Tuesday, 15 May 2012

How I Fell in Love With Twitter - Liz Kessler

It wasn’t love at first sight. Noooo. Not by a long way.

My first experience of Twitter was actually on Facebook. I noticed that various friends had started writing very strange status updates. They would say, for example, something about how well Chapter Six was going that day, or how they were struggling with a character or a scene. And then for some inexplicable reason, the status update would have #amwriting at the end of it. I would wonder a) why they kept on telling us they were writing; b) why they needed to do so anyway, when it was obvious from the previous sentence; and c) why these people – and I’m talking about folk of the likes of Mary Hoffman in terms of their spelling calibre – kept on writing ‘am’ and ‘writing’ as one word. 

Time passed, and about a year ago, my publicist at Orion suggested I go on Twitter. I had massive resistance to this – not just because of the hashtags and the joined up words thing, although that was part of it. With everything I was already doing online, it just felt like a step too far for me at that time. Eventually, she wore me down and I agreed to give it a go.

At first, the whole thing was utterly bewildering. How on earth was I expected to get people to follow me? And what did it mean if I followed them? How was I meant to keep track of anything when it all moved so fast? How did I get to be part of anyone’s conversations? And most of all, what on earth were they all talking about anyway?

I spent a few weeks gradually going through the lists of people who followed writer friends and choosing the ones who I thought sounded interesting. I’d follow twenty at a time, and, bit by bit, some of them followed me back. Slowly slowly, I built up a list of followers and followees. Even more slowly, I began to understand (a bit of) what was going on. I learned what those hashtags were all about. I understood how they bring people together; I even learned how to use them to tell a joke.

But it was still, for the most part, a bewildering place to spend time, and I still hadn’t fully forgiven my publicist for making me be there. How was this place ever going to do anything useful for me if the only people who ever saw anything I wrote were those who happened to look at their twitter feed within five minutes of me posting anything? How could I ever promote any of my books when I knew that I cringed inside every time I read other people’s tweets that were clearly trying to market their books? And how was I ever to feel good about my own books ever again when I was bombarded on an hourly (at least) basis with tweets from others announcing their latest five-star review, their latest book award nomination and their latest twelve-city book tour?

I began to think about how to tell Twitter (and my publicist) that I wanted us to break up. It wasn’t Twitter; it was me. It just wasn’t right for me.

And then something wondrous happened. I read an article that was doing the rounds. The article, on the aptly named ‘Red Pen of Doom’ blog, stated that Twitter did not help to sell books.

You can read the article here, if you want to…

The Twitter, it is NOT for selling books

I certainly didn’t agree with every word of it, but when I read it, something amazing happened. I felt liberated; I felt freed of this need to try to attract thousands of followers and direct them all to Amazon (or, even better, to their local bookshop) to buy my books. BECAUSE THEY WERE NEVER GOING TO, ANYWAY!

Yes, of course, you could see this as depressing, and many did. But for some reason, I really didn’t. If Twitter was never going to be all that much use as a vehicle to sell my books, the pressure to feel I had to try evaporated.

I put off the break-up conversation.

But over the next few months, the mini reprise began to lose its effect. If Twitter was never going to sell books, then what was I doing there? Did I really need to tell the world I had drunk another cup of tea/written another thousand words/stubbed my toe? And hadn’t those people STILL filling up my twitter feed with news of their latest five-star review/book award/film deal not read that article?

I began to think it was over, after all.

And then, gradually, I made myself somehow stop noticing all the tweets from people aggressively telling the world how wonderful they and their books were. I even ‘unfollowed’ a few of the main offenders. And boy, that’s a liberating thing to do, too. Instead, I focussed on the ones that made me laugh, or who interacted with others by and large in a lighthearted way. I stopped thinking I had to amaze people with erudite facts and startling revelations. Instead, I began to act as if I was at a party. One of those publishing parties in London where, after a couple of hours of having someone regularly filling up your glass with something bubbly, you no longer have that much awareness of how (un)interesting you’re being, because you’re too busy just having a laugh with people.

This was the best revelation of all. Twitter was a publishing party! It was a writers’ retreat. It was all of those happy get-together-with-others-in-the-writing-world events – and I was automatically invited, without even having to leave my house or get out of my pyjamas!!!!

Sure, I have occasionally got into conversation with someone at one of those events who has a niece of the right age for my mermaid books and has bought a copy after meeting me; yes I’ve chatted to bloggers who have asked me to do a guest post on their blog over a glass of wine at someone else’s book launch. And absolutely, I’ve met bookshop owners who have invited me to do an event as we’ve stood next to each other listening to a speech about the world of publishing today. But that’s not why I go to these things. I go for the laughs, for the chat, for the sharing of common ground. OK, yes, and for the champagne. If anything 'sales' related comes out of it, that’s a bonus.

Once I’d made this link, something really changed for me. I began to see Twitter as a kind of staffroom where I could pop in to chat with colleagues in between writing. Sharing the agonies as well as the ecstasies of my working day with others who were doing the same. Having a laugh with people on the same wavelength. Finally coming to love the hashtag and its many uses. 

In the last few weeks, I’ve done all these things on Twitter:
  • Get into conversation with a new writer and help her to make contact with an agent for her first novel.
  • Wriggle my way into a conversation with some YA writer friends and get invited to a wonderful book launch for an incredible new debut. 
  • Arrange a cuppa with a writer buddy who introduced me to a local writer I’d never met, whose first book comes out next year, on a similar subject to my latest book. 
  • Send and receive weather reports via Youtube song clips with a writer friend. 
  • Share enthusiasm over Homeland and despair over The Voice
  • Be invited to a beach picnic with friends. 
  • Receive about thirty replies in the space of ten minutes to a question I posed when I was having a tricky problem over a character’s name. (And which they solved, by the way.) 
Every single one of these things involved making at least one person smile. Many of them did much more. And yes, somewhere along the way, perhaps a few of them will have played a part in leading to a book sale, either of mine or someone else’s books. The great thing is – that kind of isn’t the point.

The point is, I can sit in my study in my pyjamas, working on my latest book, and go to a party at the same time!!!!!

And really, people, could anyone ask for a better job than that?

Join the party! Follow Liz on Twitter
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Schez said...

Hi there!
I have responded to this post by tweeting you :-)... Though if I am honest, I'm still at the early stages of what on earth do I do with Twitter and what's the '#' all about anyway?!
I've also managed to click a button and have beome one of your followers. (My brother insists that it's real name is the stalker button... but that's just creepy!)
A great post, and one that gives me hope that one day the penny will drop; I will finally understand Twitter and that I will get into that party!

Liz Kessler said...

Hi Schez,

Thanks for your comment, and thanks for following/stalking!

Yes, it's all a bit like entering a new world, and a very strange one at that. Hope the penny fully drops soon (sounds like you're well on your way) and enjoy the party! :)

Vivienne said...

I might be one of your original stalkers! *snorts*
Glad you finally found your place on Twitter. Twitter is a magical place that brings writers and readers together. One big happy family.

Book Angel Emma said...

What a fabulous way to look at twitter.
My twitter friends have been my support system, my outlet and my pick-me-up. I adore them

Sue Purkiss said...

Really enjoyed this, Liz - I've been wondering quite what the point of Twitter was, and whether or not to get into it - specially as I don't have a smart phone - in fact my phone is so stupid it won't even accept texts from my family! But this explains it, and in such a readable way. (Was going to say that I downloaded Nicola's book about Twitter a while ago, and would go and read it forthwith - but then remembered I've just lent Kindle to daughter for her holiday, so the Twittersphere will have to wait a little longer for me. Oh well, expect it'll manage!)

Sue Purkiss said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Miriam Halahmy said...

It took me just as long to get into Twitter and then like you, it just took off for me. One of the things I like is the 140 characters - often I can't even fill it - that's the minimalist poet in me. I've met a lot of great people, especially loads of people in and around Portsmouth who write or who are involved in the Arts. Great post Liz.

Louise said...

I love Twitter, not been on it for long, and like you have "Unfollowed" those that only self-promote. It's a very entertaining and informative place to be. I follow mostly writers, publishing and agenting folk, and bookshops. It's so much fun and I've found out about competitions and read so many interesting links. What's not to like? (apart from "pornbots" I suppose) :)

Celia Rees said...

I hope you tweeted this! Still finding my way around and things to tweet about, but a refreshing and exhilerating way at looking at Twitterworld. Thanks, Liz

Celia Rees said...

I hope you tweeted this! Still finding my way around and things to tweet about, but a refreshing and exhilerating way at looking at Twitterworld. Thanks, Liz

Liz Kessler said...

Thanks for the lovely comments. Glad others feel the same way I do about Twitter. It takes a while, but it's worth it!

Of course I tweeted it, Celia - it was the first thing I did! (And thanks for retweeting it too!)


Abie Longstaff said...

Great post. I have been a complete coward about unfollowing a few people who are driving me mad spamming stuff. But you are right - Twitter should be like a fun party and I follow a few of the type I would absolutely avoid at a party! I will be less of a chicken and hit that unfollow button...

Jenny Alexander said...

Yay! Great post (I speak as an offender this morning - I posted a link to my book on going up to secondary school... oops!) For me, one of the initial benefits of twitter was as part of learning to SPEAK UP about my books - I needed that - but now I love it most for the social side, like you xx

Liz Kessler said...

Abie - do it! Hit that unfollow button!!

Jen - I don't think that's offending at all. That is partly why we're all there of course. The people who make our fingers hover over that 'unfollow' button are the ones who do nothing BUT promote their books! And no one who knows you could ever think of you as an aggressive self promoter!!! xx

Charlotte Guillain said...

My experience of Twitter has been so similar to this! People sometimes ask me why I go on Twitter and what I get out of it and sometimes I struggle to explain it all very coherently. But from now on I'll just tell them to read your blog post! Now, is the sun shining down in Cornwall or what?

Kate Maryon said...

Music to my ears! I've had an on off relationship with Twitter for a couple of years - it seems like some people post 4000 interesting articles a day when I can't even drum up one - but relating to it as a party/staffroom puts a whole new swing on it - so thanks - I'll open up a new browser and tell everyone what colour knickers I'm wearing and that I've just drunk a glass of pineapple juice! Love Love xxx

Nicola Morgan said...

Well, Liz, I'm glad you got there at last, though I have to say that if you'd read a *certain little book* (thanks for the mention, Sue!) you'd have discovered much earlier that twitter wasn't about or for selling and in fact that that is the worst reason to come there.

I WISH publishers would stop telling their authors to get ontoTwitter, when publishers half the time don't know how to use it. Grrrr. I also think twitter is great for authors, but you need to know how to do it. And not.

Liz Kessler said...

Charlotte, what a lovely thing to say! And in answer to your question, it's a bit like this here today...


Kate - thank you for this. Party on and ignore the 4000 interesting articles!

Nicola - actually, I already downloaded your book quite a while ago too! :) But I still think that there is a perception that each of us can have (not just from our publishers) that makes us feel a sort of pressure about the whole thing, and I think that there's a lot of stuff that goes on on twitter that continues to make us feel these things until we've got to grips with it all for ourselves.

Books like yours are certainly helpful, but to continue the 'love' theme, it's like being in a difficult relationship, where all your friends are advising you on what to do, but you still have to figure out much of it for yourself, and have your own journey, and come to your own conclusions about whether it's right for you or not.

If that makes sense. :)

Ebony Black Lines said...

I am on twitter and I love it! It's a chance for me to talk to all those authors/celebrities that would have otherwise not known I existed! I will be definitely be following you on twitter! :) Mine is @AngelDestinyX
Btw I am a new follower! I hope you like my blog as much as I love this one and feel free to follow back! :)

Carole Anne Carr said...

I find twitter is a wonderful place to retweet to your followers when others need help. Wish I could find someone to point me in the direction of an agent, whoever it was, they were very lucky to receive such help. :0)

Anonymous said...

I've followed you since I realized you were on Twitter - you and several other authors of books my daughters love. It's been great fun to connect with these writers who we wouldn't have otherwise. Although, we've even now met one of them (Jacquie Harvey). On the flip side, I've made a point of buying these writers' books because I've found you all so cool!


JO said...

Twitter can be great fun - once you stop trying to present an image and just play with it. Like you, I've 'unfollowed' some serial self-publicists. And had wonderful support when I was unable to dismantle a travel cot, and one of my twin grandsons had chickenpox. As well as meeting some great writers.

Moira Butterfield said...

Thanks Liz, I've been on Twitter for about a month and I'm just realising that what you say is absolutely right. So I'm going to do a twitter tidyup, unfollow some people and follow more fun ones!

Guy said...

Happy to have nudged you in that direction.

The Twitter is not for selling widgets. It's a happy corner pub where the drinks are always free - a place to make friends, have a pint and chat.

Leslie Wilson said...

Fun blog, Liz, and maybe you will convert me, too..

Island Writer said...

Great blog post Liz. I have been hiding under a rock and kicking against the whole idea of Twitter but... having read this and everyone's comments, well, maybe, just maybe I'll dip my toe in the water of the Twittersphere...