Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Thoughts on Twitter from the Hippie Emily Post

Twitter is hard on writers. Especially those of the unpublished variety (Does anyone use the term "pre-published" anymore or has it been banished after general agreement that it's freaking obnoxious?). This is me : @LorettaNyhan. Make a pie chart of who I follow and you'll get a big old wedge of other writers, followed by a diverse group of publishing professionals: editors, publishing companies, agents, etc. A tiny sliver would represent people outside of publishing.

So most of my communication takes place between me and people in the book business.

Until recently, this was often problematic.

I'd assumed Twitter operated like a quiet pub on a Sunday afternoon. Three or four people sitting at the bar sipping their drinks, the conversation both leisurely and democratic.


For an unpubbed writer, Twitter is like being in a crowded classroom full of attention starved Type A students with a constant rotation of substitute teachers. Some subs care passionately about teaching and their students, others could give a crap about the students but love their subject. Some are just passing time until something better comes along. Some have borderline personality disorders.

The students desire to be heard, to stand out from the pack, to earn recognition for their "specialness." Not going to happen. Not often, anyway.

My Twitter philosophy has been this: if I find a tweet interesting, I should feel free to respond, no matter who the person is. I mean, the tweeter put it out there, right? Is this the way you guys feel?

This is fine if you understand three things: 1. No one is obligated to respond to you. 2. You might learn things about people you admire that you'd rather not know. 3. If you are responding to someone you hope to one day work with professionally, then conduct yourself in a professional manner.

Now, I like to think I haven't embarrassed myself on Twitter (yet), but it makes me cringe to think how easy it is to do so. I see unpubbed writers replying to big-name authors, editors, agents, etc., acting like they are not only sitting at a bar, but about to fall off the barstool. As in any industry, there is a hierarchy in publishing. The very idea of this may clash with your rebellious writerly spirit, but you need to respect it if you're going to get anywhere.

This is not to say the big-wigs won't respond. Some might engage. Others might not. Authors tend to have thickly drawn lines when it comes to tweeting. One famous author simply doesn't reply to anyone. Some only reply to other "names." One New York Times bestseller responds to everyone. I've seen her avatar so many times I think I know her face better than my own. And, though I risk sounding like Stuart Smalley, all of these choices are okay, and have nothing to do with you.

For an unpubbed writer, things get a bit trickier when responding to editors. These are people who might find my work in their inboxes someday. My rules for these tweets: 1. Proofread. 2. Don't fawn. 3. Avoid saying anything remotely stalker-like. You would think these rules are easy to follow. You would be wrong. I'm probably overthinking @ replies now, but I'd rather err on the side of caution. In this market there are so many reasons for an editor or agent to reject. Setting off the "Twitter Psycho!" alarm shouldn't be one of them.

Writing is a lonely endeavor, so it's not a surprise we all jumped into the Twitter pool feet first. Let's not forget that though social networking may jumble the private and public, it's not an excuse for us to do the same.


  1. Right? I couldn't agree more.

    Two of my 'rules' I'd add:

    1. If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.

    2. Watch the language. Constant expletives just seem immature, esp for writers, whose livlihood is communicating honestly and accurately.

    That said, I do <3 twitter.

  2. Great Post, Loretta. Yeah, Twitter is interesting, isn't it? We sometimes forget it's completely public, and anyone can read our tweets. I try to keep this in mind when I want to tweet "I'm drinking too much wine and ODing on chocolate" and then remember one of my nine year old readers might be reading my every tweet. I try to keep it clean, nice, and occasionally relevant.

  3. This is why twitter scares me so!! I know, I know. I need a platform, yadda yadda. But I'm CHOCK FULL of barely-restrained expletives and venom!! What's a middle-grade church lady to do?
    Sigh. Retweet as usual, I guess. ;)
    Or pray that I remembered to push the DM button...

  4. Great post! I find other writers (NYT Listers or not) are more open to responding to people they don't know. Personally, I try not to tweet agents and editors, unless they're doing an #askagent session (which are like flash mobs) but there was that one time, I responded to an agent, thinking she was a fellow writer. Oops! Turned out fine, she did respond, but I'll be more careful next time!

  5. Such great points! I find myself watching from afar because it feels so phony trying to interact with these agents/editors/ famous authors. It's like being at a party that I wasn't invited to and trying to talk to everyone. It's just weird.
    But hey, these peeps are posting for everyone to see too, so they must want some comments in their direction.
    Anyway, loved reading this.

  6. Thanks so much, everyone! I am LOVING these comments. So interesting!

  7. Great post! I admit, I let my cursor hover over the 'Share' button rereading/rethinking/reconsidering everything I write on there. It's scary to have such an audience!

  8. Great post, Loretta!! I totally agree.


    "Twitter is like being in a crowded classroom full of attention starved Type A students with a constant rotation of substitute teachers."

    It's kind of a strange world and can get really crazy. I have to repsond to anyone who @'s me. Unless they are the kind that tweet nothing but my name, then I do sometimes and sometimes I don't. I've met most of my Beta/CPs on twitter so I definitely think it's a must-have for me!!

    Thanks for sharing ;o) See ya online!

  9. Good blog post, Loretta! I'm new to Twitter myself (@anncrispin) and it's hard to find a balance between your personal life, promo for the new book, and hekping out aspiring writers. (I'm Chair of Writer Beware, so I kind of do that as a kneejerk reaction, but I've recently started blogging as a way to help more.)

    Anyhow, thanks for some good comments and advice.

    -Ann C. Crispin
    Chair, Writer Beware

    -A.C. Crispin
    Pirates of the Caribbean: The Price of Freedom
    Disney Editions
    May 17, 2011

  10. OHMYGOD! I followed an editor today who I'm going on sub with and then replied to a tweet of hers!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I. Am. Going. To. DIE.

    I didn't swear though. I SWEAR!!!!!!

  11. Loretta, this was a great post.

    I agree with everything you said. One of the reasons I don't have a twitter is because I kind of don't like being in those crowded cocktail party situations. (And I'm afraid I'll say something dumb. and I have no time.)

    But like the strange voyeur that I am, I kind of like hearing about it from time to time.


  12. Hi! You have a great blog that I've just discovered as a result of having won the Versatile Blogger award. So I'm paying it forward. Congratulations! You're now a winner too!

  13. Can I call you Hippie Emily Post from now on? 'Cuz that's awesome.