"A word after a word after a word is power" - Margaret Atwood


A blog for readers and writers

A blog about the stories we tell each other and how we tell them...

Friday, 26 August 2011

Social Media, Writers and fear of the Tweet

I first met Bill Munro at the South East branch of the Society of Authors. Coming from a long line of taxi drivers, he is a writer and a publisher, specialising in transport. He is also interested in anything that supports the life of a writer.
We live in exciting times. (Is that really a Chinese curse?) Change is all about us and Bill is anxious to explore new opportunities that appear to be opening up for authors.
Here he explains his tentative approach towards social media and asks for advice. I've given my response at the end, but if Bill is standing at the brink with a toe in the water, I'm still only paddling around...so if you have any observations, advice, words of encouragement or caution please do jump in.                                                        Photo by Ernst Vikne

Guest post from Bill Munro 
 It took a long time for me for the penny to drop about Twitter: what it’s all about, I mean, not how to make the best use of it. That bit, I’m still struggling with. Anything on a computer that has proved successful over the years has been an adaptation, and often an enhancement of something us of the inkwell generation has used in pen and paper (or telephone or photographic) form for decades. I mean stuff like word processing (i. e. writing), spreadsheets, family tree layouts and more sophisticated stuff like DTP (which is based on the traditional editor’s cut and paste-up) and Photoshop. We all understand them in principle, so adapting our brain to use them digitally has been pretty straightforward.

Twitter, and Facebook for that matter are a quantum leap beyond.

Twitter combines the messages carried by flyers, letters, office memos, phone calls, chats over the garden wall or by the water cooler, handbills and other paper and personal stuff with new-fangled techie stuff like texts and emails. It’s a ‘word in your ear’, a soundbite and an advertising slogan, digitised and condensed. It is an adaptation of what we have done for years, but bundled up and often disguised in a plethora of technicalities and jargon and used at hyper-speed.

Many of us of an older generation have learned to use computers on an ad hoc basis, and haven’t the virtually intuitive way of using them that the younger ones amongst us seem to have. Thus we struggle to grasp the ‘McGuffin’ of social media, at a time when we, as struggling authors are told that it is the way we need to promote ourselves and our work. It leaves us baffled, and sometimes fuming.

When the penny dropped, I opened a Twitter account. But that penny has yet to set the machinery working. I have left it virtually unused because I don’t know the right things to say to whom, and I don’t want to look a twit (I use the word advisedly) by sending irretrievable and possibly self-harming messages into the Twittersphere, and to the wrong people. Does anyone know where I can get advice about this? And does it actually work anyway, or is the mantra ‘use social media to promote your work’ a piece of lazy journalism put about by people who have yet to achieve results but believe, rightly or wrongly, that others have succeeded in growing their writing careers through it? Is it ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, digitised?

Bill Munro

View Earlswood Press ebooks on Smashwords at www.smashwords.com

My response:
Last December I gave eight reasons why I found twitter useful to me as a writer and as a  lecturer in writing and eight months on I pretty much stand by them. I work a lot from home and, wonderful as that is, there's no denying that I miss the water cooler moments. You can't just write, write, write. Y
How to get started?
Relying on the kindness of strangers has always worked for me and writers tend to be generous. They know how to share.
I've found the blog of the Scottish writer Nicola Morgan enormously helpful and she has now put all her advice about twitter into an ebook. It is not only useful, it is also a lesson in on how a writer can build a readership using social media.
You can follow Bill on twitter at @MunroBill 
I'm there too at


MorningAJ said...

Interesting post. It took me a while to 'get' Twitter because the people who introduced me to it were a bunch of narcissists who used it to announce to the world how great they were but didn't actually want to interact with anyone.

Nowadays I'm better at it, but I learned through having several personae in the Twitterverse. (no hints - you'll have to work out who ELSE I am for yourself.)

However, my advice to Bill is find yourself some friendly people to follow and start by chatting to them as friends. Don't think about trying to use Twitter as a promotional tool until you feel more confident. You can find me @MorningAJ and I'm off now to find you.

I look forward to chatting soon.

PS - one of my personae is for my day job. I HAVE to get that right!

BRIDGET said...

You are right 'real' interaction is the key in any relationship offline or on. And that takes work...and thought.
But you have intrigued me by mentioning your different twitter identities - do you have different styles of writing too? Not that good at puzzles but I shall try to work this out - challenge for the weekend!

Nicola Morgan said...

Thanks for this post and for mentioning my book! And gosh I so agree that we don't want the narcissists on Twitter. I so wish people would realise that Twitter is very very like "normal" conversation - you wouldn't leap into a room crowing about yourself, and you can't on Twitter either. It does take a while to get used to but then so does social interaction - we all have to learn how to socialise and we did it when we were children. This is very little different. And it's social, not commercial. It's fun!

Off to follow @MorningAJ :)

claire king said...

I'm a big fan of twitter, although I've learned to leave it be when I'm swamped with 'real life' priorities. But I think as with real life, most people you meet and chat with there are ready to chat again when you're back. Just as, Bill, with real life most people are willing to strike up a conversation with a stranger.

I never posted a list of tips as to how to get the most out of twitter because a few lists had already been done. And now Nicola has gone and published the definitive list which is brilliant.

But I did post about being a twitterphobe and who I tend to tweet with here: http://www.claire-king.com/2010/06/27/notes-from-an-ex-twitterphobe/ if that's of any use.

Claire @ckingwriter

marthawilliams.org said...

To me, Twitter is the post office.

There are people in the queue -- you can chat to them. Dip in often enough and you'll make some good friends.

There is the noticeboard of small ads -- people putting up their blog posts. Jack Russell puppies for £25, anyone?

There are the promotional pieces -- the adverts. Book launch on x date, please come, please buy my book.

There are ways to send nice messages and you can help promote your friends' blog posts, books, etc etc ( #ff = follow Friday -- means you think someone's worth following. RT = copies someone's post to your stream, helps them spread messages or build readership ).

In general, the way people work on Twitter is how they work in real life. There are the wise, the fools, the liars, and the quiet ones who spend all day trying to figure out the others. There are businesses, too -- lots.

You can use it for any of these things, and it's all fine. Or you can just watch, and that's fine too. Or you can ignore it and do something altogether different. Yup, that's fine too.

Welcome to Twitter, enjoy!

Martha :) @martha_williams

Bill Munro said...

Thanks for all these useful tips, and thanks also to Bridget for suggesting I post this message, which started as a comment on Southeast Authors' own Googleblog.

I've just bought 'Twitter - tips, tricks and Tweets' by Canadian tech writer Paul McFedries, which is a comprehensive 'how to' book for users at all levels. I'm slowly working my way through it, developing my presence. I will set up a separate Twitter ID for Earlswood Press, and maybe one for the cab driver history project. The input from the blog for this last mentioned has really guided me as to how to write the book on the subject.

As a publisher, I begin to see Twitter as a possible way of getting to understand individual writers, and and it may be that with Twitter, as Martha implies, you can get a feel for who is 'right' and who is not.

I've come across authors who are either poor writers and / or can be too difficult establish a working relationship with, (like a literary equivalent of the auditioners for The X-Factor!) but happily I've found others whose writing skills are not brilliant, but are willing to work with quite hands-on editorial guidance. Paul Wright, author of 'An Italian Home' is one such star- a great storyteller and well worth developing. Publishing as it used to be?

Bill @MunroBill

polpapitchou said...

I think there is no magic in social media. Maybe we sometimes imagine that because millions of people are online including some professionals in their fields, something is going to happen, faster and better. I had this naive belief about it at the very beginning. But nothing changes really and it makes sense: hard work, discipline, learning and putting the hours remain the usual rules of any field you want to succeed in. Social media are just a tool among others, one of those 21st century "nearly" unavoidable tool - some people though do make money and are famous without using them. (Not that they do not need them anymore, but they decided never to try to use them to start with). I was quoting writer Amélie Nothomb in that regard. Now regarding twitter, and talking about it as a self promotion tool: it is like throwing boomerangs in the sky and waiting for their returns, really. Like any other application, like sending a cv to a company. Social media give the great chance to ANYONE to be visible just with an internet connection. Anyone from most talented to most mediocre people. So, the markets saturation (writing, photography just to focus on those two) increases. Nowadays everyone "writes", right? Everyone "takes pictures", uses a little bit photoshop, pretends to start a novel or a short story and posts their pics or their writings online. Maybe the real talents have more means to become visible and be noticed. But all the rest of the world is also connected. So is the selection process by professionals faster, more efficient, easier? Not sure. It is even harder now, in a way, to be noticed. Did you know as an example that French publishers only publish 1% of new authors every year? And that there is 98% rejection of manuscripts/year in France too? Nevertheless I believe that talent always makes it through. But as I said it takes a lot of time. Remember also twitter is about people you don't know and never will meet as opposed to FB. People who share knowledge and for some of us, hunt either way (looking for talents, or trying to be noticed as a talent). There is a very cold aspect to Twitter (which I personally like, and I detest FB). People are in competition in a way on twitter. That is the fun of it too. I think twitter is not too different from real life: be yourself, but respect the social conventions, the rules, and have some serious food to nurture your potential audience with. As an example, I sometimes find myself lazy to open a link under a twitter profile. I saw too many and I keep thinking of what kind of blog, messages, topics, I myself would like to talk about. I work on it. hard. I am not ready. So for now I just post a few articles I find interesting and a few very simple thoughts I have. Enough? For sure not, I am nonexistent The key factor to me is to be a bit of everything: a creative person if you write, but with good marketing ideas, with a vision and one step ahead of others. No magic really: just 95% work, 5% talent and I believe that both together do create chance (which to me is never hazardous either). On other words: hit your market when you believe to be ready.

BRIDGET said...

This isn't a comment - it's a thought provoking article in it's own right. Thank you so much for sharing the twitter-as-a-boomerang concept. AND for the idea that the (apparent) ability to reach an audience without connecting with the filtering device of publishers and agents etc has made writers of us all. Hmmm! More respect for the reader say I...none of us have the right to command attention. we have to earn it. And shouting 'Here I am' on any flavour of social media isn't going to change that