The Art & Science of Twitter. Part 1: The Science

PhotobucketTherese here. Today’s guest is Nina Badzin, who’s here today–and tomorrow–to talk with us about Twitter. (Basics today, technique savvy tomorrow.) Nina is not only an aspiring novelist and inspired Twitter Queen (@NinaBadzin), she was one of our quarter-finalists in our search for an unpublished writer to contribute to WU back in 2010. Since that time, she’s been busy gathering lit credits, including articles in The Drum Literary Magazine, Midwestern Gothic, Monkeybicycle, The Pedestal Magazine, The Potomac, and others. One of her stories published in Sleet Magazine, “Son,” was also nominated for a prestigious Pushcart Prize.

If you know little about Twitter, don’t understand the buzz; or if you’ve signed up for Twitter and maintain a page with a post a month, read this. Twitter pros, tune in tomorrow for more. Enjoy!


Part One: The Science

Twitter is invaluable for writers. I can’t provide statistics about how many books you’ll sell, or how many agents or publishers will discover your brilliance because of it, nor can I guarantee you’ll win the Amanda Hocking self-publishing jackpot when you promote your work on Twitter.

I can promise you this: Twitter connects you to others in ways that Facebook, email blasts, and Goodreads simply cannot. I can also promise that Twitter will devour your writing time if you don’t manage it properly. I’m here to make the time you spend on Twitter as effective and efficient as possible.

What is a tweet? A tweet is a message of 140 characters or less. We’ll get to what you should tweet about (the art) tomorrow. First things first.


1. Pick a Handle: Your handle, your Twitter name, and the handle of anyone you mention in a tweet counts against the 140-character allotment. Keep your handle as close to your name as possible, but keep it short.

My handle is @NinaBadzin. Choosing a Twitter handle is not the time for cuteness or anonymity such as @HeLikestoWrite or @MysteryofFiction. If your name is taken, try something like @nbadzin or @Nina_Badzin. If your name is long, get creative. Allison Winn Scotch, NYT best-selling author and regular WU contributor, wisely chose the handle @aswinn.

2. Upload a Picture: No pictures of your cat or random graphics. I’m not a fan of book covers either because they’re hard to see on the computer, iPad, and especially on phone apps. Even if you’re trying to sell books, you don’t want to come off like a product. You’re human. Let us see your gorgeous face.

3. Fill in Your Bio: A good bio is succinct and reflects your main purpose on Twitter. Even if your purpose is to sell books, don’t let your bio read like an ad. I’ve noticed an uptick in bios like this: “Check out my thriller, Deadly Doorknobs, available now on Kindle http:// OnlyTweetsAboutHimself.” Total turn off. Remember, people tweet to connect with people, not products.

Furthermore, you want to sound professional, not obnoxious; interesting, but not over-eager. I’d also stay away from mentioning all of your hobbies. When I see: “Writer, reader, mother, chocoholic, preserver of the Earth, runner, White Sox fanatic, & burgeoning photographer,” I’m not likely to follow back if I see a timeline of tweets about every one of those topics. I don’t want to spend my precious Twitter time on endless tweets about reusable tote bags and marathons. Mention interests other than writing without getting carried away.

4. Fill in the URL Section: If you have a website or a blog, the link will appear under your bio. No need to waste precious characters in the bio section with a URL.

5. Turn Off the Notifications: One of the tabs in the settings section is “notifications.” To keep Twitter from taking over your life, I suggest turning off the notifications. You can easily see who has mentioned you, followed you, or sent you a private message during your dedicated Twitter time. There’s no good reason to receive these messages all day long.

6. Find People to Follow: Follow writers and people of interest in the publishing industry. While you can follow news organizations, celebrities, politicians, etc., I strongly discourage it. If you follow too many people at once, you’ll get overwhelmed.

7. Make Lists: From the day you start following people on Twitter, you should sort them into lists such as authors, book bloggers, people you know in real life, and so on. Lists are the number one key to managing Twitter. For more on how to make lists, see a post I dedicated to that topic.

8. Understand Hashtags: A hashtag organizes conversations on Twitter. If you saw the latest Harry Potter film, you could add #HarryPotter to the end of your tweet about the movie. Anyone else interested in what others said about the movie could type the hashtag #HarryPotter into the search box. Even if that person is not following you, your tweet about the movie would appear in the search results. Perhaps you’ll gain a new follower or find new people to follow. There are numerous hashtags writers use when discussing general writing topics. The most popular is #amwriting. Some others I see often are #amediting, #amrevising, #writer, #author, #writetip, and #pubtip.

You’ll also notice the hashtags #WW (Writer Wednesday) and #FF (Follow Friday). People use those hashtags to recommend favorite Twitter users to the rest of their followers. There are varying opinions as to the usefulness of this practice.

9. Understand the Six Types of Tweets:

  • The Regular Tweet: Wow, I’m still digesting the Twitter basics on Writer Unboxed today. (Often a link would be included. Always use a shortened link.)
  • The @Mention Tweet: Still digesting @NinaBadzin’s fantastic post on Writer Unboxed Because the person has typed at least one character before “@NinaBadzin,” all of that person’s followers would see that tweet on the Twitter main page. THAT is the power of Twitter, my friends.
  • The @Reply Tweet: @NinaBadzin, your guest post on Writer Unboxed has me begging for more. Both this tweet and the previous @mention tweet would appear on my @mention page. HOWEVER, unlike the @mention tweet, @replies only go out to people who follow both me and the person who sent the tweet. If certain people often tweet your posts for all to see, you’re not returning the favor if you always respond to their posts with @replies. Because @replies get more limited views than @mentions, they are best used when you’re having a conversation with one or two other people, or when you’re thanking someone, so you can avoid clogging up the main Twitter stream with inside jokes and information that pertains to few people.
  • The Retweet (RT): Me too. RT @JaneDoe: Still digesting @NinaBadzin’s fantastic post on Writer Unboxed To retweet someone else’s tweet, you can add your two cents before their original tweet like in the example, start the tweet with the letters ‘RT,’ or simply press the “retweet” button on Twitter. As long as you put a word, the letters ‘RT,’ or a period before the @ symbol, then the tweet will be seen by all of your followers.
  • The Modified Tweet: (MT) The MT is similar to the RT. It’s courteous to use the letters MT instead of RT if you’ve changed the original wording in any way.
  • The Direct Message: A direct message is a private message between you and someone who follows you. You cannot “DM” people who are not following you back.

10. Utilize Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, Ubersocial, etc.: Once you’re comfortable navigating Twitter, you’ll probably want to download a program such as Hootsuite or Tweetdeck, which make retweeting and looking at your lists far simpler than the format on the actual Twitter site.

I hope you find this science lesson helpful. Come back tomorrow for the “art” of Twitter.

Thanks for a great post, Nina!

Readers, have Twitter questions? Ask. And be sure to come back tomorrow for part 2 of Nina’s Twitter series. Write on!

Photo courtesy Flickr’s respres


About Nina Badzin

Nina Badzin is a writer and blogger who lives in Minneapolis with her husband and four children. Her work has appeared in numerous literary magazines, as well as the Huffington Post's books, parenting, religion, and technology pages. In a strange turn of events, Nina has become the go-to gal for Twitter advice. This confuses her parents and her husband to no end. She tweets at @NinaBadzin and blogs regularly at You can find her on Facebook, too.


  1. says

    I think #6 is the hard one for me: who to follow. Everyone I would be interested in following I can already keep up to date with on Facebook or their blog. Who does that leave? Very helpful post though I have to say. The most concise one I’ve seen yet.

    • says

      Hi there, Jim. Well, I guess it leaves people you don’t know from Facebook, which is probably a whole lot of people. Facebook and Twitter are completely different animals.

      On Twitter, you’d discover new people and blogs all the time. But Twitter is definitely optional, and like I said, it takes time. If you’re satisfied with your social media contacts and experience for now, you certainly don’t have to add more to your plate.

  2. VicK says

    This reminds me of that line from ‘Finding Nemo’…

    ‘It’s like he’s trying to speak to me. Look, you’re really cute but I can’t understand a thing you’re saying…’

    I navigate all kinds of things online fairly well, but I think I need a Twitter friend to come around here and it explain it slowly, over my shoulder. (Which would be fine, if I didn’t live in a remote location in the middle of central Australia and actually knew anyone else who even knew what Twitter is…)

    • says

      It IS a ton of information and strange lingo. I’ve helped people in town in person over a 1-hour session and it definitely makes their transition to Twitter seamless. I wish someone had done that for me! I’m happy to clear up any confusion. But I agree, having someone right there with you at the computer helps tremendously.

  3. david tames says

    Ugh. I just managed to hookup my smartphone’s email last night. Can Twitter really be that necessary? Can you explain why I might want to follow anyone? Don’t most of the interesting people have blogs? And aren’t the most useful posts, like yours, actually more than 140 characters? I just fail to see why knowing that 1,000 people are “am writing” matters. Is Twitter somehow more than just a 21st century media flavor? Or does it provide a real function I can’t get elsewhere?


    Twitter virgin

    • says

      David, those are all fair questions. The answers won’t be the same for everyone. I learn about good blog posts when I read about them and Twitter and see the link. I follow a ton of literary magazines and keep up on the submissions that way. It’s an easy information source for me rather than following tons of blogs and getting inundated with new posts all the time. I don’t use Google reader or anything like that. I keep lists on Twitter of blogs I like, literary magazines I admire, etc. When I want to see something from that list, I can quickly read the tweets and decide if there’s a post I want to pursue. The connections I’ve made on Twitter are ones I would not have made anywhere else.

      But I’m just one person who’s had a great experience. Twitter is not something you have to do. Nobody can prove its staying power. I don’t think we can argue that it’s here for now though.

  4. says

    Thank you so much for this post! I have avoided Twitter because I haven’t been able to understand it at all, but know it’s a necessary evil I’m going to have to embrace sooner or later. This clears up a whole lot, and I’m definitely looking forward to tomorrows installment. See you tomorrow!

  5. says

    Twitter is invaluable to writers, I agree! Not only for accessing and spreading info, but I love all the writer friends I’ve gotten to know. And I’ve so appreciated your help and suggestions from Day 1, Nina! Thanks for more great Twitter tips; looking forward to Part 2!

  6. says

    You just taught me the powerful difference between a “mention” and a “reply.” I think a light bulb is coming on in there somewhere.
    Pete Grimm

  7. says

    Great tips, Nina! You do a really good job of simplifying it for those new to Twitter (I wish I’d had something like this when I first started. I kinda just learned as I went).

    When I first started using twitter, it was mainly just to follow literary agents & editors, and it slowly grew into this writer community that became even more valuable to me.

    To add to Jim & David’s question of who is worth following (aside from other writers, of course!), I would recommend following people in the industry. You’ll never have easier access to their candid tips and insights than you do on Twitter, and it’s perfectly okay to start out just “listening” while you learn the ropes.

    Like Nina points out, lists are a great way to find new people. Hope you don’t mind my sharing, but in case anyone’s interested

    I have a list of literary agents here:!/list/NataliaSylv/literary-agents

    And a list of editors here:!/list/NataliaSylv/pubeds

    Best of luck!

  8. says

    Great post, Nina. I’m fairly new to Twitter and so it was good to hear your perspective on it. I recently learned about using lists effectively. Wow, lists are so useful once you follow more than 10 people!… I still haven’t confronted item #10 on your list though :)

  9. says

    Thank you, Nina!

    I echo Pete Grimm’s note re: explaining the difference between @reply and @mention. Am also grateful to finally understand the etiquette behind RT and modifying that RT. Whew!

    I joined Twitter a few months ago and while I’m still nervous about posting, I really enjoy reading the tweets of the people I’m following.


    I’ve noticed that what people people say on their blog and how they use Twitter is often different. While the two usually complement each other, you get to see a different side of the same person. Taken together, you start to get a better appreciation of who he or she really is and what they care about. It’s like the difference between hanging out with someone at work and then spending time with them in their home, on the weekend. Same person, but still different.

    What I love about the people I’m following on Twitter is how much information they share re: linking to articles they want others to know about. It’s like sitting at a table with a group of people where everyone is reading a different newspaper or magazine and taking turns saying, “Hey, listen to this interesting article about XYZ.” And it often is, interesting, that is.

    Twitter feels incredibly generous, which is the same feeling I get from the blogs I like to read. I feel like I’m learning all the time. Blogs don’t lend themselves to that instantaneous sharing of links and snippets of information. And I wouldn’t want them to.

    I read blogs for a different type of conversation. The same table, but one where I’m listening to one person talk in depth about something that’s on his or her mind. Then, if I want to, I can react, comment back.

    • says

      Kristan, I said the same thing when I first read this post! I’ve modified in the past without MTing. Oops.

      Thanks again for a helpful series, Nina!

    • says

      Keith! Thanks so much. These kind of posts are actually hard to write as there are SO many things I could have included. Ultimately someone has to get on Twitter, dig around, and experience it for themselves to really learn it. If I can help fast forward that process, then I’ve done my job. #9—it’s wordy but essential. The difference between the @reply and regular tweet or @mention is so crucial. Lots of people out there are doing it incorrectly and as opposed to what you’ll see in my post tomorrow, the @reply vs regular tweet is a matter of fact, not opinion.

  10. says

    It’s going to be an A-Z guide to Twitter
    You have presented it in a simple and easy-to digest way.

    Thanks for the bunch of valuable information.

  11. says

    Nina, every post of yours I read about Twitter is helpful and succinct. I think you should consider gathering them and doing a self-published book.

  12. says

    This is as concise a guide as I’ve seen. But the thought of social media still gives me a monumental headache. Honestly, I don’t know how writers work their day jobs, manage their families, do research, write, blah blah blah and still dink around with social media and, what’s more, find something useful to say.

    I need an Advil….

  13. Jennifer Karol says

    Great post! I don’t even use Twitter and you made me feel confident that I could go on and be a guru!

  14. says

    Nina–this is fabulous, as always.

    I know it’s terrible but I STILL don’t utilize Twitter lists. Truth be told, I roll by most of my tweet “stream.” I need to get on the list thing.

  15. says

    I love this post. I love twitter, too, and am learning to use it. I haven’t figured out lists yet. I’m sure I’ll be embarrassed when I finally do. When I decided to figure out TwitPic I set aside an hour to learn it and it took five minutes. I hope lists are the same!

  16. says

    A note on lists…they’re indispensable once you start following more people, but they’re MUCH easier to handle if you put people in lists from the beginning. Ask me how I know…

    What is Twitter good for? Finding links to lots of good blogs/articles/websites, as Sonia said. Chatting with other writers (or people with other common interests). Encouraging and being encouraged. Motivating each other to write. Marketing. Celebrating. Getting instant notification of big news events. And so on. :-)

  17. says

    I do love Twitter. It’s how I found this article.
    Great information, esp the Modified Tweet (MT) I always felt a little odd about editing someone’s tweet to get it to fit. Now I know the proper way of showing it.

    I like how you really emphasize that Twitter is about meeting people. It’s true and I’ve met some amazing people. Now I’m going to take down my book cover. :)

  18. Nan Hanway says

    This was wonderfully informative, and it led me to your blog (which has more info about how to use Twitter effectively.) Thank you. I especially love knowing how to be polite on Twitter — every culture has its own standards of etiquette, after all!