Twitter 101: The Basics, For Writers

Twitter 101 for Writers Part One

The past few writers’ conference presentations I’ve given about Author Platforms have prompted many of the same questions. Most surround social media. I’m gonna tackle one biggie here: Twitter. Let’s look at the very basic concept of Twitter in this post, for the true beginner. How to use it effectively will be a different post, so be sure to keep looking around on my site if you need more help or detail.

“I know what Twitter is, but I don’t know how to use it like I should. Is there a specific process?” “Why do I want to use Twitter in the first place?” “What is Twitter anyway?” Let’s start with the very basics. Here are some definitions of Twitter:

  • Twitter is the best way to connect with people, express yourself and discover what’s happening. – Twitter

That’s kinda broad. Let’s look at a different definition:

  • Twitter is a free social networking microblogging service that allows registered members to broadcast short update posts called tweets. –

Okay, that’s not really helpful at all. Let’s give it one more try:

  • A stupid site for stupid people with no friends, who think everyone else gives a sh*t what they’re doing at any given time. –

Haha well that sure is one way to look at it! I view Twitter as a huge cocktail party. You interact as much as you want, you come in and out of conversations as you see fit, you listen to other people rant or rave, you observe trends and popular topics, you initiate some conversations and contribute to others, you walk around to see what’s happening over in that side of the room, and yes maybe you enjoy a few people so much that you follow them around a little bit.

Looking at some statistics, it’s clear that social media is here to stay.

  • Facebook: 1.23 Billion users as of Dec 2013, 81% outside of U.S. (, 57% American adults, 73% 12-17 year olds (Pew Research)
  • LinkedIn: 277 million users as of Feb 2014 (Digital Marketing Ramblings)
  • Instagram (where you share photos and up to 15-second videos, image filters are offered): 150 million active users, 1.2 Billion likes/day (DMR, Feb 2014)
  • Vine (users share 6-second videos) : 40 million users (Vine)
  • Twitter: As of Aug 2013, Twitter reports

    280 Million users

    500 Million tweets/day

    Average 5,700 tweets PER SECOND

    135,000 new users/day

A tweet, or Twitter post, gives you 140 spaces, called characters, to say whatever you want. “Happy birthday” is 14 characters (without the quote marks), and “Happy birthday!” (without quotes) is 15. With quotes, they’d 16 and 17 characters. Anything that takes up a space, even a blank space, counts as one. The good news is you are forced to be brief. The bad news is it takes practice to get your point across succinctly.

Once you’ve got the hang of 140 characters, why keep going? What’s in it for you? Plenty. When used effectively, Twitter can:

  •  Build your brand (as an author, not just your book title)

  •  Up the number of hits on your Facebook page, blog, and website

  •  Solidify you as an “expert” in your field

  •  A large number of followers make you look trustworthy and/or “worth it”

  •  Increase your overall exposure, which can lead to

  •  Author visits

     Speakerships

     Interviews on blogs, radio, TV, websites, etc

  •  Increase books sales WITHOUT EVER SAYING “BUY MY BOOK”


It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it

Let’s look at the basics.

@ The “at” sign refers to the handle, or username, of another person/account, such as @BitsyKemper, @Pillsbury, etc. It can be different than your name, but people with unique names (like Bitsy Kemper) tend to have the same handle/username and name. The @ sign can be used to mention usernames in Tweets, such as “Shout out to @BitsyKemper! Thanks for the post!” [wow, THAT was a shameless plug.] When a username is used with the @ sign, it links to their Twitter profile. Don’t confuse it with the # sign, though.

# You might call it a number sign or a pound sign, but in Twitter “#” is called a “hashtag.” The words that follow it (without spaces) are a topic, subject, or concept. Hashtags make it easy to do a search on a specific topic and see what others are saying about it. Examples are #amwriting, #science, #FIFA, #ohnoyoudidnt.

Username You choose a username when you sign up for a twitter account, and are given 15 characters to do it. It identifies the person or thing that’s running the account, and might clarify what kind of tweets to expect. My username, for example, is @BitsyKemper. The airline JetBlue is (you guessed it) @JetBlue. But JetBlue also has other subaccounts, including @JetBlueCheeps, @HelloJetBlue and @JetBlueDeals, that (cleverly) narrow down each account’s purpose. (Pls note: there are rarely cases where subaccounts are a good idea, so please stick with one! Only well-known authors with well-known main characters, such as Mo Willems and his Pigeon, can successfully pull that off.) If someone wants to be sure you see their message, they use your @username in their tweet. Then next time you’re on Twitter (assuming you check closely enough), you’ll see copy of that message waiting for you. You can call out anyone in any text, it doesn’t matter if you follow each other. Sometimes you just wanna use another’s handle to emphasize a point, like “Just had THE best dark chocolate bar in the world. Thank you @Vosges!”

* Username Tip: It’s best for your username to be as close to your real name as possible. But since so many names are already taken (280 million of ‘em!), you might want or need to get creative. Pick something that explains who you are or what you do, such as @AuthorBitsyKemper or @BitsyThe Writer, etc.

* Username Tip: Make it about YOU, not your book title (you’re more than one book, right?)

* Username Tip: It’s better to use words or letters rather than numbers; a handle like @Connie71358 makes it look like you arrived too late at the party, all the good names were taken, and just threw a handle together. Since there seems to be more attention paid to your @username than your real account name, choose wisely.

* Username Tip: Check to see what’s taken at

Bio Your bio needs thought and attention. Many people decide to follow, or unfollow, based on bio alone. No one has time to read through the last 10 tweets of everyone they want to follow, so the bio might be the only way to convince them to follow you. Pick the MAIN reason you have account, don’t include everything about you. Too broad or too many (“dancer, swimmer, patriot, shopper, loves birds and fish”) and you look unfocused. Your bio, like your handle if possible, should hint at types of tweets to expect. Some more tips:

 show your expertise

 let it be an extension of your personality, whether you are poetic, funny, irreverent, mellow, whatever

 stumped on what to write?? Try quotes like ones at

 make sure you include your website or blog link

Image/Photo You may not like it, but people DO judge a book by it’s cover. Leaving the default “egg” as your photo is a neon sign blinking NEWBIE! NEWBIE! As with the bio, make an effort. If you’re not photogenic or simply don’t want a traditional headshot, make the image your current book title, or of a pen writing your name on lined paper, or of your back as you walk towards a sunset, or a close up of your smile…something that shouts “you” in the way only you can. When people see it, you want them to say “Oh , I get who they are.” There really is no way to re-make a first impression.

A tweet, or 140 characters A tweet is something you post that has a limited number spaces (140) that will be filled with a character or left blank. For example, cake=4 characters, cake?=5 characters. Here’s an example of exactly 140 characters, where a few punctuations were omitted, like dot after Dr and a comma after says, in order to make it work:

 Sign at my new Dr office says “We treat you like family!” So…that means you make fun of me in public and get really drunk at Thanksgiving?

Retweet A retweet is a 140-character message that someone else posted, that you think is important enough to forward to all your followers. You repeat that message, as is, giving the originator the credit via their @username, with RT in the front. RT means retweet. All the followers the two of you have in common will see the RT. Placing a dot in front of the RT like .RT makes it so anyone that follows you or the other person will see it. Here’s an example where I thought the topic and images were just so amazing I had to share…the @username is who first created the tweet and the hyperlink is the URL that was shortened to save space (created by the original post-er):

>> RT @mashable NASA captured the most colorful picture of the universe, ever://

Wow, this a lot of information. I’m gonna give you some time to let this all sink in.

Next up: What to say and how often to say it, with real examples of random tweets that work well, and examples of ones that are a pure waste of time (hint: stop it with the food pictures!)

Does this stuff make sense? Let me know what you think, or if you have other tips to share with beginners. If you have any burning questions about how to use Twitter, send ’em my way so I can be sure to cover it in Part Two.

8 thoughts on “Twitter 101: The Basics, For Writers

  1. Pingback: “I’ve written a children’s book…now what?” | Bitsy Kemper

  2. Pingback: Author Platform: Maximizing Social Media | Bitsy Kemper

  3. Bitsy, thank you so much for this. This helped so much. I am a fellow writer, trying to build my presence on social media so that when I do land an agent I will be able to show that I have a following. I’ve been on FB and Pinterest a long time, but just came to this rampaging beast, called Twitter, this week. Your information is very helpful. Here are my questions for you: 1. How do you learn to shorten URLs for Twitter postings so that when I come across something on the web I can load them onto Twitter without eating up all the characters? 2. How do I start getting more followers? 3. The branding part is also a bit overwhelming as it will go across all forms of social media. It would be easy, I think, if I was writing non-fiction and could set myself up as an expert on something, but I write fiction: YA urban fantasy and Adult Rom Com. I don’t want to set myself up as someone who communicates only with fellow authors about writing. I want to connect with potential readers, and so, I’m having a hard time wrapping this little brain around what my brand should look like. thanks so much for all of your help.

    • Hi Glenda, glad to hear the post was helpful to you. I’ll answer your Qs as best I can:

      1. Twitter shortens URLs for you, whether you want them to or not. A URL of any length will be altered and count as 22 characters, even if the link itself is less than 22 characters long. Other Twitter/social medaia services like HootSuite give you the option of shortening an URL (but again any URL will count as 22 characters).

      2. Interacting (genuinely) with people you follow with help draw new followers, but the most important thing is to make sure your Tweets are worth following! That’s easier said than done, I know, and means different things to different people. I am a huge believer in quality over quantity, so don’t just troll around looking for followers. Find the RIGHT ones. I’m working on Twitter 101: Part Two and include suggestions on finding more followers. It should be posted within a week so stay tuned.

      3. Creating your brand should be more about who you are and less about the book you write or the topic you write about. You want people following you for you, so by the next book they already know you (and would be more likely to buy or help spread the word). The worst thing would be to reinvent yourself for every title; I mean, what if you decide to write picture books? You don’t want you romcom followers thinking all this time they were following someone that wasn’t really you. So be genuine. Follow people you like and create Lists for easy insight into what is going on in each world. I have Twitter lists, for example, on Comedy, Parenting, Writing, and Marketing. Every Tweet goes out to the each list every time. Do I think every follower reads every word? Certainly not. But ideally I’ve stuck out far enough that they remember me enough to not unfollow me. If you’re really challenged by merging both YA and romcom followers, you COULD create two different Twitter accounts and interact with them separately, but that’s likely much more trouble than it’s worth.

      Whew, I need a nap. Or at least some chocolate.

      I hope this was a helpful answer. Let me know next week if Part Two answers more of your Qs.

      I’m going to follow you right now 🙂

      • Bitsy, Thank you, thank, thank you! You are so helpful. Finally, someone who told me to just be myself. I’ve been racking my brain on how to be so many things to different people. I started just trolling for people who had the same interests as me. I do have some writing connections, but I also have a great passion for other things like humor, news, animals, gardening, so I simply started following them as well. Like you said, if I’m honest with who I am then that creates a greater level of trust. Wow! I feel a huge weight off of my shoulders. I particularly love chocolate with little bits of coffee bean in them, how about you? Enjoy! And thanks again!!!

  4. Enlightened and now informed. Thank you. I am a bit CIA, FBI, CSI phobic even though I don’t subscribe or watch these types of shows. Guess you can blame it on my sophomore teacher for making me read George Orwell.
    I finally got Facebook 1 1/2 years ago ..very reluctantly but now happy to maintain friendship’s afar.
    Twitter on the other had has been this unknown? Why, for what purpose? And do I really want to follow another account?
    I appreciate your humorous honest and informed approach on twitter. If and when I make the dive in the new waters I will take your helpful advice on how to get started. You are an amazing talented women Ms. Bitsy.

    • Thank you Katie! I bet once you get started you’ll find Twitter to be fun. It might also be a good idea for your business. Happy to talk you thru that when you’re ready.

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