Are you making the most of Twitter lists?


Last year I wrote a post about Twitter lists, and from talking to people it’s evidently still a feature of Twitter that’s widely under-utilised.

Remember, a list can be public or private. A private list is great for researching, whether it’s background for your latest book or keeping tabs on groups of people you are interested in following (but don’t want to look like a stalker) such as agents, publishers, journalists or reviewers.

A public list is one that other people can see and subscribe to. People who create public lists are often seen as authoritative and knowledgeable in that field, a ‘curator’ of useful people to follow and great content. But before you start a public list check out those already in existence, rather than re-inventing the wheel (see my next point).

You can of course subscribe to other people’s (public) lists. This means, for example, if you are a poet and want to follow other poets on Twitter, you don’t need to start your own list if you don’t want to, because someone like Antony Wilson has already created one called ‘Poets’ (and there are over 700 members).

When you subscribe to a list, the list owner may or may not get an alert telling them the list has a new subscriber. When you add someone to a public list, that person will generally get an alert telling them.

When you add someone to a private list, they are not notified. This is why, if you don’t have a lot of followers, it’s a good idea to add people first to a private list rather than following loads of people.

Why? because it’s a good idea to keep your ratio of followers to followees either reasonably equal, or have more followers than followees. It is one of the informal criteria many people have for deciding whether to follow someone.

Here are a few ideas about how you could be using lists:

To capture the names of people involved in an event

How often do you meet interesting folks at a conference, or a book launch or other event, and exchanged names or contact details, perhaps hurriedly, then later struggled to remember the name or find their card? Why not create a Twitter list specifically for that event, and add their Twitter name to it there and then. If you’ve already created the list, and are using a tool such as Hootsuite on your phone, you can add names at least as quickly as adding someone to your phone book.

If you take part in a Twitter chat, you could also add participants to a list and give it the name of the chat. That way you can keep in touch with them without having to follow everyone, the list keeps growing as new people join the chat, and you’ll always remember the context in which you ‘met’.

To create a helpful resource

It’s not just your peers who may be grateful for a list of fellow crime writers on Twitter – your readers will also appreciate it. They’d probably also be really interested to know who are your favourite bloggers, or literary events, or living authors who are great Tweeters. List-makers are often seen as the curators, the do-ers, the people to be connected to on Twitter, so a bit of altruism in this department won’t do your reputation any harm.

To reward or show recognition

If there are people who regularly share your tweets, or respond, or are great conversationalists, or write consistently good blog posts, you could create a list for them and give it a ‘feelgood’ title that makes it clear why you’re grateful or why you rate them – ‘Awesome writer-bloggers’, ‘Generous Tweeters’ for example (or whatever works for you – but make it reasonably descriptive, so that anyone added to it feels rewarded and anyone coming across it will be impressed enough to follow or check out its members.

One thing that has changed since this time last year is how to search for Twitter lists on Google. The way to do it now is to type the following into the search box: inurl:lists <insert search term>

(with or without the angled brackets). For example: inurl:lists crime writers

brings up the following:

Google search for Twitter lists

You can also search via the Twitter search box, and via people you already know on Twitter.

Good luck and have fun with lists – there are loads of other uses, let me know in the comments if you have devised innovative ways of using lists.


How to follow blogs in Hootsuite


Following other blogs is a big part of your life as a blogger. Just think of the inspiration, context, camaraderie and collaboration opportunities they offer. But how do you keep up with them? Do you use a feed reader, or hear of new posts via email, for example?

Because I blog using WordPress I’ve always found it easy to just hit the ‘Follow’ button on another WordPress site, and have the blog added automatically to my WordPress Reader. But for non-WordPress blogs, it’s not quite so easy – you have to copy and paste a blog or feed URL manually into your WordPress reader.

Also, with WordPress blogs, I have the option in my Reader to get a weekly email digest of new blog posts. This means every Monday morning I have a dozen or so alerts, and I can skim through them at the start of the day. But more than a dozen at a time would be too much for my inbox (or my Monday morning brain). And I don’t have this email option for non-WordPress blogs I subscribe to in Reader.

However, I recently took the plunge and decided to add all my blog subscriptions to my Hootsuite dashboard. I’d been putting it off because it wasn’t a high priority and I imagined it might be more complicated that it turned out to be, but I needn’t have worried.

So if you’re in a similar position, here’s a step-by-step guide to moving all your blog subscriptions to Hootsuite, so you can view blog updates anytime alongside your other social media accounts.

1) In WordPress, go to your Reader, and click on the cog next to ‘Blogs I Follow’ to bring up a list of your subscriptions.

Exporting feeds from WordPress

Click on ‘Export’. You’ll be prompted to save the export file (.opml).

2) Log in to your Hootsuite dashboard and Add a Tab and call it ‘Blogs’. (For this illustration I’ve called mine ‘Test’, because I already have a ‘Blogs’ tab.)

You’ll then be prompted to add a Stream to that tab – you have a choice of Networks, Apps or Shared. Select Apps, and click on Hootsuite Syndicator. If you don’t see that as a choice, click on ‘Get More Apps’. You can then search and install Hootsuite Syndicator (it’s free).

Hootsuite - add a stream

3) Under Hootsuite Syndicator, click on the RSS icon and you’re into the Subscription Manager screen.

Hootsuite subscription manager 1

Here you can either add individual feeds, or import a number of feeds. Do this by dropping in your .opml file.

4) If you have a lot of feeds to import it may take a few minutes, but eventually you’ll see all your feeds appear.

Export feeds to Hootsuite

5) Close the Subscription Manager, and you now have a ‘Blogs’ tab alongside your Twitter, Facebook or whatever you have … where you can skim through new blog posts and read them at any time.

I’d like to be able to read blog posts from my phone, but sadly it seems that Apps streams aren’t viewable on the mobile app version of Hootsuite. However you can read them on a tablet in a web browser.

Subscribing to new blogs

When I find a new blog I want to subscribe to, I now look for the RSS icon, rather than just hitting ‘follow’ or ‘follow by email’.

Look for the RSS icon to subscribe to posts

When I click on that, a box comes up inviting me to add the feed to my Hootsuite (you have to be logged into Hootsuite for this to happen).

Add feeds to Hootsuite 1Click on ‘Add to Hootsuite’ …

Add feeds to Hootsuite 2

I then select ‘add feed to existing tab’ and choose ‘Blogs’ – and the blog is added to my Blogs stream in Hootsuite. Done!

Should writers blog? Hear me being interviewed on The Author Biz


Last month Stephen Campbell of The Author Biz podcast invited me onto his show to talk about authors and blogging. He grilled me about everything from ‘should authors blog?’ (I wish there were a straightforward answer to this!) and my thoughts on the various platforms available, hosting options, organising your time and so forth.

Listen to the podcast here.

The Author Biz podcast

I find being interviewed a little nerve-wracking and I admit I could only listen to a small amount of the recording! But If you’re new to blogging or on the fence about it, it’s definitely worth a listen.

Stephen publishes a new podcast every Monday on The Author Biz, a towering achievement, and his interviewees have included many top authors, publishers, agents and editors, all sharing their expertise, opinions and advice. I’m grateful to be included in such great company.

Do check it out, and you can subscribe in iTunes.

Show your face on the web with a Gravatar


You’ve probably seen them around the web, on blogs, forums and author profiles – those little images next to people’s names. They’re called avatars, and they’re applied automatically whenever you post or comment. The good news is you don’t have set up your avatar again and again on every blog and media site you encounter, because the majority of them display the results from one place – Gravatar.

Gravatar stands for ‘Globally Recognised Avatar’, and it refers both to the individual icon itself (your Gravatar) and the site where you create one ( As with most web apps, there’s no guarantee Gravatar will be around forever, but for the moment it seems to be stable and it’s recognised as an industry standard. Which is why I think it’s worth your while setting up your Gravatar if you haven’t already.

If you’re anything like me, you put a low priority on things like filling out your profiles, uploading profile images and keeping things up to date. There just seems to be too much else to do. But once you’ve set up your Gravatar you can kind of forget about it.

If you don’t yet have a Gravatar, chances are when you comment on a blog, or in the top right hand corner of your screen when you’re editing your WordPress blog, what you see is a grey shape or something anonymous, like this:

Anonymous user gravatar

Nobody wants to be a grey, mystery man! As you post comments on blogs, and are joining in conversations on the web, you want people to remember you. Research has shown that showing your face creates greater levels of trust, more shares and more interaction. Anonymity is too often associated with having something to hide. There’s nothing for it but to get yourself a decent Gravatar and join the people with faces.

Getting a Gravatar is simple and best of all it’s free. Signup at, upload a photo – I always recommend a good, clear headshot – fill in a short profile, and really that’s it.

Most WordPress themes already come with Gravatar integrated (which means Gravatars will be displayed with your readers’ comments). But Gravatar is used on many, many sites, not just WordPress.

There are all kinds of add-on benefits to having a Gravatar, for example Hovercards – which means when you mouseover someone’s Gravatar you see their profile – it comes with blogs and can be added as a plugin to a self-hosted WordPress blog. Here’s an example of how it looks:

gravatar hovercards

You can see Gravatar in action in the foot of this post – I’ve installed a plugin called ‘Author Bio Box’ which displays your Gravatar information at the end of your blog posts. This is particularly good if you have guest bloggers or if there’s more than one of you running your blog.

You can change your Gravatar if you wish, but sometimes it takes a while to see the changes across the web. Try clearing your browser’s cache too, especially if you use Chrome, as Chrome sometimes keeps loading old versions of Gravatars even after you’ve made changes.

If you’re interested in how to build trust online there’s a ton of great stuff that’s been done in this area. Take a look at this blog post on Social Media Examiner, or read Chris Brogan’s book Trust Agents.

Where to find images that are free to use


The web is fuelled by images – just look at the popularity of sites like Pinterest and Flickr and photosharing apps like Instagram. Time and again, research shows that Facebook and Twitter updates containing photos are shared and liked more often than purely text-based updates.

But it’s not as simple as trawling Google Images for suitable pics to use. You could find yourself facing a serious fine for breaching copyright laws.

You have a number of options:

1) Use photos you’ve taken yourself
2) Commission a photographer. Do check that you’ll have ownership of (and permission to use as you wish) the resulting photos.
3) Create your own graphical images from scratch using photo-editing software
4) Contact the owner of copyrighted images you want to use, and ask permission. This may be granted for a fee, or in return for a link back and attribution.
5) Obtain images from a photo library, where you generally pay a license fee for each image you use (but sometimes it’s free).

The last option on the list is probably the easiest. Stock image libraries carry thousands of photos, are easy to search and generally charge reasonable fees. Some even have a free images section. But don’t ignore Flickr. The images you’ll find there are generally not as marketing oriented as those in commercial image libraries. Many Flickr users attach Creative Commons licences to their images, and although you need to check, quite often the terms of the licence allows the photos to be used freely (on, for example, a blog) in return for proper attribution.

There are many image libraries – here are few of the popular ones to check out – some with a free images section –

Free Range
Stock Vault

Compfight is a useful site – it’s a search engine for Flickr, enabling you to find images based on the type of license you’re after.

Google Images can still be a useful tool in the search for free-to-use photos. Try the Advanced Search option. Here’s an example: let’s say I’d like to illustrate a blog post with a photo related to the TV series ‘Downton Abbey’. Unsurprisingly, my first search on Google Images brings up thousands of results.

Image search on Google images

If I go to the cog icon top right, there’s a drop down menu – when click on Advanced Search I get a page of options. Scrolling down I come to ‘Usage Rights’. Here I select ‘Free to use or share, even commercially’.

Advanced Image Search

Then I hit ‘search’, and the results pages should contain only free-to-use photos…

Image search 3

However, there are flaws with this – images can be stripped of their license details, saved and re-uploaded, which doesn’t make them free to use even though Google Images presents them as so being. In this example, one of the Downton Abbey photos, although obviously a still shot from the show, is actually on somebody’s Flickr page. And if I enter this page’s URL into an image recognition engine such as Tin Eye it throws up 156 other pages where this photo appears. Just because a photo is being widely shared it doesn’t mean it’s free to use. Just be aware of that.

8 Online Social Communities for Writers

Writer communities online

Writing can be a solitary activity, which may be one reason why online communities are often popular with writers. They can be useful places to network, discuss industry gossip, give and receive support for work-in-progress, learn about new opportunities, celebrate, commiserate or just be distracted.

Here are seven niche writers’ communities worth a look.

1) Book in a Week
“Write, write, write. What is important is getting the words down, creating a first draft. Editing and revising comes later.” Book-in-a-week is all about members motivating one another to write. The site provides helpful tools and resources, prompts, specific goals to aim for and camaraderie.

2) Writers’ Network
“Created in 2004, Writers-Network is a large online community devoted to pointing creative writers toward success.” There’s quite a bit of poetry, but writers of all creative genres and forms are welcome and active on the site. Members are encouraged to review others’ work and comment on it.

3) Writers Online
Writers Online is the internet creative writing community from the publishers of (UK based) Writing Magazine and Writers’ News. As well all the features you might expect – news of competitions, courses, reviews, how-to guides and a writers’ directory, it also has an active writers’ forum.

4) Trigger Street Labs
“Helping writers and filmmakers help themselves – since 2002.” Calling itself a ‘platform for exposure and discovery’, Trigger Street Labs is a community for screenwriters and filmmakers. Lots of industry news and contextual material.

5) Writertopia
Writertopia is a resource for writers looking to “hone his or her professional writing skills.” The site includes listings for events, readings and workshops, as well as portfolio management tools and online workshops.

6) Writers’ Cafe is a forum for befriending other writers and entering writing contests. Topics of discussion range from inspiration to publicity and marketing. The site includes lists of literary agents, magazines and courses.

7) NaNoWriMo
November National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short, has been going since 1999 and grows every year. The goal is to write a 50,000-word novel by Nov 30, a perfect challenge if you work well under pressure. There are progress tracking features, widespread support and potential for in-person meetups in your area.

The event has spawned the poetry equivalent – NoPoWriMo, which runs during the month of April each year.

8) Campus
CAMPUS is an online community run by The Poetry School. Not only does it serve as an adjunct to the Poetry School’s in-person courses (there are many online courses to sign up for), it’s also a social place where poets can “come together to learn about and discuss poetry.”

Online communities tend to increase in value (to the user) over time, and their success depends upon a critical mass of engaged members (in other words, those who fill in their profiles fully, contribute regularly to discussion, start new topics and help make newbies feel welcome.) Another factor in a community’s success is the reliability and usability of the software and user interface, which can vary.

It’s worth spending a little time exploring and experimenting with a new community before deciding whether it’s for you – don’t give up too soon if you don’t ‘get it’ right away, or if it seems clunky; it could end up being much more useful than you imagined at first.

With thanks to Matt Petronzio at Mashable whose original article inspired this post and provided some of the community descriptions.