Jul 052011
 

Okay, I’m getting a tad fed-up. It is one thing to have marketing folk follow you on Twitter then a few days later, unfollow you. Obviously they’re trying to boost their follower count. But it is another for an author or writer to do it. What are they thinking? That Twitter is just for marketing? That they’ll sell more books if we authors all reciprocate and follow each other like a bunch of tail-sniffing dogs in some club that supports each other’s fundraising efforts but gets no outside supporters? They also have the most boring Twitter feeds, filled with shills and only shills for their book, with maybe some random thought chucked in every now and then. What a waste. Of Twitter and the writer’s time. And mine.

For those who don’t know, this practice of following a person and then within a day or perhaps a generous five days unfollowing the person if they don’t follow back arose because of Twitter’s policy. Once you follow 2,000 people, you must have a certain ratio of follow:being followed in order to increase that number above 2,000. So the idea is you follow a person, they immediately follow you. You unfollow the person and repeat with another. (Writers who do this may not unfollow as it’s also, in their view, some sort of support thing.) If they don’t follow you, you definitely unfollow them. That way the number of people who follow you will remain higher than the number you follow, and Twitter will let you increase the number of people you follow beyond 2,000. You follow? However, with apps like TwitDiff, people like me can now spot these kind of Twitterers and no longer have to waste our time checking out their Twitter feed.

I have never immediately followed back because I am too slow. First off, it can take me weeks to check out feeds, it all depends on my energy levels and what else I’m doing. With some feeds, I can’t make up my mind if I want to follow them. With feeds filled with RTs and @ replies, I know I don’t because a feed filled with RTs is too difficult to read, and a feed filled with @ replies means I won’t see it with how Twitter handles those tweets. Only TweetDeck would show me them, and I’m not on TweetDeck that often. In a very, very few cases, feeds are a slam-dunk to follow. They have funny tweets, interesting tweets, intriguing links, banal tweets, good info, some @ replies, a few RTs, or a combo of all of those; they have conversations; they’re not filled with hashtags fore and aft, which make my eyes spin. In short, they’re worth the follow.

Those kinds of feeds ought to be a natural for writers to write, or at least aspire to.

Apparently not.

I joined Twitter for the same reason I started a blog: to practice my writing (those 10,000 hours Malcolm Gladwell writes about plus it’s fun or at least work I like) and to express myself. Twitter had the added discipline of imposing brevity. Short writing, putting a complex thought into few words, is not easy. Twitter provides the perfect opportunity to practise.

Twitter also provides the writer the chance to write pithy thoughts on a wide variety of subjects. You’re not confined to the subject of your books or the theme of your blog.

I have also discovered that Twitter allows an author to meet readers. Goodreads does that too, but not in the real-time, free-flowing conversational way that Twitter does, in which others can join in to your conversations.

And Twitter allows you to meet or follow interesting people in the publishing industry and learn from them. You can’t do that — heck, you can’t do any of the above — if all you’re doing is exchanging book shills, which becomes extremely tedious before the day is half over.

Yes, an author does need to tweet on their books, what others are saying about the books, where to buy, sales and promotions. And yes, there will be bursts of these tweets when a new book comes out. But over the course of a year, those tweets should be a small part; even in the bursts they should not be the only topic on the author’s feed.

Twitter is a merit thing when it comes to following. I don’t expect people to follow me just for following support. I don’t expect people to follow me back just because I followed them. My tweets may not be their cup of tea. So I don’t like it when people impose the expectation of you-have-to-follow-me-just-because-I-followed-you-even-if-my-feed-is-the-biggest-yawnfest-you-ever-encountered. TwittDiff lets me spot these kinds of Twitterers in the ease of my email inbox. I no longer have to spend precious energy or minutes checking out a feed, only to discover that they’ve already unfollowed me (you can tell by the lack of direct message ability). But even with TwitDiff, it really irritates me when writers unfollow because I didn’t follow back right away or at all.

Authors who think we should follow each other because it’s how we support each other and that by boosting Twitter follower numbers we will somehow sell books, are missing out. And they are also missing out in how we can truly support each other: by sharing info, by discussing how we do things, joining up under a shared hashtag like #amwriting or #nanowrimo even though we may not follow each other. These authors and writers have just stuck a finger in the eye of Twitter’s opportunity.

“Real” authors, the established ones, don’t do this follow-you-follow-me thing. They’re too busy writing interesting tweets.

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