For Twitter Newbies: Nuts & Bolts

Lawrence Block seems to be of the opinion that John Locke’s latest book, “How I Sold a Million Books in Five Months” is largely responsible for the sudden influx of writers and authors to the Twitterverse.  Whether Mr. Locke has had that much influence or not is not really the issue.  The issue is that I have noticed many more writers and authors in Twitter and their profile numbers indicate that most of them are twitter newbies.  Some of these folks have asked me about the cryptic shorthand Twitterers use as well as heaping praise and adoration upon me for my methods of welcoming new followers.  OK, maybe that’s just a tad over the top, but not by much: Twitter users, whether paduan learner or master, really do appreciate the recognition.

I remember a time (two months ago, to be exact) when I too was staring at the twitter screen and asking myself, “How in the world does this thing work?” and “What the flapjacks does THAT mean?”  So I thought I’d endeavor to cobble together a plain-English Newbie Nuggets guide to Twitter to help all these new folks get up to speed.

The Lingo

 The hardest part for me was learning what all that cryptic goobledy-gook meant, when to use it, when not to, and why you can’t just say what you mean.  As I write this I’m still learning some of it, but here is a quick run-down of  the most common terms, and how to use them. 

Tweet: A tweet is a text message, limited to 140 characters (including spaces) that can contain a twitter user ID and/or a link and/or a hashtag term as well as text.  Twitter will now automatically shorten an included Internet link, thereby greatly conserving your character usage and negating the need to go to an outside source like to abbreviate a web site URL.  You may use tweets to carry on a conversation with one or more other Twitterers, or to make announcements to all of your followers.  BEWARE; tweets are fully public and will be visible to everyone who follows you, and possibly others, use a Direct Message (DM) for exchanging confidential information. [More on messaging]

HashTag:  A hash-tag term is used by Twitter to aid in searching for specific topics.  These are called hash-tag terms because they always start with the hash symbol (#).  Some of the more common writer’s terms are : #writer, #author, #SciFi, #romance, #zombie – you get the idea; tack the genre to a hash mark.  Others are #FF and #WW, which stand for Follow Friday and Writer Wednesday and are used for the regularly scheduled love-fests where twitterers gather like spawning salmon to promote themselves by promoting one another.  At the end of this post I will offer a list of the 40 most popular hash-tag terms for writers. [More on hash Tags]

Abbreviations: Because all tweets must remain within 140 characters, twitterers use acronyms and abbreviations to conserve space.  Some of these have been adopted from cell phone users text-speak (or vice versa, I’m not sure which came first).  Here are some of the most common for writers:
ARC = Advanced Reader Copy
CP = Critique Partner
FIC = Fiction

MC = Main Character
MG = Middle Grade (novel)
MS = Manuscript
MSS = Manuscripts
NF = Non-fiction
PB = Picture Book
POV = Point of View
SFF= Science Fiction & Fantasy (also SF/F)
TBR = Books waiting To Be Read – your reading list.

WIP = Work In Progress
YA = Young Adult (novel)

Twitter ID: All twitter user ID’s start with the @ symbol, but beyond that there is little consistency.  Some use their name (my ID is @AllanDouglasDgn – feel free to check me out) others use the name of the book they’re marketing, a cryptic set of numbers and letters that means something only to them, or a pseudonym. 

Some ask, “If I decide I don’t like the name I’ve chosen, can I change it, and if I do will I lose all my followers?”  The answers are Yes and No.  Yes; you can change your ID (name) on your account settings screen, and no you won’t lose all your followers.  But you will confuse them.  Confusion is usually something you want to avoid.  And, changing your ID will invalidate any and all external applications you may be using to help you manage your twitter account, keep track of your following or tweet about posts on blogs and web sites.  Anything that has ever asked your permission to access your twitter account will stop working until you log into it and update the information.

Profile: The profile picture is that little thumbnail photo that displays with every tweet you post and on your profile information screen.  This is your brand, your version of McDonalds’ golden arches, Ford’s blue oval or Folgers’ Mountain logo.  What you choose to use as your “face” is up to you, but most of the high-powered marketing folks recommend using… your face.  If you want people to relate to you as a person, they need to see a person.  Don’t post a picture of your dog or your child, or your car.  Those may be OK for a purely personal account, but here we’re talking about using Twitter in the BUSINESS of being a writer/author. For this same reason, do not leave it as the default Egg shot.

Why an egg? Twitter – Twitter bird – egg – new (baby) account.  Get the picture?  The Egg fairly shouts that you haven’t yet felt it worth your effort to find something more appropriate.  Twitter is all about interaction; will others be inspired to interact with “The Mystery Egg”? 

In much the same way, your profile bio info is important, don’t leave it blank or toss in some smart-Alec crack about being a nobody.  Why should I want to follow a nobody?  Do use humor, keep your primary purpose central, but add a quirky personal item if you have room.  You are allowed 160  characters here.

DM: Stands for Direct Message, and is a private communication between you and the person you address it to.  It also has a limited text length of 140 characters.  It too can include links, and Twitter will shorten it for you.  Watch the character counter in the lower right corner of the window to know how many characters you have left.

Check for DM’s you have received by clicking the Messages tab in the Main Menu at the top of your Twitter screen.  Or you can have Twitter forward DM’s to your e-mail account.  Details in a moment.

To send a DM, you can click Messages in the top (main) menu row, then click the New Message button at the top of the screen and enter the user ID and the message, or you can click the user ID on a tweet in the timeline.  This bring up their profile info in the right hand panel.  Under their bio stuff is a button with an envelope on it, click that and Twitter will open up a message window to that person for you to type into.  Note: you can send a DM only to those users you are following.

RT: stands for Re-Tweet, when you re-tweet another person’s tweet you pass it along to all of your followers.  If some of them also re-tweet it, the tweet (message) can “go viral” very rapidly.  To re-tweet a message, place your cursor on the apparently empty line just under the message, four things show up: how long ago the tweet was posted and the words, Favorite, Retweet and Reply.  Click on Retweet and a window opens containing the message.  Click the blue RETWEET button to proceed or the white CANCEL button to abort.  If you proceed a green triangular mark appears on the upper left corner of the message in your timeline indicating that you have passed that message along.  When re-tweeting you are not able to modify or edit the original message.

Reply: If you click the word REPLY on the line discussed above, a couple of different things can happen.  In both cases a new window will open and the first thing in this window will be the original twitterer’s ID so you send the tweet back to them (and all of your followers).  If other twitter ID’s were in the original tweet, they too will be included in the reply, but any text will be removed, allowing you space to write a reply message.  If YOUR twitter ID was included in the original tweet, it will be removed from the reply message.  This feature makes it a simple matter to share the love on those spawning days; you simply click Reply to the tweets you want to pass along and twitter takes your ID out of the list of ID’s, places it as sender and adds the person who sent the tweet originally to the list, making it a snap to “pay it forward”.

However, passing along every list of names that mentions you is not a very responsible thing to do.  If you are not following those people, why would you recommend them to others?  I often find lists containing ID’s that when clicked on result in a User Not Found message.  Quite often these were spammers whose accounts were closed for abuse.

## TIP ## You may well get a tweet from someone who is replying to a tweet you posted.  Since the original text is not included, you may not know/remember what you said or what was being discussed.  Click in any empty space in the tweet and the right hand panel will change to display the history of that discussion, allowing you to refresh your memory.  If there is no history (the sender used a new message instead Reply’ing, it will simply repeat the tweet and you’re on your own.

Favorite:  If you click Favorite on a tweet you will add it to a special list where you can easily access it again later.  Think of it as a bookmarks or favorites list in your browser.

Following: Is a listing of the people this twitterer is following.  If it’s your account you’re looking at, then these are the people you follow.

Followers: Are the people who follow you (or whoever’s account you’re looking at).  When you follow a person you are saying, “Yes I want to see the tweets you post because I think what you have to say is interesting.” or, you might be simply trying to build up numbers and don’t care what anyone says.  But any time someone you follow posts a tweet, it will show up in your timeline screen.  I’ll explain that in a moment, be patient.


Home:  at the very top of the twitter screen is a line containing a search window and several tabs.  These tabs remain available at the top of all Twitter screens and are your main navigation menu.  Any time you get lost, just make like E.T. and click HOME. This is your general information screen.  The sub-menus on the Home screen will be discussed in a moment.

Profile: The profile tab will display your profile pic and bio at the top of the left hand panel followed by all the tweets YOU have sent out recently.  This is a handy way to check back on something or check to be sure something was sent.  Sometimes Twitter gets overloaded and chokes.

On the right hand screen are your Twitter stats: how many tweets you have posted, how many people you are following, how many people are following you, and how many of those people have added you to a list because they think you are so wonderful as to warrant following closely.  If you place your cursor over the titles under each of these numbers the title becomes a link; click the link and you will be presented with a complete listing of the twitter accounts included in that number.  This has several very useful applications, but they are beyond Nuts & Bolts, so I’ll cover them in the Jedi Mind Twits article.

Messages: Click the Messages tab on the main menu (top row) and you will be presented with a list of Tweeps who have sent you direct messages, and how many messages they have sent you.  Click a name on the left and a list of messages they sent you appears on the right.  Click the New Message button at the top of the left hand panel and you may send a DM to anyone who follows you.

Who To Follow:  Click this tab and Twitter will present you with a listing of people it thinks you would be interested in following.  Early on, this function is nearly useless as it has so little to go on.  As you build a list of followers, commonalities on those profiles will help Twitter make logical suggestions.

Yer Mug & Name: On the far right of the main menu is a mini-pic of your profile picture and your user ID, click it and you can access your account settings menus.  Most of what is in there is pretty well explained.  One thing I want to point out is the Notifications tab.  Here you can set up to have Twitter send you an e-mail when certain conditions are met.  These include, forwarding DMs you have received, notifying you when someone follows you, when someone retweets one of your tweets, etc.  Depending on how much time you plan to spend staring into the Twitterverse (universe of Twitter) you may want to set up these notifications to alert you in a timely manner so you can handle important things.  All communications are handled through Twitter, your e-mail address is not displayed unless you make it public in the settings.

Home Screen Sub Menu

Timeline:  The left hand panel of your twitter account screen displays a list of tweets in reverse chronological order.  Which tweets are listed depends on the screen you have accessed.  When you click the Timeline tab while in the Home screen it will show the latest tweets of all the people you are following.  If you are following a lot of people, this screen will update quickly, showing a blue bar at the top of the list saying something like “2,306 new tweets” after you’ve been reading the ones displayed for a few minutes. (that is only a slight exaggeration) .   Click the bar to display the new tweets.

@YourUserName:  If you click the tab with @ and your user name it will display in the left hand panel tweets that contain your user ID .  This is a quick, easy way to find out who has been talking to you or about you.  The Favorite, Retweet and Reply functions work just the same here as above.

Activity: is the next tab and it lists a whole bunch of basically useless stuff pertaining to things the people you follow are doing.  This is a recent “upgrade” to Twitter.  In the former version this screen listed people who re-tweeted things and was useful in knowing who to thank for helping to spread your tweets.  And that info is still in there – tossed in among a lot of other stuff that you have to sort through.  I find very little use for this new version.

Searches: If you use the search bar in the main menu at the very top of the Twitter screen (look for a magnifying glass) to search for a topic or users within twitter, after displaying the results, Twitter will offer you the option to save that search and results.  If you do so, it will be listed here.  If you have not saved any searches it will simply tell you that you have not saved any searches, what are you looking in here for?

Lists:  Lists are a wonderful way to filter the collection of people you are following by organizing them into categories.  How you do this is entirely up to you.  I have lists set up for Sci-fi writers, editors, publishers, artists, racing fans, and book stores just to name a few.  Click on the Lists tab and a window opens up displaying your list of… well… lists.  Click on a list and the left-hand panel displays the recent tweets of all the people you put on that list.  Building and using lists will be discussed in the upcoming Jedi Mind Tweets post.


Most of the rules for polite personal conversation will apply to twitter.  Being considerate of others is appreciated, being rude is not.  If someone talks to you it is generally expected that you answer them.  But, there are exceptions – feel free to ignore spammers and trolls (people trying to pick a fight just for the fun of it).  If someone does you a good turn, it is good form to repay the favor.

With teamwork you can accomplish anything
With teamwork you can accomplish anything

One big FAQ (Frequently Asked Question) is “If someone follows me, do I *have* to follow them back?”  Answer: No; if you are not interested in what they have to say, then there is no point in following them. There *is* a sub-culture that lives on the auto-follow-back mind set.  Some even use software tools to automate the follow-back process (meaning: they have NO idea who they’re following).  But these are the people to whom huge numbers are the goal; I believe it’s more important to build relationships than numbers: It is better to have 5 good friends who will help you than 500 so-called friends who ignore you.  But this attitude may be why I am not a millionaire.  Most MMO systems seem to depend on amassing huge numbers of people who pretend to care about what you say. [More on following]

Sending a thank-you to a new follower is a good thing.  You may do it as a public tweet or use a DM for a private message, but do not send some generic message like “Thanks for following me, please check out my Facebook page at”  This is so impersonal and spammy that it may well be perceived as being rude and can result in an un-follow.  Again, anyone who is so disinterested in their followers that they set up a utility to automate sending thank-you DM’s is probably not worth following in the first place if you value interaction.  If it is a major news and information source like CNN, OK; they can be rude and get away with it.

When someone sends you a link in a tweet or DM must you check it out?  In a word: NO! If for any reason you are not comfortable with clicking a link then don’t.  I have recently received a fair number of DMs saying something like, “Here is a funny picture of you” or “You are mentioned in this article” and using a cloaked link. (cloaked meaning shortened in such a way that even putting your cursor over the link – without clicking on it – does not reveal the full address) and in all these cases the link leads to spam or porn or a Trojan.  Sometimes these messages come (apparently) from someone I know and talk with regularly.  In each case these people had been hacked (because they DID click on a link) and their account was hijacked and used to send out these crappy messages.  I have adopted the policy of not clicking on any cloaked link, ever.  Shortened links are OK and necessary, but hovering over them should tell you the address you will be taken to if you click it.

That’s the basics.  I’ll explore some of the more advanced features in upcoming posts I’ll call Jedi Mind Twits.


As promised, here is a list of 40 hash-tags of particular interest to writers.  This list was compiled by Daily Writing Tips. The list can never be exhaustive because anyone can invent a new tag at any time. Most are self-explanatory.  Some are used to indicate group discussions that take place during specific times: 

#amediting  posts from people who are editing (or should be editing instead of tweeting)
#amwriting  posts from people who are writing
#askagent  agent questions and answers
#fridayflash  flash fiction on a Friday
#nanowrimo  national novel writing month
#pubtip  publication tips
#vss   very short story
#webfic  web fiction
#weblit   web literature
#wip   work in progress
#writetip  writing advice
#writingtips  writing advice

#wrotetoday ? 
Some hashtags are specifically “chats” – which means they work in the same way as all tags, but are mainly used at certain agreed times : ? 
#yalitchat   young adult literature chat

The following spreadsheet is a good place to keep track of the schedules for these Twitter chats if you’re interested in joining in :

Other articles in this series:
Follow, Follow, Follow the Twitter Brick Road
Juicing Up Your Twitter Power
Jedi Mind Twits: #Hashtags
Jedi Mind Twits: Messaging
Jedi Mind Twits: Follow Limit

16 thoughts on “For Twitter Newbies: Nuts & Bolts”

  1. This has been really helpful, but can I ask, what are you actually supposed to do with #WW and #FF? Everyone seems to do it and I’d quite like to join in without feeling like a twerp.

    1. Think of hastags like sticky notes, Carrie, that can be stuck onto a message to help classify it. #WW identifies the message as being a writer you recommend – or is being recommended by some one else. If you are seeking to build relationships with writers, search with #WW (or just read the timeline on Wednesday) and you will find many new writers to investigate. #FF is far more generic, basically just saying that these people are some you follow – for whatever reason. Does that help?

        1. My article that covers hashtags did have 6 resource listings at the end that offered a list of meanings for hastags, but I see all of those links have gone dead and need to be removed. I’ll see if I can’t find one or two that are still available. But these two are Writer Wednesday and Follow Friday.

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