Man, Twitter has taking some serious hits in the media this week. First Barbara Walters tries to explain Twitter to her cohosts and provokes an explosion of eye rolling and insults, then Jon Stewart mocks not just the Twitter posts themselves but shakes his fist at those who dare to tweet.

Go ahead, joke it up, I’ll just say this: We mock that which we do not understand, friends. And also this: I think Twitter is brilliant—especially for anyone who wants to be published.

One of the biggest worries I hear from aspiring authors is that they don’t have contacts in the publishing industry. Sure, I understand that, it definitely helps to be at least on a name-recognition basis with someone before asking her to take you and your blood, sweat, and tears seriously.

That’s the part where Twitter comes in: In less than 10 minutes, you can connect directly with agents and editors, authors and publicists, all in a socially egalitarian and non-hierarchical kind of way. You can read their comments on the industry and their jobs, and you can comment right back, no sweat, no formality. (My mom recently exchanged tweets with Rachel Maddow, how cool is that?) It won’t be long before you’re on each other’s radar, your name on their computer screens and theirs on yours. It’s not intimacy, or friendship even, but there’s no denying it — you’re in contact.

Twitter is more immediate than Facebook, but with less of a need to encounter irrelevance and overshare, especially if you’re using it as a professional conversation starter. Not only are you in contact with others who have like-minded interests, but you can learn about your contacts’ lives in a way that will personalize them to you to your advantage. Consider: You’ve just finished your book proposal and are ready to query literary agents when you see that Lucy Agent, whom you’ve been following on Twitter, has posted a comment about a client of hers who just won a prestigious book award. Now, instead of querying her with a standard query form letter, you can write something far more personal, and more likely to get her attention: “Dear Lucy Agent, Congratulations on your client winning the Prestigious Book Award! Entirely deserved—I found the book both beautifully written and insightful. I have a book on a similar topic I’d love for you to consider representing … ” You’ll show that you’ve done your due diligence in learning what’s important to her as a professional, which is bound to earn you some take-me-seriously credit in return.

You can also read tweets (posts, to the uninitiated) from a range of agents about what they love and hate about queries from other writers, so you’ll know what mistakes not to make yourself. Here’s a snippet from agent Colleen Lindsay (@Colleen_Lindsay), who’s worth joining Twitter for alone:

Query #1: 1st paragraph talks only about the multiple themes in the book. There is no second paragraph. Reject.

Query #2: Great query, but book is too similar to something I already represent. Personalized rejection, ask to see other work.

Query #3: YA fantasy, 175,000 words. Reject with educational note about word counts.

Query #4: Loves me. Loves my blog. Has MFA. Won contest I’ve never heard of. Three paragraphs in and it’s still not a query letter. Reject.

You can follow book publishers (@ChronicleBooks has the best book giveaways), book editors (follow me! I’m @lauramazer) and anyone else who tweets about subjects that interest you, from indie crafts to your local elected officials. (On my faves list: @threadless, @iphonenovice, @freakonomics). There’s a long list of pub industry Twitterers, and you can follow as many as them as you like.

And if you’re worried that using Twitter is confusing, well, yeah, OK, it actually really is — for about five minutes, and then it all becomes clear. I’ll remind you that my mother Twitters (@thelmasan, follow her, she’s a rock star! And I bet @maddow thinks so too). Here, I’ll shame you into it: If you can write a book, surely you can figure out a social network that 50 million Elvis fans have already mastered.

I’ll be looking for your tweets, peeps.