photo by RuffLife

After weighing the pros and cons of Twitter last time, maybe you’ve decided to take the leap. But you’re understandably overwhelmed, because Twitter is a strange and mysterious land to the uninitiated. Never fear! I’m here with the basics of what you need to do to start off your Twitter life with a bang. And even if this Twitter thing is old hat to you, I hope you’ll give it a quick glance, because there are tips for everyone hiding in these basics. Let’s go!

1. Use the name you publish under.

If you’re joining Twitter for the sake of building your writing platform, you should use the exact name that you publish under. This helps readers avoid confusion. So if you publish under George K. Schmidt, that’s how you should fill out your name – not George Schmidt or George Karl Schmidt.

2. Make your handle as close to that name as possible.

Your Twitter name and your Twitter handle don’t have to match, but they should. Again, you’re working toward recognition and clarity. If the handle for your exact name is taken, choose the closest thing that makes sense and seems professional. Think @GKSchmidt, not @GeorgiePorgie.

3. Upload a photo of your face, or at least yourself. (No book covers.)

I know, I know. Some authors are so resistant to headshots. I can’t force you to come out of your shell, but I can say that people on Twitter want to talk to humans, not eggs, not logos, not your pet dog, and (sorry) not your book cover. It doesn’t matter how gorgeous your cover is or how smitten you are with it; people want to follow an author, not a book. Still can’t bring yourself to use a face shot? The next best thing is humanoid alternatives (silhouettes, profiles, cartoon renderings) – not landscapes or objects.

4. Fill out your bio.

You can edit your bio at any time, so there’s no need to be intimidated by this step. The trick to a Twitter bio is that it’s so short! Cover the basics. You’re a writer. Of what? Include published book titles or primary genres. If you’re agented, industry pros appreciate your sharing by whom. You can mention favorite topics or affiliations if you want, and infusing a little personality is always good.

Don’t waste bio space with website links; include your master website URL in the separate space provided. Don’t waste space with negatives. Skip the warnings and Twitter policies like “I don’t follow back” and “No DMs please.” And don’t clutter up your bio with hashtags! It looks a little tacky and makes your actual words difficult to read. Keep it clean, simple, and appealing.

5. Choose a design.

At bare minimum, choose a background image from Twitter’s pre-set options. If you want to stand out, use images from elsewhere (that you have the rights to!) to personalize your page. One of my favorite tips for writers who have many ‘homes’ online: make them cohesive with a color theme and/or design! That way followers familiar with your Twitter profile page will know they’re in the right place when they get to your website and see the same design. This is an easy way to “brand yourself,” and also to make new sites feel like your own.

6. Look around to get a feel for things.

Many of us, once we decide to do something, want to do it RIGHT THIS MOMENT. But you don’t have to cannonball into Twitter on the very same day you make an account. In fact, you probably shouldn’t. Dip a toe in first! On the internet we call this “lurking.” Lurking at first is a good thing; it helps you get the lay of the land before you jump into action. So before you start spouting off tweets, browse around and see what other people are doing. Get a feel for what works, what doesn’t, and use that to guide you. It will likely save you some faux pas. Once you’ve lurked a little…

7. Tweet a few times to get started.

No one wants to follow spam accounts or inactive people. Before you start following people, tweet at least a few times so we can tell you’re just new – not a scary spambot.

8. Find some people to follow.

Find your friends, of course! You can find them by hooking Twitter to your Facebook account, email, etc., or just by asking for their handles. You can also follow the people your friends are following. And Writer Unboxed has a list of its contributors’ Twitter handles in their sidebar to the right.

Other ways to find people to follow? Twitter’s “Who to Follow” suggestions to the left of your timeline on the home page, people using hashtags that you’re interested in, and anyone else who looks interesting! [You can follow me @AnnieNeugebauer. If you say hi and/or mention you found me on Writer Unboxed, I’ll be happy to follow back!]

9. Say hi, introduce yourself, or join some conversations.

Not everyone follows back right away, and even if they do, you’ll want to interact with people. That’s the point, remember? This is not a mindless numbers race. So it’s a nice thing to do, especially when you’re starting out, to strike up conversations with the people you follow. It might seem weird at first, but that’s what Twitter is for! Think of it as a digital cocktail party; it’s expected and usually welcome to introduce yourself to new people and start chatting.

10. Start learning the basics.

As you go (it doesn’t have to be all at once), begin to familiarize yourself with the basics: the retweet, the hashtag, the @ mention (post coming soon), and Twitter lists. You won’t understand everything right away, but try to get a grasp on the essentials so you don’t feel so lost.

There you have it! Ten steps to get your feet wet. Just remember that Twitter comes with a learning curve, and no one starts out already knowing everything! Be patient with yourself, take your time, and stick with it. You’ll be chirping with the best of them in no time.

Are you on Twitter yet? What getting-started tips do you have to add?

About Annie Neugebauer

Annie Neugebauer (@AnnieNeugebauer) is a novelist, short story author, and award-winning poet represented by Michelle Johnson of Inklings Literary Agency. She has work appearing in over thirty venues, including Buzzy Mag, The Spirit of Poe, the British Fantasy Society journal Dark Horizons, and the National Federation of State Poetry Societies' prize anthology Encore. She's a member of the Horror Writers Association, webmaster for the Poetry Society of Texas, and president of the North Branch Writers' Critique Group. When she’s not frightening strangers with her writing, she’s most likely frightening her husband and their two cats, Buttons and Snaps.