"So. Is Twitter any good?"
"It's turning out to be very good for me," I told my author friend. "But I take it you're talking about the potential for book marketing?"
"Probably not so good, then," I said.
I've been Twittering for the past ten days, and I'm liking it a lot. What's Twitter? It's been called "micro-blogging," because each Twitter post is limited to 140 characters, which is almost exactly the length of this sentence. If you want to see what one side of a Twitter conversation looks like, check out the right-hand side of this page (scroll down a little) for my up-to-the-minute Twitter feed.
If you want to know how to use Twitter, Google that, because I'm not going to go into it here. But I will tell you why to use Twitter.
Like author websites and blogs, nobody has studied the Twitter phenomenon and determined whether it actually boosts book sales. It's tempting to assume that it must, but unless someone tells you outright that they bought your book because of something you wrote on Twitter, how would you ever measure your Twittering success in those terms?
For me, Twittering isn't about business. It's a break in my day. Five minutes at a time, tops. No, I don't read every single message from the nearly 100 people I'm currently "following" on Twitter. Several times a day I scroll through my subscriptions looking for quips, for surprising and helpful information, for garden photographs, for links to good blog posts, and so on. I've had Twitter exchanges with people I've never met, but who interest me because they're deeply interested in and involved with the world around them.
On Twitter I have connected with a couple of old friends and made a few new ones. I have picked up some useful gardening tips, learned that garlic mashed potatoes can be improved by the addition of some chopped prosciutto, had a few laughs, and had my creativity jump-started by some witty and profound writing quotes collected by novelist James Scott Bell.
But is posting on Twitter going to sell any of my books? Maybe one or two, but that by itself would have been no reason to sign up. I can tell you that yesterday I "unfollowed" (stopped receiving updates from) a writer whose every message strongly hinted that I should buy his book. Twitter wasn't meant to be used as a marketing machine. Twitter is a fun thing, a social thing, and I believe the people who understand that are the people who will get the most out of it.
As a novelist I place a high value on anything that helps me relax, encourages me to learn new things, or boosts my creativity. And in the past ten days, Twitter has been doing all three.