The Unspoken Rules of Publishing: Twitter

17 Feb

By Sarah J. Maas


So, it’s been nearly a year since I found out QUEEN OF GLASS will be published, and a bit longer than that since I started this crazy journey towards publication. So I think it’s been long enough that I can look back and give some advice about the things I wish someone had told me when I was starting out…or even just at any point during this journey.

There are a lot of Unsaid Things in the industry. Rules that no one ever tells you, lines that you didn’t really know existed until some poor soul has the misfortune of crossing one of them, and everyone gossips about it, and you think “Holy crap, I almost did the same thing! That could have been ME they’re gossiping about!”

Don’t get me wrong—this is a wonderful, wonderful industry, and the YA community is absolutely fantastic. I wake up every morning and pinch myself. But there are some things that writers (regardless of what genre you work in) should be aware of. I actually started writing this post intending for it to be a list, but my first point warped into an entire article, so I think I might just do a series on this over the next few months…

So, without further ado…Twitter.

Sometimes, Twitter can feel a lot like high school. This was probably the most shocking thing for me to learn, because I didn’t really HAVE a typical high school experience. I never bothered to cozy up to the popular kids (in fact, I think I spent my time rolling my eyes at them), there weren’t really cliques to navigate, and I certainly didn’t give a crap about what people thought of me.

But Twitter sometimes feels like you’re in the middle of a giant high school cafeteria, looking for anyone you can sit with, wondering who will sneer at you if you dare approach their table, and contemplating if eating in the bathroom by yourself, or just skipping lunch all together, is the best option. When I first joined Twitter, I didn’t know who I was allowed to talk to, who would respond to me, who to even APPROACH. When I first joined, barely a blip on the radar, I kinda felt like I was standing in a field of landmines.

While the YA community is super-welcoming as a whole, there are definitely people who will not speak to you just because You Are A Nobody. Of course they won’t ever admit it, but there are people who won’t talk to you or follow you until you have an agent, or a book deal, or until you wind up on the NYTimes Bestseller list.

It took me a while to get used to that, to realize that some people do not consider all writers to be created equal—and truth be told, sometimes those distinctions are a good way to weed out the random spammers. But the best bit of advice I can give you is this: 1) If someone won’t acknowledge you because you aren’t agented/pubbed/a bestselling author, then perhaps they aren’t worth your effort, anyway and 2) it doesn’t reflect on YOU—it reflects on THEM. Don’t let it get to you.

There are cliques, too. I’m a fairly outgoing person in real life, but online, I sometimes feel like I come across as SUCH a creeper if I randomly say hi to someone, especially if they’re a part of a tight-knit group of besties who spend all their time on twitter just talking exclusively to each other. I used to be afraid of crossing into the BFFers-Only Zone—but at some point, perhaps after getting some confidence thanks to landing an agent and a book deal, I stopped caring if I dared breach clique lines. And you know that? I think a lot of my previous hesitation was all in my head. Most of the people (and groups) I’ve approached have been incredibly warm and kind.

Sometimes, people only talk to their friends just because they’re shy, and don’t really know how to branch out. It’s kinda intimidating to just say hi to a stranger and strike up a conversation, especially on a public forum like Twitter! But I always forget how great it feels to be approached by another writer—to know that another writer is interested in talking to ME! And you know what? I’ve made a bunch of fantastic friends thanks to Twitter—thanks to those random conversations where I bit the bullet and just replied to a tweet of theirs.

Despite that, Twitter isn’t for everyone. Every other week, there’s a study out that either says Twitter doesn’t sell books, or that Twitter is an invaluable marketing tool. Some authors HAVE had success thanks to Twitter, but some authors have had it without using Twitter at all (I’m looking at you, Suzanne Collins). Ultimately, I think you have to decide what you are the most comfortable with.

I know authors who have left Twitter because the (occasional) high school atmosphere got to them. They didn’t like the public ass kissing, or the cliques, or they got upset because some Big Author didn’t follow them back. I know authors who have never once felt like it was a high school cafeteria, and who think Twitter is the best thing ever. Twitter’s different for everyone.

I personally use it for making connections—for chatting with friends and readers, meeting new people, and just getting play-by-play updates on what’s happening in publishing. I do a little self-promotion, but not much, and I honestly get really turned off by authors who self-promote all the time and just RT every bit of praise they get.

Twitter is time-consuming, and definitely isn’t for the faint of heart (not that it’s a horrible, soul-crushing machine, but I think it definitely makes you get out of your shell, which is kinda good for us writers). And sometimes it can be frustrating. And, yes, if you get into a fight on twitter or start badmouthing someone, it WILL get around, and people WILL talk. Everyone loves to gossip, so don’t think you’re flying under the radar, even if you consider yourself to be a “nobody.”

Use your judgment when tweeting (Drunk tweeting? Not the best idea), because even if you have 12 followers or 1200, someone is probably watching. Things never disappear forever on the internet.

And, okay, this post has become way more intense and scary-sounding than I intended. Twitter is awesome—it really is, but I think the point of this post is that it is OKAY if you’re not comfortable joining, and don’t have a Twitter account. You won’t make or break your career with or without Twitter. Twitter really is what you make of it—and while it can feel like high school, it can also feel like you’re hanging out with the coolest people you’ll ever meet. But, if you’re still on the fence…get a Twitter account—be brave. You’ll never know unless you try.

And who knows? That clique of writers that you’re afraid to approach? That awesome author whose debut novel you absolutely adored? They might wind up becoming your best friends.


Sarah J. Maas is the author of several novels, including QUEEN OF GLASS, a YA fantasy retelling of Cinderella that will be published by Bloomsbury in fall 2012. Sarah resides with her husband in Los Angeles. You can visit her blog here.


42 Responses to “The Unspoken Rules of Publishing: Twitter”

  1. Ashley February 17, 2011 at 1:35 AM #

    It’s funny, because I just created an account on Twitter a few days ago.(I’m following you, Sarah; does that sound as stalkerish as I think?:))

    So far I like Twitter a lot better than Facebook because it specifically doesn’t feel like the giant clique in Geometry class. (don’t ask.)
    It feels professional, and like I’m in the midst of everything, and for once not on the fringe, haha.

    I think if you’re a mature person and not thinking with your ego, it could be a great place to learn, and meet nice people. Just my opinion, but hey I just got a Twitter account not too long ago, what do I really know? 😉

    • Sarah J. Maas February 17, 2011 at 1:41 AM #

      Haha, it does NOT sound stalkerish at all! I just followed you back, actually! 🙂

      I totally agree about how great it feels to be immersed in the industry via Twitter–I’ve learned SO much just from following people and seeing what articles they RT, blogs they recommend, etc..

      “I think if you’re a mature person and not thinking with your ego, it could be a great place to learn…” That’s very true–and I also think some people just get SO obsessed with upping their number of followers (or just how many followers they have) that it can really damper the experience.

      Thanks for commenting! 🙂

      • Ashley February 17, 2011 at 1:49 AM #

        Thank you for responding!

        I was just looking at my Twitter account and saw that @SJMaas was following me and I nearly started crying!

        Thanks for making me feel welcomed Sarah! 🙂

    • Susan February 17, 2011 at 8:49 AM #

      Oh man, Ashley, I so agree about the Facebook/Twitter thing! I closed Facebook a while back because it really was HIGH SCHOOL, and (unlike Sarah) my high school experience was brutal.

      Twitter took me some time to get used to, but now that I am, I really enjoy it! I’ve “met” so many people this way, and I’m constantly in awe of how kind and open they all can be!

      Let us know if you still love Twitter after a few months on it. 😉

      • Sarah J. Maas February 17, 2011 at 4:23 PM #

        See, I think I kinda escaped my hatred of FB because I joined back when FB was only a few elite colleges–so my FB experience was really geared towards my (amazing) college experience, instead of HS. Believe me, if I’d had FB in HS, I probs would have HATEDDDDD it.

        I still feel sorta weird posting stuff on FB, if only because so many of my friends are NOT in publishing, so when I announce publishing-related stuff, I wonder what my college/hs/real life friends think about it…My twitter is exclusively for publishing stuff (and it’s probably why I’m on twitter way more than FB).

  2. Elizabeth February 17, 2011 at 1:57 AM #

    Oh, I’m glad you posted something, Sarah. This might sound weird but I’ve missed your articles 🙂

    I used to be against Twitter because, hello, Facebook? To me, Twitter was just the Facebook status thing. But oh man, it’s so fun. I have an account (I’m following you, lol) but I don’t tweet often. I just like to have it open when I’m writing and see what people have to say.

    • Sarah J. Maas February 17, 2011 at 2:02 AM #

      Awww! Thank you! I’ve been SO busy these past few months–I’ve felt really bad that I haven’t been posting as much on LTWF! Is it weird to say that I’m kinda glad you missed my articles? It makes me feel loved! ❤

      Yeah, I was against Twitter for a few years, but as soon as I got my account, I was hooked! I've actually started using my Facebook WAYYYY less since I got Twitter…If I announce something, I'll usually do it on Twitter first, FB second. Funny how things change.

      Thanks again!

    • Caitlin February 18, 2011 at 12:47 PM #

      I’m with you, I used to make fun of Twitter but now I always have it open in a third party client on my desktop.

      I think what I like about Twitter is that I am conscious of the fact that everything I write is public so it’s okay to follow or be followed by random strangers or people I only know online whereas my facebook is locked down pretty well and has things that I’m really only intending for people I have met face to face or feel I know pretty well.

  3. Susan February 17, 2011 at 8:50 AM #

    Yay! Sarah posted! I missed you too. 😀

    And it’s a great post, btw. Twitter can be such a great tool (all marketing aside) for just MEETING other writers. It’s one enormous support group when you need support, and one enormous squee-group when you need that! 😀

    • Sarah J. Maas February 17, 2011 at 4:25 PM #

      ❤ ❤ ❤ Thank you!!!

      Twitter is AMAZING for meeting other authors–for support, to celebrate, etc.. The celebrating part is always so fun.

  4. Rowenna February 17, 2011 at 9:24 AM #

    I just joined Twitter…I’m pretty slow on the uptake, I know! I’ll have to follow you 🙂 But–so far–I’m finding it a great place to connect with people I already know from webberworld and meet new people. Plus, the content sharing is awesome–I love getting to browse links that my fellow bookish people are finding interesting.

    I’m more of a lurker…haven’t come across the “where to eat in the cafeteria” question yet (I must be studying in the library during lunch hour or something). I’ll have to get braver and forge into the lunchroom soon 😀

    • Sarah J. Maas February 17, 2011 at 4:26 PM #

      YES! The links-sharing is really amazing. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned just through all of the useful/awesome links people share. It’s really invaluable.

      And if you ever get to the cafeteria point…you’ve always got a seat at my table. 🙂

  5. Kirk Kraft February 17, 2011 at 10:55 AM #

    Hi Sarah,
    Thanks for sharing this. I was a loner in high school, never prone to selling my soul to join a clique (which it sometimes appeared one had to do).

    As for Twitter, right now I’m still getting my feet wet. I’m focusing on connecting with other writers and and have already made some friends. I’ve found #askagent to be a combination of priceless information and sobering reality. The glimpses you get of agents and editors personalities are invaluable.

    For me, the key is reaching out to build relationships.

    • Sarah J. Maas February 17, 2011 at 4:28 PM #

      “I’ve found #askagent to be a combination of priceless information and sobering reality. The glimpses you get of agents and editors personalities are invaluable. For me, the key is reaching out to build relationships.”

      All SO true. I was so clueless when I first started out, and I really wonder how different my experience would have been if I’d been on Twitter–or if these resources had even been around back then (which they weren’t in 2008). Not that I’d change any of my journey so far, but I really wonder how different the experience is for aspiring authors these days.

      Thanks for commenting! 🙂

  6. Vanessa Di Gregorio February 17, 2011 at 11:04 AM #

    I loved this article, Sarah! (Although, I gotta admit… I actually have an article on Twitter that I’ve written! But it focuses more on Do’s and Don’ts).

    They say that Facebook is for people you know, and Twitter is for people you’d like to know – which for me (working in the industry) is actually true! The publishing industry is all over Twitter! So i follow a lot of industry peeps that I don’t know at all (or barely know) as a way of networking.

    But Twitter is also rife with writers, too – both published and unpublished. Which I think is great, because it makes for a wonderfully supportive community. Sure, I’ve noticed that some authors seem to be in a clique, but I don’t let it affect me. I just follow the people whose thoughts I care about (and whose tweets are interesting).

    Twitter is really a conversation – which I think is wonderful. Especially for people who don’t have writer friends, I think it’s a great place to network with other writers.

    • Ashley February 17, 2011 at 11:59 AM #

      You hit the nail on the head, Vanessa!

      I don’t have many “writer” friends, and it can be difficult. It’s nice to be around people who share your interest and passion for a craft!

      • Vanessa Di Gregorio February 17, 2011 at 3:25 PM #


        Sometimes I start talking about the publishing industry or writing to my friends who are neither writers nor in publishing, and they just don’t get my excitement over certain things, or understand what I’m talking about. They’ll listen, but they don’t particularly care. Which is why I love my friends who work in publishing, and my friends who are writers – because they understand that side of me.

        Same with my friends who are huge video game or comic book geeks – if I talk to my friends who aren’t geeks, they don’t get it. But my geeky friends share my enthusiasm, and understand things I tell them.

    • Sarah J. Maas February 17, 2011 at 4:31 PM #

      OMG I AM SO SORRY THAT I STOLE YOUR TWITTER ARTICLE! I didn’t even look at the calendar!!! I’m SO SORRY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Aghhh, I feel like a douche!!!!!!!

      “They say that Facebook is for people you know, and Twitter is for people you’d like to know…” That is SO true. Wow–I never even thought of that, but it is SOOOOOO true!

      I think Twitter is a FANTASTIC place to meet new writer friends–though the 140 characters sometimes drives me NUTS.

      • Vanessa Di Gregorio February 17, 2011 at 4:45 PM #

        LOL Sarah! DON’T BE SORRY! You didn’t steal anything!!!!!!!!!!!! I never posted it on the calendar – I just have it written in Word! :p I’ve just been meaning to read it over and edit it (I wrote it back in… December maybe?). So no worries! (You are so cute – now I feel like a douche for making YOU feel like a douche!)

        • Sarah J. Maas February 17, 2011 at 4:49 PM #

          Oh God, I’m so glad to hear that!!!!! I felt really bad!!!!!

  7. Patricia Beaudin February 17, 2011 at 12:05 PM #

    I have fun on twitter and since I’m a shy person face to face I have a much easier time talking to someone on twitter. Made some awesome writing friends and found great advice I wouldn’t have stumbled upon on facebook.

    • Sarah J. Maas February 17, 2011 at 4:37 PM #

      How interesting that you’re shy in real life, but feel outgoing on twitter! When I first started tweeting (a while ago), I had the total opposite reaction–outgoing in real life, but a bit quieter on twitter.

      And yes! I find way more advice and awesome info via twitter than FB.

  8. tymcon February 17, 2011 at 1:20 PM #

    in fact, I think I spent my time rolling my eyes at them

    souns like secondry to meXD

    • Sarah J. Maas February 17, 2011 at 4:38 PM #

      So maybe my hs experience wasn’t that different than the norm…?

      • Ashley February 17, 2011 at 4:56 PM #

        Believe me, it probably wasn’t the worse either. 🙂

  9. Henya February 17, 2011 at 3:14 PM #

    First, congrats on your upcoming book. Second, thanks for being real and approachable.

    Loved your post. Personally I don’t bother much with Twitter. Until I’m published, I feel that my precious time should go into my book and not somewhere else.

    • Sarah J. Maas February 17, 2011 at 4:39 PM #

      Thank you!!!!

      Twitter is definitely time-consuming–and there are times when I’ve found myself just watching my twitter feed instead of revising/writing! It’s such a good way to procrastinate… 🙂

  10. zalijun February 17, 2011 at 3:39 PM #

    Whoa, I think I actually remember your story on Fictionpress a LONG LONG LONG time ago. That’s amazing you’re getting published now! Congrats! =]

    I use twitter mostly to follow people and get frequent updates. I’m not too interested in the follower count or who actually follows.

    Maybe when I’m done writing my story and get it uploaded on to fictionpress I’ll use Twitter to talk with readers but that’s pretty much it.

    Great post!

    • Sarah J. Maas February 17, 2011 at 4:41 PM #

      Thank you!!!!

      Yeah, I find the obsession with follower counts to be a bit silly…I can understand the urge to have a big audience, but I know writers who would get really depressed because they had a low follower count. As if your number of followers somehow indicates your self-worth!!! So stupid.

      Good luck finishing your story!

  11. Sammy Bina February 17, 2011 at 4:36 PM #

    This is a GREAT article, Sarah! I’ve been on twitter for… 3 years? Before it really got popular. So my intro to it was a bit different than people now. You pointed out some really important things I hope people will take into consideration. Like high school, you kind of just have to learn not to care what others think. Sure, some authors can be cliquey, and people may not follow you back, but it’s not the end of the world. Using twitter to connect with fellow writers has been one of the greatest things ever! It’s how I found out about LTWF in the first place! And that certainly paid off 😉

    • Sarah J. Maas February 17, 2011 at 4:45 PM #

      Thank youuuuu!

      3 years?! Holy crap. Twitter should give you an award for being on it for so long!

      I never knew you discovered LTWF via twitter!!! That’s so neat!

      And YES–the writers I know who’ve left twitter often did it because they just could NOT let the hs stuff go. It was really sad, actually. I had a friend who would made snide comments to me because HER follower count wasn’t as high as mine. It was ridiculous. (she wound up leaving twitter) It can definitely sting when authors don’t follow you back, especially if you tweet @ them, but you’re right–you can’t take it personally.

      And for every jerk on twitter, there are like…10 amazing people on there.

      • Vanessa Di Gregorio February 17, 2011 at 4:47 PM #

        Yeah, like me! I’m pretty damn amazing! (Hahaha, I kid, I kid!) :p

        • Sarah J. Maas February 17, 2011 at 4:50 PM #

          Nope! You’re actually one of the Big Jerks on twitter. There’s a list of all the douchebags on twitter, and you’re ranked #1.

          Didn’t you get the memo? 😉

          • Vanessa Di Gregorio February 22, 2011 at 12:18 PM #

            Hey, at least I’m ranked #1 in SOMETHING! :p

  12. Kelly February 17, 2011 at 9:17 PM #

    Truth be told, I’m a bit wary of twitter 😛 I have an account created back in July 2010, but I never got around to using it much because… where to start? Its a bit difficult to gain followers/fellow tweeters when your closest friends don’t use them… So far I’ve accumulated, er, 8/9 tweets? 😛 How did you manage to start from point zero? I know it helps that you announced your twitter on your blog, which already had a significant number of readers. Its such a mystery to me, how to gain blog readers and followers XD (LOL but I’m not the type to be obsessed with getting a bazillion followers, I swear!)

    • Sammy Bina February 17, 2011 at 9:52 PM #

      I originally started because a friend of mine asked me to! She lives in Singapore, so texting wasn’t really an option. But when I decided to start using it more for connecting with fellow writers, I started using hashtags. If you use #amwriting or #amrevising, that can sometimes gain you followers and allow you to connect with other people working on their own stories. Never underestimate the power of the hashtag!

    • Caitlin Vanasse February 18, 2011 at 12:57 PM #

      I’m not an aspiring author so my literary uses of Twitter are kind of different, but I was lucky enough to have my brother introduce me to his friends/followers so I had a few right off the bat (this is how #ff functions many times too), but really I never look at my follower numbers (I’m sure it’s like 19 including a bunch of the sweet @LTWFblog girls) because I use Twitter to #1 follow people I don’t see very often IRL (if at all) in their lives and #2 say something to the emptiness of the internet. I actually discussed with my brother once how the act of tweeting itself was almost all the catharsis I needed. I love having @ conversations with people on Twitter, but usually I initiate them by commenting on something they’ve said.

      All that being said don’t assume none of your friends are on Twitter already, I did and have discovered a bunch of people I didn’t know were using it among my friends as well as having convinced a few to join.

      Also now I totally want to twitter-stalk you so be forewarned.

    • Amanda C. Davis February 18, 2011 at 4:04 PM #

      Ask not who on Twitter can follow you, but who you can follow on Twitter! Find people you like to listen to; add them; add their interesting friends. Be interesting yourself, and they may follow back. But there’s nothing wrong with starting out seeing Twitter as a place to listen, not necessarily to be heard.

  13. Jane George February 18, 2011 at 11:37 PM #

    I got here via Twitter! 🙂

    When I first heard of Twitter I thought the concept ridiculous. Now, I feel it’s a powerful and under-utilized tool. My experience with Twitter is that it rewards the generous, the fun, the playful, those who share with no other ulterior motive. I get leads on the most useful info from Twitter.

    Guess I’m a Twitter fan, and possibly addict…hmmm.

  14. Regan Leigh February 20, 2011 at 2:14 PM #

    “1) If someone won’t acknowledge you because you aren’t agented/pubbed/a bestselling author, then perhaps they aren’t worth your effort, anyway and 2) it doesn’t reflect on YOU—it reflects on THEM. Don’t let it get to you.”

    This type of Twitter stuff drives me crazy. And I hate the cliques, too. lol 🙂 I wish people would be genuine on there more often. I’ve found that it’s a great way to meet amazing writers — with or without agents and deals. 😉

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