My Top Ten Tips for Twitter (or or how to be a human being)

Just lately, I have stumbled upon several blog posts, giving detailed instructions on how to ‘sell books on Twitter’. Guidance on ‘networking’ (which always makes me think of trapped fish) and ‘growing your audience’ (houseplants?). Posts like that make me nervous. Actually, they make me more than nervous, they make me want to tear flesh from my own skull. I think I’ve read enough of them now to warrant writing my own. So here, for what it’s worth, are my top ten tips for Twitter (or alternatively, how to be a human being).



No, really. You’re not. You’re not even there to ‘engage’ with people or (heaven forbid) create a platform. You’re there as a human being to chat to other human beings about anything other than selling your book. Most of the time on Twitter, I forget I even have a book*. Twitter is an escape. A place to talk about my dog, my walks through the fields, how the world scares the crap out of me sometimes. It’s somewhere to share a joke, or a photograph of your Starbucks. Somewhere to go when the government appears to have gone quite mad, and you just need another person to tell you it’s all going to be fine in the end. It isn’t, nor has it ever been, somewhere to ‘sell books’. If, however, other human beings on Twitter like what you have to say about your life and your Starbucks. If you make them smile and think (or perhaps because they’re fond of your dog), they might (just might) be kind enough to check out your novel. And perhaps buy it. But this is a side-effect. It is not a reason for creating an account.

*except on publication day – publication day has its own rules and deserves to be celebrated


Balanced against this, if an organiser is kind enough to invite you to their festival, or a blogger is generous enough to review your book (in their free time, for no money whatsoever), or a reader wants to tell you how much they enjoyed your novel, then it’s surely common courtesy to take the time to acknowledge it. Unless you’re so important and so busy, you can’t possibly keep up with your mentions, isn’t ignoring them a little like ignoring someone in the street? RTing an event, or thanking someone for a review, isn’t the same as ‘selling books’. It’s acknowledging someone who is kind enough to support you, when there are thousands of other authors they could be supporting instead. It’s good manners. I see accounts where this is strangely absent.


Never, not once, not ever, have I bought a book because of a ‘buy my book’ tweet. I don’t care if your friends have RTed it ninety-seven times for you, I’m still not interested. I have, however, bought many, many books because someone I trust tweets with such passion and enthusiasm about a novel they’ve read, and I know straightaway I have to read it as well. You can hear that passion. You can’t miss it. When you’ve had a reading experience which is so magical, so all-consuming, you want others to have it too. Those are the kind of tweets that make me buy a book in seconds.


I have heard of people scrolling down someone’s account, looking for something to RT, in the hope their tweet will be reciprocated. Some accounts are nothing but an endless stream of other people’s ‘buy my book’ tweets, interspersed with their own. No comment, no passion. Just adverts. Only on Planet Stupid would anyone imagine this behaviour encourages people to ‘buy your book’. Plus, no one will listen to any of your recommendations, because (basically) you’ve become the Twitter Shopping Channel.


No. No, you mustn’t. If people want to check out your book, they will be able to find it all by themselves. Trust me. People are not stupid.


Because the more people you follow, the more people will be able to help you ‘sell your book’. No. Honestly, just no. If I look at an account which follows 75K people, I look away again. Even if the person might be lovely and interesting, and fun to talk to, trying to have a conversation with them must be a little like shouting across a football stadium. Choose who you follow with care. And don’t just follow ‘publishing people’, or people who might be ‘useful’ to you. There are people out there who have never written a book, and they’re actually interesting too (this may come as a shock to some people).


Since being published, I have discovered two categories of people (in addition to the lovely category of those who are just the same as they’ve always been). Category one, is people who have actively ignored you, but are now falling over themselves to be your new BFF. Category two, is people who have always talked to you, but who suddenly disappear off the face of the earth. Try your very best not to fall into either of those camps. Congratulate other writers if they make a longlist or get an agent, or win a prize. And not, as some blog posts would suggest, because it’s ‘advantageous’, but because it’s all part of being a human being.


Or angry. Or emotional. I’m all for authenticity, but having a thirty-tweet rant about your ex-wife or an agent who turned you down, or a bad Amazon review, will eventually evolve into the ever-shameful this tweet is unavailable the next day, because you’ll wake up and realise what a bloody idiot you sounded. Likewise, you will never change someone’s mind about something in 140 characters. And never, ever, under any circumstances, resort to subtweeting. Unplug the router. Go and dig the garden instead.


… to be on the outside, looking in. When I joined Twitter, many years ago, I swear no one spoke to me for the first three months. Everyone seemed to be in little clusters of friendship, and I had no idea how to join in. It takes courage to try to become part of a conversation, and it’s truly horrible if you find that courage, only to be ignored. Pinned to the top of my agent’s Twitter, is the quote ‘be kind whenever possible – it is always possible’. This is a pretty fool proof guide to Twitter, as well as life.


… you are traditionally published, it’s different if you’re self-published, because you have to do all the promotion yourself.

Actually, I think it’s even more vital if you’re a one-man army. There is no one else out there except you, and if you scream at people to buy your book (because that’s what it feels like from this side), there’s no publisher or agent or publicist to deal with the damage limitation. Incidentally, publisher accounts can, by their nature, be very dry, and having your own voice on Twitter can be a huge advantage. My publisher’s account is, of course, rather marvellous, but in an attempt to be publisher-neutral, if you want an example of a brilliant corporate account, take a look at @canongatebooks (no relation).

When I look at my ten tips it feels very much like common sense, but then I look at Twitter occasionally, and think maybe some sense isn’t as common as we might imagine it is. I hear of authors who don’t want to ‘do Twitter’, because they hate the thought of self-promotion. I see some authors who have made it as far as Twitter (clearly against their free will), and who visit once a week to RT every single bit of praise they’ve received over the past seven days, only to disappear again.

My advice would be to stop thinking about Twitter in terms of trapped fish and houseplants, and to think of it as a place where you can continue to exist as a human being.

And if you accidentally sell a few books along the way, then it’s just an added bonus.

There are many authors who ‘do Twitter’ very, very well. Here are just a handful off the top of my head:

Sarah Perry

Paula Hawkins

Paraic O’Donnell

Ian Rankin

Julie Cohen

Miranda Dickinson 

Jill Mansell 

James Hannah

SJ Watson

Anna Mazzola



  1. May 2, 2017 / 8:04 pm

    Love this! Yes, having a conversation with people is so much more fun. And I NEVER get bored of hearing about Seth’s walks 😀

  2. May 3, 2017 / 8:25 am

    Thanks for this article Joanna. It made me smile, and I found it comforting too. I’m not new to writing (15 years and three novels in, tentative agent interest currently – I’ve learned not to hold my breath) but am new to blogging and twitter (both within the last twelve months). I want to engage, to connect, to learn and be inspired. Obviously I also long to be noticed (despite my life-long love of solitude!), because I really do want my writing to be out there in the world. When I read about ‘how to blog’ or how to ‘promote yourself as a writer’ I want to curl up into a little ball and weep. I loved your football stadium metaphor. Social media seems just like that to me at times – a cacophony! I love what you suggest twitter can be – the opportunity for a joke, a thought, a picture of the dog / cat / garden. It makes me feel that it’s worth persevering – slowly unearthing those meaningful, touching, funny, joyful connections. 🙂

  3. juliathorley
    May 3, 2017 / 1:39 pm

    I don’t do Twitter. I used to but I just couldn’t keep up. I think I might have been doing it wrong!

  4. May 5, 2017 / 11:51 am

    How refreshing! I totally agree with you Joanna. Kindness and authenticity are the best Twitter guidelines.

  5. Mick Bailey
    May 5, 2017 / 9:19 pm

    Good advice, particularly tweeting when drunk…(looks at the sky and walks off whistling).

  6. July 22, 2017 / 4:52 pm

    Good advice – it makes commercial sense and would be good advice even if it didn’t. Thanks for sharing.
    As a former data guy, I’ve tried to look a bit deeper than the conventional -and largely unsubstantiated – wisdom of publishers and ‘experts’ that a social media presence is useful in selling books. Short answer (and there are always exceptions) – not really, especially Twitter.
    I agree with everything Joanna says about ‘selling’. And don’t expect someone else’s recommendation to help sales. I was fortunate enough to have someone with 25 m+ followers recommend one of my books in a tweet – didn’t shift sales by any measurable amount. On the other hand, radio and TV make a huge difference – short term at least.
    So, I’d say to both new and experienced writers – put the time you’d spend ‘marketing’ on Twitter into writing a better book. Social use of Twitter is another matter – and if it leads to a contact who leads to something good happening, wonderful. Just don’t do it with that in mind.
    Thanks again for the piece.

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