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How to Make Twitter Work for You as a Writer

Updated: Jul 4, 2022

Hello! Come in, come in! Shall we do introductions? My name is Michael Gallagher, and I promise I’m nowhere near as stern as my author photo might suggest. For nigh on thirty years I taught adults with learning disabilities here in London, until a couple of years ago when I retired to write full time. I have five novels under my belt to date and I’m currently working on a sixth. I’m thrilled that Cody DeBos has chosen me to do a guest post for the launch of his blog. Why? Because it gives me a chance to talk about some ways to use Twitter that you may not have considered as a writer.

Cody and I both belong to the generally supportive writing community on Twitter. It’s thanks to their policy of following everyone back that I went from a meager eleven followers to a healthy 2.5K in a matter of months. Why would I even want that, you ask? Am I a sad wannabe influencer who is unduly impressed by big numbers? Ah! Here’s the rub if you’re a writer: unless you are the next Stephen King, J. K. Rowling, or George R. R. Martin, no agent or publisher will consider your work without a large, demonstrable social media following.

So how do you sign up for it? Using hashtags can help, especially #amwriting and #writingcommunity. Me, I put out an #amwriting tweet asking for help to flesh out a minor character. The responses I got were so generous, I soon found that I’d made new friends. They started including me in their Friday Follow (#FF) trains (posts that recommend which writers to follow). I even ended up with a well-rounded major character with a far bigger role than I’d intended.

For the community to thrive, however, it’s crucial that you follow people back, and engage with them where you can. Which brings us to a rather sticky question: how do you engage with a thousand or more people? The truth is you can’t. Only one percent of my followers engage with me regularly—and by that I mean liking, retweeting, and replying to me. If this sounds minuscule, I just checked the accounts of some writer friends and, not to sound smug, by comparison I’m doing rather well.

We writers are a diverse bunch, and the different ways we use Twitter reflect this. There are those who only ever put out tweets to plug their books, those who want their visitors to see a clean, professional-looking page whenever they drop by, those who retweet other writers’ tweets practically 24/7, and those seem to tweet solely to the writing community. While there is nothing wrong with any of these approaches, what surprises me is how seldom we try to engage with potential readers. You may not have noticed it, but Twitter IS the kitchen at parties. Find some interesting accounts to talk to and engage with people, folks! Go on! Make friends!

Once you do, you’ll find the tweets that get the best responses (and manage to interest potential readers in your writing) tend to have certain key features in common. They’ll consist of entirely original content (your own text and a photo if possible—pets are perfect) which reveals something about yourself, even if it’s something very minor. They will only occasionally be about your writing. Why? Because it’s you that you’re selling; the writing comes later when the reader has learned what you’re like. You’ll post regularly, but no more than once or twice a day for your own tweets. And you should be quick to respond to replies, preferably with a view to striking up conversations. Why quick? Because that’s how Skinnerian behaviourism would handle it, and classic and Skinnerian conditioning runs through the very core code of Twitter. That little bell you hear (or, in my case, what they optimistically call “bongos”) whenever you get a notification, has it ever got you salivating? It was meant to. It’s pure Pavlov.

With regards to your account, there’s a bit of basic housekeeping I would recommend. You want to be seen as a writer, so unless you have something more pressing to say, keep a tweet about your writing (or writing in general) pinned to the top of your timeline. If anyone is kind enough to retweet it, look for theirs and, if you can, try to reciprocate. If you already retweeted it in the past, undo the retweet, and retweet it again. As for the people who become friends or accounts who tend to retweet you, the easiest way to keep track of them is by adding them to a “list”.

For those of you who’ve never come across the concept of lists before, here’s how. For everyone else, look away now; it’s dry and technical. Click on your friend’s account. Somewhere near the top on the right-hand side (in both the phone app and online) you will see a tiny column made up of three small circles. Click on this and you get a drop-down menu, which gives you the option to “Add to list”—or some such similar wording.

The first time you do this, you’ll be asked to create a list that you can add them to (in the app, it’s the little circle with the plus sign at the bottom right). You can give the list a name, and you can decide whether it will be public (everyone can see it) or private (just for you). Once you’ve added your friend, you can come back to your list at any time by clicking on your profile pic in the header bar (top right online, top left on the phone app) for a drop-down menu that will take you there.

Phew, that was a mouthful! I hope that I’ve managed to bring you at least something new to reflect on with regard to how you use Twitter. All that remains to do now is to wish Cody the very best for his new blog, and to say that if you happen to be passing by Twitter and have a free moment to spare, do take a second to say hello to me @seventh7rainbow. I promise to say hello back.


Meet the Guest Author

Michael Gallagher is the author of two series of novels set in Victorian times. Send for Octavius Guy chronicles the attempts of fourteen-year-old Gooseberry—reformed master pickpocket—to become a detective, aided and abetted by his ragtag bunch of friends. The Involuntary Medium follows the fortunes of young Lizzie Blaylock, a girl who can materialize the spirits of the dead, as she strives to come to terms with her unique gift.

For twenty-five years Michael taught adults with learning disabilities at a London-based charity that works with the local community. He now writes full-time.


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