My adventures with Twitter

A blue twitter logo with a white bird

Being a self-published author is very confusing. The problem isn’t a lack of advice, but too much, a lot of it conflicting. Social media is a good example. On the one hand you are told to prioritise and not waste time ‘playing’ social media when you could be writing your masterpiece. On the other hand you are told to build your platform and not publish anything until you have a ready-made audience.

Facebook is the way forward, or it is a waste of time.

Blogging is a time drain or a great way for people to connect with you, the author.

Twitter is a distraction or…

I joined Twitter in 2012 but had no idea why. A few friends had joined so I thought I would too. I saw it as a nice way of keeping in touch with certain celebrities I admired. I found – unsurprisingly – that a number of my favourite authors used twitter and started following them too. It was an eye-opener. Some were just as I imagined, others… less so. But I was amazed how many would interact with their readers. It seemed a great way for those already established to reach out to their audience, but for those of us less established? I wasn’t sure.

By the middle of March this year my book had been published for a couple of months and I had been blogging for a year. My Twitter followers had risen from a paltry 30 to a slightly more respectable 70, but for some reason people were not flocking to follow me. I’d been hash-tagging for all I was worth and would get the occasional retweet, but as a promotional avenue twitter seemed a dead end. When I looked at how other self-published authors used twitter I found a number with 20,000, 50,000 or over 100,000 followers; churning out tweets and retweets seemingly every minute of every day. Was this what I had to do to get the best out of twitter, turn myself into a promotional machine? I understood the concept – tell your message enough times to enough people, some are bound to bite – but it didn’t seem the right approach for me. It felt soulless and impersonal.

Then again, maybe there was something in their approach. I started looking up other authors on twitter and following them. I did this for 30 minutes a day because I was worried that it would become a time drain. Amazingly, many of the authors who I followed, followed me back. My follower numbers grew. Within a week I had a thousand followers, many of them authors like myself. This was great, until my timeline became filled by endless promotional tweets and seemingly mindless retweets by those that preferred the blunderbuss approach. What made this worse, I was losing any meaningful contact because of all that extra noise. This was a real shame because a number of people were contacting with me, giving me feedback on my blog, my tweets. Others were writing really insightful comments and sharing their writing experiences but I was missing them because of the noise.

That was when I discovered Hootsuite. It’s a website and app which allows you to create custom timelines from lists. For those that don’t know, lists are a way of grouping together followers within Twitter. I created two lists, one for friends and one for what I called “interesting people”. Within Hootsuite I was able to look at a twitter feed (or stream, as they term it) that contained only those tweets of the people on that list. If I looked at the “friends” stream only the tweets from those listed as my friends would be there.

It was wonderful. Instead of being like a bear watching thousands of salmon swim past, occasionally swinging out a paw in the hopes of catching a fish, I was able to identify those people who seemed interesting, and those that engaged with me. I discovered a wonderful writing community who supported and encouraged each other. I discovered wonderful bloggers. I helped and encouraged, and was helped encouraged back, by many people. And I also discovered new readers.

But calling these people new readers is a disservice. For authors, twitter has changed our relationship with readers. The term readers is too passive. Instead I got to feel what it was like to read my book through others eyes by receiving tweets like the following:

twitter 2



twitter 1


These wonderful tweets and others like them at a time when I was struggling to find the time and enthusiasm to finish the first draft of the follow up to Second Chance. They were the social media equivalent to 3 triple espressos. Instead of becoming a time drain twitter redoubled my energy levels and commitment to write.

I’m so glad I decided to give twitter a chance. It has been more rewarding than I could have imagined. If any author asks me whether they should use social media I would say yes. You can use it as a selling tool, but if you want to get real value don’t treat your followers as prospective customers, but as prospective friends. It’s much better for the soul.



27 thoughts on “My adventures with Twitter

  1. Great post, Dylan – thought-provoking as always. I too am averse to the ‘if I follow you, you follow me’ approach to Twitter precisely because of the noise overload. It’s hardly surprising that tools like Hootsuite, which allow us to follow people whilst not actually paying any heed to what those people are posting, do so well. It’s the only way to ‘deal’ with Twitter – to find whatever way you can to cut through the noise to the Tweets which really interest you. But that means there are millions of people ‘out there’ sending bundles of Tweets every day to a world which is trying to avoid seeing them! There’s an insanity to social media which I can’t yet quite get my head around. Somehow good/interesting/engaging people find one another (ahem… ), but amidst all the noise, just how this happens is a small miracle.

    • I look at following as someone on twitter, or them following me, as an introduction. To me it means “I might be interested in what you say”. If all I find is retweets and sales messages, I loose interest pretty quickly, but if I see thought and engagement then I’m hooked.

  2. I think too many people are missing the whole point of marketing themselves. It’s not about blatting people over the head with their self-promotion; it’s about engaging, building relationships, being (cripes – I hate this word but it’s the right one)… authentic. Even on the internet, people like to connect with people, not pre-scheduled Tweet engines!

  3. I wouldn’t survive Twitter without using lists. Once you get beyond a certain number of tweeps, the timeline becomes visual white noise. Like you, I sort the noise from the true interactions by using lists, though I do it directly on Twitter. (I do have Tweetdeck, but I don’t often open it.)

    • I use Hootsuite because it has an app I can use on my phone. The twitter app will let me add people to lists but not see them as a feed of all their tweets (unless I’m doing something wrong).

  4. You are miles ahead of me on Twitter expertise. I’m still not sure how to actually # anyone, and I shy away from just saying hello to someone I don’t know in 140 characters, whilst I am easier with Blogging where you can enter into conversations as we do, without seeming invasive. Difficult stuff this social media, whoever publishes you

    • I think you’ve already found your community through blogging, Peter (and you are way ahead of me with that). Twitter is good for snappy soundbites, for instant reaction and feedback but blogging is much better for depth of thought.

      • Its the old, do we grow hard-wood or softwood thing. I’m a hardwood man in a softwood world, and its taken me three years to get where | am in Blogland, by which time most people in social media would have lost all patience. If you have the patience I do think its a good way to go, but I could still do with some serious FB and Twitter skills to add to my marketing weaponry.

  5. I agree with that there are so many pieces of advice that contradict each other. Sorting through it can be maddening. You really have to figure out what works for you and your genre/niche.
    I, personally, am amazed at how many of these “authors” are selling a book about writing, marketing, or some other “self-help” to get into the writing industry. And after seeing the numerous ads for Buying Followers, I wonder how many of the those authors paid that extra price. I want my followers to be as true as possible.
    Using Twitter, I’ve managed to up my sales by a few, but it isn’t a miracle cure. New authors must find their way in the sea of readers and make themselves noticeable in a way that suits them and their audience.

    • “New authors must find their way in the sea of readers and make themselves noticeable in a way that suits them and their audience.” – I couldn’t agree more. For some this is via twitter, others Facebook org blogging. Sadly just putting your book out there and hoping is not an option, unless you are very lucky – though I’d recommend buying lottery tickets first as a means to make money. 🙂

  6. Awesome! I had vaguely heard of Hootsuite through the always evolving internet universe but didn’t see much need for it for myself. As a self confessed over organizer…this is a game changer for me! Thanks!

    • You’re welcome. Glad it was of use. I’m told there is a lot more you can do with Hootsuite but being able to see the separate streams on my smartphone was the clincher for me.
      Thanks for dropping by!

  7. Great advice Dylan, thanks. I don’t use Twitter – yet – as I’m afraid to take on more social media at the moment. I’ve only just started a Facebook Page (you can ‘like’ it if you want, hint hint!!) and I’m on LinkedIn and of course there’s my blog, but I keep hearing that Twitter is the way to go. So I’ll remember all you’ve said here 🙂 Hope all is going well with you …

    • Thanks, Sherri. Twitter is a way to go, not necessarily the way to go. It’s very much down to what works for you.
      All is well although I’ve been crazily busy and still haven’t finished my first draft. Hopefully in the next couple of weeks…

  8. Like you, Dylan, I’ve had a hard time embracing Twitter. I’ve created an account and occasionally tweet something, but I find the whole medium impersonal and full of noise. I do have Hootsuite, maybe I should try to embrace it a few minutes a day as you have, but I never feel inspired to do so. It always feels like “one more thing to do.” I’m glad you’ve found your place in the Twittersphere.

    • It’s a bit like blogging, nerve-wracking at first but gradually you get to understand the rhythm and find your community.
      Saying that, My first love is still blogging. Twitter is great for immediacy but blogging allows for greater subtlety of thought.

  9. I never thought I would use Twitter until I published my first book, Second Chances Sammy’s story, Twitter seems to be the one social media that sells books for me. I have hootsuite but am still not sure how to use it to its full potential. Thanks Dylan. When I saw the name of your book i just had to check out your blog. Great post.

    • I agree. I too have sold books through twitter but it has come through engagement, rather than trying to sell.
      Yes, since publishing I’ve found that there are a few Second Chance / Second Chances books around. I get the feeling that my “Second Chance” and your “Second Chances: Sammy’s story” are two very different books!
      Thanks for dropping by.

  10. Hmm, I am still not sold on Twitter as a promotional tool yet as with any other writer, I crave anything that might lead to expanding my “brand” and people reading my work. My blog alone isn’t going to work. I have a Facebook page and I connect my blog feed to Good Reads Author Page. I tried Tumblr but gave up after a couple of months.

    Blogging is a time drain or a great way for people to connect with you, the author.

    I think we need to find that balance between promoting our writing, talking about our writing and actually doing it. It’s easy to slip into that black hole of writing about all the wonderful projects you are working on and then let weeks pass without actually writing any of it!

    That’s why I make myself do my “Snippet Sunday”, sometimes a flash fiction piece, sometimes an excerpt from something longer.

    • You’re right about it being a potential time sink (as is blogging, Facebook etc) and you do have to be disciplined. I hate thinking of blogging as promotion as it’s so personal. Twitter is similar, although I do retweet nice comments or reviews. The key benefit of twitter over blogging is that more people read tweets than blogs, meaning you have a better chance of finding your audience.

  11. Pingback: What I learnt over the weekend | Suffolk Scribblings

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