One constant problem for authors trying to promote their books is to work out what is effective. You have only so much time in which to write, promote your work, and to live whatever passes as your normal life. This time has to be managed properly to get the most out of it.
So how does Twitter fit within your timetable?
I have no hard figures, but I’ve put together some observations which I can back with some numbers. Firstly Twitter is not some magic wand. Just having more people seeing tweets about your book doesn’t necessarily increase your chance of selling.
A couple of years back, purely by chance, one of my books managed to trigger some sort of ‘bot-alert’ and was picked up by five people who tweeted to their followers to buy it. Checking up on those five people they were all Americans, and if their photographs were anything to go by, they were people my late Mother might have described as ‘underwear models.’ Interspersed amongst their tweets about their lives, things they’d heard etc were tweets suggesting their followers might find a particular thing worth buying on Amazon. Anybody clicking on the link and buying would of course buy through an Amazon affiliate link.
Over a period of a couple of days my book was tweeted a couple of times to 250,000 people in the USA. In that week and the week that followed I sold one book in the USA. Sheer volume of followers is meaningless.
Over the last few years I’ve come across a number of businesses who claim to help you promote your book. This they do by tweeting about it to their many followers, claimed to be enthusiastic readers.
I’ve never used their services but I’ve monitored their effectiveness by watching the books they’re promoting on Twitter. Each book on Amazon that has any sales has an ‘Amazon Bestsellers Rank’. Crudely put, when somebody buys a copy the book goes up in Rank, (say from 300,000 to 200,000) and when nobody is buying copies the book slips slowly back down the ranking again. So I watched the Amazon Bestsellers Rank of books these companies were promoting, and used my own books as a control. Frankly their much vaunted Twitter promotion had no meaningful effect, the books being promoted slipped slowly down the rankings at the same speed as mine did when I wasn’t promoting.
Then look at your own Twitter page, examine your followers carefully. One thing Twitter does is suggest people who appear to be similar to you and who it suggests you might like to follow. Unfortunately for aspiring authors with books to promote, the people Twitter most commonly suggests appear to be aspiring authors with books to promote. Whilst writers do read, my experience is that writing eats into their reading time and they’re hardly the best market.
So how do you promote on Twitter?
I have talked to a number of people who have no interest in promoting books but who have vibrant Twitter pages and up to a thousand followers.
- The first thing they do is post almost constantly. During every waking hour they’ll send at least one tweet, something funny, witty, or at least something that is interesting. Effectively they almost live on the phone, checking it regularly. Given that I only ever access my Twitter account on this desktop machine, by the time I think to look at it, an endless stream of babble has scrolled past since the last time I looked at it. Fourteen tweets I’ve not looked at since I started this article.
- The second thing these people do is to ostentatiously not sell things. One commented that when she did send out a couple of tweets about a friend’s new book, she lost two hundred followers. We might have joined Twitter to sell, but very few people join Twitter to be sold to.
So how do we do it then?
Like all social media, you can only get out of it what you put into it. You have to create a community around you that you can talk to. But you’ve got to listen and respond to people who respond to your tweets.
- Do the simple things first. If you have a blog or a Facebook page you can set up the systems to that they automatically post to Twitter whenever you post anything on them. Hopefully this allows you to get interesting content out there and people are drawn to you. All without having to waste time doing something.
- Live on your phone. If something happens, somebody says something, tweet it. I wouldn’t recommend you sink to the level of tweeting photographs of your meals, unless there is something newsworthy about them, but if the barista cracked a joke as they served you coffee, tweet it. The aim is to get people following and enjoying your tweets. Then when you slip in one along the lines of, “Really chuffed, got a new review for my latest book” with an Amazon link, it’s a natural thing.
- Respond to your followers. Engage them in banter. If one of your followers says something witty, profound, or newsworthy, like it and retweet it. Don’t be afraid of promoting somebody else. It helps people realise you’re not some self-absorbed ego-manic, but a real person who is happy to help somebody else.
All this can be done without knowing anything about the mystery that is hashtags, taking part in wider discussions and getting involved in the trending debates. I openly confess to being in two minds about these. Yes posting a tweet in a discussion which ten or twenty thousand people are following might get you some more followers who fall under the enchantment of your wit. On the other hand it could get you involved in a flame-war or lose you some of your existing followers who never realised that you were a misguided idiot who held bizarre opinions on the EU referendum.
Finally, remember people follow you because it’s fun. They have fun reading your posts. Ideally you will have fun posting your posts. You’re trying to create an atmosphere where these people think of you as fun and interesting and might well feel that your books could also be fun and interesting. If you’re not enjoying doing it, frankly, don’t do it. Life is too short.