Friday, May 27, 2011

Sarah Weinman on Twitter

ROBERTA: Today JRW welcomes Sarah Weinman, currently News Editor for Publishers Marketplace, but well known in the business of crime fiction for her blog, Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind. She also writes fiction, with stories EQMM, AHMM, and anthologies such as Baltimore Noir, A Hell of a Woman and Damn Near Dead and is a devotee of Twitter.

Speaking of Twitter, last time I checked you had over 90,000 followers. 90 thousand. Good god, woman, how did this happen and what do you do with them?

SARAH: How did it happen? Beats me. I swear most of them are spambots I'm too lazy to kill, but if I lose the flippancy, I think it's that I treat my Twitter feed much the same way I blogged when I first started Confessions in 2003: find interesting stories and links and share them. And on Twitter I don't limit myself to crime fiction, and only crime fiction, the way I did most of the time with the blog. Publishing and bookish stories still dominate, but I'll talk about world events, crime, media, science and other things that strike my fancy. And break news every now and then.

ROBERTA: Better late than never, I stumbled across your article in Poets and Writers about writers using Twitter. You said: "Just as setting up a page on other major networking sites does not guarantee success, joining Twitter doesn't mean automatic recognition. It helps to have a game plan in advance: a specific reason to follow specific users' updates and an incentive for them to follow yours."

What constitutes a good game plan, in your opinion?

SARAH: Well first and foremost every author should ask: will I enjoy this, or will it be a timesuck? Because believe me, it shows when an author's heart is not into social media. And if all he or she does is promote the book, well, we're going to turn off, fast. A little BSP every now and then is prudent, but being wall-to-wall is frankly, annoying. Instead, be human. If being 100% yourself makes you nervous, then be a considered version of yourself. And listen. Follow people you think you'll find interesting and see what they say and how they say it. Engage people in conversation (but do not, under any circumstances, at-reply to promote your book. Or direct message. Those are strictly verboten and will cause me to block you.) Be on Twitter as much or as little as you like, but if you're stressing out, the writing still must come first. Twitter isn't for everyone, and if it isn't for you, that's okay. I love it, but I'm not on Facebook. Some people work that way or they are the opposite. Mostly I advocate doing one thing very well instead of a bunch of things in a tepid fashion.
ROBERTA: Do you have examples of writers you think have used Twitter to seriously support their work and their careers?

SARAH: Off the top of my head: in crime fiction, Ian Rankin is on because he enjoys it and it shows. Gregg Hurwitz, Joe Finder, Harlan Coben, Christopher Rice and Alafair Burke all mix work and personal tweets pretty well to my mind. For general fiction, authors I think navigate Twitter outstandingly well include Jennifer Weiner, Neil Gaiman, Emma Straub, Robin Black, Julie Klam and Joe Wallace, whose personalities and real-ness shine through. And there are lots of authors whom I haven't mentioned. But more and more, it seems to suit authors so long as they find a way to make Twitter fit.

ROBERTA: In 2009, you weren't sure that Twitter was a necessary promotional tool. Has your opinion changed on that?

SARAH: It's only more necessary as more of the world joins Twitter: at last count there were 200 million accounts, of which 70% were outside the US. My feeling is that Twitter still works better for industry types and those who are in the media and news business -- the death of Osama bin Laden and all the major world events of 2011 proves that over and over again - but so long as it's done well with one's heart in it, Twitter is a valuable tool that does work. But it's not everything, and it's not the only thing.

ROBERTA: Thanks so much Sarah! Sarah is tweeting this week from BEA, but has promised to try to stop over to answer your comments and questions. You can find her at or on Twitter: @sarahw


  1. Thank you, Sarah, for your sensible comments, and for acknowledging that Twitter can be, but need not be, a timesuck (love the word). I agree with your observation that if your heart is not in it, your readers will know. We shouldn't just go through the motions because our colleagues/agents/editors tell us that we should.

  2. Hi, Sarah -- I agree with Sheila, so nice to hear such a sensible take on Twitter.

    Could you tell us briefly about your new job and how it's affecting what you're thinking about these days?

  3. Hi Sarah-- I always seem to be a step behind. So sorry I missed your blog, but I am now following you on Twitter.

    I'm still feeling a bit overwhelmed by Twitter, but I can remember feeling that way about Facebook in the beginning, too.

    Someone yesterday said if you don't follow people who follow you, they will drop you. But you can't possibly follow 90,000 people. Can you?

  4. Ninety thousand followers, Sarah. I am in awe. Thanks for your comments.

  5. Hi Sarah
    That's the most reasonable assessment of twitter I've yet heard. Many takes seem so exaggerated.


  6. Hey Sarah! Can wait to hear the scoop from BEA...big changes, no?

    Anyway--Twitter. I'm still learning how to be on the receiving end. The out-going, I'm comfortable with. The in-coming--not so much.

    What are your methods for Twitter-monitoring?

  7. Hi all,

    Sorry to be so delayed in responding, but post-BEA recovery took a lot longer than I anticipated. Thanks so much for having me! And, to your questions:

    Hallie: My new job is really an extension of the freelance work I've done for Publishers Marketplace the past few years - scour for stories, help prepare the newsletter by writing aggregated posts or original content, and some side projects, like the First Look Reviews of the BEA Buzz panel Books that we ran before and doing the trade show. There's other stuff in the pipeline, too. If it's affecting what I'm thinking, it's only insofar that I'm operating even more in an "industry" capacity than I used to. Also more of an editorial one than a strictly writerly role, which is a good way for me to stretch.

    Deb - oh god no, I don't follow anywhere near to however many follow me! It's hard enough to get work done and keep the signal-to-noise ratio favoring real content and news instead of junk with the approximately 430 people I follow (which used to be higher, but I had to be ruthless in culling some followers, and even then, there was some guilt.) I do think the whole follower/following aspect of Twitter can be very dangerous, because it creates a sense of social anxiety that need not be there. But at the same time, the direct message is a very powerful tool for me to engage sources, get story tips, and even arrange to meet up with people. But that's just part of how I use the service.

    Which leads me to Hank's question, and the answer is not simple. I still struggle with the best ways of Twitter-monitoring, because I have lost hours of time to it when I should be doing other stuff - like rest, read, and my "real" work. I suppose thinking in terms of thresholds might be helpful, like "what's the maximum number of people whose feeds I can follow before I am completely overwhelmed?" Because I know I'd rather opt for quality over quantity any day.

  8. Hi Ro,
    Sorry to have missed. I'm going through the nightmare of switching email addresses....and missing stuff.

    I love Presevation Hall, too. The music and of course, the everything-is-a=party atmosphere of New Orleans. I was there years ago with my husband for a telecommunications conference, which meant a lot of everything, food, entertainment.

    We loved Gallatoise (spelling?)