A Writer’s (Very Basic) Guide to Twitter

I’m not going to lie. I used to hate Twitter. I had an account. I posted links to my blog posts on it. And that’s about it. Turned off by the endless self-promotion (which, of course, I was totally contributing to), I never checked my home feed. I followed people who followed me back. In short, I was a passive user at best.

Now, I’m not saying that I’m checking Twitter twenty times a day or that I think in 140-character witticisms, (at least not with any regularity). But I have been awakened to the powers of Twitter, especially the power Twitter has to connect writers to each other.

Writing, as you know, is a solitary business. When it comes to doing the work, however you get that work done, it’s all on you, baby. Whether you accomplish your daily word count goal sitting in a bustling coffee shop or in a sound-proof bunker somewhere, it’s not a team sport. You have to force your fingers to keep tapping away at that keyboard. The words, the dialogue, the genius plot twists–they all come from inside your own scary little brain.

Couple that with all the feelings—oh my, the feelings—that come with writing. The self-doubt, the self-loathing, the confusion. The sting of rejection. And even (because it’s not all bad) the occasional victorious thrill of “Hey, that was a pretty good sentence,” or, “Wow, I accomplished a lot today,” or the ever elusive “Holy s@#% I got a full request!” It can get pretty lonely. And you can share that stuff with your family and friends, but they can’t really understand, and they’re quite frankly probably sick of hearing it.

That’s where Twitter comes in. A place for us creative types to share all those feelings—again, SO many feelings. A place to commiserate and congratulate (and secretly envy) the people who are in pursuit of their dream. A place to share resources that may make the journey that much easier. A place to educate each other on the market, the industry, the secret (Good God, someone give me the secret) to getting published.

I mean really, that’s pretty fabulous.

So here are some things I’ve learned about Twitter that I wish I had known when I first started tweeting:

Hashtags are key

In order to be plugged in to the conversations which are relevant to you, you should be searching hashtags. The most used and most broad of which is #amwriting. Type that into your Twitter search and watch your computer explode with data. It’s everything from articles about writing to people promoting their books to people just wanting to whine that they are blocked (I am not knocking this as a practice, as I certainly do this when I’ve had a bad writing day). So that means, guess what, if you include that hashtag in your post, it will show up in the search of another lonely writer who is trying to delay facing that empty page they’re supposed to fill with words. And they just might follow you! #amediting is slightly less used, although I like to differentiate between what I’m talking about, most people just use #amwriting for everything. There are also hashtags for specific genres–for example, I check #womensfiction to see what’s trending. And #amreading is helpful too, but you’re finding out what actual readers out there think of what they’re reading.

For querying writers, like me, #MSWL is my favorite, which stands for Manuscript Wish List. This hashtag is used by actual literary agents who are posting about specific likes/needs/wants. This could range from announcing they are accepting a new genre (hop on that quicklike if it’s yours), to a very specific taste, like “I’d really like to see a novel about a 12-year old boy who lives in Albuquerque and wears a yellow jacket that allows him to fly.” They can get pretty quirky, but the cool thing is that little quirk could fit your manuscript exactly (or exactly enough that you could fudge it and get their attention anyway). Other handy agent hashtags are #querytip, which just gives advice about how to construct an effective query letter and conduct yourself during the querying process; #tenqueries, in which agents give you a 140-character summation of why they did or did not request more from the next ten queries in their inbox (without naming names), and #askagent, which I haven’t quite figured out but sounds pretty cool, right? Note: these hastags are NOT to be used in your own tweets, only to be followed.

Also for querying writers, the new thing (confession, I don’t know how new it is, but I just discovered it a few months ago), are pitch contests, where you can pitch your book in 140 characters, and agents troll the hashtag to find something that interests them. If they “favorite” your tweet, they are requesting more, and you visit their Twitter feed to find out exactly what they want you to submit. It’s not like they’re committing to rep you or even read your full MS, but you have that connection through Twitter first that may make them more likely to request more, and it’s better than cold querying with no connection at all! I have participated in a few #pitmad’s, and have gotten FIVE requests for more material from that. Pretty cool, huh?

There’s some good information

Sure, you have to slog through the zillion people who are quoting from their own novels and announcing their book is on sale at Amazon for .99 (No offense to the self published writers out there, work it girls. And boys). But there are actually some great blog posts from agents and other writers about how to better your query letters, how to create better characters, how to give and receive critique, how to balance your writing life and your pays the bills job, how to format your manuscript correctly, etc. It goes on and on. By the way, if you find something you think is actually helpful, retweet it with the #amwriting hashtag so other writers will see it. The original poster will be psyched, because it means more people will read it, and if you’re posting good stuff (please don’t just retweet every post of other people’s, that is supahdupes annoying), people might just want to follow you!

You can make real friends

I didn’t think this one was possible when I first started. But I’ve actually made TWO Twitter friends who also write fiction and are also in pursuit of traditional publishing. Both of them became critique partners! We email each other semi-regularly to check in on our progress towards The Big Dream, and give each other feedback that is maybe a tad more subjective than our mothers, who think we are geniuses. (Genuisi? See, I don’t even know that, so obviously I’m not really one). I found them by throwing out some tweets about wanting more writing friends who want to talk about the process, or who would be willing to trade books, (hashtagging them with #amwriting, of course).

You can burn bridges

I know it’s tempting to fire off a tweet at a literary agent who’s sent you a form rejection, but don’t do this. Ever. Don’t even allude to it. Don’t waste your precious 140 characters complaining and displaying your misery to the world. Yes, an occasional “Blocked today, grrrrrrrrr,” is fine. I mean, be real. But always remember your profile is public. More and more agents hit the web before requesting to see what kind of person you are and get an idea of what you would be like as a client. If your feed is full of unprofessional attacks and whining, how likely are they going to be to want to work with you? My guess is not very.

It’s important to remember that at the end of every @[insert clever handle here], there is a human being. Don’t say things on Twitter you wouldn’t say to someone’s face. Don’t use your Twitter exclusively to quote or link to your MS. Reply to people. Have conversations. Spread some encouragement. Retweet good information. Send an occasional tweet that has nothing to do with writing (pictures of my dog, anyone?). Be human.

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What’s your favorite thing about Twitter?

What basics am I missing? Feed me your great hashtags and tips!

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