On Twitter etiquette and retweeting praise

by Toby Manhire / 26 March, 2013
Novelist Mohsin Hamid gets a dressing down for overdoing the self-promotion.
Mohsin Hamid. Photo/Jillian Edelstein

A blunt lesson in Twitter etiquette for novelist Mohsin Hamid, author of the bestselling The Reluctant Fundamentalist, comes from Nesrine Malik at the Guardian’s Comment Is Free blog.

In promotion mode for his new novel How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (the Listener book club selection this month), Hamid has been eagerly retweeting anything resembling praise.

Which is, Malik insists, a no-no.

Say whatever you like about his writing, but it is almost unanimously acknowledged that Hamid is a thoroughly sound and pleasant man who wears his literary triumph lightly, and he managed to ride the wave of adulation with genuine self-effacement.

But go to Twitter, and his timeline tells a very different story. The man is a monster. Not only does he appear to very much read his reviews, he also tweets them constantly, sometimes even selecting choice quotes from reviews: "Pakistan's F Scott Fitzgerald"; "The best book you'll read in 2013!"; "Like a role-playing game Tolstoy might have written" (given how much praise Tolstoy received during his lifetime, I can only imagine what a nightmare he would have been on Twitter).

Send him a compliment, and you are almost guaranteed to receive a retweet. So relentless was the onslaught, that last week an incredulous follower asked whether he in fact ran his Twitter account himself – something I, too, had wondered, so dissonant was its tone with his real-life performance. Hamid responded that he did: "Cringeworthy I know! But I am on a book tour".

Most of us expect writers, especially novelists of a certain stature, to be, ascetic, lofty creatures, occupied with the intricacies of the human condition – which explains our surprise when they turn out to be hardnosed publicists seeking to maximise book sales by promoting their product as aggressively as one would push a new shampoo.

Malik’s advice for writer-tweeters:

• Do tweet events, book signings, public readings, links to interviews etc

• Don't exclusively tweet about your work

• Have a personality. Develop a character and a Twitter profile that is not merely a bludgeon wrought of your own brilliance

• Don't retweet compliments. Ever. Not once

Failing that, walk away from Twitter. Take the advice of Bret Easton Ellis's friend, who reportedly told him at the Vanity Fair Oscars' party: "You need to get off Twitter. People think you're crazy".

Hamid noted the piece, a little awkwardly, on Twitter, where he later wrote,

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: the account-holder views this as a medium of publicity, not as a chance to express his authentic self.

And, pointedly:

I will be blatantly promoting my new novel in an interview on NPR's Fresh Air today. Tune in.

Perhaps the best explanation of the ickiness of retweeting praise comes from Guardian columnist Marina Hyde, who tweeted last month (and before the Hamid stuff):

This may be very unmodern of me, but people I admire become so much less admirable to me when they retweet praise about themselves.

To which she added:

Someone just told me it's like being complimented on your hair at a party and shouting, "they like my hair!”

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