what to do before you start, visit this site https://support.twitter.com/groups/31-twitter-basics to find out everything  you need to know.

You will need to set up you Twitter name – or “handle” – which will begin with an @ sign. Mine is @Rachel__Abbott. In retrospect, this was a very bad idea. I couldn’t get any simple Rachel Abbott combinations, so went for the double underscore. Really bad idea, because people will generally read it (and therefore type it) as a single underscore. I could change it, and probably should. But I am slightly nervous about losing some of my followers, even though Twitter assures me that this doesn’t happen.

You will need a picture – of anything. It doesn’t have to be you, but some of the follower searches ignore users who have the default Twitter image. So get a picture and upload it. When you’re more confident, it also helps to design your own page so that you are unique when visitors view you. https://support.twitter.com/articles/15357 explains how to do this.

Your profile is very important. It tells other Twitter users a bit about you, and helps them to decide if you are interesting or not. So think about what you want to write to engage people’s interests. You have 160 characters, so I always write mine in a word processor and check the number of characters before trying to add it to my profile. Say something about yourself that represents you as the person, and you as the author. Appear interesting. I made a mistake to start with by putting  a link to my book in my profile text. It’s like saying “hello – I’m not interested (or interesting) – I just want you to buy my book”. Twitter asks for your web address (you could give your blog or Facebook page if you prefer) and so anybody who wants to find out more can do. So spend a bit of time on this, and change it from time to time too.

Now that you’re set up – what should you do?

To build up a presence on Twitter, you need to follow people, and hope that they follow you back.  So what does ‘follow’ mean, exactly?

It means that when you follow somebody, you can read all their tweets. When somebody follows you, they can read all yours. Whatever you write in a tweet will be read by everybody who is following you – so don’t think it’s private (there are ways of sending direct – and therefore private – messages, but we’ll come to that). When you both follow each other, you can easily start a conversation – but in fact, you can tweet anybody in the world by just putting their twitter handle in a tweet and writing something – whether they follow you or not.

So , let’s imagine:

  • I follow Tom. I can read all his tweets, but he can’t read mine.
  • Dick follows me. He can read all my tweets, but I can’t read his
  • I follow Harry, and Harry follows me back. We can both read each other’s tweets

Pretty clear?

If you tweet something interesting, those people that are following you may choose to RETWEET what you have written. This is very powerful, because initially the people that are following you are likely to have a bigger following than you do – so your tweet (and your Twitter handle) will be posted to lots of other Twitter users, who may in turn decide to follow you. So if I write a fascinating tweet, Dick and Harry can both read it (but not Tom) – and they can retweet it with one click to all the people that follow them (who in turn might retweet it to others). So it’s viral. Say something interesting and you have absolutely no idea how many people might read it. (Same goes if you say something entirely stupid, of course.)

So you need to follow people, and you need followers.  But before you start looking for followers, you need to have tweeted a few things. Otherwise, when people discover you and read your tweets to see if they would be interested in what you have to say, they’re going to discover that you don’t have much to say at all. Think of a few interesting things about the journey you are taking as an indie publisher, or follow a few people who have lots to say and look at their blogs. Your initial tweets could just be links to other people’s interesting information, but get some going before you actively start to seek followers.

When you follow somebody, a lot of people will follow you back – but I also follow people that I don’t expect to follow me back. For example, I follow author Val McDermid – with little or no hope that she would be interested in anything that I have to say. So I can see what she tweets, but because she doesn’t follow me she can’t see what I tweet.

Why would you bother? Because you need as many people as possible to know about your book. You need people to know about you as the author – to engage with you, and find you interesting. If you are interesting there is just a chance that your book might be interesting too. And if you build up good, solid relationships with people, they will often retweet your messages. I have people following me now that have maybe ten thousand followers. So when they retweet (or RT) my tweet, it’s reaching all those people. It is massive and a huge opportunity to help you develop your platform.

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