Social Media for SCBWI: Twitter for Writers (and Illustrators)

On Twitter we get excited if someone follows us. In real life we get really scared and run away.― Anonymous

Many writers want to just sit at their desk (or a café table) and write, without having to think about social media and self-promotion. But if you do want to learn about social media, you probably either have a Twitter account already or have decided you don’t want one. This article is about how to use Twitter effectively.

Not all writers want to be "social"
Short summary of Twitter: It’s a platform for anyone to proclaim anything to the world, as long as it is less than 140 characters. You can insert photos and links; you can reply to what other people write; and you can re-tweet what they write.

Advantages of Twitter include:

–It’s immediate. You are getting information in real time. (For news, it’s great)
–It’s personal. You can reach out to famous or important people, authors you admire, agents and editors. (Have a complaint about how you were treated by a company? Twitter will get results faster than a phone call or a letter.)
–It’s brief. You can skim many people’s ideas quickly.
–It’s international.
–It’s searchable.
–It’s public. You can reach the whole world with one tweet.

Disadvantages of Twitter:

–It can be a huge time sink. Remember, you are a writer and need to put in your desk time. Don’t get distracted.
–It can be distressing. Trolls and misunderstandings are just two of the ways Twitter can ruin your day.
–It can be hard to try to fit what you have to say into 140 characters.
–It’s public. You can reach the whole world with one tweet. Too many people have lost their jobs or been publicly disgraced or harassed because of something thoughtless they put on Twitter. 

How it works:

–Sign up for Twitter and choose a “handle” or Twitter name, which will be signified with an @ before it. You can add your real name or leave it out. Try to choose something memorable.
–Decide if you want your tweets (posts) to be public or not. Most people on Twitter choose to be public (otherwise, why be on Twitter?).

–Hashtags # can be followed across Twitter to find other people talking about the same things. For example, if you type the hashtag #UKMGchat into the Twitter search box, you can see large numbers of tweets from the U.K. middle-grade chat discussions.

–Twitter offers an option for you to find people you know through Facebook or your email accounts. This is a way to discover friends or acquaintances who also have a Twitter account.
–If you follow someone else and they follow you, you can send direct private messages to each other. To do this, first click on their name; then on their profile page, click on the little gear icon to the left of the blue “Following” box. A dropdown menu will show the option to send a Direct Message.

–You can also Mute, Block, or Report people via their profile page and the gear icon.
­–One thing many people on Twitter don’t know is that when you reply to someone by using @ at the beginning of your tweet, only people who follow both of you will see the message. So if you want it to be public, put the @ after something, even if it’s only a full stop.

–If you follow a lot of people (you can follow up to 2000 accounts before Twitter imposes limits), you may want to put them into lists so you can see the ones you prefer more easily. 

To create lists, click on your profile picture on the top right of the page. A dropdown menu will allow you to create a new list, and you can then title it, add people you follow to the list, and decide whether each list is public or private. If your list is public, other people can subscribe to it. Subscribing to lists created by Twitter accounts you follow is a way to learn about things you are interested in. If your list is private (for example, a list of your family or friends’  Twitter accounts), only you can see it.

Everyone wants followers

Get the most out of Twitter when you start:

–You don’t have to use your real name, but if you don’t, even people who know you may not be able to find you.
–Put up a photo of yourself so people can relate to you, and try to find a good cover image
–Write a short description of yourself, preferably interesting but not trying too hard to be clever. Add links to your website or book.
–Follow a lot of people at the beginning so that you can see how Twitter works before you use it much. To make sure the "Neil Gaiman" you are following is the real one, look for the little tick mark by his name. Twitter tries to verify the accounts of well-known people; if the account you are following has the name of a famous person but no tick, it may be a fake.
–Follow people who can teach you something. 
–Decide who you want to be on Twitter. Try to focus. If you are using Twitter mainly for your writing persona, try not to launch into political rants (hard to avoid sometimes! However, think twice), discuss local restaurants, or post nonstop cat videos. Once you have more followers than just your friends and family, they will expect what they came there for: your writing self.
–If you are posting a long link, use a URL shortener to make the link fit into your 140-character limit. 

What to tweet:

–Even if you are using Twitter mainly to promote yourself and your book, it’s important not to promote your book or project or website too vigorously. No one wants to follow an ongoing advertisement. Instead, focus on being interesting. When people are intrigued, they will want to read your book or go to your website. Don't post more than one promotional tweet in five or six.
Don't spend all your Twitter time selling
–Add value! Write things other people are looking for: reviews of books you’ve read, comments on other people's tweets, things you have enjoyed or learned. Retweet interesting things you read; it’s been shown that people who retweet with their own comments are more appreciated than those who simply retweet.
–Be careful what you post, especially at first. The internet is full of trolls. Most of them are about fourteen years old, but you don't want them to know all about your personal life.

Don't let the trolls get you!
Photos are attractive, and Twitter lets you add several at a time. Any tweet with a picture will attract more attention. Illustrators, take advantage of this! 
–You can tweet something good more than once. Not too often though!
–There are various ways to manage Twitter so that you can schedule tweets ahead of time. Some times are much better than others for reaching certain audiences. For example, many people go on Twitter during their morning and evening commutes.

–Check out 100 hashtags for writers

Remember: Twitter is not your book! Keep writing.

Next Monday: How to manage Twitter chats, by VivienneDacosta @serendipity_viv

Julie Sullivan @webwight


  1. Brilliant stuff! I only last week posted my own article on social media when crowdfunding (, and there is a wealth of extra info here I will point my subscribers to. Look forward to hearing more from you Julie, thank you this is a great article :-)

  2. Thank you, Dennis!

    Here are some more useful links.

    How to get noticed on Twitter:


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