To Tweet or Not To Tweet

coffee_cupsA long time ago I owned a tiny coffee shop. Café Biscotti was in a quaint little town south of Pittsburgh, PA. At the time, I was also consulting several clients for their marketing efforts and working on a novel or two, but during my stints behind the counter I learned a lot about marketing and writing that no one in the “biz” ever really talks about. 

Café Biscotti was the quintessential social networking site of our little community. Every morning before I opened, wrinkled old Italian ladies waited at the door for their espresso and melodic rants (which never started until they had a demitasse cup in their gnarled hands). Not speaking Italian, I can only assume they were talking about their husbands, their kids, or the rising cost of prosciuto at Pennsylvania Macaroni in the Strip District. A bit later, moms walking home after accompanying their children to the nearby schools stopped in for coffee and a sweet. Most of their conversations revolved around their teenage kids’ issues or whether the new carpeting should be brown or blue. Lunch time was an eclectic collection of road workers and local business owners. Evenings belonged to the young people. Yup, social networking at it’s best, 1990’s style. 

Here are two powerful lessons I learned from the café-owner experience. Take notes kids, this is important. 


Never, ever, EVER lose touch with your prospective customer. Whether you sell widgets, give advice, or write novels, you simply can’t let yourself disconnect from your target. 

Writers tend to close themselves off to concentrate and focus on the writing. Granted, this may be a productive practice, but is it effective? 

If creative thinkers don’t pop their heads out of the hole every now and then, dramatic things may have happened while they aren’t looking. The people we want to eventually communicate with may have mutated into a different breed altogether. We’ve seen it happen a hundred times. Attitudes change, emotions change and points of view alter into unpredictable landscapes. Sometimes it comes with disasters like 9/11 or Katrina. Sometimes it comes fast after the November elections, a stock market dip or seasonal weather shifts. Sometimes it’s been building a long time, slowly and silently like rising bread dough. 

There’s only one way to keep in touch with the world, and that’s to BE IN THE WORLD. Many writers delve into their fantasy world, imagining that everyone will adore what they’re writing about. Guess what? Your future reader is changing as we speak. Come out little ostrich. If you take a good look around, your future readers are telling you exactly what they’re interested in reading. You just have to observe. I’m not talking about thinking outside the box here, I’m talking about jumping into the box with your prospective readers and mingling a little. 

As a writer, the information I gained making lattes was astounding. Observing the huddled coffee drinkers I discovered what makes people laugh and what makes them cry, what makes them happy and what ticks them off, what they think of other people and how they react to new and old ideas. Finding out how to touch people is what writing is all about. Reach out and do some touching. Leave the computer dark for a little while. Consider it research because truthfully, most writers surround themselves with other writers, talk about style and technique and getting published. It’s far too easy to forget who we’re really writing these books for. 


This one I never really learned until recently. There’s a huge difference between putting on a pair of shoes and going out to observe my prospective readers and the dynamics of social networking today. Back then, pouring imported espresso beans into the cone like grinder was just that … watching the beans disappear each time I hit the button. Today, I imagine those beans as my precious time grinding away. 

In today’s social networking, emails, blogs, websites, Yuku boards, Facebook and Twitter have become simultaneously the boon and bane of a writer’s existence. It’s way too easy to again surround ourselves with other writers, especially on Twitter. I follow writers, authors, publishers, publicists and literary agents. I use the TweetDeck, so all I see is communications from those particular people. Yes, great tool … but occasionally I need a little stimulation from other sources. So, I also follow chefs and wine experts, artists and friends with interests outside of my own. 

Hee ha, I’ve created a world without ever leaving the house! Right? Wrong. I may never leave my computer chair, but I may also never get any writing done either. 

To tweet or not to Tweet? Or better yet, how much to Tweet? 

Twitter has been a great resource for people and information, but there comes a time when too much of a good thing is bad. Lately, I’ve been trying to control and limit my Tweet time. Three times a day in brief 20 minute spurts seems to be working, but unfortunately, many have begun to use Twitter as a communications tool packed into 140 characters. (If you follow me, please DM or email because I just may miss you in the flow of the TweetDeck.) 

Tweeting in spurts has served my writing time and focus, but is it serving the reason for social networking? I’ve personally met several amazing Tweeters face to face and I’d hate for that expansion of my life to slow to a crawl. Originally I tweeted whole days away (and don’t deny it, you’ve done it too I bet). Now I find myself suffering a kind of withdrawal. I don’t want to stop, I just want to control this … addiction. 

This is a desperate request for your suggestions and opinions. How are you controlling your social networking time expenditure? Any and all ideas are appreciated. Let’s just call it a Twitter Support Group. 

Oh, and remember to socialize in person more often. I hear the weather’s nice outside and the readers are waiting to tell you what they want.

About Deborah Riley-Magnus

Deborah Riley-Magnus is an author and an Author Success Coach. She has a twenty-seven year professional background in marketing, advertising, and public relations as a writer for print, television, and radio. She writes fiction and non-fiction. Since 2010, she had two novels released. In 2013 her nonfiction, Finding Author Success (Second Edition), and Cross Marketing Magic for Authors were released. Her newest book, Write Brain/Left Brain, focuses on bridging the gap between the creative writer and the marketing author. Deborah produces several pieces monthly for various websites and online publications. She writes an author industry blog and teaches online and live workshops as The Author Success Coach. She belongs to several writing and professional organizations. Deborah has lived on both the east and west coast of the United States and has traveled the country widely. She is a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and recently returned after living in Los Angeles, California for several years. View all posts by Deborah Riley-Magnus

15 responses to “To Tweet or Not To Tweet

  • sulci

    Debs, I’m slightly confused by point 1. On the one hand your cafe audience were talking about the humble mundanities of life, yet you go on to say you must plug yourself into the wider movements that are happening in the world. Now I agree with this latter, because I would consider myself a writer who looks behind the facade of life. I’m interested in the submerged relationships, such as where the power lies between any two people, or within a culture. While you can never have enough examples of the small details of (family) life, we are more likely to have a stockpile of these readily in place from our own families and upbringing.

    Re Twitter, I haven’t even celebrated my first week versary on it. I’m tweeting as my fictional heroine rather than as myself. It’s her (imagined) view of what she might be doing (in exile in greece) at that time of the day, or I try and interact and react to those I’m following in the guise of how she would react, but I find it’s mostly links to good sources of information for writers etc. So I guess I’m saying my tweet is in a different idiom to most (a dynamic I experience not for the first time in my life). So my jury is still out on Twitter. It keeps me on my toes, but like you I post in 2 to 3 splurges a day.

    The thing is, cos you’ve only got 140 characters, things scroll over very quickly. The more people you follow, the quicker you lose the information they have sent you as it scrolls down out of sight. Who actually goes back to scroll through every tweet they’ve missed if it’s not readily available to the eye on start up? It’s almost like subliminal advertising, but less effective I’d venture.


  • Deborah Riley-Magnus

    On point 1, absolutely! I honestly believe that we as writers sometimes rely on our centralized views, sit in our little corners and don’t interact … even with the mundane. It’s vital to see where people’s heads are going and if we stay in a cocoon, encircled by everything we “think” poeple think and feel and do, we’re seriously missing a chance to write what readers want to read.

    Marc, WELCOME TO TWITTER WORLD as @ExisleMoll! Scrolling down is a nightmere and much can be missed. Twitter has an immediacy to it and thus … my addiction. When I don’t Twitter, I feel like I’m missing the party … when I do Twitter, I’m not writing. A real Catch 22! Whether using Twotter for marketing, promotion or just social interaction, it offers a shiny existence that can very easily take over every other existence we have or want. *sigh*

  • Sensei J. Richard Kirkham B.Sc.

    Any social media that’s popular is definitely worth joining and being active. Huge companies are now using Twitter instead of a website


    • Deborah Riley-Magnus

      Welcome, Rick! I agree, Twitter and online social netwroking in general is extremely important. Being visible is the key to good marketing. Somtimes I’m just a little afraid I go too far. How about this? I can Twitter after I’ve written a few hours every day? Maybe that will keep me focused, huh? (Kinda like I can have dessert after I eat my vegetables, LOL)

  • Carol Silvis

    Hi Deb,
    I’m on Twitter but have yet to figure out how it works other than to leave little messages or read those others post. I don’t know what a TweetDeck is or how to follow or be followed.

  • Deborah Riley-Magnus


    How wonderful to hear from you! New Twittering is tough but I’ll send you an email with some suggestions. Hope all is well back in the ‘Burgh’!

  • Ridwan

    Hi Riley, This is the 1st time I’m reading your post. It’s a great read. My English teacher always tells me that I do poorly in Grammar yet she likes my “creative writing” style. *I don’t know!*

    A couple of days ago, I started to renew my writings. I used a journal and quit that. But, now I started blogging and I really like to improve my writing skills.

    Could you suggest me some books to improve my vocabulary? Thanks.

    Ridwan 🙂

  • Kayelle Allen

    I have a schedule of places I need to be every day. One of my popup reminders simply says “Tweet”. =^_^=

  • sulci

    Okay, I’ve been on Twitter for 6 days now so feel empowered to make sweeping generalisations based on my experience!

    Twitter strikes me as a honeycomb and its contributors are drones, collecting pollen and bringing it back to the hive to make honey. Us drones smear ourselves in each others references to blogs etc. We try and direct unknown people to our own and our friends’ compartments to suckle our honey. But above the hum and buzz of millions of drones all doing similar, can anyone be heard? Apart from a few Queen Bees who get fertilised by their skil in navigating Twitterl or economies of scale, or just luck, I remain to be convinced that it’s going to lead to a single sale.

    Have you ever been to a fairground (carney) and stood with your hands covering your ears to drown out the competing shrill cries of the barkers trying to get you to sample their rides? That’s what twitter feels like.

    Still, as a silverfish formerly content to live under a stone, I have been urged most strenuously to aspire to being a twitter bee and scoop out a compartment within the twitter hive. So I’ll stick with it.

    I absolutely have to bow down and make orisons to deborah for facilitating my entry and understanding of how Twitter works. I’d never even heard of a Tweetdeck until she pointed me in the right direction. Huge thanks and appreciation to you Debs. You give so much to so many and ask for nothing in return. I’ve tweeted your various projects, but it probably won’t yield you any benefit to have my name attached to it.

    Hope you’re feeling better today. Marc

  • Ann Raina

    All the ways to comuunicate and promote works are truly great. I agree with Marc, though, that selling by Twitter might be tough. Selling books the international way via groups, chats, Twitter, MySpace and other sites in use, demands a lot of time from the author. I just read that I should be present in many groups, post excerpts and be around to answer questions by readers. Yes, it’s true, if I spend half a day at my computer on a regular base, I might sell more books. Yet, my life contains of so much more than sitting at my desk. I admire those, who have the will, the time and the ability to work hours at the computer. I haven’t yet found a way to combine family, work, and social obligations with all the other things I love to do without demanding a 30 hour day. 🙂

    Have a great week,
    Ann Raina

  • Leahsandra

    New Twittering is tough but I’ll send you an email with some suggestions.

  • Angela Wilson

    I LOVE Twitter. I feed it to my FriendFeed and Facebook, and also use separate accounts for clients. However, after the initial few months of Tweeting all day, I figured out I needed to watch my Twitter hours to be more efficient with time management. Using Tweetdeck, Tweetie or Seesmic do help make the process go a bit faster – Tweetdeck especially if you need to constantly be updated about trending topics.

    Of course, I will not give up Twitter anytime soon – no matter the struggle with the time suck. Too many wonderful connections were developed through this social network – some of which found me on Facebook. What I love about these Tweeters is they are smart, fun and aren’t throwing marketing jargon at me 24/7. They are just good people from all walks of life with something to say – something I want to hear.

    Keep us posted on how your Tweet time works out!


  • Sensei J. Richard Kirkham B.Sc.

    Great advice especially about staying in contact with prospects. Money’s in the list


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