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 Especially those of the unpublished variety (Does anyone use the term "pre-published" anymore or has it been banished after general agreement that it's freaking obnoxious?).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.