Drowning in Tweets: A struggling author tries to understand Twitter

I dream the same dream of thousands of other people.

Yes, I am one of thousands (probably a lot more) and we are all part of the same collective consciousness, wired into the same hopes of finding writing success. And while we all know in our hearts that there are not enough readers on this planet for all of us to succeed, we all keep dreaming together, sharing the same hopes, avoiding expressing the same fears.

It is all a beautifully sad thought, like a fleeting, quiet, and hopeful melody lost in a romantic symphony.

-At the time of this writing I have 2370 followers on Twitter-

I need to begin by blaming my brother (@AESPiano).

I had just reached over a 100 followers on my blog and he thought it was ridiculous that I had more blog followers than Twitter followers. He first reached out to his followers to find me and follow me, and then he tried to convince me to do some outreach myself on the great social media site, claiming that it would help my writing career.

Frankly, I didn’t see it, but I decided to do some investigating into it just out of curiosity. I found a fellow writer who was following me and started to scroll through her followers, looking for other writers, and clicking follow on the ones that I felt might be interesting.

My obsession began, like a new sport being discovered, and by the end of the first week I had a 1000.

Tweet indeed.

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I have to be honest here:  My first reaction to experiencing the writing world around Twitter was despair. Not a surprising emotion as you scroll through writers’ tweets after writers’ tweets, each trying to convince you to check out their book, read a sample, and buy, buy, buy.

Some are outright pitches (comparing their book to other works, sales, a random positive review), some contain maybe one or two sentences to try and catch your eye (but out of context rarely work or are trying to be too profound, again because the context is lost), there are bargain hunters (“My book is only 99 cents today!”), and others may be nothing more than a title and a link; reminding me of the last gasp of a swimmer lost at sea about to go down for the third time.

My immediate vision was of a street of fishmongers back in Victorian times. Each of us shouting that I have the best fish, but no customers being in sight; so all we are doing is shouting at each other until we are hoarse. Not a fair comparison I know now, but it was honestly the first image I had. What can I say? I am shouting “Fresh Fish! I got the best fresh fish! Who wants a halibut?” just like everyone else.

( I have two by the way that are particularly tasty, just caught recently. They are called A Jane Austen Daydream and Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare… I’m sorry, force of habit).

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During my first week, I did an experiment. You will see around the writing tweets people offering services to promote books. One I found offered to promote my book with 50,000 people over Twitter and Facebook for only 35 or so dollars.

I thought, what the heck, and did it; considering the investment as part of my education into the possibilities of Twitter.

On their Facebook page, the company used the wrong cover for my book. I kid you not! Instead of my very slick 1950’s sci-fi cover (this is for My Problem With Doors), they used the cover for… wait for it… The Christmas Cookie Club.

Wow…

I mean… wow…

I pointed it out to the organization, which they corrected in other examples, but what I soon realized over the experience is that they were just adding my book to the “noise” of the market, it wasn’t cutting through. And since then I had not seen anything in my numbers to justify the financial transaction in the future.

So what is the lesson I learned?  Basically, it is not easy to cut through the congestion of Twitter. You need a unique hook that is all your own. But what that is or how it is done, everyone has to find for themselves. Personally, I am still looking.

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I see Twitter different now.

Twitter, in my opinion, is the great melting pot for writers.

We are all equal here. Every single one of us is no better than the other. You want to call yourself a writer or an author, feel free. Everyone is welcome.

This is all a very new thing for the world of writing, an environment that has spent over a hundred years finding the right spot, right genre, and right amount of success for everyone entering it (and if you didn’t fit the mold, you didn’t play the game). On Twitter the literary snobbery gets left at the door.

Yes, those old rules are gone on Twitter. Established writers are no different from the indie and the self-published writers. We all market ourselves and our books here, and what our numbers come down to is how aggressive we want to be to get that word out.

As a lover of literature, I can’t wait to see what the writing world looks like a decade from now because of this. Honestly, I have no idea how it will turn out and what will remain at the end of it.

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One of the things I love about finding writers on Twitter is a game I have made up. Here, I will share it with you.  I call it “Guess the Genre.”

Rules:  I give myself two points if I guess the genre of the writer correctly before I look at their bio, I take away one point if I guess incorrectly.

To be honest, I am usually always correct now. For example:

  • Horror/Paranormal writers are always in the shadows, trying to look scary.
  • Romance writers usually have covers of their books, and each looks like something from a harlequin shelf. There is a fascination with abs, it seems. How the heroes have time to woo with all of the work needed to keep those abs up to snuff is beyond me.
  • Crime/Thriller writers are always against a wall, looking like they were trapped into having their picture taken.
  • Children authors look like the nicest people on the planet. They are smiling and usually outdoors someplace with a lot of sun.

Someone told me during my first week I looked like a cowboy in my picture. Personally, I don’t know many cowboys that wear a tie and a vest, but that is pretty bad ass in my opinion so I will take that compliment. But if you played the “Guess the Genre” with me, and you thought Western you would be wrong.

Sorry. (Post-Modern literature with hints of fantastical elements, that’s me.)

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Another thing I have noticed about Twitter writers is that so many are writing a series.

My initial snob response to that is to blame TV, but that is not fair. P.G. Wodehouse, one of my favorite humorists of the last century, wrote a series of comedy novels (Jeeves and Wooster, check them out), and of course, there is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes. The big difference to me is that it seems that with the success of Harry Potter, the idea of a series has moved from the world of pulp fiction to the mainstream.

(Oh, did I mention I am writing a series? No, this is not a joke. I wrote the first draft of the first book, last year, but it needs work. It will be part of a dark teenage fantasy. So there you go…).

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One of the things I have grown to love over Twitter is the interaction with fellow writers. It is a great feeling when another writer tells you that they like your recent blog post, retweet something you wrote, or compliment your writing. Twitter, when done right, is wonderful for the ego and writers need egos. (If you don’t feel like you are doing something important, you won’t finish a sentence.)

And while there are a lot out there that are only interested in pushing their books (which is fine, and good luck and cheers to them), there are others that are actually interested in you, in your thoughts; which has led to some nice interactions for me.

It is that feeling that we are all in this together. And, yes, while we all know that the literary marketplace is congested, and few of us will find the success we all dream about in our collective consciousness, we are still in it together.

What can I say?

If you follow me, I will follow you back.

A Jane Austen DaydreamOf course, I can be found on Twitter at @SDSouthard. If you liked reading my article, why not check out some of my published books? I’ve had four books published in the last few years, the new A Jane Austen Daydream, Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous DareMy Problem With Doors and Megan. You can find them via my amazon.com author page here, or Doors and Megan as an eBook on Google eBooks here.  Thanks for reading!

Need an editor? Dream of finishing that book but need some help? Learn about my editing services by visiting this page on my site. Or you can contact Rebecca T. Dickson and request to work with me by clicking the image below.

Rebecca T. Dickson, Editor

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108 responses

  1. I like this post! In fact, this is the first time I’ve come across a blog post about Twitter that I thoroughly enjoyed reading!

    It’s awesome that you don’t blast writers for self-promotion.

    I don’t find self promo annoying, in fact it’s helped me find a couple of books that I’ve fallen in love with and never would have known existed were it weren’t for the writer’s shameless self-promotion.

    Anyways, I think I shall now follow you on Twitter because this post was off-the-chart in awesomeness.

    That…is all!

  2. I’m still pretty uninitiated into the whole Twitter-environment. I signed up out of a sense of an obligation to the modern world, but haven’t really done anything with it yet (although I will admit that I am entertained by how successful it’s been as an interaction-platform for public figures, and I do get a kick out of following certain folks). I must agree with the points you’ve laid out, though!

    Love the photo pigeon-holes, too! Scarily accurate. (>^-‘)>

  3. I loved your post. True, true, true. Tweets multiply like ants but… about book sales… Sales? Perhaps if one dedicated lots of time… If you have not done so already, please check Bad Redhead Media (Top 25 Ways to sell…)on Tweeter.
    @birdylu

  4. Very interesting thought process. I actually scrolled through your tweets and landed on this link to this exact post. Yep, we’re all equal on twitter, and even if deep inside we’d like to be the next JK Rowling, writing is more than just selling a lot of books. It’s a way of life. I always told myself I would be happy writing even if I sell nothing. Or no one reads my stuff.

    I met wonderful people on Twitter too! Great interactions were born on the platform, and I made real friends.

    So yes, it’s an adventure. And true, I hide behind a scary image because I write fantasy/paranormal. LOL

  5. Okay, so I promised myself I’d turn off the Twitter and Get. Back. To. Editing. But the phrase “drowning in Tweets” really struck a chord. Very much enjoyed your take on tweets. I’m so new, I don’t tweet…I squeak. Now, I really am getting back to editing. All the best!

    • Oh, no I am a distraction! haahaahaa… Get back to editing! Cheers and I hope you will check out my blog again (during breaks, of course).

  6. You have to have a sense of humor using twitter. I use whatever people post as humor posts on my blog. We may just all be sadistic in nature. No pain, no gain so to speak. I just remain faithful and patient that being an indie author takes one reader at time to meet my goals. Nice post.

    • How flattering! Thank you, this comment really made my day.

      With the blog I try to write two to three posts a week, but I am also working on a book on the site (Permanent Spring Showers) and editing another book (A Jane Austen Daydream) with an ebook publisher for publication in December, so it’s almost becoming a full-time job here… So there is a lot more Scott to read coming up.

  7. Thank you your post. I just finished my first published book, and I am learning now on how to promote it. I love writing but the promoting is very challenging, quite entertaining I would say. So lately I have created a fictitious book by a fictitious author and I decided to promote it instead, just to see where it will take me. I got a few laughs out of it. The author name is Abesea Wyz, and the book title is : A Zombie cured my cancer. Of course you will not find this book anywhere but in my head. The promotion has sequels every weeks. You can look it up at: http://www.claudebeccai.com/blog

  8. Pingback: My Five Favorite Posts, 2012 « The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard

  9. I don’t mind promotion from writers – so long as that isn’t all they do on Twitter 24/7. I’ve purchased books based solely on the fact that the writer and I had pleasant interactions, or I particularly enjoyed their sense of humor in their tweets.

    Your game of figuring out genre based on Twitter photo made me laugh – makes me wonder, did you get any points trying to guess mine? 🙂

    (Looking forward to more from you in the new year!)

  10. Hi, will RT your piece because it’s amusing and true – love how you sneak in your own promo so painlessly. FYI Amber West is pictured with Nathan Filion from Firefly, Serenity & lately Castle, as I’m sure every man, woman and dog will point out. We Doctor Who fans tend to be like that LOL. I’ve lately crossed the genre chasm, will be interested in what slot you put me in. Don’t know how to put my icon here. Following you happily on Twitter, too. Cheers.

  11. I like your recent blog post.
    I retweeted what you wrote.
    Your writing is good!
    PLEASE CHECK OUT MY SHORT STORY “BREAKING IN TWA” ON MY SITE!

    All kidding aside, that was a very good read. I found myself chuckling as I read about your “guess the genre” game. (I can’t really say anything, though, with my cheesy eye-pictures).
    It is indeed a bleak world out there, which is why I’ve gone from using twitter as a “promote only” tool, to use it like this. Finding new people and new blogs is a lot more fun than spamming oneself.
    Consider yourself followed. 😉

    – Bishop

  12. Lol. Awesome post. Thanks for making twitter so funny! I especially loved your analysis of author photos:) My genre is YA so I guess I would fall under children’s authors. And my pic is in the outdoors in the sun:) And Christmas cookie book club??? I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time..

  13. Scott, Some very wonderful thoughts and words about Twitter. I have only been doing this for the past several weeks since my husband’s books were published. Yes, the original intent is to get the word out and promote the books but I am also finding great pleasure in discovering new authors, new books, new people. No, not everyone will become a huge success….but as I said in a blog I wrote for Marshall last night….the writing itself has been a gift to our lives even if no one else decides to delve into it. Thanks for following us at Guiamo Chronicles. It was fun to see we were one of your new followers today when you passed the 12,000 mark was it? How you got to 1,000 in a week is beyond me. We’re up to about 25 :)…..best of luck to you and I will definitely be retweeting this. Take care,
    Tracey

  14. I think the series thing is because people don’t want to read thick books, but will read the same book spread over three smaller books. Some of it is that people want something familiar, so it feels safer to buy more of the same than try something new. That and you can hook people with the first book cheap, then they come back for later books. It’s a good way to build a following.

    • There’s nothing wrong with it (save that many hold their punches in the first book), it’s just a writing fad I find interesting and definitely new to the art form; in the past it was just a pulp/dime store book thing. Now it is everywhere.

  15. Good post. The series thing has always been around in fantasy, so nothing new there. I’d ask you to guess my genre but I probably just gave it away with that first comment. 🙂

    I’ve also recognized the “sell, sell, sell” mentality some writers have on Twitter. I was there myself and just got tired of it. Also, the ROI just wasn’t there. I think I was putting readers off more than attracting them. Not that I’ve abandoned the “get your halibut here” thing completely, but I try to provide more useful content over an incessant, ineffectual sales pitch.

    As for drawing readers in via Twitter… that’s a hard one. I’m shifting my blog over to cater more to my readers and I suppose my tweets as well. It’s a work-in-progress, though.

  16. This was such an entertaining read Scott! I’ve been stumbling my way through Twitter for just a few months, about to hit the 200 mark – woo hoo! And yes, even though my picture never seems to show in my avatar, I am writing a children’s novel, I am the nicest person and, whilst not outdoors in my photo, I have flowers in the background 😉

  17. It was a thoughtful post that anyone with a writer’s heart can agree with — but my problem with Twitter (and it’s my favorite of all the social media) is that it’s easy to get caught up in numbers and promoting oneself at the expense of writing anything worthwhile. Like you pointed out, it’s medicine for the writer’s ego. The snare being when we get caught up in having our ego nurtured — it’s often at the expense of taking quiet, secluded time to write things of substance. At least for a mom of three it is.

  18. Good article. I too, and somewhat mystified by Twitter. And Facebook. But I’m a pretty good blogger. If I had to pick a niche, that would be it. And I still find Twitter more engaging than Facebook.

    I agree with you about Twitter seeming like a shouting match. One strategy I’ve used recently is to follow the followers of authors that appear in my “customers also bought books by” list at Amazon. I figure if they are interested in that writer, they might be interested in me.

  19. Great post! I read the first few comments before (as usual) scrolling down to leave mine. So forgive me if I am repeating someone else. I think of Twitter as a sort of fun version of Russian Roulette. I am building a community of (I hope) like-minded people, whether they are writers, jokesters, lunatics or whatever. I follow interesting folks, unfollow when they get too weird, try to sell their stuff too often, or just get plain offensive. It is an adventure! You challenge: “One of the things I love about finding writers on Twitter is a game I have made up. Here, I will share it with you. I call it “Guess the Genre.” Okay- what is my genre??
    PS Like you, I can’r wait to see what this all looks like in 10 years!

  20. Love this post – to reiterate what was said in the first comment, one of the few articles on Twitter I’ve actually read – most of them seem to be a whinge about people marketing (yes of course we do, it’s how we sell our books, and much of what Twitter is for!), or about their confusion (get a grip and stop being such a wimp).

    I liked your comments about how the writers of different genres portray themselves! I always notice that sort of thing too – I’d love to know what the writers of erotica really look like…! I’ll contribute: – the writers of chick lit look friendly, approachable, and as if they are about to offer you a cupcake and share a secret about some ghastly dating gaffe they made.. the zombie apocalypse lot seem to be the most jolly… and then there are the historical fiction crewe who take it all WAY seriously… and the epic fantasy series writers who look as though they’re dying to put their anorak back on, in the nicest possible way, of course!

    Me, I’m contemporary fiction… perhaps I like to keep it nice and broad so that I can’t be put into a category by people like me!

  21. I am SO going to play “spot the genre” from now on, Scott. Nice to know there are others in the community who don’t take it too seriously. Perhaps if every Author using Twitter agreed to purchase 5 fellow Twitterers ebooks a month, everybody would enjoy themselves more! Have a great day-you’ve cheered me up!

  22. OK. I’m guilty of the cover of my book image. No abs though. I specifically told the artists I didn’t want naked men on my covers. Eventually, I will find the time to get a real photo taken, maybe even of me.

    Personally, I think you got kind of a Michael Crichton thing goin’ on. That’s a good thing. (I am, of course, referring to the time when Crichton was among the living.)

  23. Scott,

    Great post. Enjoyed your comments regarding Twitter. Like you, I enjoy touching base with other writers. There are some great people out there once you get to know them. BTW, I am Peggy A. Edelheit @samanthjamison

    1) I do write a series, but please don’t hold that against me. (chuckle)
    2) My photo is my cover It changes w/ea. new book (play the spot the genre game)
    3) I don’t take myself seriously and love supporting other authors

    Good luck with your writing! Peggy

  24. So true! I haven’t a clue what I’m doing, yet I can laugh at myself for it and keep chugging along. I’ll admit the idea of random strangers ‘following’ me was creepy at first, but it is becoming exciting to connect somewhat to someone on the other side of the world. Yet now there’s Google+, and Tumblr, Instagram…. on top of our blogs and tweets and, oh yes, our books! Never ends. (big sigh)

  25. Blogging is fun, I agree! I’m enjoying having a schedule where I have to ‘publish’ something a couple times a week. It’s great exercise, as well as being another way to link with like-minded people. I just started Google +. I need to explore it a little more to see what value it may or may not have. I’m getting 50/50 good/bad from others about it.Twitter is my current puzzle, but I think I get the whole # and @ now 🙂 Thanks for the article! Great to read the comments and know I am not drowning in seclusion!

  26. Great post. I’m new to Twitter and building slowly. Not sure how you keep up with thousands. Poor Lady Gaga with over a million – she must be exhausted.

    Good luck with the writing. I’m somewhere on the track a little ways behind but will tap you on the shoulder one day and ask if you want to buy my novel. . .

  27. I can never think of anything to say on Twitter & I don’t have a book to promote at the moment, so I concentrate on retweeting posts that interest me or might be helpful to other writers. I’ve been enjoying retweeting your posts today & reading your blog posts. Entertaining & educational!

  28. Pingback: My Favorite Writing Posts | The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard

  29. Just to echo the first person who left a comment, this was fun to read. It’s nice to know that I’m not alone in the experience – attempts, successes, and failures in figuring out this game of Twitter. What’s so crazy is that the more you play, the more addicted you become. I don’t know about you, but honestly.. I don’t need more addictions! Thanks for sharing this @jenniferBurge

  30. It helps that you are a prolific blogger/tweeter – I log in to Twitter and you’re instantly all over my browser window. If one or two of them get through, then you have success.

    I’m in a different position – I’m a literary agent, not a writer. I have 13 followers, my major client has 40. We both would like to increase this tally (for example, her poetry blog has something in excess of 750 followers, so why not Twitter?) but there are only so many hours in a day. Her g/f tells her to exploit topics that are trending. There’s a caveat to that – before you make a flippant tweet about something, you have to make sure the trend isn’t due to some tragedy or serious controversy.

    Anyhow, I enjoy your blog and your tweets. When I get the time 😦

    • Most of the people I follow are writers (of all genres, I don’t discriminate… Well, unless they say tea party in their description. LOL.) feel free to go through that and click on follow. They might follow you back.

      My tweets draw readers to my blog. If they like my writing they might check out my books (fingers crossed).

      • Exactly. Your in-your-face tweeting scores on quantity.

        I’ll pass on the Tea Party. I suggest you pass on the EDL, and then we’ll be safe on either side of the pond. 😉

        I follow writers and publishing houses, obviously. I’m not in a particular hurry to up my list – the agency is only small as yet – so I’m doing things slowly.

  31. Pingback: Oh Tweet…and I’m not talking about Robins this time! | Margaret McBee

  32. Thanks for this post. I agree with you on a lot of it. I was happiest when I had 20 followers and could actually exchange ideas with others who were similar to me. I have 241 followers now, and the original people I enjoyed are now lost in the “noise” you discuss. I am a new emerging writer, so I am looking for a specific group to follow. But now it is crazy with those 99 cent come ons, free books, noise! Maybe Twitter isn’t for me, but I enjoy a couple of tweets each day — like the one that led me here. Take care and good luck. @jeaninegriggs

    • Thanks! I’m glad you liked it. Twitter is a unique enterprise. To draw people to my blog posts and articles I almost have to post an hour to two every day. For those with few followers, that can annoying, but it generates traffic and (hopefully) helps people discover my writing (people’s me at the top of lists and hashtag searches, etc.). And the communication with fellow writers is always wonderful. But when it comes to convincing people to buy a book with 140 characters, I don’t see it yet.

      So as you can tell, I go up and down on Twitter. If you like my writing, consider following my blog. Then you get an e-mail when I post something new and can avoid the tweets.

      Cheers!

  33. Interesting Analogy of Tweeter. ( I Think I like it) At bear minimum It was fun to read….I’m thinking perhaps I would have a better chance selling fishing equipment or lobsters around the corner, on the next street. There’s just to much competition, and to many sharks for me in the Tweeter pond and from what I understand sharks don’t like shell fish 🙂

  34. Another excellent post which I will be retweeting – I mean, hell, I need some decent content right? And I laughed outloud at the guess the genre – I think I do look like someone trapped me to get my picture taken (or I was just on the way home from a heist).

  35. Love the post! I am trying to be more Twitter-literate as part of my overall book promo strategy but have been only somewhat successful. Like everything else it takes time and that is in short supply these days. (And I’d rather write than tweet!)

  36. I’m so glad it’s not just me.
    “What genre am I ? – Go on, I dare you to guess with out going to my blog Scott.
    We talk to each other but do actual readers who buy books ever read our calls in the void?

  37. Hi Scott
    I just read your blog on Twitter. You nailed it! I am drowning in Tweets! As a newly published introverted author I am completely out of my realm with Twitter. For the longest time I couldn’t even say Twitter correctly. I called it Tweeter. I’m a f…g idiot with this stuff. I don’t even know what to tweet. It’s crazy out there. Who are these people who want to follow me and why? Who am I? And, why do I follow them, for that matter? Who has the time?
    I feel silly posting anything about my books. Like a salesman. Kind of embarrassing. Anyway, just wanted you to know you made me laugh 😉
    I’m up for any good ideas other than Read My Shit! 😉 lol

    • Tweeter! LOL. Sorry, but that is funny.

      There are some writers that will follow you that will be really “on” twitter. They will check out what you write, respond. Those can be fun.

      There are also those that are only kind of twitter. I’m not sure what they are hoping for. I don’t think people search twitter for book recommendations, but who knows?

      Whatever the case, good luck with the writing! And thanks for checking out the sites. And yes, I have a new book coming out next week, in case you were wondering (Actually kind of a joke, and also not a joke; it really does come out next week).

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