Navigate / search

Web Presence 101.5 – Twitter

As mentioned in my last post about social media, Twitter is my favourite social network. I tend not to use the main website, as (like Facebook) the interface is full of stuff I don’t want to see, e.g. trending topics, but there are plenty of third-party applications for computers, smartphones and so on.

Twitter icon by Mirjami Manninen
Twitter icon by Mirjami Manninen

I know that some people find Twitter confusing, perhaps because individual posts (tweets) are so short and the interface is pretty sparse. It’s best to think of it as somewhere between live chat and Facebook – I find it a more immediate experience than the “big content” social networks, and the ability to easily direct comments to your friends using the @ “mention” function feels more friendly than Facebook, which often feels to me like shouting into a void.

Another thing I like about Twitter is that I can follow, say, a big-name author without them having ever to acknowledge my presence, and likewise I don’t have to “friend” every random user who wants to follow me. It’s very like socialising at a party, where you can hover on the edge of a conversation or have a long one-to-one chat, depending on your level of acquaintance.

In addition, the very simplicity of Twitter means that I don’t have to worry about the complex privacy issues surrounding Facebook. A Twitter account holds your tweets and a brief biography – that’s it. One caveat is that you need to remember that unlike FB, Twitter is completely public. There is a DM (direct message) facility which can be used for private, one-to-one tweets, but anything else you say is visible to the entire Internet. Writer, beware!

So, how do you go about using Twitter to network as a writer? Rule one: do not spam your timeline with promos for your books. This bears repeating: do not spam your timeline with promos for your books. In particular, if someone is kind enough to follow you back, do not DM them with invitations to buy your book. This is really, really poor netiquette and will lose you followers.

This is not to say that you can’t promote your book at all, because that’s part of the reason people follow you – to get the latest news from the horse’s mouth. But make it just one small part. Talk about how your writing is going, retweet useful/cool/funny posts about your areas of interest (see the article on blogging), and most of all, interact with your followers and the people you follow. Capture people’s interest first, and then they won’t mind the occasional promo tweet.

One tool I find really useful is Hootsuite, which is a web-based Twitter client. Its multi-column interface allows you to see incoming and outgoing tweets, direct messages, mentions, etc all on one web page, and you can hook it up to multiple accounts, both on Twitter and other social networks such as Facebook. Even more useful, you can schedule tweets to go out when you’re not online – very handy if you want your book announcement to be seen at a busy time of day in another timezone, but don’t want to stay up all night.

Once you’ve got the hang of it, you can be more creative with Twitter. I’m currently running a second account, @MalCatlyn, in which I tweet in the persona of the protagonist of my Night’s Masque novels. Of course this is an additional commitment on top of my normal social media presence, and thus not to be recommended unless you really love Twitter and have the time to spare.

How to get started

Obviously you need an account first – go to twitter.com to register. Note that usernames are not case-sensitive – I registered as ‘annelyle’, but I usually write it as ‘AnneLyle’ for greater readability, and all the links still work.

Once you’ve created your Twitter account, use the “Who to Follow” page to find people:

  • Maybe you know someone who’s on Twitter (like me!), so you can just look them up and follow them.
  • Try searching for your favourite authors’ names – but beware that other people might have the same name and have claimed the username first (e.g. author Adam Christopher tweets as @ghostfinder because his name was already taken). There are also a few fake, identity-thieving account around. Read the mini-biography attached to the account and check out the user’s timeline to see if they look like a real person or a spambot
  • Similarly, type writing (or whatever) into the “Who to Follow” search box and browse the results for interesting feeds
  • The best Twitter users maintain public lists of good people to follow. When you find an account to follow, see if they are on any lists (the “Listed” number on their profile) and follow the links to find out who else is on that list.

Once you’ve got a bunch of people to follow, sit back and watch your timeline spool away. Don’t be too anxious to jump in, but at the same time, don’t be afraid to reply to others, retweet stuff, or just introduce yourself. E.g.

@AnneLyle Hi! Really looking forward to reading The Alchemist of Souls :)

As with most social media networks, you can import your blog’s RSS feed into Twitter, which will ensure you have a steady flow of tweets in addition to general chatter. I useTwitterfeed, as it’s very easy to set up.

Before you know it, people will start following you back – though some of them will undoubtedly be pornbots! Don’t worry, though, you can block unwanted followers. Some people leave the bots in their follower list to make the numbers look higher, but personally I would rather know that 99+% of my followers are real people who might actually be reading my feed.

Happy tweeting!

Other articles in this series:

  1. Claim your name
  2. Your website
  3. Blogging
  4. Introduction to social media
  5. Twitter
  6. Facebook
  7. Goodreads
  8. Pinterest
  9. Google alerts

Web presence 101.4 – Introduction to social media

Writers are frequently not the most social of people – sitting alone typing for hour after hour isn’t really a hobby/occupation for extroverts. And yet nowadays we are expected, as part of our online presence, to be active on at least one social medium if not several. So, is it a boon for writers, or a soul-crushing time sink?

As with blogging, it helps to have a strategy in place; a haphazard approach is wasted effort. And whilst social media can be addictive and a temptation to procrastination, it can also be the perfect way for a shy writer to network and get noticed.

Note that I’m not going to go into technical details on how to use any of the social sites mentioned – there are many fine resources out there, and in any case, available features change all the time. Just google “twitter for beginners” or “facebook tutorial” or whatever :)

Which social network(s) to choose

Do you have to join every network? Good question! On the one hand, as I mentioned in part 1, it’s wise to at least register an account on each popular social network, to stake your claim to your author name in cyberspace (do people still say “cyberspace”? I may be showing my age). On the other, there’s no point participating in an activity you don’t enjoy – it won’t be an effective use of your self-promotion time.

My strategy is to focus on the one I like best (which happens to be Twitter) and maintain a minimal presence on the other ones that are currently popular, so that members of that network can find out a bit more about me. Note that I say “currently popular” – the internet is evolving all the time, and some sites that were huge 2-3 years ago (MySpace, I’m looking at you) are now shrinking in popularity, at least with certain audiences. You don’t have to jump on and off every bandwagon, but at least be aware of where your readers are likely to be found, and make sure you’re there.

The care and feeding of social media

The issue that exercises the minds of most writers is: how do I maintain a presence on social media and still find time to write? The facile answer is that you need to limit your time on these services and use them effectively, but that’s easier said than done! However, here are some suggestions:

1. As with blogging, remember that the purpose of social media is to promote yourself, not just to sell books. It’s called social media for a reason – use it to engage with your audience rather than churning out spam!

2. Research the technology. The popular services have lots of add-on applications that can be used to schedule posts, generate posts automatically from, e.g. your blog RSS (see below), manage your friends/followers, and so on. A few hours spent trying out these add-ons can save you a lot of time and effort down the line.

3. Remember to be professional. Even more than your blog, your social media presence is your public face. Act like an idiot online and people will soon notice – and not in a good way.

4. As a corollary of 1, don’t sit back and expect people to come to you. Get out there and follow the interesting people. “Like” your favourite authors, publishers, TV shows and so on. The more you interact, the more likely it is that others will share your posts and spread your name around. Social media is the ultimate viral marketing environment!

RSS (Really Simple Syndication*)

You’ve probably seen the RSS icon (see left) on blogs and other sites you visit. It’s a way of exporting posts from a blog or social media feed so they can be read in, say, your email program or – more importantly for our purposes – displayed on another website. This means that you don’t have to post to all of your social networks all of the time. I feed my blog’s RSS into my FB page (using a Facebook app), thereby providing regular content even when I don’t have time to visit Facebook, and use the free service Twitterfeed to send it to Twitter. At the time of writing, Google+ doesn’t have this facility, so you can only post stuff manually.

* OK, so RSS actually stands for RDF Site Summary, but how dull is that?

So, is that it?

To be honest, without going into specific details about individual services, it’s hard to give more advice. So, in upcoming posts I’ll be covering the three main social networks I use: Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads. (I was going to include them here, but this post is already quite long!)

Find me on social media

Other articles in this series:

  1. Claim your name
  2. Your website
  3. Blogging
  4. Introduction to social media
  5. Twitter
  6. Facebook
  7. Goodreads
  8. Pinterest
  9. Google alerts

Web Presence 101.1 – Claim Your Name

NASA/courtesy of nasaimages.org
NASA/courtesy of nasaimages.org

Nowadays it’s generally considered vital for an author to have a web presence, and yet a lot of writers don’t really know where to start. I’ve been online since the mid-1990s, and a professional web developer for over a decade, so I thought I’d share some of my experience – what to do, and just as importantly, what not to do!

Once I started jotting down ideas, I realised there were a lot of things to consider, so this is going to be a multi-post article. First up: laying claim to your online identity.

Register a domain name

There’s really no excuse not to have your own domain name nowadays; they’re very cheap (as little as $5 a year) and they look so much more professional on a business card or email footer. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a website yet – the important thing is to lay claim to your online identity so that no-one else can. Buy a domain the minute you’ve decided on the name you will publish under. Seriously.

You can buy a domain name from any domain registrar – a company that looks after domain names and handles all the techie details for you. In the UK, I recommend 123-reg, as they’ve been around for a long time. Although they aren’t the cheapest, they aren’t overly expensive, and when it comes to a cornerstone of your online presence, reliability is too important to scrimp on. Do some research before you choose a registrar, as there are plenty of cowboys out there! For starters, your registrar should offer the ability to forward web addresses and emails for free, not as a paid add-on.

Caveat: If you are planning on putting up a website or blog, I strongly recommend not buying your domain name through the company that hosts the site. About ten or twelve years ago I had a web host go bust on me, and it took weeks, months even, to get my domain name back. During that time I couldn’t use the address for email, and anyone following links to my site was presented with a holding page saying the site was no longer available. DON’T LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOU. A decade ago it was an irritation; nowadays it would be a disaster. Register your domain with a well-established domain registrar and host your website elsewhere.

Before you register a name, you have to choose what it will be! I recommend not registering the title of your book – or rather, not as your sole domain. Firstly, the title may change. My first novel, The Alchemist of Souls, went through several working titles before I even submitted it, then my publisher asked me to change the title I submitted it under. Secondly, you’re going to write more than one book, right? So you don’t want your web presence tied to a single title. I have registered my series title, www.nightsmasque.com, but I forward that address to this website rather than using it directly.

Of course if your chosen name is common, someone else may have already nabbed the .com address. (I got lucky – whilst neither my first name nor my surname is rare, the combination had not been registered.) In that case, you may have to try a different TLD (top level domain) such as .net or .info, or choose a country-specific one like .co.uk (they are often cheaper because there’s less demand for them than the generic ones).

Once you have your name, I recommend you start using it. If you’re not ready (or don’t want) to set up a website, forward the URL to your blog, Twitter profile, Facebook page – anywhere is better than your registrar’s standard holding page! Similarly, emails to “name@authorname.com” can be forwarded to your existing email account, and your mail client can often be configured to use the same address in the “From” field. No-one need know you’re still using Hotmail ;)

Claim your name on social media

I’ll get onto the ins and outs of social media in a later post, but right now I’ll just say that it’s worth at least trying out the various social media services. Some of them, like Twitter, allow you to use a unique name from the start, so it’s a good idea to claim your author name there if it’s still available. Twitter has a limit of 15 characters on user names, however, so you might have to be a bit more creative on that one (you can still display your full name in your profile).

That’s it for names. Really. Why are you still here? Go forth and stake your claim. Now!

Other articles in this series:

  1. Claim your name
  2. Your website
  3. Blogging
  4. Introduction to social media
  5. Twitter
  6. Facebook
  7. Goodreads
  8. Pinterest
  9. Google alerts

A Year in the Life

Since I’ve been struggling to stay focused of late, I’ve decided to try an experiment. I’ve created a Twitter account in the name of my protagonist, Mal Catlyn, and will be tweeting the twelve months of his life that lead up to the events of  The Alchemist of Souls.

The story begins in July 1592, and will continue up to the beginning of the book in June 1593. Admittedly the first post is “dated” May 1592, just to establish the inciting incident, but from this week onwards the story will unfold in real time.

I have no idea if or how this is going to work – I just fancy trying something a bit different to boost my creativity and keep my mind focused on these books and characters. And if it brings a little publicity my way, well, all to the good!

You can follow the story at @MalCatlyn, and as I may also be using the account to reply to followers, you can filter the actual “diary” posts using the #malsdiary hashtag.

Enjoy!