Twitter Lit: How Writers Are Changing The Literary Game in 280 Characters

Since its inception in 2006, Twitter has been a hub for people to share news and information with hundreds of millions of users. But more recently, the social media giant has been a place for writers to show their work, build relationships with agents, and get published.

Once a platform for 140 character ramblings is now a fresh way for writers to get in front of literary agents and expand their audience.

A couple of years ago, Twitter raised the character limit to 280 characters. The social media platform tested the new move with a small batch of lucky users before dishing out the treat all-round.

Since then, a new wave of writing culture began. 

Writers have been changing the way they use their newsfeed. It was out with scattered thoughts and in with witty, calculated prose. It was out with goofing around with friends, and in with smart networking and marketing

Authors are swapping long-form stories for short and snappy one-sentence plots. And not only are their followers lapping it up, but agents and publishers are taking notice.

The new wave even attracted its Twitter Fiction Festival. The hype ranges from self-contained stories to unraveling intricate side-plots.

Let’s look at the rise of Twitter fiction, along with how writers are harnessing the power of Twitter to get their art seen and boost their careers.

So what’s this whole #TwitterFiction all about?

It’s a test of a writer’s capability to tell a story that has a plot, entertains and evokes emotion in the reader. It needs to be captivating, too, all in under 280 characters.

It’s the new writer’s rage on social media. Some are saying Twitter has given birth to a new literary genre. Penguin cleverly nabbed the term “twitterature” and it’s taken some social media writers by storm.

The birth of Twitter Fiction

The birth of Twitter Fiction

Here’s the sentence that started last year’s Twitter Fiction Festival.

When Twitter users were still confined to the excruciating 140 character limit, award-winning writer Elliott Holt showed the world that with careful prose and the right punch, Twitter can be powerful for literature.

Her one-sentence plot hooked readers. Over a successive line of tweets, Holt’s story unraveled. She was aware of the secret handshakes of Twitter and sprinkled her prose with hashtags and shoutouts.

Holt continued on this literary experience and hooked her followers in by creating a string of suspenseful, witty and often funny thread of tweets.

Twitter Fiction Festival

The death remained a mystery in the end, with Holt asking readers to tweet their predictions with the hashtags #twitterfiction and #homicide, #accident or #suicide.

It’s not only #twitterfiction that means big news for writers, though

Users and agents recognized that writing captivating posts with such brevity isn’t all that easy.

This led to writers having a whole new platform to get an agent’s attention.

According to literary agent Juliet Mushens, publishers are happier to interact with unsigned writers now.

She says agents are now more open to teaching classes or giving guest lectures to writing groups. She pointed out that publishers are even starting conversations using the growing #askagent hashtag on Twitter.

It’s not only #twitterfiction that means big news for writers, though

The strict, one-size-fits-all method of getting a manuscript in front of the right eye seems to be loosening up a bit.

Twitter has paved the way to fresher ways for writers to stand out and show their writing chops. A strong following and engagement help too.

How some writers are getting their big break from Twitter

The publishing industry is a fast-moving one and it wasn’t long before literary agents started scouting talent from the very same pool.

All it takes is a couple of minutes of scrolling through Twitter and agents can spot writers who have a talent for putting their thoughts into words and grabbing their audience.

Less research. No string of emails or query letters to get to the crux of whether a professional relationship is on the cards.

A few talented writers got in on this trend and as a result, formed valuable, lasting relationships with agents. Here’s a small pick of writers to watch.

Inspiring writers who got their big break on the old Twittersphere

Laura Mcveigh

A couple of years ago, one talented author secured her debut publishing deal through the power of the platform. Laura McVeigh tweeted literary agent Curtis Brown at CBG Books and began what would be a promising deal.

In response to CBG Books’ #PitchCB campaign (a trend other publishers follow), Mcveigh got involved.

Writers were challenged to pitch their manuscripts to agents in just 140 words (way before Twitter doubled the limit to 280). More than 17.5 million impressions later and a little press coverage, McVeigh got her deal and went on to become an international bestseller.

Evangeline Holland

For this romance novelist, the timing was everything. Holland ran a history blog on Edwardian Promenade at the time. During the hype that was drenching British series, Downton Abbey, Holland saw an opportunity.

She realized the hit series caused intrigue into the WWI and Edwardian time and decided to follow a literary agent, Kevin Lyon, who donned the Twitter bio, “historical fiction fanatic”.

Lyon noticed his following of writers retweeting and sharing Holland’s work and eventually, decided to reach out to her. Soon enough, a writer/agent relationship was born.

Sam Garton

This British illustrator let his characters do all the talking.

Garton ran a Twitter account for one of his fictional characters – an otter, aptly named Otter. With tweets written in the first person, he let the inner musings of his mind run free through the newsfeed.

The fictional character followed literary agent Brooks Sherman but soon after, lost interest and hit ‘unfollow’. Curious and humored, Sherman wondered what went wrong.  He decided to reach out to Garton.

Impressed with Garton’s humor, artwork, and loyal following, Sherman inquired after his portfolio.

In the end, Garton became his first picture-book client.

Frank Bill

This talented writer was put on the map after an agent, Stacia Decker, noticed his impressive Twitter presence.

Posting links to his short stories, Bill’s writing was met with raving reviews from fellow writers and luckily, it caught the right pair of eyes.

Decker noticed lots of her followers praising Bill’s work and so when the writer reached out to her, she gave his query special attention.

Bill’s book (a short story collection called Crimes in Southern Indiana) was then published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux and went on to be a GQ favorite that year.

The literary game is changing, thanks to Twitter

Manuscripts were once only accepted through a strict system and were usually processed manually.

With all-in-one submission management software, agents and publishers can now collect submissions and streamline the reviewing process in one centralized platform.

Literary agents are opening up to fresh ways to bring in undiscovered talent.

Hashtags that are connecting writers to agents are rolling out on Twitter all the time. The most common ones? #askagent, #querytip, and #MSWL, where agents share their “manuscript wishlist”.

The #askagent hashtag is worth its weight in gold, where writers can tag specific publishers with questions.

Contests have exploded in popularity, too.

#pitchwars, #sunvssnow, #sonofapitch, #querycombat, and #ownvoice are just a handful of the best picks. The #pitmad contest is the one leading the game— writers are grabbing agents’ attention by pitching their manuscripts in under 280 characters. Who knew?

Twitter is a tool for writing and publication

So, if you thought sending in a manuscript to an unsuspecting agent was the only way to go, think again. These new strategies and innovative writers show just how effective platforms like Twitter can be when you have a great story to tell. Let’s sing their praises.

author photo of Sabreen Swan
Sabreen Swan

Sabreen Swan is a writer who works closely with B2B and SaaS companies. When she’s not jargon-busting, you’ll find her buried under an old book and drinking too much tea. You can read some of her work on her website.