Five Twitter Tips Every Writer Should Know

By Crystal King

I’ve been on Twitter for six of its eight years. While I’m normally an early adopter, with Twitter it took a bit to sell me on the service. At the time, most of the tweets seemed to be an ongoing list of what people were doing at that moment. People weren’t conversing or sharing information the way they do now. Citizen journalism hadn’t really taken off yet. News outlets were truly afraid of Twitter and their adoption of the platform wasn’t until several years after I bit the bullet.

My first tweet was nothing stellar. It was, just like everything else on Twitter at the time, an update on what I was doing at that moment. I must have been at the old, now gone, Cambridge standby, Casablanca, where my writing group and I met:

Thankfully, the world of Twitter has progressed significantly since then and now it’s one of the most important platforms in the world for engagement. In those early years of Twitter most writers just shook their head if I mentioned it to them. Now their agents and publishers are telling them that they have to figure it out, that it’s crucial to their promotion strategy. In recent years I’ve watched as more and more authors jump on the bandwagon behind me, hoping to reach an audience that might care a little bit about their books.

Unfortunately, just being on Twitter isn’t enough. There is no one right way to use it, but there are definitely some wrong ways. Let’s talk about those rights and wrongs. I’ll start you out with five of them:

  1. Don’t use an auto-reply. Ever.
    Your audience wants the authentic you. Along with that authentic you, they want you to behave as you would in the real world. Give your audience a reason to feel connected with you before you ask them to do anything. You have to earn trust, just like you would in person. In other words, in the seconds after you connect with someone on Twitter, don’t drop a note into their personal mailbox screaming for them to buy your book.  It will not sell books. It will only make you an annoying spammer. I rarely look at my Twitter direct messages anymore because it’s full of spam from authors begging me to buy their book. Often, I’ll just un-follow, which I am pretty sure is not the reaction those authors wanted. 

    This also goes for automated messages from FourSquare, Spotify, GoodReads, or other online services. While those actions might be interesting if you were the one telling people about them, they’re not at all interesting when it comes from a robot.

  2. Think before you tweet.
    The first question to ask before every tweet—who is your audience? What will they get from this tweet? If you are writing a novel that appeals to stay-at-home moms in the Midwest, maybe your not-so-middle of the road political or religious views should just stay out of the Twittersphere. Are you drunk? Don’t tweet! Are you angry? No one likes a negative nelly—you might only succeed in convincing your followers to un-follow you. Work getting you down? Rant to your family over the dinner table, not strangers in public, who might know people you work with, who might know your boss, or your CEO. Don’t hate—you don’t want to end up on this depressing map of hate speech on Twitter. It’s ok to express some negativity from time to time, but think about what the reaction your post might have on the audience you are trying to cultivate.

  3. ENGAGE!
    The geeks out there will have read that word in Star Trek Captain Picard’s voice. Good. It’s an imperative and one that is also important in Twitter. Talk to people! This goes back to earning trust. If you are trying to build an audience to sell books and you have legitimate fans willingly following you to find out more, why wouldn’t you give them the courtesy of a follow back? Comment once in a while on the cute pet photo or on an article that was shared that made you think. If someone mentions you, favorite the mention and/or comment back. Ask questions and reply to responses. Engage and give your followers a reason to feel connected to you.

  4.  Talk about yourself (and your books)—but only 10% of the time.
    Yes, you read that right. 10% of the time means that every other tweet should not be about your fabulous new novel. Or how dashing your protagonist is, or a quote from the lips of your tortured secondary character. Do not fill your Twitter stream with all the places where readers can buy your books. Don’t be a narcissist. Shoving information down the throats of your audience isn’t going to endear them to you. It’s fine to include that information, but keep it to a minimum. Instead, think about how you can complement your writing or your book. For example, the novels I’m working on are set in Italy, one in ancient Rome and one set in the Renaissance. I tweet a lot about Italy and about those periods in time. In doing so I’m attracting an audience that cares about those same things and in turn, hopefully they will also care about my books.

  5.  Use photos, but be thoughtful of the content.
    Photos are becoming more and more the norm in Twitter (and are great for attracting attention), but all too often I see half a naked, suggestive torso pop up in my feed from  a Romance author, which can be embarrassing if I am accessing Twitter from work (which I do off and on all day). I’ve un-followed many an author because their photos are questionable in a work environment where people can easily see over my shoulder from time-to-time.  Photos uploaded directly to Twitter show up for users by default, so keep that in mind. Instagram photos show up as links that must be clicked on to view. There is a setting on mobile to turn off photos, but not on the Web.


Crystal King leads social media for Keurig Green Mountain, one of the Internet’s most beloved coffee brands. You can find her on Twitter @crystallyn. Her workshop “Twitter: Beginning Course for Authors” will teach authors how to get started on Twitter, how to find followers and other basics, on Wednesday, June 11th from 6:00-9:00PM at Grub Street. This class often sells out, so register soon. 

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About the Author

Crystal King is a 25-year marketing, social media and communications veteran, freelance writer and Pushcart-nominated poet. She is the author of the FEAST OF SORROW, about the ancient Roman gourmand, Apicius, and the forthcoming THE CHEF'S SECRET (February 12, 2019, Touchstone Books) about the famous Renaissance chef Bartolomeo Scappi. Currently Crystal works as a social media professor for HubSpot, a leading provider of Inbound marketing software. Crystal has taught classes in writing, creativity, and social media at Harvard Extension School, Boston University, Mass College of Art, UMass Boston and GrubStreet writing center. A former co-editor of the online literary arts journal Plum Ruby Review, Crystal received her MA in Critical and Creative Thinking from UMass Boston, where she developed a series of exercises and writing prompts to help fiction writers in media res. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or at her website:

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by Crystal King