Twitter 101

I’m sure you’ve heard “you have to be on Twitter”, and you may have wondered why bother. Twitter has been lampooned for updates on what strangers have for lunch, and worse, their bathroom schedules. Who needs that?

You do. Twitter can be inane, but if you put a little time and effort in, it can also be an amazing engine of connectivity for authors, editors and publishers. Start thinking of it as a permanent floating conference, and stop thinking about Ashton and Demi.

The first step is signing up at When you pick a user name, my advice is to use something as close to your real name (or pen name) as possible. The user name field provides immediate feedback on whether a name is available.

Once you’ve signed up take the time to fill out your profile.

Tip #1 – Do not select the option to “protect your tweets”. This sounds tempting, but will limit the number of followers you will get. And you want to attract followers.

Tip #2 – Fill out your profile, especially your bio. If you’re a writer, this is where you tell the Twitterverse.

Your profile and tweets are how people find you and decide whether to follow you (or not). For example, here’s my bio:

Flaming Snot Rockets! Mild mannered designer by day. Children’s book writer and illustrator by night.

People search by keywords and phrases to connect with other writers. Make sure your bio tells the right story about you.

The next step is finding people to follow. Look on your favorite authors and bloggers websites for their Twitter name and follow them. Many will follow you back right away. Some won’t. Don’t be offended. It takes time to build a good reputation online, and you’re just starting out. Now let’s look for a broader community.

Twitter doesn’t offer out-of-the-box solutions for community building, so early users had to create their own using the hashtag. A hashtag is the pound symbol, #, attached to a short description of a topic, say #kidlitchat for instance. It’s a simple, searchable, way to link related tweets.

By searching for the hashtag #kidlitchat, I discovered a weekly online chat with writers, editors and agents focused on my genre. Instead of being isolated, I now had access to fellow creatives and industry insiders.

That was just the beginning. There are dozens of hashtags and chats for just about any genre out there. Debbie Ohi maintains a page that lists many of the chats available: .

The really cool thing about chats is that it helps overcome one of the major stumbling blocks I hear from Twitter newbies, finding people to follow. Without a doubt you will find people to follow when chatting. I keep multiple windows open when chatting. One for the chat, the other so I can click to a commenter’s Twitter page and follow them.

I guarantee that participating with thoughtful comments will get you new followers. I’ve seen the greatest boost in my own followers during and after a chat. Especially when I’ve been active in the discussion, and even better, when I’ve been re-tweeted because someone else liked my comments.

What’s a re-tweet? I’m glad you asked. A re-tweet is a method to share someone else’s tweet while properly crediting them with the thought. It’s another way to find followers, and interesting people to follow. It’s also a nice little ego-boost when you find yourself re-tweeted by someone you admire.

Which brings me to another benefit of using Twitter, access to the big dogs. Twitter can be a completely barrier free conversation. In chats, or through daily tweeting, you have the opportunity to converse with people you probably couldn’t get near otherwise. It’s an egalitarian platform that allows your ideas to rise above the noise.

I’ve found myself in Twitter conversations with the head of a world-renowned college, a talent scout for Disney, and top ranking editors and publishers in the kidlit world. For a unpublished prepublished writer from Cape Cod, Twitter presents opportunities that just wouldn’t happen outside of an expensive conference.

Getting noticed is a real benefit, but the aspect I like best about Twitter is the community. Twitter is always there, stocked with writers looking to share a laugh, critique a manuscript or throw down a word count challenge. It can be a bit intimidating at first, but if you take the time to find the right group of people to follow it can be a very rewarding experience.

You can start by following me, @heyjimhill on Twitter.






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