Confessions of a Non-Twitter User
[Originally published in the magazine Romance Writers Report, August 2011.]
The Ever-Changing Social Network
LiveJournal. Friendster. MySpace. Flickr. LinkedIn. Facebook.
As each of these social networks came online, I signed up. I created a username. I completed a profile. I designed an online home that looked like “me”, while remaining true to that resource’s idiosyncrasies. (Ah, MySpace… I’ll never forget your sparkling silver stars…)
Each social network had its own focus, its own special emphasis, and I figured out how I could use it to better present myself, to tell others about my work. I learned and I adapted and I excelled.
The Bluebird of (Un)Happiness
I first heard about Twitter almost five years ago. Oddly enough, I met the Twitter bluebird at a librarians’ convention – the service was presented as a fresh, new tool for university librarians to reach out to their undergraduate patrons.
Twitter was young. It was hip. It was happening. 140 characters! Following! Retweets! And as time went on: TweetDeck! Twubble! Friend or Follow!
But I never found my place on the front lines of the Twitter Revolution.
At first, I kept my distance because I couldn’t imagine anyone being interested in what I could say in 140 characters. I write multi-volume series, with story arcs that span 300,000 words. (OK, I also write category romance, at 60,000 words, but that still works out to around 450 tweets.) I can’t describe what I ate for breakfast in less than a full blog post. Why would anyone care if I was standing in line at the post office? Or the grocery store? What possible use could there be for an online announcement that I was adding artichoke hearts to my pepperoni pizza?
Besides, my ancient cell phone made texting a challenge. In a pinch, I could tap out a five-word message, but that would take me almost a minute a word, and there were bound to be a few mis-spellings.
I felt old. Out of touch. Unable to adapt to the new technology that those young people were using. (And while I was at it, I was tempted to shout, “Get off my lawn!”)
Glimpses of Light
But then a curious thing happened. People in my various online worlds started to send their Twitter streams to those other platforms. I could log in to Facebook, and I could read tweets from friends. I could check my LiveJournal Friends’ List, and I could see a daily collection of each person’s Twitter postings.
Some of those people had really interesting things to say. Their short, dashed-off thoughts were intriguing. In fact, many of my online contacts stopped frequenting our long-form forums; they started hanging out on Twitter exclusively.
I braced myself, saying that I simply had to adjust. Like some creature emerging from the pond scum, I had to evolve. I had to become a Tweeter Extraordinaire, or my writing career was going to end.
I realized that I could master the mechanics. I’d purchased a new phone, one that made texting a breeze. I had absorbed the terminology; I even used @ signs in some of my non-Twitter correspondence, indicating that I was responding to others online.
I could walk the Twitter walk.
Do What You Do Best
But just because I could didn’t mean that I should.
In my mind, just to test myself before I jumped in with both feet, I formed tweets for my imaginary followers. I tried to be witty and entertaining. I tried to be relevant. I tried to be just the tiniest bit self-promotional, while I spread the word about other people, about books, about curiosities in the world around me.
And I realized that I’m just not very good at the Twitter form of communication. That’s not a horrible admission – there are lots of forms of communication at which I don’t excel. I write a lousy Petrarchan sonnet. And my villanelles aren’t that hot either.
Don’t get me wrong – there are brilliant tweeters out there. (Just as there are brilliant poets, who can remember the formula for a villanelle without looking it up, every single time.)
There are people whose tweets make me laugh every single day. There are people who have convinced me to buy their books, on the power of 140 characters alone. There are people who have inspired me to reach out by email, to subscribe to their blog posts, to track them down at conferences, to interact in dozens of different ways. And there are those special Twitter masters who manage to make the service work when they write in the guise of their heroes and heroines, bringing their characters to life in ways that I can only dream of doing.
The simple fact, though, is that Twitter doesn’t present me in my best light. It makes me seem less accessible to my readers. My personal dislike for the medium continues to show through, and it outweighs all the advantages of the communication.
Bottom line, book promotion is supposed to help us advance our careers. It takes a lot of time and a tremendous amount of energy. If we don’t enjoy it, if we aren’t either inherently good at it or trained to be good at it, it’s a wasted effort.
I’m content with my decision to forgo joining the Twitter Army (even if I do feel a twinge of guilt every time my publisher sends me another invitation to a Twitter 101 training seminar.) And just the other day, I read an article in a mainstream news publication that long, 5000-word blog posts are the latest trend in communication….
Who knows? Maybe I’ll find another online home there!