Monday, 5 October 2009


It would be possible (though not for me) to write a book about Twitter. However, it would be pointless, because it changes so fast. There's also plenty of help on the internet, so I'll just select salient points from an author's perspective. I am a fairly new Twitterer, or at least newly converted to its value, and I am sure there are other ways to use it. But I don't want Twitter to take over your life or mine  -  remember, we are artistes, dahlings, not birds; and our real writing must come first.

I know from your comments on my post about blogging that many of you are sceptical about Twitter anyway. I won't evangelise about it, just tell you why I like it and how I do it.

If you haven't read my recent post about whether and why authors need platforms, please do. And the one on blogging was part of the same trio of posts on author pre-, post- and peri-publicationary marketing. (Yes, I did just invent that word, but you are welcome to use it if you can get your tongue around it.)

It's free, fast, instant, and doesn't have to be time-consuming. It's perfect for the self-employed who want to keep up-to-date with what's going on in their industry, who want to make contact with people of similar interests, and who want to raise their "platform".

Your experience of Twitter will be determined largely by the people you choose to "follow". If you follow 500 people who tweet boringly 50 times a day, you will see hundreds of mind-numbingly dull tweets and gain nothing. If you select people who have interesting things to say and who come up with useful links, thoughts and blog posts (which they link to), you'll have a great time, make contacts and learn loads.

  1. If you don't use Twitter, your life will continue unabated. By avoiding Twitter, you are not condemning yourself to obscurity.
  2. Twitter is a tool to make contacts and keep up with what's going on in your chosen areas, but it is not the only tool. There is no rule that says authors must Twitter.
  3. I find it very useful, fun, and not at all time-consuming. It is much less time-consuming than blogging, and is in some ways easier. (Yes, and completely different.)
  4. You can do it just on your computer or also on your mobile. Doing it by mobile/cell-phone certainly opens up more use for you, but obviously it depends on your tariff and internet allowance. I use an iphone which makes it stupendously easy, but then the iphone makes life stupendously easy ...
If you use Facebook, you may wonder why you need Twitter. I use Facebook purely socially, for fun and friends. I use Twitter for professional reasons. It's part of my working day. A small but important part. You can link Facebook to Twitter, though I don't because it can be annoying for FB friends who have chosen not to be involved in Twitter.

Think of a dog. Facebook is the equivalent of a dog lying on its back by the fire being scratched between the ears and luxuriating at the end of a hard day's squirrel-chasing. Twitter is the equivalent of a dog going for a quick walk and sniffing at absolutely everything to see what's been going on in the neighbourhood since its last walk. Twitter, one might say, is about pissing and sniffing. Apologies for that but I can't think of a better way to put it.

TWITTER BASICS  -  really basics (skip this if you already know what Twitter is):

  • People follow you and you follow people.
  • If you follow someone, you automatically see their "tweets". (A tweet is a message, up to 140 characters long). Twitter consists of nothing but tweets. 
  • Tweets can contain links and pictures. These are formatted in a special tweety way.
  • People who follow you see all your tweets.
  • If you follow someone, you and that person can also send each other Direct Messages (DMs). No one else can see a DM. (I hope...) No one can send you a DM if you aren't following that person.
  • Unlike Facebook, anyone can follow you without your permission. (Though you can block people.)
  • Twitter is very quick to access  -  much quicker than sending an email. You can choose to have it on in the background while you're working, or just access it when you want. There are various Twitter platforms or "clients" to choose from, and I'll speak about one (Tweetdeck) below.
  • Spambots (robots) have invaded Twitter; so, some people who follow you will be trying to sell things  - don't follow them back. Block them.
HOW TO START and how to continue
  • go to and sign up. It's free and you can change your profile later.
  • you'll see an option saying "find people"  -  one option is for Twitter to trawl your email address book. It will come up with all your contacts who are on Twitter.
  • you're started!
  • you choose which of those names to follow; then you can find who they follow, and follow them in turn
  • on your Twitter page, explore the small number of options on the right  -  particularly the one where it says @your name  -  here you can choose to see all tweets with your name in  -  there won't be any yet because you've just started, but there soon will be!
  • now, consider choosing a better "client" than the basic Twitter page. There are many but the one I use is Tweetdeck, which I explain a bit about below. Those of you who prefer something else, tell us about it.
The wonderful Bubblecow people (Gary and Caroline Smailes) have fantastic advice about Twitter for authors and they know much more than I do. Also, if you follow them (look for @BubbleCow) you'll instantly be able to tap into other excellent Twitterers. A lot of my own followers came after @BubbleCow linked to a blog post of mine.

Here are three of their most relevant posts:
For very clear instructions for beginners
For advanced instructions on everything to do with Twitter (and other things)
For other info, go to their blog and use the search box at bottom right. But please come back.


  • this allows you to use Twitter more easily and fruitfully than the basic page. It has columns, which you can add or remove. The ones I have are the default ones: "All friends"  -  tweets from everyone I follow; "Mentions"  -  any tweet that mentions my username, because when someone uses your name in a tweet they want you to see it, and it's how someone I don't follow can get my attention (because they can't DM me); and DMs. There's also "Twitter recommends" but I deleted that because I don't care what Twitter recommends.
  • I have Tweetdeck open most of the time in the background on my computer but with the sound turned off, otherwise you get a stupid birdsound every time a tweet appears. There's an iphone Tweetdeck App, which is free and I like it, though no doubt someone will tell me about a better one and then my life will be perfect.
  • Tweetdeck also (automatically on the new version, by request on the old version) shortens any URL so that it only uses a few characters  -  important since many tweets contain links to webpages and links which would make the tweet too long. (I am sure other clients do this too).

  • when you first sign up to Twitter, you will wonder why you did. Most first tweets say, "Well, here I am. Now what? Arghhhhhh!!!!"
  • so, it's all about getting some people to follow and to follow you. Take your time. Once you are following someone, you can go to that profile and see who they're following  -  and follow them too. As soon as you follow someone, their tweets will appear on your home page. On Tweetdeck, they'll appear in the "All friends" column
  • think about what sort of things you're going to say. I do not say "good morning all" as a tweet  -  some people do ... Gah. I like it when people have a healthy mix of fun/personal tweets and useful links to relevant sites or bits of writing/book-related news. As well as interesting individuals, I also follow things like the Bookseller, Bookbrunch and Book2book, and people like Scott Pack (@meandmybigmouth). I follow lots of you, too. If you're on Twitter and I'm not already following you, let me know your @name and I will, unless you're incredibly annoying or boring or try to sell me things.
That previous point brings me to publishers who Twitter. Publishers and publicists who Twitter need to be careful. So does anyone else trying to sell things. Especially to me. It brings out the most crabbit in me. (You should hear me when someone phones me trying to sell something.) On Twitter, I get completely sick of people who do nothing other than tell me how wonderful they or their clients are. I have stopped following people for that reason, and am very much less likely to buy their books. If you are going to occupy even a few seconds in my Twitter-life, I want you at least some of the time to interest me, amuse me, entertain me, or inform me in a way I need or want.

Although tweeting is like standing on a street corner and shouting, it is worth remembering that a) there are a lot of people standing there shouting too, so why would I hear you? and b) people standing and shouting tend to get eggs and things thrown at them. I would be the person throwing eggs.

@  -  the @ immediately before a username (no space after the sign) means that that person will see your message in their "Mentions" column on Tweetdeck or equivalent on other platforms. So, you never just use someone's name, because they may not see it. For example, if you mention that Nicola Morgan has just said something fascinating on her blog (it happens) you say Brilliant piece by @nicolamorgan and then you'd insert the URL to my marvellous post. All your followers would see you'd done it, and I would too, even if I wasn't your follower already, because the @ would mean that it would appear in my "Mentions" column. When I saw that you'd done that, I would love you and probably follow you. It's all mutual back-scratching.

#  -  hashchats. Very good idea to get into some hashchats. At designated times, there are worldwide chats on particular topics, such as #writechat, #pubchat (publishers, not pubs, silly). It's a great way to get to "meet" more people with similar interests. You get more followers after joining a #chat. Some #chats are, I think, continuous  -  I have a feeling that an example is #amwriting, where people tweet about what they're writing, but I haven't looked at this yet.

An example of one I have experienced is #litchat, which is Mon/Wed/Fri, 9-10pm London time. You go to, register and follow instructions. Then, the screen changes to a dedicated chat about books, hosted by #Litchat, and (until you choose to leave) the only tweets you see are people all in the same conversation, even if you weren't following them. Like the old-fashioned chat-rooms. Can be a bit mad, can be dead boring, can be stimulating. You'll usually find me, Jane Smith (@hprw), Maggie Dana (@MaggieDana) and Miss Pitch (@pitchparlour) there. We sometimes go off-topic and start bringing wine or chocolate into the conversation, for which we risk being ticked off by the moderator. Bit like being back at school, in my case.

When you like someone's tweet, you "retweet" or "RT" it by either (eg on Tweetdeck) choosing the RT option on the person's icon (avatar) or by copying and pasting it and adding RT + @name to the beginning. This then becomes a tweet of yours. People like to be RT'd but remember to make sure their @name is there, which is how you credit someone with having done or said something interesting.

RETWEET blog posts with a TWEETMEME button  -  or not...

I have been nagged by Jane Smith (sorry, @hprw) to add a Retweet button to my blog posts. It means that a blog-reader who is on Twitter can automatically send the post to Twitter. Trouble is, I failed. Or, I should say that I failed for an hour and gave up. I followed lots of different instructions but every time the button ended up in a weird place and I started to feel ill. And please do not tell me how to do it  -  I am quite happy having failed because at least I have a life. See, I know where to draw the line. One day, I'll ask Jane or someone to sort me out, but meanwhile I have some actual work to do, as in dosh-earning work.


A really useful thing to do. It means that a) every time you blog, your post automatically goes onto Twitter shortly afterwards and b) IF YOU ALSO insert the html code as a "gadget" on your blog, every time you tweet, your tweet goes onto your blog, so that your blog-readers can see your recent tweets even if they aren't on Twitter. I had some problems setting this up on the two occasions I had to do it, but I persevered and succeeded.

How? Go to and follow the instructions relating to the blog platform you use. I use blogger and it's straightforward once you get the correct RSS feed address. I can't advise in any way other then to say: persevere. Also, it doesn't work instantly, so don't worry if you seem not to have got it to work: wait an hour and then do a test post.

Every Friday is "FollowFriday". This means that if you've liked someone's blog or tweets, you put a tweet saying something like #ff the wonderful blog of @nicolamorgan 4 sensational advice + wit - and then, because it had @nicolamorgan in it, I'll see it, love you for ever and probably #ff you back.

If it does, you're doing it wrong. Well, you can do it wrong if you like, but unless you're a sad idiot you won't want something so ridiculous to take over your life. Because it is in many ways ridiculous. But ridiculously useful and more than occasionally fun too. I spend maybe 20 minutes day on it, split into 30 seconds to a minute at a time.

Bit like my dog sniffing and ...

Twitter is changing fast and anything I've said here may be out of date in five minutes. It's a matter of holding your breath and leaping in, panicking a bit till you come up for air, treading water till you see where the pretty fish and treasure islands are and then just going with the flow. And never, ever labouring such a mixed metaphor again.

Meanwhile, all you Twitterers, do please add any of your favourite tips or clients or #chats in the comments below. What I don't know about Twitter could fill a lot more than a day's worth of tweets, so do add to my paltriness. And correct anything I've got wrong. I'm finding my way, too.

Also, in the comments, tell us your own Twitter name (@.........) so that we can follow you.

Now I must go and sniff around Twitter and see what's been going on in my absence.

(PS  -  remember that I'm away most of this week  -  commenting is tricky from Tuesday onwards, but I'll be reading yours.)


Thomas Taylor said...

Thanks, Nicola -- you've almost convinced me.

I signed up for twitter a few months ago, just to find out what it was. I spent about ten minutes staring at the screen going 'huh?' and I've never been back since. maybe once my current writing project is finished...

Nicola Morgan said...

Thomas - definitely finish your current writing project first. I would never want you to put the writing in second place!

Sue Guiney said...

Yes, yes, yes. I am, on twitter (as you know from our mutual following) but never understand the hatchchat thing - to be honest, I can't even find the symbol on my keyboard. Hmmm.... Only problem otherwise I;m having is that there are too many tweets to follow, but I'm getting there. Thanks.

Marshall Buckley said...

"Twitter, one might say, is about pissing and sniffing."

That has to be one of the best definitions of *anything* I've ever heard!

Thanks for this quick start; I joined a couple of months ago but didn't have a clue what to do... this is really helpful, and now I think I'll be able to find people to follow.
@marshallbuckley - not surprisingly!

Keren David said...

One other thing about Twitter - you can customise your backgrond. I've been blessed with a beautiful and striking cover design for my book, so I've used my Twitter background to thrust it in people's faces - it all feels a bit brash and self-promotional, but I think part of Twitter is just getting yourself recognised.Maybe a few people will remember seeing my book on Twitter and then be interested enough to pick it up in a bookshop. Or maybe not - but it can't hurt, can it?

HelenMWalters said...

I absolutely love twitter. I think it's a great way of dipping in and out of some really interesting debates and pick up great tips. There are a lot of people out there tweeting about writing and some of it is very helpful. If I come across interesting tweets about writing or publishing, I always try to retweet them.

I'm on there as @hmhunt

Daniel Blythe said...

Well, I am more interested than I was, but still not totally convinced I need it.

"Hashchats" sounds like what stoned students have at 3am.

Can I stalk Sarah Harding on it?

Kate said...

Thanks for the post. I do use Twitter occasionally but not in any way to full potential.

Kate x

Anonymous said...

I did not know about twitterfeed. Thanks for the information. I'm going to link my blog up now.

Simon Kewin said...

Thanks Nicola - I've been firmly in the sceptic camp before now, but I've signed up to see how I get on with it. Tweeted once, set up twitterfeed - now it's back to the real writing!

Sulci Collective said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sulci Collective said...

... because I can't spell. Take 2

It makes me feel like a kid with a dollop of candyfloss at the fair, fingers in my ears as all the barkers shout for their rides seeking you to come in... But it has boosted my profile in terms of bringing new people to blogs/sample book pages/ interactive writing projects. And I've only been on a week. maybe that will tail off. Haven't figured out participating in live chats or how to retweet without being kippered by going over 140 words meaning I can't ask a brief comment.

peri is a great word and has already worked to double the status of peri chicken.

@21stCscribe & @ExisleMoll

Juliet Boyd said...

I use Tweetdeck as well. I find it a good way to sort out the tweets into a manageable form. I have created separate columns for different topics. For example, I have one for writing, one for news, etc. Then, if you don't have time to read everything you can just ignore a particular column. It also makes it easier to follow if there is a conversation going back and forth between people you follow.

Unfortunately, my Twitterfeed has stopped working and I haven't managed to work out why yet. Probably because I've put too many other things onto my blog page, such as the retweet icon!

Rebecca Knight said...

Great post, and thank you for the advice about linking to my blog. I'd always wondered how that worked!

Some things I've learned and noticed from using Twitter:

DO say something witty and fun to agents/editors you are following. Twitter is a place to get to know others in the industry as people and interact once in a while!

DON'T be a creepy stalker! Even though you can see people's tweets does *not* mean you are their special friend. Have fun, but remember to always be professional :).

I'm @twoheadknight.

If you're new and need a Twitter buddy to help get you started, I'm happy to help!

David John Griffin said...

Excellent info on Twitter, thank you Nicola. I've a Twitter account but got disheartened as only having one follower, I was almost tweeting to myself, which seemed a bit of a waste of time.

But now, reading this post, I've understood ways to gain followers as well as interact more.

If anyone would like to follow me on Twitter, I'd be grateful, thanks (although I can't promise regular tweeting or particularly scintillating tweets though!)


Rebecca Knight said...

I'm now stalki... uh, I mean "following" you, David :).

Donna Gambale said...

Definitely a comprehensive post on Twittering! And I agree with Marshall - the "pissing and sniffing" part was my favorite! As I have a tendency to get addicted to things and let them take up WAY too much of my writing time, I think I'll stay away from Twitter for now. But if I ever decide to go over to the dark side, I'm rereading this post first!

JaneF said...

Donna, my feelings exactly - I am already addicted to this blog and get pathetically excited when anything new appears on it, so I dread to think what I would be like with Twitter. I just don't trust myself.

CarolineR said...

Thanks for a great post. I'm new-ish to Twitter and really love it but haven't got to grips with everything yet, especially TweetDeck, which I don't really understand.

Thanks for commenting on my piece on Strictly Writing too. I feel like a bit of a copy-cat for posting on the same subject on the same day!

Mary Hoffman said...

I have downloaded Tweetdeck! And I like it, I think. But don't know how to make new columns. I don't want one for DMs but that's what they've given me. More research needed on my part.

Delia Lloyd said...

I use Twitter exactly as you describe (for mainly professional reasons) and find it to be an excellent source of facts, articles and occasionally very funny stuff. I reserve FB for more personal things. I couldn't have summed this up better myself and will refer all people who ask me why I twitter to this page!

Delia Lloyd

Nicola Morgan said...

Daniel, you sad, sad man - I have investigated and as far as I can see you can't actually stalk Sarah Harding on Twitter. Though you can follow her fan club. (I am proud to say i didn't even know who she was till you encouraged me. For goodness' sake, this is a serious blog, you fool.)

Marshall, i am now following you, but it wasn't easy because for some reason it said you didn't exist. I don't think the Twitter search facility is very good. I once searched for myself and i didn't exist either, which was slightly worrying.

SueG - be very selective. You do not have to follow all tweets. Get your sniffing sorted so you just sniff casually and quickly.

Keren - I hardly even notice any more that my avatar is my last book cover!

Helen - you are a good twitterer!

Kate, HelenCaldwell, Simon, others - glad to have encourtaged you. Am following ...

Sulci - agree! Will follow.

Juliet - yes, I think I'll give that retweet icon a miss!

Rebecca - good advice

David - am following you.

Donna + Jane - !

Caroline - not a copycat at all, just great minds etc.

Delia - thank you and nice to meet you!

Mary - at the top of the screen, to the left, you'll see a row of icons. Choose the Twitter icon (the small case t) and there you'll see how to add other columns.

Nicola Morgan said...

Delia - what is your twitter name?

Nicola Morgan said...

Delia - I found you!

catdownunder said...

How can a cat 'twitter'? :-)

Unknown said...

ok, giving it a go. I'm now following you, Nicola. I'm at @mickmal

David John Griffin said...

Thank you Rebecca and Nicola for following me on Twitter, much appreciated. I'll have to make sure I tweet stuff of interest now!

Anonymous said...

I'm new to this blog, but intend to stick around.
Have been tweeting for a while: @MiriamDrori

Marisa Birns said...

Thank you so much for all this info. I am relatively new to Twitter and have been bumbling about and learning the hard way.

But you've done all the work!

I do follow you ;)

My name is @marisabirns

And loved your airport security blog story. At Heathrow Airport, I went through security with antihistamine pills in bag being scanned. Left airport with empty bottle. Everyone denied taking any.

Anne Lyle said...

Loved the "pissing and sniffing" metaphor - have retweeted it :)

On the iPhone I use Tweetie, which is nice and simple and makes adding photos straightforward; on the Mac I use Seesmic Desktop - it's very similar to TweetDeck but easier to fold down into a single column, which I prefer. I find it so much easier to use a Twitter client with some kind of grouping feature - some of the people I follow are interesting but suffer from twittorrhea (did I just invent that?), and less prolific Tweeters get lost in the noise.

I do the reverse of TwitterFeed, in that I have my Twitter updates feed into the home page of my website (a bit more techy, but then it's what I do for a day-job). I used to have a manually-updated "what's new" box, but Twitter is much easier!

And if anyone wants to follow me, my username is, predictably, @annelyle :)

Jewell said...

Thanks, Nicola. So much good info here. I will pass the link on to friends who want to know how to use Twitter. When I tried to explain it I just got that deer-in-the-headlights look from them.

Daniel Blythe said...

Nicola, grovelling apologies for sullying your muesli-nutritious blog with Pop Tarts. I shall try not to do it again...

Jo Treggiari said...

I was on the fence about Twitter. You pushed (hauled) me over. I'd like to follow you now but couldn't find you. Maybe I'm an idiot. Who are you on Twitter?

Anonymous said...

I jumped on the Twitter bandwagon when I realized my favorite authors were on there--never looked back. I'm completely in love with it. I've met some wonderful writers there, not to mention learned a lot from the various agents and editors that I follow.

Friend of mine on there pointed me to your blog in fact, and I am now following you! *grins*

catdownunder said...

At Nicola's request - there is a new book out on 'twittering'. "Twitter, tips, tricks, and tweets" Paul McFedries
(Wylie, 2009) ISBN: 978-0-470-52969-0
I picked it up at the library. As a non-technoc(r)at I cannot comment on the content but it would appear to be written by someone who knows his subject.

Jo Treggiari said...

Ok, I found you. Sometimes the search engine doesn't work very well. I'm @jotreggiari

Nicola Morgan said...

SueG and delia - now i can't find you again on Twitter - the search facility is rubbish. Tweet me and then I'll #ff you

Margaret Adams said...

What a great article. Not just the basics but the more complex aspects of Twitter are covered really well.

Thank you


emma darwin said...

And I'm twittering now, entirely thanks to this post, Nicola!

Sarah Duncan said...

Hooray - having started Twittering and got the basics sorted, had no idea of what the other stuff was so this has helped enormously (altho I can feel the info seeping from my brain as I type). Thanks! I will now follow you...

Jesse Owen said...

I joined a couple of months ago and have it running in the background (although I use Hootsuite - my sometimes dodgy internet connection caused problems with Tweetdeck!)

I'm now following everyone who commented on this post.

I'm here: @jesserowen if anyone's interested (even though i'm a tad late)