Using Twitter the Wrong Way

People tell me I tweet wrong. I use Twitter.com like a bulletin board, mostly posting links to my blogs, sometimes retweeting my publisher’s book links, and occasionally posting links to samples of my books. All that is considered spam, though what I post is closer to ham than spam — it has a bit of meat to it. But of course, it’s all in how you look at it. (Are unwanted posts really spam, though? When you are spammed in your email, you often have no recourse, but if someone posts things you are not interested in at a social networking site, you can unfollow or unfriend.)

Most people seem to post the same sort of things I do, though some are heavy on quotes, some are heavy on retweeting, and others push their agendas (and books) incessantly, posting every few minutes. Yikes.

I once participated in a reciprocal promotion where each of us authors agreed to tweet everyone else’s book links several times a day every day for two weeks. Now that embarrassed me. I felt like a shill, particularly since I had no interest in the books. Still, I try to follow through on my promises, so I tweeted and tweeted and tweeted until I discovered that most of the others weren’t doing anything at all. That was the last time I ever did anything of the sort.

I’ve tried to do different things on Twitter, commenting on other people’s posts, joining in on discussions or starting discussions of my own, but I don’t see the fun in it, especially since few people ever respond. Those who do respond generally know me from Facebook, so it seems a duplication of effort.

So, if I’m using Twitter the wrong way, what is the right way? According to Twitter help, they are an information network, andreading Tweets and discovering new information whenever you check in on your Twitter timeline is where you’ll find the most value on Twitter. Some people find it useful to contribute their own Tweets, but the real magic of Twitter lies in absorbing real-time information that matters to you.” They also suggest that you retweet and reply to other people’s tweets rather than tweet your own, especially those of celebrities you admire.

Truth be told, I often unfollow those who use Twitter “correctly.” I have no interest in “news” in 140 characters. For all the talk about grassroots news and news from the people themselves, most of the news articles that get retweeted into virality originate from the major media.

I also have no interest in celebrities, in pithy sayings, or one-liners. And I certainly am not interested in following private conversations. (Some people use twitter to keep in touch with their friends and families rather than text. Reading those texts makes me feel as if I am at a party where I know no one and no one knows me. Do people have no sense of privacy anymore?)

Hmm. Doesn’t leave much, does it?

I guess I’ll continue to use Twitter wrongly. After all, if anyone doesn’t like what I tweet, they are free to unfollow.

Top Five Things I’ve Learned About Twitter

Twitter is a microblogging site where you post 140 characters at a time. I’ve written 100-word stories, 100,000-word novels, blog posts of various word counts, but anything that can be said in 140 characters or less almost doesn’t seem to be worth saying, so I’m having a hard time finding a home in the Twitosphere (or do I mean the Twitterverse?). Still, I am learning a few things about this twitterish world. Here are the top five things I’ve learned:

1. Tagging your tweets. You add tags to your tweets by using hash marks. For example, when I tweet this post, if I add #twitter to my tweet, people who are interested in finding out who is tweeting Twitter can search for #twitter, and discover all recent posts with that hash mark. (Okay, so you already knew that. But this is a post about things I’ve learned, and for some reason, that basic bit of twitia passed me by.)

2. Twit chats. #writechat is a group of writers who meet every Sunday on Twitter from 12:00 pm to 3:00 pm PT. You don’t need an invitation to join the discussion. (Well, maybe you do, but I crashed the party and no one complained.) All you have to do is go to your Twitter account and search for #writechat. Or you can start your own discussion group. Pick a name, add a hash mark, tell a few friends, and there you are, master of your own twit chat.

3. Trending topics. On the right sidebar of your Twitter home page, there is a list of trends. These trends are topics that are currently popular (as in right-this-very-minute popular) and are compiled from the most retweeted tweets, mostly news items. Twitterers think that they are retweeting non-mainstream news, that they are in the vanguard of a rebellion against traditional news sources, but as it turns out, the most retweeted twits and tweets come from the major media via their followers.

4. Friend or follow. Some twits like to follow everyone to get a huge following, and after you have followed them because you really don’t know what you’re doing and so you follow everyone who follows you, these twits unfollow you. Don’t you feel used? Well, no. Because you didn’t know they unfollowed you. Twitter sends you a message when someone follows you, but they don’t care if anyone unfollows you. So, here’s where you even the score: go to Friend or Follow, fill in your Twitter user name, and wait for the results. They might surprise you. You can easily unfollow your unfollowers from the site.

5. Clean your twits. Sometimes you end up with spammers or people you thought were your friends but who tweet a hundred times a day. Or you end up with a whole stream of multi-level marketers. Here’s an easy way of telling who is who. Go to: Twit Cleaner, fill in the information requested, and you get a whole list of unsweet tweeters with dodgy behavior such as those who tweet only links, those who only retweet other’s tweets, those who tweet the same links over and over again. Click on the tweeters you want to remove, and soon they will gone.

The main problem with cleaning your twits is that you end up with a huge discrepancy between the number of those who follow you and those you follow, and Twitter frowns on that. But whose Twitter is this? The way I figure, it’s better to follow fewer followers and get to know them, than to follow all who follow you and be inundated with the same twiddly stuff over and over again.

I’d planned to end this blog with a refutation of my bad report — Twit Cleaner told me I was guilty of dodgy behavior, that my tweets were mostly links. I was going to say that if people wanted to unfollow me because I tweeted too many links, then that is fine with me since if they’re not interested in what I tweet, they are of no use to me. Unfortunately, I just got a new report from The Twit Cleaner. They said “You’re awesome! Not very much to improve here. You’re basically already pretty great. Keep being your wonderful self.”

Thank you. I will.

@patbertram

Burning My “If Only”s Behind Me

The other day I wrote about how grief changed me, that now I am more patient, and today I discovered another change. The death of “if only.” How many of us torment ourselves with thoughts of “if only”? And it is a torment, that thought of what might have been  . . . if only.

The bereft are especially prone to this syndrome.

I have talked to people who followed doctors’ orders or accepted the doctors’ hopeful prognoses, and now they are haunted by “if only”s. If only they had known it was their husband’s last day. If only they had known their mother would suffer so much longer under a doctor’s care than if she had been allowed to die at home. If only she hadn’t insisted on his going through another operation or round of chemo.

I have talked to people who didn’t follow doctors’ orders, and now they are haunted by a different set of “if only”s. If only if they had done what was prescribed. If only they had insisted their wife see a doctor. If only they had insisted their husband stop smoking.

If only . . .

I saw a twitter yesterday that said hope and maybe were two of the most damaging words in our language, but those words don’t even come close to the wreckage “if only” can do. (As for hope and maybe, as Virgil Sweet in Talent for the Game says, “Maybe is powerful stuff.”)

I had my share of “if only”s — if only he’d hadn’t been so sick, if only I could have helped him, if only I could have kept him from dying, if only I hadn’t taken his dying for granted. (It seems unreal, now, that we took for granted he would die young. Shouldn’t we have railed against it more? But he was so disciplined, focusing his energies on trying to prolong his life and be productive. It was just the way we lived.)

When I realized how few of us felt we did enough for our dying mates or hadn’t done it right, I came to the conclusion that in these situations there is no “right.” There is just “do.”

A couple of days ago I learned something about twitter (or rather, it seemed to click and I finally got it), but hash marks are used for tagging a post or for categorizing it. I hash marked grief before I posted a blog (#grief) and ended up getting an influx of readers to my blog (including a woman whose life mate/soul mate died the same day as mine, a woman who is facing her grief the same way I am, a woman who makes comments that sound exactly like what I would have written).

Astounded by this turn of events, I began to form the thought that if only I had known about the hash marks, I could have reached more people with my grief blogs, but the “if only” died in wordbirth. I couldn’t even think it. I realized then, I’d burnt up all my “if only”s. I had none left. Not one of my “if only”s had changed a single moment of his dying. Not one “if only” could change what had already happened. And not one ever would.

One of my sisters in sorrow uses this tagline line at the end of her emails, which I always marveled at because the sentiment seemed so positive compared to the horror of the grief she was living:

Perhaps it is true. And if the universe is unfolding as it should, there is no place for “if only,” so it’s just as well I burned all my “if only”s behind me.

Ready or Not, Change is Coming Your Way

Most of my internet hangouts and hang-ups (meaning obstacles to smooth progress for those of you who are too young or too erudite to be familiar with the term) are going through massive changes. I checked in with MySpace (one of the aforesaid hang-ups — it never seemed to be worth the effort) and didn’t have a clue where I was or what I could or should do once I arrived. I did like some of the changes — it’s easier to find things, but the constant barrage of ads is enough to give one a headache. Still, it might have possibilities, though many long-time MySpace fans seem to be abandoning the site. They say Facebook is easier.

Facebook itself is going through major changes. Not only did they revamp the group feature, which will eventually undo everything I have accomplished on the site, it makes it virtually impossible to keep control of your identity. Anyone can add you to a group without your consent, and that means that their friends and the friends of their friends have access to your information. For me, that’s not a problem. I go by the assumption that everyone in the world will see what I post on the site, and so only post what I want people to see. So far, no one seems overly impressed.

Facebook is unveiling a new message system, which supposedly combines email, facebook messaging, instant messaging, and texting, which means you can interface with anyone, anytime, anywhere. Quite frankly, I have a hard enough time keeping track of the people I am connected to. Most of them I’ve never met, so gradually I’m checking them all, and weaning out those I would never, could never be friends with. Perhaps a page, with it’s unlimited number of potential fans, replaces the facebook profile, but so far I don’t see the point. I do have a fan page, but haven’t figured  out how to make it work for me. Maybe frequent status updates? Or even unfreqent ones?  I do know sending an update (a type of message, not a status update) does not work. No one reads them. Or at least very few. How do I know? I sent out a coupon for a free ebook and to over 1400 fans and only three people took advantage of it. Of course, that could be me — maybe none of my fans want a free ebook. In which case, I’m back to wondering why I even have a Facebook fan page.

WordPress is undergoing changes. They retired the theme I used when I set up the Second Wind Blog. Perhaps the new one will work. I’d like to add book covers to the sidebar to make it more like a website and offer visual-oriented people something to look at besides the header, and the new theme has an extra sidebar. My main problem with the change is what it portends. I did not know Wordpress retired old themes. What if they retire the theme I use for my many blogs? I always liked the color variations I created (green, blue, purple, red, orange) and I would not be pleased with a forced change. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen another blog that uses this theme, which I always thought was wonderful since I could be unique. But unique means obsolete in cyberspace. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.

Twitter is also making changes. I like my twitter profile, and even left space for my fourth book, Light Bringer, which will be coming out in the spring of 2011, but now twitter has added more features, the main section where the tweets show up is off-center (I prefer my main reading pane to be smack-dab in the center of the screen), and my custom made screen is defunct.

The friends I’ve made online remains the best thing about the internet. I’m hoping that will never change.

Googling Sex With Your Sister

Who knew that googling sex with your sister was a bi-monthly activity? The last time I had a spike in blog readership it was due to an article I wrote when I discovered how many people were finding me using search terms involving sex with sisters. Sex With Sister Tips. Um…Yeah got 402 hits in July, 67 hits in August, 235 hits in September, 10 hits in October, and so far 280 hits in November. Each of these spikes in hits occurred within a short span of time, which makes me wonder what happens for a couple of days every other month that makes people want to know about having sex with their sister. On the other hand, perhaps I don’t want to know.

I’m going to miss perusing stats such as these, but if I’m going to be spending less time online, the stats will have to go. Though I find them fascinating, checking stats is an unproductive activity. Does it help me to know that blog readership is down? Does it help me to know that blog viewership is up due to sex with sister tips? Not really.

And why am I writing about this instead of promoting my blog tour? Because it’s more interesting than announcing that, once again, my host bailed on me. I posted the article on the Dragon My Feet blog so it didn’t go to waste, so if you want to see it, you can find it here: What Do You Do When You Have Too Much Background Information?

Lazarus Barnhill, a fellow Second Wind author has posted an interesting article: In Praise of Romance. It’s mostly about the Second Wind romance writers (so you won’t find my books listed), but it’s still worth taking a look at — for the question he asks, if nothing else: Can a man write a romance novel?

So what else is interesting? I spent the morning unfollowing people on Twitter who unfollowed me. If you want to find out who unfollowed you, go to Friend or Follow. It’s one of the more interesting Twitter-related programs I’ve seen in a long time. The unfollowing is the beginning of my new focus — quality, not quantity. I’m not going to automatically follow people just because they follow me. If my promotional actvities aren’t going to make me rich, then I’m going to have fun.

Speaking of fun, tomorrow should be a fun day. I’m going to be hosting romance author Judi Fennell here and at Dragon My Feet, and she will be hosting me at her blog. I will be talking about mountains and mermaids. Bet you never saw that one coming!

Don’t forget, you can download the first 30% of each of my books free at Smashwords.

Oh, and in case you’d like to follow me on Twitter, you can find me here: Twitter

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Tweet-y Bird

I received a direct message from someone I was following on Twitter. (Notice I said was following? Anyone who sends me junk gets unfollowed.) The message included a link to a site that promised to automate my Twitter. It will find followers for me, it will Tweet for me, and it will read the feed for me. Well, perhaps I exaggerating a bit when it comes to the last point, but the first two are true. It makes me wonder what the point of it is. Who are we tweeting to? Birds? Bugs? Bots?

Even without signing up for the various sites that purport to help me live a tweeter life, I still participate in a bit of automation. Whenever I post a blog, WordPress automatically updates Twitter, which in turn updates MySpace and LinkedIn. Perhaps I am missing the point. I do know Twitter is supposed to about real people talking in real time about real subjects, but I have yet to participate in a real conversation. Occasionally I RT (retweet) someone’s update, sometimes I remember to return a #FF (Follow Friday), but for the most part I don’t see anything I want to comment on. As I said, I could be missing the point.

I’m rethinking my social networking time. After my blog tour, I’m going to be spending way less time on the computer. (Eyestrain, anyone?) I want to go more for quality than quantity. I used to friend everyone on Facebook I could, but now I unfriend anyone who spams me. I have a particular dislike of people who arbitrarily stick me in a group in order to send me junk, because even if I delete the message, I keep getting messages as long as anyone in the group responds. Don’t get me wrong — I like getting messages that are sent to me, specifically, and I always respond. I just don’t like anonymity. (If you knew me in offline life, you would be laughing at the irony of such a statement. Offline, I am the epitome of privacy.)

I’m looking forward to taking a step back from online activities. So much of it seems counterproductive, even foolish, that I will be better off working on my poor neglected WIP. At least I will have accomplished something.

Don’t worry, though. I bet none of you will notice any difference. I’ll still be blogging three or four times a week, will keep up with my discussion groups, will respond to genuine messages.

I’ll even tweet. And if I don’t, WordPress will do it for me.

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“Now That My Book is Out, What is the First Thing I Should Do?”

A newly published author asked me an interesting question today: “Now that my book is ‘out,’ what is the first thing I should do?” I ought to know the answer to that since I was in the same position not that long ago and will be again next month when Daughter Am I is released, but I’m still a bit mystified about how to promote effectively online.

So much of book promotion on the internet depends on social networking sites, which means that one’s promotion efforts have to start long before the book is ever published because you need people to promote to. That was the big lesson I learned during my first months as a published author. The internet is so vast that any message thrown casually out into cyberspace has about as much impact as a child’s balloon set free to drift on the wind. If you hand a child a balloon, however, at least one person for sure will see it, maybe even two or three. If you have “friends,” on social networking sites perhaps a few of them will see the messages you post on your profile and be glad for you. Or at least they will pretend to be glad for you since chances are they are promoting a book, too, and responding to such messages is part of their promotion campaign.

(Do I sound cynical? I don’t mean to. I am a bit disappointed that promoting on the internet hasn’t had the impact on my sales that I’d hoped, but on the other hand, I’m having a wonderful time meeting new people, discovering new books, rediscovering old friends, creating new relatives. In essence, I’m developing a whole new life, which is a thrill in itself.)

Some new authors send email messages to all their contacts, but unless you know the people personally, I don’t think it’s such a good idea. I’m hearing through the grapevine that spamming generally doesn’t have much impact on sales, and it only irritates people, which might cause a backlash. On the other hand, status updates on MySpace, Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter are good, especially if you link the update to a blog article that tells about your struggles to get published or something else of an equally personal or helpful nature.

The secret to social networking is to be social. I admit I don’t do the one-on-one thing that well. I have a huge list of people I owe blog comments to, but somehow the days pass, and the list keeps getting longer. I’ve started responding to comments on my blog, though, which is a big step in the right direction. I used to think it was better to give commenters the last word, but recently my blog readers have convinced me they like a bit of dialogue, if only to let them know I read and enjoyed their comments. And I do. Read them and enjoy them, I mean.

I’m starting to ramble a bit here.

The point is . . . heck, if I knew what the point is, I’d be sitting back and counting my millions. Still, I have learned one thing — websites, blogs, tweets and status updates all work together to create something more than the individual parts. Who knows, that something may eventually turn out to be book sales.

Daughter Am I will be released by Second Wind Publishing, LLC in October, 2009

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A Shocking (And Embarrassing) Reality

I received my second royalty check yesterday and was shocked (and a bit embarrassed) by how few books I had sold online in the past couple of months. I’ve been a big advocate of online promotion, and I’ve had a great time connecting with people on Facebook, Gather, Twitter, Goodreads, this blog, and other sites. Apparently, however, while I’ve been making friends, I haven’t been making sales. I realize the economy is bad, that people are spending money for vacations and back to school clothes, that many people are without work, but that can’t be the total answer since 30% of each of my books is available as a free download on Smashwords. And people aren’t downloading them.

I’ve been saying all along that I’m missing a piece of the on-line promotion puzzle, and this just proves that I am right. To be honest, I still don’t know what that missing piece is. I get dozens of emails from authors telling me about their books, giving a synopsis and a plea to buy. I won’t follow their example. Such emails might work — people are kind and often will follow through — but I find them intrusive. And annoying. So annoying that I don’t even bother to read them. Since I won’t do unto others what I won’t let them do unto me, emailing people is out.

I know many authors who continually speak and write of their books, cramming them down our gullets until we want to scream. We can’t scream, of course, because that book is gagging us. That’s why you never hear a protest against this sort of tactic.

I could do what other authors are doing — give up on promotion to concentrate on writing another book that might be “the one.” The problem with this (for me, anyway) is that I already have two more books that will soon be published. Daughter Am I (sort of a gangsterish book with my own twist on the bootlegger story) will be published in August, and Light Bringer (sort of a science fiction, alternate history, retelling of human history novel, with my own twist on the past), will be published in November.

I can see one problem — I can’t write an elevator speech! After all this time, I still don’t know how to describe my books in a single sentence. Nor have I figured out my genre. One reader emailed me (yes, I do read and respond happily to emails from people who aren’t trying to sell me something unless it is one of those endlessly forwarded messages that no one ever reads). She commented: I now see what you mean about an unnamed genre. Kind of a big picture conspiracy, behind the scenes machinations and how that affects the little guy (or gal) on the street. (Thank you, Wanda!)

So, what’s the answer? I promise, when I figure it out, I will let you know. By November, I hope. Light Bringer is my magnum opus (of the four people who have read it, two called it brilliant; the other two merely said it was wonderful), but how magnum can an opus be if no one reads it?

Meantime, my fame, such as it is, is spreading. In the past few days, I found my name in four different blog posts and links to my blogs in a couple of surprising places:

Murder in the Wind — I won! Thank you! By Sheila Deeth

I blog, you blog, we all blog — Why? By Claire Collins

To Kindle or Not to Kindle by Norm Brown

Interview with Alan Baxter on Smashwords

Bookselling Links on the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association website

Yahoo Answers

It’s a good beginning.

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Twits and Tweets

I’ve been sitting here for about thirty minutes trying to come up with a topic for my online live chat tomorrow night at No Whine, Just Champagne on gather.com, trying to think of a bloggery for the Second Wind blog tomorrow, trying to think of something to write for my blog tonight. While I’ve been waiting for my brain to kick into gear, I’ve been doing the online equivalent of channel surfing — checking my emails, checking Facebook to see if anything is going on, checking Twitter.

Ah, Twitter. Now that’s something I can talk about. Is Twitter still a good way of connecting with people? It seems as if the only people who are adding me are multi-level-marketers, people posting links to nude pictures, people actively looking to sell me something, or people with more than 10,000 followers. I can’t imagine that any of those people will see or care about my tweets. In fact, it’s probably time for me to go through my followers and block those I’m not interested in. I should also go through the list of those I am following. When I first started with Twitter, I followed everyone who followed me, but I can see that’s no way to use the site. Maybe it’s better to have just a few followers and followings, people who actually care about one another’s twits and tweets?

I’ve read that Twitter has a 60% 30 churn rate, which means that 60% of those who sign up don’t return after 30 days. So there’s a good chance that more than half of those who follow me or who I follow aren’t even on the site. If I had the time, it would be a good idea to clean up my account, but if no one is paying attention, does it matter?

What I’m really looking for is the next fun site. Facebook is fun for me, but that’s because I’ve figured out a few things to do on the site, and I’ve actually been able to connect with people. Same with Gather. Goodreads should be fun, since it’s about books, but I find I have nothing much to say about books any more. In fact, I have four books sitting here on my desk — Steel Waters and Toxic Shock Syndrome by Ken Coffman, and The Medicine People and Lacey Took a Holiday by Lazarus Barnhill — books I promised to review but haven’t (sorry Ken and Laz), books I read and loved, yet the only thing I can think of to say about all four books is, “Great book. Read it.” Not much of a review, though it is the truth. So the books sit here, taunting me. But I digress.

So, what is the next fun site? If you hear of a site that’s easy to use, that get’s your name out there, that helps you make friends and connections, let me know. I need more places to check when I go surfing.

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