Twitter 101 for Writers: Etiquette

Abby Matthews asked: I’d like to see a post on Twitter etiquette for beginners. When is it OK to butt into a conversation with a total stranger and when is it just creepy? Because I feel like 99.95% of the time it’s just creepy. I’ll heart when illustrators post recent works (I LOVE that). But I rarely catch when someone posts something I think I can comment on. So how do you strike up a friendship?? I feel like that awkward middle school kid, holding her lunch tray and staring at the cool kids’ table. If we were in person I would have ZERO problem approaching people and making friends. But I feel so inhibited from behind my computer screen!!

Abby asked me this question a couple months ago when she started on Twitter. Now, with 16 episodes of her Mom Writes podcast out, she’s at the head of the cool kids’ table! But I thought her question was probably something on the minds of other writers.

I’m not an expert on all aspects on Twitter etiquette, but I’ve been on Twitter for a while, both on my own account and tweeting for @WingedPen. Marty Mayberry and Jessica Vitalis were kind enough to chime in with tips gained from their experience at Pitch Wars mentors.

First, as Abby mentions, there’s liking. Also retweeting. I don’t think you can ever go wrong with these. People feel good when they know someone has seen a tweet and feels similarly.

But conversations are trickier, because of course, we all know there are cool kid tables in the Twitter Writing community: agents, editors, published authors. Do they really want to hear from the ranks of the “writing forever and still not rep’d” like me?

Even here, there are some straightforward rules. Don’t @ agents with Twitter pitches, normally or in contests. Look up their submission requirements and send them a professional query. Don’t @ authors with bad reviews of their books. DO @ authors with good reviews! I’ve had authors and their agents retweet book recommendations I’ve written for Winged Pen. They appreciate that I enjoyed their book and am spreading the word, and I appreciate that the post I took time to write gets seen by more people. All good.

There are times when it’s cool to ask agents questions. Some announce #AskAgent times when they’re open for questions on the hashtag. Questions about the category or genre you’re writing in are fair game. Even whether your 150,000 word debut manuscript has any shot at getting representation. Beyond that, it’s fine to comment that their gif or the picture of their cat is awesome. It’s not going to get you a full request on your next query, but there’s no harm. But it’s best not to start up a conversation like you’re pals unless they’ve indicated they’re looking to chat about a topic.

Use the same courtesy with authors. Pitch Wars has #AskAMentor and other contests have times you can ask advice from mentors on the hashtag. But these folks need to get to their own writing/family/lives too. So keep an eye on the hashtag and focus the questions when they’ve said they’re available. Jessica and Marty say, “DO NOT DM your query and first five pages to mentors.” “DO NOT dig up their private email addresses and submit there.” Yes! These things have happened! You want to be noticed for your writing, not for failing to follow guidelines. And remember, the mentors on Twitter writing contests are VOLUNTEERS. They’ve been in the query trenches and are trying to pay it forward. Be nice to them and to other writers. Mentors notice.

DO @ mentors to engage. Mentors don’t want writers to be scared of them. Marty says, “We’re really no different than them, we’re just a little further down that publishing road.”

But those are the easy situations because the rules are pretty clear. What if an author is chatting about something you feel passionately about. Can you tweet back?

If an author is giving writing advice, it’s best not to chime in as if you’re an expert yourself unless you are. If they’re talking wombats, on the other hand, it’s pretty clear this is water-cooler talk. Tweet back if you’re into wombats. If someone tweeted helpful advice or a link to a great blog post, it’s fine to say, “Thanks, I liked that because…” and see if that starts a conversation.

What’s the worst that can happen? They don’t respond to you? Don’t get offended. Consider the fact that they might have gotten a lot of tweets. Or they might have popped onto Twitter for a quick break from work, but need to get back to it. Maybe you’ll have a long, profound conversation and maybe not. Because really, Abby’s right. Twitter is not the same as a “real” conversation. For most of us, it’s easy to pop into Twitter and reach out. But it’s also easier to let a conversation drop. And if it drops, just move on.

Remember, there are places other than Twitter to build relationships with people in the writing community that may be more conducive to starting friendships because they don’t have the awkward limit of 140 characters. Commenting on blog posts, meeting up at a conference, friending on Facebook. As I mentioned in Twitter 101 for Writers part 2: Building Your Community, I keep in touch with a lot of people on Twitter, but I’ve met many of them elsewhere. If you don’t feel comfortable “meeting” people in 140 characters, there’s no need to. Meet them where you’re most comfortable and “touch base” on Twitter to keep up the relationship.

For more on leveraging Twitter as a writer, see my prior posts:
Twitter 101 for Writers: The Basics
Twitter 101 for Writers: Building Your Community


Photo by Pam Vaughan

REBECCA J. ALLEN writes young adult science fiction with heroines much braver than she is and middle grade stories that blend mystery and adventure. She on Twitter at @RebeccaJ_Allen and her website is


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