Author Tara Conklin: A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Twitterverse

The House Girl, the historical fiction debut by Tara Conklin, is an unforgettable story of love, history, and a search for justice, set in modern-day New York and 1852 Virginia. As if tackling two time periods wasn’t enough, Conklin also found that she needed to tackle… Twitter. And don’t we all. Thank you, Tara, for stopping by Blurb is a Verb to tell us about your travels.
–Sarah P.

By Tara Conklin
Let me start with a caveat: I am no Twitter expert.  In fact, most would call me a twitter neophyte.  Nearly a twitter virgin – in a Monica Lewinsky kind of way.  In the earliest discussions with my editor, agent and publicist about book promotion for my debut novel, The House Girl, they all said the same thing: you really should be on Twitter.   This was way back in, say, October, an era when I had yet to use the word ‘tweet’ as a verb.  Can’t I just do, like, facebook?  I whined.  (I have three kids; I can whine with the best of them.)    Noooo, they all said via email, text, phone message, facebook chat, and in one instance, an actual phone call.  You really should be part of the conversation.

So, because I will do pretty much anything short of selling the afore-mentioned children in support of my book, I agreed.  I went online, I set up a twitter account.  This part, even for a relative techno-phone like me, was pretty easy.  I uploaded my photo, picked a (rather fetching, if I do say so) background, set my twitter handle (and starting using the word “handle” in conversation) to TEConklin, picked a few people to follow (my agent, my editor, my husband) and waited.   What was supposed to happen?   Would the twitterverse herald my arrival with trumpets and gongs?   On day two, I had one follower.   A friend in London who is perhaps the most prolific social media-user I know.  “Hi Courtney!” I tweeted.   “How was your weekend?”   Clearly, I had not yet gotten the hang of Twitter.

Since those dark, early days, I have come to realize a few things about Twitter.  I have also, grudgingly, come to love it.   Some days I can barely be torn away.  (During the presidential debates, for example, I watched my screen more than I watched my TV – the tweets were far more entertaining.)   So if you, like me, are finding it hard to make peace with the new social media world of book promotion, here are some completely personal, extremely simplistic and probably self-evident things about Twitter that I wish I’d known before signing-on.  I might have whined less, and gotten started a lot earlier.   

Hashtags – you can make them up!  Embarrassing Twitter admission #1: I spent the first several hours of my twitter existence searching for a list of acceptable hashtags before I realized that in fact I could say whatever the hell I wanted after that little # sign.  And wow, they are fun to invent.  Hashtags are immensely amusing, kind of poetic and totally customizable to your exact frame of mind.  Some of my favorites?  #winenowplease #notinthislifetime, #goaskyourfather 

Famous people might just tweet you back.   I think the pinnacle of my twitter existence so far has been the receipt of an actual tweet from Susan Orlean.  Yes, that Susan Orlean, of The New Yorker and Adaptation fame.  If I had sent her an email, the likelihood of a response seems about equal to the continued existence of one snowball in one very hot place.  But Twitter is strangely democratizing and surprisingly community-focused.  It isn’t weird or presumptuous to tweet someone you’ve never met, especially if you’re both writers, nor does it require much commitment or time on the part of the replier (only #characters!) to respond.   I’m not saying everyone will get back to you – but you’ll be surprised how many do.  

You can customize your Twitter feed for maximum happiness.  Embarrassing Twitter admission #2: for the first several weeks of my Twitter existence, I only followed people whom I personally knew, ala Facebook.  This resulted in a very limited (not to mention boring… Sorry, honey!) Twitter feed. But of course you can follow strangers and friends alike.  A twitter feed can deliver only information and voices that you enjoy and make you think and laugh.  Unlike Facebook, where de-friending that wack-job uncle in Topeka would cause immense family strife, you can follow and unfollow for any reason or no reason at all.  It’s not personal; it’s just Twitter.

You can make new friends.  This, I think, is really the whole point of Twitter, and why my agent et.al.  urged me to join, and why I’ve been pleasantly surprised by my twitter experience.  At times, I admit to feeling a bit like the popular kids are carrying on a conversation at the lunch table over there, the one you’re not supposed to sit at, and perhaps this is true:  there are a lot of witty exchanges happening at light speed, and I am most often an astonished bystander.   But I’ve also “met” some other writers whom I hope to meet someday for real.  They’ll come to my readings, and I’ll go to theirs.   I’ve found it much easier to build relationships within the writing community via Twitter than any other form of social media.   

So, go forth, twitter newbies!  Tweet and be happy.

Sarah: Oh, I resemble this learning curve! And yes, Twitter does sometimes feel like an overcrowded cocktail party. Tell me—how long did it take you to figure out that when you begin a tweet with @[handle], only the tagged recipient and people who follow both of you will see it? That’s a rule that I believe many newbies are still getting wrong.

Tara: Yes, that's definitely advanced Twitter usage.   At one point in the first month (maybe 2?) of using Twitter, I did a random google search along the lines of "what do I need to know about Twitter" or "Best tips for using Twitter" and came across the @ rule in one of the resulting articles.  Although I still regularly forget it when tweeting...

You can learn more about The House Girl at www.taraconklin.com, or follow Tara @teconklin