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The Downside of Twitter

This was written in a stream of consciousness in response to this question from someone on twitter. Apologies for any mistakes, bits of bad writing or unintentionally offensive comments.

To which I replied:

I suppose the negative effects of twitter are more psychological as far as I’m concerned. As an author, my primary reason for having a twitter account is to promote myself. The fact that is has had led to all those positive things I mentioned before is a lovely bonus but the main reason for setting up the account was to promote my books and myself. This is true of a lot of us – although I daresay a number of people started off using it as a support network. It’s a great way for writers to discuss the joys and pitfalls of writing. But for those of us who came here primarily to sell, I think it took all a while to work out how to work twitter. A number of writers whose careers took off while they were on twitter would retweet their praise, because it went along with their prime reasons for being here. The problem though is that, for the majority of other writers, this just looked like someone at a party who had just been given a compliment then turning off the music, grabbing the mic and announcing it to the world. I became aware of the hashtag #humblebrag around this point. This was the first – rather clumsy – attempt to get around this dilemma of wanting to self-promote but not wanting to come across as a total douchebag. “I can’t believe that a book I wrote while packing peas is now about to be made into a film starring Brad Pitt.” But why shouldn’t this author share their excitement with the world? Why shouldn’t we shout about ourselves. Americans do. Why shouldn’t we?

The answer is that there is no reason why you shouldn’t but we will reserve to judge whether you come across as likeable. I write this in the knowledge that there are people on twitter who have taken against me, even though they have never met me. I have taken against people on twitter who I have never met. Maybe we would all like each other if we met in less strange surroundings. Because Twitter is a very strange place. The example of a party is a useful one You find yourself in conversations with people you’ve never met. There are lots of side conversations. And some people have much louder voices that others.

Early users to twitter will always fall into the Celebrity trap. You hear the voice of your favourite celebrity. He’s talking to someone else you like. Of course, you gather round to listen in but only the early users will try to chip in. Hearing your voice hanging in the air – your question unanswered, your observation unnoticed – you can easily feel spurned and ignored.

But it’s a bloody weird party and it really emphasises how we are all at the centre of our own circles. Sometimes, you logon and say something and everyone ignores it. Sometimes, it’s a pithy witticism or wry one-liner that you’ve spent a little time getting just so. Before sending it, you’re thinking “This is the one. If this doesn’t go viral, I don’t know what does.” You hit send then…. Nothing. Not a sausage. Not a chipolata. Not a… er, cocktail sausage?

Or you say something a bit edgy wondering if you might spark a debate and no one acknowledges you’ve spoken. And you’re thinking, is everyone having dinner so no one noticed it? Or does everyone now hate me for even suggesting that all libraries should be turned into bowling rinks. Sometimes, you delete the tweet just in case.

And this is the point I’m trying to make I think. The everyday paranoia that we all experience (to varying extents) are heightened by twitter.

I try to present myself as a bit cheeky, silly and – hopefully – funny. I try to suggest that, hey, if you spent a millisecond clicking ‘like’ about one of my tweets, maybe you could spend another millisecond clicking ‘Buy’ on one of my books. I also try to suggest that I’m the kind of fun guy you really want to invite to your music or book festival.

As someone else suggested in response to your tweet, there’s no point simply telling people when you have a new book out. To promote yourself successfully you need to find ways of engaging with your audience. For this reason, it makes sense not to be entirely non-controversial.

Remember, twitter is a party. If you hear an argument going on, you are going to take notice. Or if someone says something outrageous and hilarious you’ll remember it. But bear in mind, if you’re in that argument or saying that outrageous thing, you will annoy some people.

I know I annoy some people. It’s fair enough. As my wife would testify, I am quite annoying. But then, so are you. (I don’t mean you, Izzy. I mean everyone! We’re. all annoying to some people. Even Michael Palin. I’ll bet there are even some people who find Michael Palin annoying – annoying people, obviously).

The other thing I do on twitter – and when I visit schools – is to be as honest as possible. I’m a big fan of good stand-up comedy and the real true geniuses of the form (people like Daniel Kitson) are able to make you laugh while being totally honest about something. But being honest is dangerous in a place where things can so easily be taken out of context – or simply taken the wrong way. Also, there are some honest thoughts that probably shouldn’t be shared, as demonstrated in the films Liar, Liar and that terrible one where Mel Gibson can hear what women are thinking for no adequately explained reason.

Sorry, I’ve gone off subject again. What was the question again? Oh yes, the downside of twitter. I think in summary, I’d say the paranoia that everyone hates you couple with the sneaking suspicion that it’s you who hates everyone else.

Apart from that, it’s a walk in the park. Anyway, so I was telling you about my new book. That’s right. It’s called Dragon Detective: Catnapped.


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