Social media has become a part of the language we speak. Facebook incites argument, Instagram provokes envy, and Twitter is used for foreign policy. Because of this, social media is one of the best marketing tools available for artists today. Likes, shares, and retweets bring artists in obscurity to prominence through a series of successful social media campaigns.
For a writer, the best social media platform is Twitter. Confined to 140 characters (though the site is thinking about introducing a new 280 limit), the social networking site is ideal for those who deal in words. However, some prominent published writers seem to scorn all forms of social media, either to prevent themselves from becoming distracted from their work or because they believe the medium to be a frivolous time waster.
I, however, believe that a well-managed Twitter account can increase an author’s readership, help market their new work, and connect them to a network outside of the literary world. Today, I am going to explore the Twitter accounts of three reputable (and remarkable) female writers: Nayyirah Waheed, J.K. Rowling, and Jennifer Egan. I will analyze what their accounts do well, their limitations, and how they allow these women to reach new audiences.
I am in many ways limiting Waheed’s social media influence by analyzing her Twitter profile because it was her Instagram that expanded her audience and allowed her poetry to garner attention. She takes pictures of poems from her collections (my favorite is salt.) and posts them, captioning the collection and title of the poem.
Her tweets are similar. What I find most effective about Waheed’s Twitter is that everything she tweets is a poem. Her poetry consists of fragmented sentences that explore issues of race, love, and gender.
Because her poetry is so sparse, Waheed is able to fit an entire poem in 180 characters. She’s created a distinct form of tweeting that allows her readers to see new work daily. It also extends her readership more quickly since other users can browse her profile and get instant access to her poetry. If a tweet resonates with a follower, they can like or retweet it, and the poem will show up on their timeline. Then, one of their followers can see the poem, and if they like it, they may follow Waheed or even buy one of her collections.
Some limitations to Waheed’s Twitter include her use of pictures, retweets, and her promotion of other poets. While this is normally a great way to utilize social media, Waheed’s tweets are in such a specific format that her profile as a whole loses some potency when she breaks from tweeting poetry. Ideally, her account would consistently stick to her “poem as tweets” format.
However, this has not stopped her from garnering nearly 50,000 followers on Twitter and over 350,000 followers on Instagram. Waheed’s use of social media has had a tangible effect on her career. She self-published her first collection, salt. By posting her poems on social media, Waheed gained positive attention from various followers. Because of this rise in popularity, Waheed’s collection started to be taken seriously by critics who had at first blown off her poetry for its non-traditional form. Her work is now studied in high schools across the country.
Rowling holds nothing back on her Twitter. She uses it for marketing new work (especially by retweeting promotions from Robert Galbraith, her pseudonym’s account), for connecting with her fans, and for confronting political issues, both in the US and the UK. Since joining the site in 2009, Rowling has tweeted almost 9,000 times, gained over 12 million followers, and averages around 1,000 retweets for her unlinked tweets.
Rowling’s tweeting is partly a product of her prominence in the world as a celebrity. She has used her platform to speak out against Brexit and Donald Trump, and she frequently calls out British journalists on Twitter. Also, because she is a celebrity and doesn’t have to worry about gaining or losing followers, she can tweet whatever she likes, for example:
And she will receive a receive a generally positive response from her followers (like me!):
One limitation of Rowling’s account is that, because she tweets such politically charged material, she’s bound to lose followers and receive flack from other users on Twitter. What makes Rowling a master of the medium, however, is her ability to respond to those comments with concise, biting turns of phrases:
Rowling has plunged head first into the social media world and has used Twitter to cultivate a specific voice outside of her creative work. People who may not be interested in reading her fiction still follow her because of her engagement on the social media site. Through her tweets, Rowling has made herself a prominent voice in today’s volatile political climate.
Egan is an acclaimed writer and an elite presence in the literary world, and her twitter reflects that. Egan uses her twitter account exclusively for marketing purposes. She was active in 2014 when she was the editor for the anthology Best American Short Stories (and, during this time, retweeted Joyce Carol Oates’ thoughts on the collection). She then stopped tweeting. Her account ceased its three-year period of dormancy to market her new book Manhattan Beach, which comes out October 3rd.
While this strategy will not garner you the most followers (Egan has just over 12,000 followers and averages at or under 100 likes per post), it is a great marketing strategy. If I was a curious reader wanting to see what projects Egan had coming out, it would be super easy for me to find that information on her sparse account. Additionally, because her account isn’t inundated with a constant stream of tweets (both personal and professional), she would be an account someone who likes an uncluttered feed would be more likely to follow.
Egan’s account is not geared toward gaining new readership. There’s nothing on her account that would make someone who has never read her work follow her. However, because she does have a Twitter, she can be tagged when she’s nominated for prestigious honors, like making the National Book Award Long List. This can direct readers who are not familiar with her work toward her profile.
There are a number of different ways for a writer to manage their social media accounts, and these are just three examples. Whether you choose to manage your account like Waheed, Rowling, or Egan, know that your Twitter can have a positive effect on your professional work when you utilize the medium creatively and effectively.
Madeline Sneed, Intern