Building Your Twitter Following

February 12, 2019 § 11 Comments

Does Twitter help sell books? Nobody knows. Barnes & Noble customers rarely announce “I came in because of this tweet!” But being visible in the online writing community can be a source of support and inspiration, and enough agents and publishers look at follower numbers to make it worth growing your presence on Twitter.

Twitter basics are just like showing up at an enormous pool party already in progress: Watch conversations before interacting, interact kindly and pleasantly and avoid “fighting words” unless you’re doing it on purpose. Just like that party, you get to swim when you like and stay dry when you want: Twitter rewards occasional involvement throughout the day or week rather than constant checking.

We talked last week about “what the heck to post on Twitter.” But the early days often feel like speaking timidly into the void (647 following! 12 followers! Augh!). How can you organically grow an online community who share your interests and want to hear what you have to say?

The best way to get followers is to follow people, but not randomly. Who will you enjoy reading and who will follow you back?

  • Use Twitter follow-frenzies. Search your Facebook writing group for a post asking members to comment with their Twitter handles. Follow them all, and post yours as a clickable link. If you can’t find a follow-thread within the last six months, post one: “Hey, let’s follow each other on Twitter” plus your link will do just fine. It is polite to follow back everyone who follows you unless you actively dislike their bio/feed.
  • Go to users’ actual profiles. Hit “follow” and wait for a moment—Twitter will suggest more people you might like. Follow them, too.
  • Visit your favorite literary magazine or author’s profile. Add their followers. Use the “followers” list, because the “following” list is likely more famous and less motivated to follow back.
  • Follow other writers with low follower counts. Someone with 367 followers is more likely to follow back than someone who already has 70K.
  • Follow people who liked a tweet you also liked, or whose response you liked.
  • Search hashtags like #amwriting #writingcommunity #writerscommunity #amediting and #cnf (those are clickable links to those searches). Follow people who use those hashtags in tweets and/or their bios.
  • Use Lists. To keep track of the people you want to read in that blur of new tweets, assign people you follow to lists. For example, I made a list of “Agents” so I can read only tweets from literary agents I follow. You can also look at someone else’s list: Click on a profile, click Lists, and click on a list. For example, here’s all the AWP presenters for this year’s conference. If you’re attending—or want the conference buzz—subscribe to see those tweets. Then click List Members and follow everyone who seems interesting.
  • Unfollow people who don’t follow back after a few weeks unless you are specifically interested in what they have to say. (Michelle Obama is probably not going to follow me back.) Most of my non-mutual followers are news, politics, public figures, literary agents and publishing houses. You can use a tool like Tweepi (start with the free plan to see if it’s for you) to sort your list and easily unfollow non-followers, or just scroll down your Following list on Twitter—it’s in chronological order.
  • Don’t bother to follow back travel bloggers and business coaches with huge follower and low following numbers unless you’re really interested. They are using bots that will unfollow you after you follow them (this also happens on Instagram). Dudes with two first names (like ‘Robert Walter,’ ‘James Joseph’), very all-American profiles, and jobs that are military or military-connected in Africa or the Middle East are bots or scammers.

“But Allison,” you ask, “How can I engage meaningfully with the thousands of followers I’d like to have?”

You don’t have to. You’re not on Twitter to talk to anyone, you’re on Twitter to talk to everyone. It’s not like letting your best friend sit next to you at lunch—be part of a great conversation this minute, then move on. Support the people you know well or in person. Retweet writers and cool things to read. Post things you find funny, interesting or cool. Step back and engage meaningfully with the community as a whole, rather than focusing on individuals. Let Twitter wash over you like a wave—and get out of the pool when you need a break.


Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor and the author of Seven Drafts: Self-Edit Like a Pro from Blank Page to Book. Want writing news, events, and upcoming webinars? Join the A-List!

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§ 11 Responses to Building Your Twitter Following

  • floatinggold says:

    It just sounds insane to me.
    I tried Twitter once. I HATED the spam. I find it so useless. But you are right – it has its purpose. I might have to just take a deep breath, close my eyes, and do it.

    • Allison K Williams says:

      What spam do you mean? Like direct messages or just stuff in the feed that doesn’t interest you?

      • floatinggold says:

        Stuff in the feed. It’s not that it doesn’t interest me, but people post SO much, that one would have to be sitting there non stop to be able to scroll through it all.

  • Your advice is always welcome and generally wise. In this case, I cannot follow. I worry too much already to open myself to what for me would be another numbers trap.

  • Barb Knowles says:

    So funny that I read this today. I have 2 Twitter accounts, one that I usually use for work and general retweeting. And the second for writing. I’ve done very little with the writing account except post blog entries. I decided after reading this to look and see if one of my binders groups has a twitterathon And I literally opened it up and there was a let’s-have-a-twitter-follow-session group frenzie for writers. So happy!

    On to Platform 9 3/4. 💖

  • I love twitter as it’s an exercise in compact writing and sometimes becomes utterly bizare with exchanges of images and single words. A lot of people hate it because of the risk of trolls, but that gets me to take care over what I write which feeds into improving the quality of my writing elsewhere.

  • 1WriteWay says:

    All of this is good, sensible advice. I enjoy Twitter (here’s my handle @marieannbailey :)) but I tend not to follow everyone who follows me. In fact, I will take time every so often to go through and block followers if I suspect them of being bots or spam. I also take pruning shears to those I do follow. When I see someone is already following 17k people, I kind of think they won’t miss me when I’m gone. That said, I’ve been thrilled to engage with some of my favorite authors, at least engaging in some conversation even if they choose not to follow me back. Everything in moderation, even more so with social media. Love this last line: “Let Twitter wash over you like a wave—and get out of the pool when you need a break.”

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