Friday, January 13, 2012

How to Market Your Book on Twitter

Of the 280ish people I follow on Twitter, approximately 95.89% have a book to sell. So far, three of them have sold to me. Here's how they did it, and how you can too:

The Life of the Party
Twitter is an Internet cocktail party (or fraternity party, depending), and everyone's invited. You meet and greet and see if you have anything in common. You converse. You crack jokes. You tell very short stories. Would you go to a party and just start talking up your book to anyone you could corner? (Don't answer that. Make a mental note of what the "correct" answer most likely is and vow to do better next time.)

(Disclosure: The idea of me, moi, Sarah McCanless, giving advice on working any kind of a party, even a virtual one, is beyond ludicrous. Proceed at your own risk here.)

Twitter's no different. Tweet something interesting, personal, informative, or useful. Something someone else may actually want to read. Something you didn't tweet 10 minutes ago. Something that could spark a conversation, make me laugh,  make me want to know more about you, or make me want to share something in return.

Stephen Blackmoore (@sblackmoore) is not only consistently friendly and funny, but he’s also semi-local. I learned through Twitter that we have both had tree roots destroy our sewer lines, and we talked about the rapid changes in South Bay real estate and demographics over the last twenty years. It was good cocktail party conversation... and suddenly I found myself buying his book, City of the Lost, the day it was released. Zombie pulp noir is not my usual reading genre, and yet this book has made me laugh out loud more times than I can count. It ROCKS.

Be Nice
I may not know parties, but I like to think I know nice. Still, I’ve stumbled on this fundamental rule when I forgot that tongue-in-cheek doesn't always come across when your communication consists of an avatar and 140 characters. I was quick to apologize, the offended party remained offended, and I may or may not have sobbed like a crazy woman because it was a hormonally vulnerable time and it turns out I’m rejection-sensitive even with total strangers online. (My husband has been instructed to neither confirm nor deny.)

After my (alleged) meltdown, I tweeted something about feeling guilty for screwing up my manners. Ryan Smith (@spinningcook), a follower I didn’t even know I had, sent a nice reply that put a smile on my face. We had a pleasant exchange, I followed him back, and he made it onto my radar.
I always remember kind words. If he comes out with a book someday, I'll buy it simply because he struck me as a nice guy. Although it's a definite bonus that his blog on cooking and kids is full of helpful tips.

Be Nicer than You Have to Be
I no longer seek out literary agents on Twitter. I realized that we are not friends, we are not going to be friends, and I'm not interested in the game of trying to be noticed without being obnoxious, especially when I don't have a book on submission. Deidre Knight (@DeidreKnight), however, is the nicest agent I’ve come across on Twitter so far. She's the only agent I've ever tweeted who actually replied, and who seems willing to engage in fun conversation with the commoners. (I’m sure there are more like her and I just haven’t found them.) When I discovered she was also a romance writer, I knew I wanted to read her books, and now Butterfly Tattoo is loaded on my Kindle and just waiting for me to find some time. I don’t even know if Ms. Knight represents my genre, but I do know that agents have a bazillion followers and she's nicer than she needs to be.

Reply vs. Retweet
Retweeting strokes my all-too-human ego, and so I do appreciate it. Replying, though, is more. It's conversation. You reply, I reply, and pretty soon we're talking. If I’m not following you, I’ll start. You’ll be on my radar. If we talk about cat barf, I will think of you next time my cat barfs. You've infiltrated my subconscious. Then, when you have a book out, I’ll think, that’s the cool tweep who chatted with me about barfy cats. Maybe I'll look into that book.

(And tweet links in moderation.)

Author D.M. Kenyon wrote a blog post about women learning to fight that resonated with me, and I told him so in the comments. His thoughtful reply explained how the post tied to his YA novel, and with that I was sold. (Sadly, those comments were lost when he had to change blogging platforms.)  I’m reading The Lotus Blossom now and I'm blown away by the authenticity of his voice and the way he sneaks in brilliant bits of Zen philosophy through a teenage narrator. I didn't buy it because he advertised it. I bought it because he had something interesting to say.

And what about my blog? I don’t keep score, and I don’t want to spam the world any more than I want to be spammed... however, if someone actually takes the time to read one of my posts and let me know what he or she thought, I get warm fuzzies all over. Warm fuzzies have been known to inspire book purchases in the past.

Does all of this sounds like a lot of work? Like you have to actually build relationships with individuals, one by one? How on earth will you become a best-seller this way?

You won't.
 I  have more books than I have time to read. I don't use Twitter to buy books; I go to meet people, have interesting conversations, and experience a virtual cocktail party without having to wear heels. I go to pretend it's a good hair day and make small talk I don't get in person because all the moms at school are glued to their iphones, checking Facebook.

So if all this seems like way too much work on Twitter for a possible handful of sales, then I say congratulations, young Jedi. You are now ready for the lessons I’m not qualified to teach. For those I send you to the Red Pen of Doom (@speechwriterguy) and his brilliant post: The Twitter, it is NOT for selling books.

Go read that now. There will be a quiz. Answer the questions correctly and you just might sell me a book someday.


  1. I agree 1000%! And Ms Knight IS the sweetest agent on the planet. I'm sure of it :)

  2. I haven't gotten into the twitter thing. It sounds fun, but time consuming. :)

    Sounds like the key is to have fun, be yourself, and don't try too hard.

    Great Post.

  3. Hey! Thanks. I'm glad you enjoyed the book.

    And did you ever get that plumbing thing handled? I never could find out who we used. Sorry about that.

  4. I think that being nice is extremely crucial anywhere on the internet. Nothing like seeing one evening's cranky mood permanently emblazoned on a blog or social media site.

    I'd come to any party you hosted. :)

  5. Sarah,it is ironic that you personally introduced me to this post after I had publicly wrestled with the need to "hawk" my book in a couple of tweets. I am very glad to have made your acquaintance via Twitter and blog because it has opened the door to thoughtful conversation, this latest one being quite important to me.

    A writer friend of mine, Ann Charles,recently finished The Lotus Blossom and loved it. Not to sound immodest, but that is the normal reaction of most readers. But despite that, the book is going less than nowhere on Amazon and was starting to frustrate me a bit. As a professional business developer in the green-tech industry, lack of sales movement is my worst nightmare. You have reminded me, however that The Lotus Blossom project is not born of that world, but of my altruism and desire to contribute to others for their benefit and not mine.

    I am not a professional author in that this is not what I do to support my family. When I examined my frustration after reading this post, I realized that it is based more on my desire for people to hear the message of the book rather than make money.(Most of my "sales" on Smashwords have occurred with use of a free coupon.) That is also why I blog. It is my form of social engagement.

    What I have learned from this experience, with the help of your friendly reminder, is that we can live in a world of real and thoughtful communications, be it over Twitter or a letters on paper, or we can convert ourselves into little corporate enclaves of avarice and replicate the evil of mass media advertising in our own speaking that has already invaded every corner of human living space and consciousness.

    I just can't do it. I just can't perpetuate this viral invasion of "buy, buy, buy" messaging that has turned us into cows being milked. In the process we lose our connection to each other as the bandwidths of our minds become completely filled with garbage.

    So, if only my mom, you and a few others read The Lotus Blossom, I will consider it a success especially if you like it and have gotten something out of it. That was the whole idea of taking time out of my life for this project in the first place. I was trying to change the world and if a single mind is better off because someone has read this book, then I am satisfied that it has done some good.

    The best thing that a friend can do for you is remind you who you are and what you stand for. So, thanks friend. Thank you for your thoughtfulness. I have really enjoyed our exchanges and hope that they will continue for a long time to come.

    Warmest regards,

    D. M. Kenyon

  6. What great points! I never use twitter as much as I should or in the way that I should, so these are great tips for even general use. Thanks! :)


Got an opinion? Use it! Remember... be silly, be honest, and be nice/proofread.