You know it’s about the quality not the weight, but when you are writing a new book you just have to keep checking the word-count in that little box at the bottom of the screen. Once it starts to approach the 80,000 mark, you know you have made on huge step towards getting published. My book, Thai Lottery… and Other Stories from Pattaya, Thailand (www.thai-lottery.net) is around the 103,000 word mark which equates to well over 400,000 characters. How on earth, can an author express any idea worth listening to, in 160 characters or less? I was scornful, dismissive and certain that Twitter was for the shallow and the inarticulate. I could see why professional footballers might use it. I doubted that most would have the concentration span for anything longer. I would not even look at Twitter let alone start using it myself.
Then my publisher said the words I dreaded hearing more than any other. “If you want to get this book moving, you have to get on social media. You have to get yourself a Twitter account.” It ranked with the day the doctor pulled on a rubber glove and said, “You are over 40 now, you really should have the examination.”
I did as I was told and started to experiment. Trying to work out why a bloke who had not posted a single tweet still had six followers, looking at some of the successful twitterers to see what was so interesting. I put up a few references to my book, that got me a few followers. I found a few members who shared my interests and all of a sudden I was up and running. Then I saw a few things that were genuinely funny and entertaining. I found out about #hashtags and trending and how to find people I might be really interested in. They often led me to web-sites that were definitely worth a look. I was seriously hooked. There is a vast amount of garbage out there, people who tweet and retweet those terrible sayings that your grandmother used to deliver, “turn that frown upside down” and similar trite garbage, but there are plenty of gems too. And they are not that hard to find.
The “following” thing can seem like a pointless popularity contest sometimes. People say they will follow you if you follow them back, they have nothing interesting to say and you can be certain they will never look at what you tweet. But its so tempting, it gets you one more follower and what the hell? Someone good might look at you and decide you must be interesting because you have lots of followers. So you swallow your pride and click “follow”.
Two days ago I would have described myself as an avid van of Twitter, a complete convert. Then it happened. My book is about the Thai bar scene. There is one book about the subject against which every other is judged. It’s called Private Dancer, written by Stephen Leather, who has 29,000 followers on Twitter. I sent him a message saying that I loved his books and that his web-site had genuinely helped me to get published. I mentioned that I had written a book myself and told him the name of it. He retweeted my message within the day.
If someone had told me a few weeks ago that I could approach an author I really liked and tell him he had helped me get published and he would respond by passing the information to 29,000 people who like his work too, I would have not have believed it was possible.
Then I discovered Twitter.