The fine art of twitter stalking

When I first tried Twitter — because it was one of those things all authors were supposed to do — I was instantly addicted. I enjoyed getting little tidbits of this and that. At first I was only following a few of my favorite bloggers and comedians and magazines and such, and it was easy to keep up. But as I followed more people and organizations, I began to realize:

  1. I have no hope of keeping up with this.
  2. This takes a lot of time.
  3. This isn’t selling any books.

So I started ignoring it for days at a time. But at some point I dipped back in and came across a post from Joel Friedlander – a man wise in the ways of indie publishing and generous about sharing his wisdom – in which he suggested that authors should build their Twitter networks not by following other authors, but by following people who describe themselves as avid readers.

And that works. A bit. Mind you, it’s laborious. I think of it as hand-selling. I’m doing well with it if one out of every twenty or thirty people I follow gets curious enough to check me out, and then also gets curious enough to buy or borrow my book — but that’s something. It’s enough to keep The Awful Mess: A Love Story from sinking into an utter abyss in the absence of any other marketing efforts.

Probably even more valuable than the sales, I’m building a list of fairly targeted followers. Although not very many people I follow immediately buy my book, a fair number of people do follow me back. Which means I can still talk to them. So there’s some potential there over the long term.

Of course, this strategy only works up to 2,000 or so follows, at which point Twitter decides you’re creepy or something and shuts you off.

When this figure neared for me, I signed up for an account at justunfollow.com. I’m personally not a fan of people’s daily tweets of how many followers and unfollowers they have, so I opted out of that, but I do occasionally tweet my own variation of their suggested tweets. It’s only fair to give this valuable free service some shout-outs now and then. (It’s not the only one available, either, so feel free to look around.)

Anyway, with this one, everyone gets 25 free unfollows a day. The occasional tweet on their behalf entitles you to fifty unfollows a day. And your non-followers are neatly organized with the oldest ones first.

So I go through that list and I clear out most people who haven’t followed me back, unless they happen to be particularly interesting.

I also tend to pretty quickly unfollow people who send me chirpy direct messages without following me back. I don’t mind being hit up with a marketing message, but a direct message suggests a willingness to interact, and I can’t DM back people who haven’t followed me. So that just seems rude. (First I’ll usually wait a week or so to see if they’ve just forgotten to pay any attention to their account.)

I do the same for most of the hapless folks who auto-DM me back to tell me they use TrueTwit validation. (DON’T use TrueTwit validation.)

And I will probably always follow more people than follow me, barring sudden fame (and I’m not holding my breath on that one). I find a lot of people interesting, and as I said before, I enjoy getting these little morsels of information.

Anyway, now that I’ve unfollowed enough to clear up space for more follows, I stalk writers whose work seems enough like mine that their readers might like my stuff, and I follow their followers — if they talk about being readers.

This isn’t all that easy, because most of the authors I idolize don’t have Twitter accounts, and Jane Austen, for example, has been dead way too long to be tweeting anybody, although she is associated with a surprising number of Twitter accounts. So I hunt for readers of women’s fiction and “smart chick lit,” or just about any Episcopalian who will admit to reading. Also, if anyone mentions being a Kindle addict, I’m on them like fat on bacon.

Of course, I’m late to this game, clearly, because other indie authors are in fact the majority of the followers of most published authors. I ignore them unless they speak of avid or voracious reading themselves or just seem to be an unusually kindred spirit. I usually ignore librarians and booksellers, too, because neither will have easy access to my book right now and will probably sniff at me in disdain. I also ignore people with locked accounts, people who haven’t tweeted in weeks, people whose politics and religious attitudes suggest they’d happily consign me to hell, and people who do nothing but tweet contests and marketing messages.

Along the way I’ve noticed that dark chocolate and red wine merit A LOT of mentions in women’s profiles. It’s actually quite fascinating to see how people from all over the world sum themselves up. (I’m stunned that I haven’t yet come across a single mention of long walks on the beach. It’s not really a hook-up oriented medium, apparently, or maybe I’m just looking at the wrong demographic for that.)

My next stage with Twitter will be organizing the people I follow into lists. I had no idea what that was until recently, and it makes so much sense. You can put the people you follow into categories, public or private, and then focus on that category only when you’re interested in it. Sounds like a good January project.

Do you have any Twitter tips, techniques, or pet peeves that you’d like to share?

Twitter Screenshot 2013-12-16 11.02.37

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