Monday, April 27, 2009

Does Twittering sell books?

"So. Is Twitter any good?"

"It's turning out to be very good for me," I told my author friend. "But I take it you're talking about the potential for book marketing?"

She was.

"Probably not so good, then," I said.

I've been Twittering for the past ten days, and I'm liking it a lot. What's Twitter? It's been called "micro-blogging," because each Twitter post is limited to 140 characters, which is almost exactly the length of this sentence. If you want to see what one side of a Twitter conversation looks like, check out the right-hand side of this page (scroll down a little) for my up-to-the-minute Twitter feed.

If you want to know how to use Twitter, Google that, because I'm not going to go into it here. But I will tell you why to use Twitter.

Like author websites and blogs, nobody has studied the Twitter phenomenon and determined whether it actually boosts book sales. It's tempting to assume that it must, but unless someone tells you outright that they bought your book because of something you wrote on Twitter, how would you ever measure your Twittering success in those terms?

For me, Twittering isn't about business. It's a break in my day. Five minutes at a time, tops. No, I don't read every single message from the nearly 100 people I'm currently "following" on Twitter. Several times a day I scroll through my subscriptions looking for quips, for surprising and helpful information, for garden photographs, for links to good blog posts, and so on. I've had Twitter exchanges with people I've never met, but who interest me because they're deeply interested in and involved with the world around them.

On Twitter I have connected with a couple of old friends and made a few new ones. I have picked up some useful gardening tips, learned that garlic mashed potatoes can be improved by the addition of some chopped prosciutto, had a few laughs, and had my creativity jump-started by some witty and profound writing quotes collected by novelist James Scott Bell.

But is posting on Twitter going to sell any of my books? Maybe one or two, but that by itself would have been no reason to sign up. I can tell you that yesterday I "unfollowed" (stopped receiving updates from) a writer whose every message strongly hinted that I should buy his book. Twitter wasn't meant to be used as a marketing machine. Twitter is a fun thing, a social thing, and I believe the people who understand that are the people who will get the most out of it.

As a novelist I place a high value on anything that helps me relax, encourages me to learn new things, or boosts my creativity. And in the past ten days, Twitter has been doing all three.


Valerie Comer said...

I agree--I've unfollowed a couple of people for the same reason. I guess that means we're looking to connect a wee bit with the person behind the writer. I do think it can help sell books, though. I've become interested in some of the books I've seen mentioned. Not from the folks who say "Buy my wonderful book!" ten times a day, though.

Good to reconnect with you there! :)

Brenda Coulter said...

I was glad to see you, too, Valerie. Thanks for following me.

Faith said...

I've been reluctant to jump on the Twitter bandwagon simply because it seems so mundane (do I really need to know that 'so-and-so just ate a cheese sandwich'?)... but on the other hand, I've noticed a lot of authors have started using Twitter and their updates reflect how the writing process is going - ie. 'so-and-so is trying to get work done at the coffee shop. Loud talker making it hard to concentrate' - which is not only humorous, but it's fun to see that published writers AND those of us still working toward it struggle with the same things everyday.

So, I haven't jumped onto the TwitTrain (lol) yet... but I'm standing at the station, wondering if I should board...

Brenda Coulter said...

Faith, there's a lot of inanity on Twitter. But there are also a lot of people who post more interesting things than, "Good morning, everyone! I'm enjoying my coffee and Raisin Bran." ;-) You just have to look until you find them.

Terra said...

I have much the same view of Twitter as you do; it is fun, I give and get quick advice and answers, and even sell a few books.
Tweeters have told me that they bought my book from meeting me there.
For me it is mostly fun and social, and no way do I read every tweet of the 1900 people I follow.