Some say Twitter is essential for writers; others sneer at it as a time-wasting exercise in vanity. I wouldn't say it's essential (which for me means stuff like oxygen and water), but I do find Twitter useful and, what's more, fun.
I've only been on Twitter a couple of months, having resisted joining for ages because it seemed pointless. Like many people who have never looked at it, I thought it would consist of morons informing the world that they're about to eat a doughnut, or that their baby is a genius because it just did a poo.
I was finding, however, that most people I knew elsewhere on the net were other writers, and could not necessarily be expected to have an interest in my history blog. I wanted to find people with shared non-writing-related interests and - dare I say it - I wanted a change from the kind of tortured writerly discussions that always include the phrase 'oh God that's so depressing'. I joined Twitter mainly to promote my blog, but was pleasantly surprised to find there's a lot of interesting, intelligent and funny tweeting going on.
I am certainly no social media guru, but from my limited experience, the advantages of Twitter are:
- You can tweet your blog posts to a wide audience. My blog stats have more than doubled since I've been on Twitter. I also use it to catch up with other people's posts and now don't bother much with RSS.
- If you already have a book out, chatting to people on Twitter encourages them to check it out – but this is all about talking with others because they are interesting, not about constantly begging everyone to buy your masterpiece.
- If you don't have a book out, gathering a crowd of relevant followers who get to know and like you will be useful if you ever do get published.
- Many agents, publishers and book trade news sources are on Twitter, so you can get an insight into what they're doing and what they're looking for.
- Some famous authors are also on there, and if they're using it properly they'll engage with their readers – you can actually find yourself chatting to your literary hero or heroine as if they were a normal person, which usually they are. (Certain ones just broadcast and won't respond to anyone, but this doesn't do them much good.)
- It's a useful exercise in brevity – you have to choose words carefully to keep to the 140-character limit.
- People post interesting links – brilliant for finding research sources, writing advice, short story markets, book recommendations etc.
- You don't have to talk about writing all the time. Well, you can talk about nothing but writing if you want to, but there are lots of other people out there too.
So, is it worth a published writer joining Twitter to publicise their book, or for an unpublished writer to build up a following ready for when that six-figure deal comes along?
Well, yes and no. It's worth it if you will enjoy it anyway. Joining purely to promote yourself or your work could backfire – either people will get bored with your egotism or you'll get bored because your heart's not really in it. And if you aren't published as yet, there is the possibility that you never will be, so being on Twitter under sufferance purely to prepare for a deal that might never happen is a bit sad. If you don't want to join Twitter, don't. You and your writing will survive without it.
If, however, you plan to enjoy it for its own sake and are prepared to join in the conversation and appreciate what other people are saying, then give it a go - it could have a lot of benefits for your writing career.
UPDATE: Nicola Morgan at Help! I Need a Publisher! has a great post today about how to get started on Twitter - click here for her excellent advice.
Thank you to Crystal Church for the picture.