Before the telephone, there was the telegram. Before electronic mail, there was the facsimile. And then there was Twitter.
As “electronic mail” and “facsimile” are terms that we’re now hard-pressed to remember, so, too, will the word “tweet” sound indecipherable to our grandchildren. But what Tumblr did for blogging, so Twitter seems now to have done for email: reduced our communication to the byte-size essentials. And in a content-saturated world, this has both importance and value. Media editors and journalists are more likely to respond, and quickly, when I DM them a book pitch in a line, since we already follow each other and it isn’t coming cold, or worse, long. We’re all trying to obliterate the email issue. We’re all trying to define who we are, what we want, why it matters, in a line.
I’ve discussed in a previous post called Why to Give a Twit how authors can really help one another out in a time-efficient way by simply posting a nice mention of someone’s book in just 140 characters. Unlike Facebook, still too vast to monitor the virality of publicity mentions, you can actually find, using Twitter, how many mentions you or your book has had; better still if your book has made it to hashtag (#) fame. You can literally see the popularity of your entity “catching.” And your number of followers is only one, possibly wrong, way to look at it. Just because a reader likes your book and wants to blab about it, or merely resonates with some sentiment in your title, doesn’t mean he or she craves your every thought and conversation. So please find consolation in this, and don’t feel yourself to be a twit if you’re having trouble quickly gaining a following. There’s far more value in the measurable traffic your book is getting in the conversations that exist around, not with, you. (By the way, many of us new media agencies are exploring ways to monetize tweets — integrating them more directly with sales of your book and offering ROE (for effort).
Then why be on Twitter at all, an author might ask, if I don’t need to do the talking? Well, unfortunately you do. Think about it this way: walking into a Barnes & Noble or facing the far more daunting new promotions on Amazon that now include e-published books you’ve never even seen or heard of alongside household names like James Patterson, plus hot new stars like Laura Hillenbrand - the rare author whose first (Seabiscuit) and second (Unbroken) novels broke out as bestsellers – there’s a very small shot anyone browsing will find you. There’s a better shot at conversion if they’ve heard about you on Twitter. If they’re following you…well, it’s like doing a favor for a friend, because often social networking feels that intimate. You may not be on email at 11pm, but a tweet may pop up at you, in the way you’d only expect a friend to text at that late hour.
Building a following is about building loyalty. It’s long-term drudge work, and it seems as desperately futile as it does adolescent and ridiculous when you’re starting out at one, with others thousands ahead of you. But book publicity isn’t like publicizing a new line of Kellogg’s cereal. Authors need to build a brand before relying on it. We strongly believe that success, in this unpredictable business of ours, is about sustaining an audience through the course of many book launches, and that the work of marketing can be done in no other way.
P.S. Ed Burns uses Twitter to crowdsource inspiration for his movies. We’d love to see authors try this for books.