Tweeting Tips for Authors

I have had so many authors ask me this question: What in the world would I tweet about? And that’s from those who know what tweeting is, which isn’t everyone.

So I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk about tweeting and how it can help an author promote him or herself.

For those of you who’ve heard of Twitter (or tweets), but really don’t get what it is, here’s a definition from

A tweet is a post or status update on Twitter, a microblogging service. Because Twitter only allows messages of 140 characters or less, “tweet” is as much a play on the size of the message as it is on the audible similarity to Twitter.

These “tweets” of 140 characters are less are read on blogs, websites, and (most commonly) people’s cell phones. A website might have a Twitter feed (where certain tweets will automatically appear as soon as their posted). If someone signs up for a specific person’s tweets, they will get a feed with the most recent entry on their own cellphone. This is part of why each entry can only be 140 characters. It’s supposed to be quick and easy to read.

So now we move on to this: What would I tweet about? Why would someone want to read my tweets? Would doing this actually sell my book?

First, people actually do read tweets. According to a recent Publishers Weekly article, there are many publishers that now tweet regularly, and the number of people reading those tweets has skyrocketed in the last year. For example, AAKnopf had 1,581 followers in 2009 and a whopping 24,225 in 2010. So it’s a popular feature in publishing, and it’s only growing in popularity.

What people tweet about can vary, but Twitter is usually considered a peek into someone’s life. Here’s a quote from that same PW article:

@AAKnopf, the Twitter feed that saw the biggest increase in followers on our list, is run by two members of the imprint’s marketing department, Mary Buckley (assistant manager of advertising and promotions) and Pam Cortland (assistant marketing manager). The duo’s boss, Anne-Lise Spitzer, said she thinks the feed works because it’s not just about book promotion. Although Buckley and Cortland don’t go as far as sharing personal activities—no one following @AAKnopf would even know their names—the feed is meant to engage followers in a larger conversation about literature. ‘They really created a voice,’ Spitzer said, noting that the tweets combine a mixture of interesting news (often tied, directly and sometimes not-so-directly, to Knopf authors) and the occasional hard sell (a book giveaway or details about a reading or other event).

Based on this interesting piece of information, I would say that it’s probably a good idea to stay away from using Twitter for book promotion. No one is going to sign up for your feed if that’s what you’re doing. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it for author promotion. It’s a fine line, but one that’s very important to distinguish. People will use Twitter to follow you, because you’re an interesting person. Deciding to buy your book is a secondary thing. Unless someone is already a huge fan of your book, they’re not going to follow your Twitter feed if it’s mainly about the book.

Before you start tweeting, start by reading other people’s tweets. Sign up for feeds from other authors you like and see what they’re doing. Then, when you have a better idea of exactly how to use Twitter, sign up for your own account and start tweeting with your daily musings. Have your Twitter feed automatically update on your author website, and encourage people to sign up for it as well. It may not be your main source of book sales, but it sure can build a following.

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