Insights into Social Media for Authors: If Neil Gaiman Doesn’t Outsource, Neither Should You

This week, the series continues with Man of La Book on the almighty powers of Twitter. You can see the first post of the series here.

Hello again, Zohar. Here’s one question that I, at least, would love to know: What makes you follow someone? Do you give it more than a moment’s thought? Are you most likely choosing on the basis of that person’s popularity or on their content? Have you noticed that following others increases your following, or has no effect?

Here is one no-brainer way to approach it: if someone follows me, I’m pretty likely to follow back. It seems indecent not to — no skin off my back! Many people believe that following back is good “netiquette:” if someone takes the time to listen to what I have to say, I like to show my appreciation.

I believe that a follow-back is a good strategy when you are trying to inform people about your service (in my case, my blog). I’ve also noticed that following more people increases my followers.

I follow very few people who are popular. I simply don’t care about celebrities. Those celebrities I do follow are interesting, engaging and talk with their audience. These attributes can apply to non-celebrities, too.

There are certain turnoffs for me on Twitter:

1) No bio. If you leave your Twitter bio blank, I don’t know who you are, what you do, or if I have any interest in what you have to say.

2) Default profile picture. To me, that says that you are there for the short run or just joined to get another point on a sweepstakes.

3) A stream full of “I entered to win a …”.

4) Tweets only hawking your book/service – I don’t want to be sold to.

5) The strange marketing “strategy” of following me only to wait for a followback and then unfollow me. At that point, no matter how good your book is, I won’t pick it up.

Million-dollar question: what do you see as best practices or tricks of the trade for building influence into the thousands on Twitter? Good writing? Trend-spotting? Humor? Engaging with others? Time you spend on it? General pick-up over time (i.e. starting early?)

Engaging with others is certainly number one, two and three. Those who join Twitter and only sell/pump up their own books or services will get lost in barrage. Authors who join Twitter and tweet about their research, blog posts and get engaged with readers are the most successful, influential and ones with a captive audience.

Some of my favorite books have references to other books/stories/characters which are left unexplained. I always get a kick out of them because it seems like the author and I share a wink and a nod. The same could be said for a Twitter post.

Yes, it takes time but if Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) can do it, so can authors who are less busy.

Speaking of which, did anyone see Gary Shteyngart’s crazy essay in The New Yorker’s “Shouts & Murmurs?” It was sort of terrifying, but you cannot call Shteyngart unoriginal…

I’ll check it out. I want to see if he tweets for himself, or if he outsources.

Many think of Twitter as a megaphone for narcissists and boring life updaters. What, if any value, do you see in personal “overshare”?

I don’t like the personal overshare, but the personal “share” is mostly nice to skim over. I think it lets followers know that there is a person behind the tweets.

And we’re all voyeurs after all?

Yes, well, something like that.


This series continues all week. Come back tomorrow to get more insights from Man of La Book. You can also read my interview, a perspective on how book bloggers are changing the book biz at:

If you have some insights to share on social media and would like to voice them on my blog, contact

David Bodanis

"Writer and futurist Bodanis imparts fresh insight into the genius—and failures—of the 20th century’s most celebrated scientist...This provocative biography illuminates the human flaws that operate subtly in the shadows of scientific endeavor." — Publishers Weekly