A Very Basic Introduction To Twitter For #WebFiction

This guest post is written by webfiction reader Jan Oda (@janoda), who writes one of the best Twitter streams covering online fiction. Many of the things I’ve linked to in the past have come from her , and if you’re not already following her account … well, you should. She finds the coolest things in the strangest places, and should be part of any webfiction writer’s reading list.Even plushies tweet!

I’ve been using Twitter for a bit now, and while I’m by no means an expert, Eli has asked me to write an article on the usefulness of the network for web fiction writers, and so here I am.

A rough idea of what I use Twitter for: in the past couple of days I’ve discovered a great poem, found out about a Webfiction Podcast, voted for my favorite contestant in a literary reality show and almost became MCM’s marketing agent for The Vector.

On a more personal note I learned that one of the authors of the Peacock King just found her first grey hair at the age of 28, that Lord Likely is getting married (no matter how much I protest) and I’ve organized a sleepover party, pillow-fight included, with The Dispatch crew. And these things are only the tip of the iceberg.

For me Twitter has been a revelation. I have made contacts with web-fiction authors I would never have found otherwise, I have discovered great short-stories, poems and other digital art, and I got to take part in #3D1D, which really deserves it’s own article on the technologies MCM used.

These are my personal benefits, but I believe Twitter could be a real asset to all web-fiction authors, and I’ll try to explain how and why in this post. There really is no limit to the possibilities of the use of the medium, but I’ll try to cover the basics at least. If you don’t know what Twitter is and how it works, I’d suggest reading the TwiTip Starters Guide and Inkygirl’s Writer’s Guide to Twitter.

How it Works

Twitter defines itself as a microblogging system in which people can post short updates (there is a max. of 140 characters per update), and other people can subscribe to their feeds. 140 characters sounds very limiting, but you can say more than you think you can, and there is a subtle art in being brief and to the point. As far as I can see it there are 3 kinds of authors on Twitter.

  1. The Personal Account
  2. The RSS Author
  3. The Balanced One

Until recently Eli himself was a good example of the first type. He didn’t use Twitter frequently, but when he did he tweeted personal thoughts. There weren’t any references to Novelr, and not many references to anything web-fiction related in general. He also didn’t really connect with people (because he didn’t know how to reply to them), so his Twitter feed resembled a stream of consciousness. Other variants of this are authors using Twitter as a chatbox with their personal friends, taking the “What Are You Doing Question?” to an extreme and posting everything they eat and do. There is nothing wrong with that, but in my opinion this isn’t using Twitter to its full potential.

The RSS Author is on the other extreme of the spectrum; there is nothing personal in these accounts. RSS Authors simply attach their RSS feeds to their Twitter account, and let it run on auto-pilot from there on. No interaction whatsoever. A variant of this, and probably more annoying, are the marketeering authors, who only use Twitter to promote themselves and their books. Both types aren’t using Twitter to connect, which is a big loss, because, since their streams aren’t very interesting, they probably won’t gain many followers.

The Balanced One is the ideal Twitter-using author. He varies personal updates with updates on his writing, publishing and other professional updates, promotes (through the art of retweeting) interesting content of fellow authors and contacts and interacts with his followers. The really cool authors take this interaction to a new level and come up with stuff like #3D1D. Off course there isn’t such a thing as a perfect twitterer, but aiming for a mix between personal, professional and peers should get you close.

Useful Features

Twitter has implemented a couple of nice features to make connecting with interesting people and content easier. The most important one is probably the hashtag. Each term that starts with a # is converted into a hashtag. These hashtags are searchable, which means you can easily find all tweets mentioning the topic. A lot of web-fiction authors are adding #weblit to their tweets concerning their web-fiction, or web-fiction in general. Some of them also use a hashtag for their stories, so people can easily find updates. MCM even named his project after the hashtag he used for it, #3D1D.

Some people organize chats around these hashtags, using a twitterclient like tweetchat, or the Twitter search function (search.twitter.com) on a set day of the week. The most interesting ones for web-fiction authors are #writechat, #dnchat and #wnchat, but there are a lot of others as well.

Another great side effect of the hashtags are the hashtags projects. A prime example of this is #fridayflash, where every Friday authors publish a Flash Fiction Piece, and tweet about it using the #fridayflash hashtag. J.M. Strother posts a weekly roundup on his blog of all stories published each week, and an Anthology is in the making.

On your profile you can easily save searches, so you can check your favorite topics with one easy click. My personal saved searches include ‘Online Novel’, ‘Online Fiction’, Web-Fiction and others, and by checking them daily I found authors publishing online that weren’t on the WFG, Muse’s Success or other Web-Fiction Directories.

Some authors have been creating characters accounts, and are tweeting in character. I find this a great way of connecting with fans and readers, and that it greatly adds to the web-fiction experience. Reading the adventures of Lord Likely is twice as fun since I’ve been following his twitter account and I’m sure other readers feel the same.

A final great feature are Twitter Lists. These lists are used to organize the people you follow into categories, so people can easily find people with similar interests. I have made one for web-fiction authors, which currently lists 124 tweeting authors of web-fiction. Once you’ve subscribed to a list, it only takes one click to subscribe, and the tweets of all those listed are within reach from your Twitter sidebar. Nancy Brauer of Strange Little Band has also made a Twitter list of fictional characters tweeting.

Last but not least I’d like to mention @onlinefiction, a Twitter account created by Naomi of Nomesque Fiction, which tweets and promotes various web-fiction on hourly intervals.

I have by no means mentioned everything there is to do on and with Twitter, so please do comment with your favorite accounts, hashtags or anecdotes.

Jan Oda tweets at @janoda, and presents her followers with a LOT of good links. (Image at top sourced from Flickr)

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Category: Guest Bloggers · Marketing
  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    Here’s a question on the Twitter+reading experience: if a person’s experience of a online novel is enhanced with Twitter interaction (either with the fictional character and/or the author), then what about the readers who don’t use Twitter? Are they missing out on the real reading experience, as the online writer truly intends it to be? Should these works actively encourage dual involvement with the fictional world, through both blog and Twitter stream?

  • http://www.twitter.com/janoda JanOda

    It depends on the story of course, but I don’t think readers who opt-out of twitter are missing the real reading experience. As far as I see it, twitter fictional character accounts are bonus content. Like readers who don’t join story-forums, don’t follow a story facebook page, or don’t involve in the comments, they just read the core of the story. They are missing out on extra’s, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are missing out on the real experience.

    It all depends though, #3D1D was very much a twitter oriented project, so I think readers who didn’t follow it on twitter too missed a huge part of the experience.

    I also haven’t touched on twitter-fiction in this article, but there are loads of people twittering stories, and that is turning in a whole branche of web-fiction of its own. (For those interested there is a Squidoo page on the subject) If you aren’t on twitter, you are completely missing out on those.

    I think it boils down to reading a book in your bedroom, or reading it and discussing it with a bookclub. It’s a completely different experience, but neither is bad or wrong or less.

  • http://1889.ca MCM

    Since everyone’s asking, and it’s semi-related, I’ll give a nutshell summary of by “coolest thing ever”…

    Basically, it’s a Twitter-based Alternate Reality Game. You follow a special Twitter account, and it creates a persona for you… certain $$, assets etc. You have to work your way in to getting a dustrunner ship, and then you’ll learn about various missions. Coordinate with your peers to take on a set of freighters, meet at the assigned time (some missions won’t be practical, just as in real life) and fly. Speak too much about it in public and you might get caught. If you get caught, you might get “flipped” to join the authorities (of various types). Then it’s up to you to work your way up the chain to the top of the heap, so you can make a big bust and earn your freedom. It’s a role-playing game and Twitter mixed together in a crazy way.

    On top of it, there would be news stories posted about the exploits (or non-exploits), and other rumours that float around that would make users paranoid. The ultimate goal is to pay off your fighter and retire.

    Tying it all together: the plan would be that all this work would be foundation, or backstory, or part of the Dustrunners reality. Crystalline would reference the events, the characters, the adventures that happened on Twitter, as if they were real. It’s still not quite fully-interactive fiction, but it’s as immersive as I can think to make it. You could BE part of the problem. If you got good enough, you could be a legend Kani hears about.

    I had so much of it worked out, but the logistics are just too big to fit into the time I have available. But yes. That’s something ELSE Twitter could be used for :)

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    @Jan: Good point about reading a book in a bedroom vs reading in a book club. I think, though, that if more authors use Twitter to provide for a richer reading experience, there has to be some better way of integrating the two together – prose and Twitter stream.

    @MCM: That is a fantastic idea. Have you heard of Spymaster? It’s pretty similar to the game you’re describing.

  • http://1889.ca MCM

    You could embed the Twitter stream into the chapters like comments, and on certain devices, the reader could absorb both. Read and comment at once. Tho it really is a different medium, in a way. I don’t know that I want to post comments as I read a chapter of my favourite book. Maybe. Not sure.

    Re: Spymaster. Yes, actually, that was my proof-of-concept. To be totally honest, this idea is an extension of the ARG I ran in 2001 for the original Dustrunners show, where people got to play pirates and betray each other. I’m just adapting the concept to a 2009 medium :)

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    @MCM: That would only work if the comments were displayed as a non-intrusive sidebar. But I think that’s only feasible in HTML/CSS, because you’ll need some control over font size and formatting to get it just right.

    Otherwise the comments will just act as a distraction from the reading stage. (Although I do suppose you can argue for comments as a form of meta-narrative, if you’re into experimental postmodern fiction …)

    Re: Dustrunners – I think the Spymaster site took quite a bit of time to code. I remember them being in invite-only beta for a couple of months not very long ago.

  • http://peacock-king.infernalshenanigans.com/ Irk

    Aww hell now, everyone knows about the grey hair! JanOoooodaaaa!

    Seriously, though, this is a great article and thanks for writing it.

    @Eli: The way we handle character twitters in The Peacock King is that characters’ tweets are timed roughly along with the story being posted. They talk about things that may not be focused on as much in the story itself, usually how they feel about certain events. They also chat with each other and with readers and with other stories’ characters. We try to keep most things humor-related, though there’s been some very interesting discussion between characters and readers in regards to world-building-related topics that just haven’t been explained in-depth within the constrains of the serial. The tweets themselves are not entirely in continuity, though – blackberries and iPhones don’t really exist in PK’s world.

    Sometimes the tweets will be used to enhance reader experience a bit. For the Halloween bonus story we had the characters start hinting about events that wouldn’t be revealed until the next part would be posted. It really helped build up the tension, and got a lot more readers. …That could have been because we were killing readers off in the text of the story, though. Oddly, they seem to like that. Certainly generated some buzz!

    I’ve also started up a regular Twitter feature for Mondays called #MannersMonday in which anyone can ask @LordWordSalad (The Poet King) a question about etiquette. Thus far he’s explained everything from how to avoid an awkward family Thanksgiving party to how to threaten someone politely while using a weapon. I notice features like that and the Halloween special help promote the twitter accounts themselves (got more followers for the characters then) and then more readers start coming in as word-of-mouth spreads. It’s slow growth, but it draws in people who are definitely interested in following the story and characters.

  • http://lleelowe.com Lee

    I started exploring Twitter fairly recently and was even considering tweeting a story this way, something similar to YA writer Melvin Burgess’s twittertales (http://twitter.com/MelvinBurgess). But I find it all very distracting – and not in keeping with a sustained effort to write really well. Here a bit, there a bit: doesn’t work for me. But I’m becoming increasingly convinced that too much online time can be detrimental to focused reading: yes, I know this is not going to be a popular view, but definitely reflects my own experience.

  • http://www.ditchwalk.com Mark Barrett

    Thanks for this, Jan!

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  • George

    Here’s a really interesting one. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be a twitter novel but basically it is a Japanese “tarento” tweeting from the year 2045. So it’s done all in first-person as if the person really is tweeting.

    But it is fiction, I assume, and therefore a novel?


  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    Thanks, George. =)