Writers and Twitter

The internet is the best thing that has ever happened for writers.

Not everyone agrees with this.

Some people wish writers would stay the hell off Twitter and stick to writing their books.

This week in particular there has been a lot of talk about the way authors use the internet. One successful writer has been branded a ‘monster’ for retweeting praise of his books.

Personally, I thought this was a bit harsh. But I would think that because I am also a ‘monster’. In the sense that if you say something really nice on Twitter about my books or this very blog there is a chance I’ll retweet it.

And yes, it is true I am opinionated sometimes and say some things that annoy people from time to time. And yes, yes, if you lined up all my tweets and status updates side-by-side they could probably stretch around the equator seventeen times and really they should be novels instead.

But – I say, shuffling papers – I would like to read to the court some considered points about why writers love social networking and why this is okay even if sometimes they use Twitter to promote themselves.

– We are lonely. We are impossibly lonely. Up in the attic, eating toast and wondering when we should have a shower and trying to remember what wearing shoes felt like. We therefore like to chat to people.

– Writers have always been self-publicists. Mark Twain, for instance, always went around in a white suit saying ‘look at me, here I come in my white suit’. Maigret author Georges Simenon once had the very real plan of writing a novel while sitting inside a glass box so his readers could watch him as he wrote. Now Twitter is our glass box. And you can walk past it if you want.

– Publishers like us being online. The book industry turns authors into brands. But when we act like them for five seconds we are jumped on by people who probably watch 700 toilet duck adverts a day but won’t stomach an author being passionate about their novels.

– It works.

– Publishers sell us enthusiastically. But the poor blighters have to say that every book they publish is amazingly brilliant. And very few books are amazingly brilliant. So they crack and go crazy and end up in psychiatric wards mumbling ‘it is our big book for Spring, it is Virginia Woolf meets Tom Clancy’ to a pair of curtains.

– No person is going to buy someone’s book if they are sending a million tweets saying ‘Hey! Do you like erotic cowboys? Buy my sensational erotic cowboy novel Nice Gun, Sheriff for £4.56 on Amazon. #cowboys #kindle #erotica #didimentioncowboys?’ So don’t worry about it it.

– No writer started off writing for money. A writer writes primarily to be understood, to share their strange imagination, to feel validated, to entertain, to make you laugh and cry, to delight, to thrill through the magic of words, to provoke thought, to shout to humanity and shine torches on our mistakes, to be Shelley’s ‘unacknowledged legislators of the world’.

– Writing books is hard. It is like holding a hot coal tight in your hand. And the Internet is like a bucket of ice. And I really have no idea where I am going with this analogy. But if Gogol and Woolf and Hemingway and Sexton had the ability to chat online about amusing gifs featuring kittens, well, they might have lived a bit longer. Possibly.

– Books aren’t normal products. They are extensions of the soul. And we sweat blood over them. And don’t you think Dickens would have retweeted Thackeray saying nice things about Little Dorrit? Of course he would have.

So there you go.

No-one knows the exact formula.

If it is okay to include quotes on a website why not on a Twitter feed now and again? Why is the writer who bigs themselves up in their author bio less egotistical than the person who mentions those same things in another written medium? If most of what we say is original and fresh and interesting are we allowed to say oh by the way you might like my book? Will I ever stop annoying people on Twitter and Facebook with my over-excited and ill-informed opinions? What would Shakespeare do?

These are all questions to which we may one day find the answer. In the meantime, as Jesus once never tweeted, ‘hey, shall we just chillax a bit and live and let live and be nice to each other and stuff’?

This first appeared on the Booktrust website ( where I am currently writer-in-residence.