Saturday, August 4, 2012

Indie Author's Guide To Twitter

          When I started writing Collapse at the end of February, I did painstaking research on how to promote the book to the masses.  Most of that research pointed back to Twitter and that bothered me a great deal.  I couldn't understand Twitter for the life of me.  My opinion of Twitter up to that point was "If people want to know what is going on with me, they should just check my Facebook page."   I started up a Twitter account and set about writing my novel.  I checked back a week later and had gained a minuscule amount of followers (most of them porn or spam, would that be considered porny spam or spammy porn?)  

I was determined to figure out this mystery that was Twitter.  I had absolutely no clue how it worked.  I did so many Google searches it was ridiculous - What is this "RT" that people keep putting in their tweets?   Why are people using the pound symbol # and what does it do?  And the acronyms, oh the acronyms!  FF, DM, FYB, and many more.  I still find myself searching to find the meanings for these little twitter codes.

I've decided to share my knowledge as I understand it.  Please comment if you care to add some helpful information.


If you have the basics down, feel free to skip down to the next section.  This is for the people that were like me at the beginning and had to search for the meaning of "RT" - it means "Retweet" by the way.  

Followers - Your most valuable asset on Twitter.  How do you get followers?  We will discuss that in the next section.

Following - Are the people that you are following.  The easiest and most effective way to get followers is to follow people in the hopes that they follow you back.  At the start, you can follow up to 2000 people before Twitter enacts a follow limit.  As an indie author, who should you follow?  We'll discuss that later.

Tweets - The micro-blogging feature of Twitter.  You can send out tweets up to 140 characters.  

Hastags (#) - You can put a hashtag symbol in front of keywords or phrases to help categorize your tweets. This function helps people do searches for tweets by category.  More on this later.

RT - Retweets.  If you find a particular tweet that you like, you can hit the retweet button and share it with your followers.  This is also a very valuable tool in supporting other indie authors.

DM - Direct Message.  Other followers can send you direct messages that can't be seen by the public.  It is important to note that if you send a tweet to someone it is public for all to see.  


This aspect is what puzzled me the most in the beginning.  I thought for some reason that I would just automatically gain followers as time progressed.  Like I mentioned earlier, I set up the account and came back a week later to discover the only followers I got were porny spam (I like that term better, LOL).

Simply put, you gain followers by following other people and count on them to follow you back.  As mentioned above, you can initially follow 2,000 people before Twitter before a follow limit is placed on your account.  After that limit is in place, some secret algorithm kicks in that allows you to follow between 200 to 500 more people than are following you.  You will want to weed out the people that you are following that are not following you back.  Some free websites out there tell you who's not following you back so that you can unfollow them.  One site that comes to mind is  There are a few others out there like it.   A word of warning, if you follow and unfollow large amounts of people too quickly, Twitter will put your account in Twitter Jail for "follow churn".  My advise, don't do both on the same day.  If you want to weed out your unfollowers, do it once or twice a week and never on the same day that you follow a bunch of people.

Who should you follow?  Well, if you are trying to promote your book, you want to follow people that read books.  Search for hashtags that will bring up book readers like #bookworm, #booknerd, #booklover, #bookaholic, #lovetoread, or terms like "avid reader" or "book suggestion".


The best way to get word of your book out to the masses is by tweeting about it.  However, it is even more important not to spam your followers, which I was very guilty of in the beginning.  If enough people report you for spam, Twitter will suspend your account (commonly referred to as "Twitter Jail")  I had to learn this by trial and error since I had no clue what constituted spam.  During my free time I would sit in front of my computer surfing the internet and watching TV and would send out tweets every five minutes.  That is WAY too much.  A good rule of thumb is to send out tweets no more than every twenty minutes.  If you want to send out more tweets, I wouldn't recommend sending them out any less than every fifteen minutes.

Another important factor in tweeting is to have a long list of tweets.  If you send out the same three tweets at twenty minute intervals, your followers will consider that spam.  If you send out three tweets an hour, that is seventy-two tweets in a twenty-four hour period.  I would shoot for a list of at least forty-eight.  If you can bump it up to seventy-two, that would be ideal.

Make a list of tweets and ensure that they are no more than 140 characters.  Make a list of shortened links to your book and/or your blog.  I highly recommend using the website  Just copy and paste your link into the website and in return you will get a shortened link.  Some people use and that's fine, however, bitly will give you a link that is on average five characters shorter than tinyurl  More characters mean longer tweets.   Twitter does have a feature that will shorten your links automatically, but I advise against it.  I used it for a while and many people responded saying the link didn't work.  Maybe Twitter has worked out the kinks?  Not really sure, I like and use that exclusively.

What should you tweet about?   Well, you are a writer so I would hope you have the creative juices to come up with some on your own.  ;)   The key to tweeting about your book is advertising.  Draw people's attention and make them wonder about your book.  Make the tweet a little vague but not too much.  Make people question "What is this about?  Let me click on it and find out."  I would advise against empty claims about how amazing your book is  "Check out my book!"  "You can't miss this exciting read!"  "This is your next read!"  "Don't miss the next big thriller!"  The best thing to do is simply present your book and let people draw their own conclusions.  A word of caution, your list should not be  made up entirely of "buy my book." It needs to have more substance to it, promote other authors, promote your blog, add some flavor to it.

What genre is your book?  You can start there.  "Looking for a good romance?  Check out ..."    "Are you a fan of spy novels?  Check out ..."

Another good thing to tweet about are the reviews for your novel.   " (Title) has 23 Five Star reviews!"   "(Title) has been called  (insert snippet of review)"

You can also use pieces of your promotional blurb from your novel.   "Detective John Doe will find out that his next case will define his career"     "John Doe will discover the secret of a lifetime"   "How long before John Doe meets the woman of his dreams?"

Do you have a blog?  Drawing readers to your blog is another fantastic way to spread the word about your book.  Make up tweets about each of your blog posts.  You can rest assured that I will have a few tweets about the very blog post you are reading now.

Anyone in the advertising business will tell you that you need to come up with several tag lines that define your book.  For my novel I came up with several, the most effective one being   "In 2027, America Will Fall"   Other taglines were "Second Great Depression.  Terrorists On Our Soil.  Major Cities Locked Down." "Civilization is Fragile" and  "Are you prepared for the Collapse?"


Now that you've come up with your tweets, how do you spread them into the Twitterverse?  You can use several hashtags that indie authors use to help promote each other.  Just include them in your tweet and other indies out there will retweet them for you.  The two best ones that I know of are #BYNR and #authorRT.  Just include those hashtags and other indies will help you spread your tweets.  Ensure that you return the favor.  I have those two hashtags as saved searches.  I call them up a few times a day and retweet five to ten at a time.  Sometimes my tweets get retweeted up to ten times in a day.  Great way for indies to help each other out.

There are several twitter accounts that will retweet your tweets when you mention them in your tweet.  I know I'm only scratching the surface here so I hope that people will comment with more. The ones I use are @WritersRT and  @WritersReTweets.

A word of caution: don't use too many hashtags in your tweets.  Twitter advises two to three hashtags per tweet.  If you venture beyond that, your users will consider it spam.  I learned that from a very irate woman that sent me a tweet asking me to please die in a fire and stop spamming the hashtags.  (No joke, she actually tweeted that)  Lesson learned, while she was far from tactful in her request, she was in fact correct.  Try your best not to spam the hashtags.

The best way to spread your tweets is over at the World Literary Cafe.  Every day, you can sign up to be on a tweet team.  Each team consists of ten team members.  You post your tweet and include #WLCAuthor and the other nine members of your team retweet your tweet.  In return, you have to tweet the other nine people's tweets.  In addition, you must also tweet the Daily Tweets designated by the website.  You can be on as many teams in a day as you want, you just have to be sure to retweet everyone.  Fantastic group of people.  Really helps spreading the word.


Well, yeah, it is a lot of work and can consume time that is better spent writing books.  There are several great programs out there that will schedule your tweets for you.  You simply input your tweets for the day and either a specific time or time interval (remember my tip, every twenty minutes).  One of the most popular is Tweet Deck.

If you are looking for a program that does it all, I highly recommend Tweet Adder.  It cost a little money but it is worth every penny.  It does it all.  You can create lists of tweets and save them for later use.  It will automatically add followers based on search terms that you input (refer to the above section - Gaining Followers).  It will even unfollow people that have not reciprocated your follow for a certain amount of days (I recommend 2-3 days).

Good luck in the Twitterverse!  :)

Follow me on Twitter at @CollapseNovel  and  @RStephenson5


  1. I know everyone seems to schedule these days, but I still don't like it! What I do is this - first thing in morning I make a list of everyone who's RTd me in night, thank & RT them back, plus a few others, then put out my own tweets last of all so they're at the top of my page; easy for people to find. Hate it when you have to wade through 100s of RTs and chatting tweets to find something to RT for someone! I do this twice or 3 times a day, takes about 45 mins each time (because obviously I also chat a bit to people along the way!). I do and get between 100 and 150 RTs per day - this is the system I have found works best for me. Yes, it takes a bit of time (but no more than a couple of hours) - but LOADS of my books sales and reviews have come from tweets, and, I hope I have helped others in that, too, so it's time well spent!

    For me, the biggest tweeting sins are: including so many hashtags that you can't work out what the tweet is about (agree with you there, Richard!), repeating the same ones over and over again, but this is the worst one: I HATE it when you've RTd someone and they reciprocate by just RTing the first thing that's on your page, even if it's just a bit of inane conversation. I mean, how hard is it just to skim down a bit further and find something that the person might actually want to be RTd? GRRRR!!!

  2. Thanks for the feedback, Kathy and AMoore.

    Terry, thanks for your tips and insights. The RT thing is so true, just pick the top tweet that is some random conversation... ugh! And "Thanks for the RT" is great, but please, the best way to say thank you is to return the favor. ;)

  3. Looks like you've made an error. The accounts @BooksForPromoted and @IndieAuthorSuccess don't exist, and unless twitter has changed the rule, they couldn't have existed because they have more than fifteen characters. Anyway, these are generally good tips, and I have one to add. Unless you plan on writing a book about writing, I wouldn't suggest following a lot of writers. While most of them will follow back, a lot of them only use twitter to promote their book and that's it.

    I'm still reading Collapse, when I'm not busy writing. When I'm finished I'll be sure to leave a review.

  4. Oh, and since I didn't follow back I guess your tweetdeck will be unfollowing me soon... ;-) HA!

  5. Thank you for this great primer, Richard. I copypasted for future use the advice about finding readers and the book promotion tweet examples.

    But there is a but :P Like Terry Tyler, I am not a fan of automation. Thus sending out 3 Tweets / hour and 72 Tweets / day is way too much. You need to automate most of those Tweets and you're not present to have conversations.

    And you need to be very careful about how much you yell "Me, me, my book, buy, buy".

    Social media guru Kristen Lamb recommends the following formula:

    1/3 conversation, 1/3 promoting others and 1/3 self-promotion

    Chris Brogan, a big marketing name, recommends even lower self-promotion ratio. For each of your own promos, promote 12 others.

    A Tweet stream full of book recommendations is damn dull. I have stopped following many authors because of that reason. I think that writers should entertain the readers, not stuff their ears full of marketing messages.

    Sell more sneakily. Direct them to your blog and wow them about your writing and book through your posts.

    A word of caution about RT exachanges too. You can end up Tweeting blog posts and stuff that doesn't fit your readers at all. Triberr can be dangerous for the same reason.

  6. Reeta, I agree with you 100%. In fact, I'm going to edit this post to reflect some of our mutual agreement.

    The tweet list I've created is definitely not 100% me, me, me! buy my book! I know how annoying that can be. A lot of my tweet list points here to this blog, and not to posts that talk about my book ad nauseum. The tweets point to posts like this one, author interviews, and other indie author related posts. I also tweet about my cover designer and editor.

    I agree that it's about personal interaction and promoting other authors. That's why I recommended WLC and use them three to four days a week if not more. I also promote authors that catch my eye.

    Automation can work to your benefit if you give it a chance. Between my two twitter accounts, I'm over 12K followers (75% of them unique). TweetAdder can be programmed to follow book lovers and people interested in the primary themes that your book is about. It's a great way to reach out to potential readers.

  7. I've been using Twitter to promote my book and the books of author friends for the better part of a year now, and this article gave me some good ideas. Finding readers via specific hashtags is a particularly good suggestion.

    As one who tweets with a mix of automation and interaction, I've found that following someone who tweets every 20 minutes becomes tiresome. I prefer to limit automation to mostly once an hour, twice max during peak hours. I promote my own material only around 3 or 4 times a day.

    Overall, I think you've got a great guide to work from.

  8. Regarding automated tweets, I prefer to limit them to once an hour - twice max during peak hours. Tweeting other authors is also very helpful.

    Great article - it's a good resource for indie authors.

  9. I was the slow kid on the Twitter block. It took me forever to figure it out. Months!!! Where were you this time last year when I needed you? Seriously,thanks for taking the time to put this together. I know it will come in handy.

  10. 72 tweets a day, seems a little much to me, even if it's not all self-promotion. I unfollow people when I start getting seven or eight tweets an hour from them. My thought is the more you tweet, the less compelling your tweets become. Since I'm just zooming past them anyway, I unfollow them. Am I wrong?

  11. Appreciate all the feedback. I apologize for not replying as I've been dealing with health issues lately.

    George, I understand if you feel that 72 tweets a day is too much, but that still averages out to 3 per hour. If the tweets vary in content, I don't think it's too much. If every tweet is me, me, me, buy my book, then yes, it is too much if you ask me.

    Twenty minutes is just a rough estimate. Mine are actually set for every 23 to 25 minutes. If I'm really pushing something like a free promotion, I'll bump it up to every 16 to 18 minutes. Once the promotion is over, I bump it back up to the normal figure.

    Ford, I understand caution and only tweeting once an hour. If you're comfortable with that, more power to you. However, I've had success in the 20-25 minute range. Haven't gotten any nasty complaints like I mentioned in this post and my unfollow rate is not very high. Best of luck to you all.

  12. FANTASTIC ADVICE!!!Can't wait to try it out!!!

  13. Great article; thanks for sharing - I remember my first Twitter days... I gave fellow tweeters a few laughs by asking what certain things meant when I couldn't find them on Google. It made me feel a bit daft, but at least I learnt the answers and gave someone a laugh along the way :p

    The hashtags also make you visible to online newspapers, so if your book is a crime thriller, for example, you could hashtag 'crime' and 'thriller', and the relevent online papers may pick you up. My work and other things I've tweeted, such as writing tips, appear semi-regularly in these online papers, and I'm not on Twitter all that often due to time constraints. Every bit helps.

  14. Interesting reading all these comments. Seems more and more people are scheduling these days, which I hate - I RT people's tweets and they RT me back with something they've had in their schedule for months, often out of date, with no thought to what I might want to be RTd - I like to look at people's time line and consider what they want me to put out there for them. Then I have to tweet them to say, um, please could you RT my free promotion???

    I've written a blog post called 'Twitter Tips for beginners' - it's had loads of views and a lot of people have found it very helpful indeed, if anyone would like to look at it - though I have to say Richard has done a fine job here, too!!!

    BTW - 'Twitter Jail' is not when you're suspended, it's when you've gone over your limit for tweets in a certain time period, which is when you get a message up saying that you have to wait a few hours before you can tweet again - you sometimes see people like me who RT a lot saying, am about to be in Twitter Jail!!!

  15. Thanks for this Richard-very helpful indeed :)

  16. Thanks so much for this Richard. Very helpful indeed. :)

  17. Twitter Adder is an amazing tool to generate automated tweets. It has many useful features as well as it is easy to use.

    TweetAdder review | Tweet Adder |

  18. Great post! We are linking to this great article on our site.
    Keep up the great writing.
    My website > porn

  19. Terrific advice, Richard! Thank you!

  20. Thanks, this is illuminating and helpful!

  21. Just started with Twitter @tammevelin and going through all the experiences described here... Somehow I like the idea of being present while communicating with others and dislike the automatic approach, the social media machinery.

    "Human beings are machines, human beings are machines, human b..."

    Thanks to your blogpost I found out quite much new information about how some people treat the others with the help of the online tools and therefore I have learned to make a difference in real communication, personal meetings online, you sending me a message, and the advertising industry shallow lines to sell a product.

    I do not need to sell anything and I buy so very rarely. Writing is a way of life to me, meeting people is a possibility to co-create our worlds together. You might think that it is naive but I call it authentic and slow life.

    I look outside through my windows and see how the spring is coming, write some lines and send a tweet or write a blog post. My life is not automatic, it is real.

  22. That's interesting information. Personally, I prefer to use sites where I'm more visible, such as Goodreads. Never been much of a fan of Twitter, and to be honest, I look right past any book links to things like blog posts and articles.

  23. There are many reasons as to why you should grow your twitter followers fast. One of reasons is to attract many people to follow you. Have you come across a twitter account with a million followers? You are always compelled to follow it, right? Well, the same thing applies to you when you have many followers. When you have many followers, people will find you interesting and almost everyone will be interested in following you which will result to you having many followers. The more followers you have, the more potential customers you will be having.