Journalists vs. Writers on Twitter

Journalists and writers are similar, right? After all, journalism is a specialised form of writing. Well, if you go by Twitter, I’d say they’re different, quite different. Though there are exceptions, generally speaking journalists on Twitter get it, book writers do not.


Journalists get that it’s a great way to talk to their readers, to talk to each other, to talk about the stories they’re covering, to opine, to show up the ridiculous, and to let people know when columns/articles/blogs are up.


Writers, book or freelance, seem to be divided into two groups – traditionally published who sort of get it and indies who think it’s solely a platform to sell books or help fellow writers learn how to write and market.

Writer Tweets2-6Aug20911


Writer Tweets1-6Aug20911

Either way, journalists are way more interesting to follow than book writers. There are exceptions in both camps, as you can see illustrated in the writers’ tweets above, and my experience is limited by the relatively small number of hundreds of people I follow (I have no idea how people can follow thousands – I’d be permanently glued to my Twitter feed if I did that just to keep up, but then perhaps they don’t want to keep up, they just collect us like others collect coins, oh look, more shiny people to collect and follow but hardly ever read). Still, as a book writer and non-journalist, I stand by my opinion.

So what does that mean for my own book tweets? I tweet on a lot of stuff – from politics to news to brain injury to the TTC to writing – but my book tweets are boring. They’re the usual run-of-the-mill kind: here’s my book, please check it out, here’s what someone said about it, please look at it, here’s where you can buy it, please review it, please, please, pretty please with a sugar plum on top buy it so I can get a measly royalty cheque cause I’m not Margaret Atwood and need to beg, and I really, really, really hope you will buy it. I was never very happy with that, but after the difference between journos and writers became apparent to me, I became quite dissatisfied and started thinking about how to copy journos with regards to my book tweets.

I could tweet about my stories as if they were news stories… The only problem with that when it comes to my novel is that tweeting about a fictional story as if it was real may be a tad confusing, and so I’d have to indicate this is fiction and do all that within 140 characters minus the number of characters the link to the book consume. Yikes! I could opine on my characters, but once I publish my work I do not like to comment on the plot or the characters because I like to see what readers come up with, and the variety to me is fascinating. If I opine, then I will skew that. Still, that would be alright with my non-fiction works. I tweet about my writing when I actually sit down and write; those I don’t think are too bad. I just need to be more disciplined about getting them out of my head and onto the internet.

As you can see, tweeting (and writing Facebook statuses) about fictional works is challenging. I think what I might try is to use a journalist’s tweet that captures my attention as a template for one of my tweets on She until I get the hang of it.

“I let America borrow my rake and pruning shears and they defaulted.” (Paul Wells, one of my favourite columnists, from second illustration above)

I let evil take over my imagination, borrow my concentration, and it got me to write SHE. Hmmm… Or I let evil take over my imagination, borrow my concentration, but good got me to write SHE. Well, it’s a start. May use that one anyway.

“In theory, I *guess* he could grant permission to use it in parody, but -- no, I don't see that happening. The Commons would go crackers.” (kady, a fantastic live tweeter of all things House of Commons)

In theory, Akaesman could enter our space-time from a distant galaxy, but that wld send conspiracy theorists crackers. Lordy. Too long! Or In theory, Akaesman could appear on earth, but that wld send conspiracy theorists crackers. S’OK. But this is fiction, so I suppose I should tweet: In theory, my fictional Akaesman cld appear on earth but that wld send conspiracy theorists crackers.

The other challenge in coming up with more creative “buy my books, please, please, oh god, please buy my books” tweets is being able to do that every, single, friggin’ day. Unlike Amazon, Smashwords allows me to see when and how many people view my book page, as well as download samples and the ebooks. The days I don’t tweet on my books, no one comes on over. Not one single, solitary person. But tweeting every day about the same thing gets tedious for both me and my followers. I must change it up, and I suppose I can look at it as another way to practice the art of expressing imagination, but not so wordily.


Anonymous said…
I think your division into "traditionally published"/established authors and "indie"/self-published/new authors is spot on.

I go on Twitter for the human interaction. When I follow an author, it's because I'm interested in learning about the author's life, to the extent that the author is willing to share. I enjoy the fact that I can learn what John Scalzi thinks about Wil Wheaton's latest evil plan, that I can help Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer come up with song lyrics, that I can watch Margaret Atwood bitch-slap anti-librarian politicians.

What distresses me about authors who constantly tweet about their books is that it seems like a very inefficient way to advertise. If I'm following an author, chances are I already know about his or her books. So tweets that do nothing but promote one's book add nothing to the interaction between me and the author.

And this applies to anyone marketing on Twitter, whether one is a writer, a musician, an actor—it doesn't matter. Twitter marketing works best when it's indirect. Be interesting, get followers who are interested in you as a person, and that's how you sell books. Twitter feeds full of blatant self-promotion are just noise.

Shireen, fortunately you tweet about things other than your book, and they are interesting tweets, which is why I continue to follow you. ;) I have to agree with you when you say that your "book tweets are boring." I just tune them out. And I don't think modelling such tweets after what journalists do will be fruitful, because you might be copying a style, but you're still advertising, whereas journalists are having conversations. None of the journalists you've pictured or quoted are trying to sell me something. And the truth is: each time you tweet something advertising your books, it's a tweet that wasn't something more insightful, more thoughtful, more Shireen; it's a missed opportunity to add to that tweeter-follower interaction.

I realize you might be reluctant to discontinue such tweets altogether, because as you remark, not tweeting seems even less effective. I don't know what you do outside of Twitter to promote your books, and I admit I am not very savvy when it comes to marketing in general. :) So I don't have any good suggestions for marketing methods that can augment or replace your current strategy. But that's what I think about promotional tweets.
Ben, thank you for your thoughtful comments! Marketing books is a big problem. Way, way back, publishers did it all. They got author tours arranged, sent galleys or ARCs to the big reviewers, arranged for bookstores to showcase their books. Now they do it only for the Atwoods of the world, which puts authors in the peculiar position of selling their own stuff -- it works better when you're selling somebody else's stuff not your own.

Unless you're a hustler (which clearly I'm not) or have some sort of name recognition in a field (again, not me) or have a relationship with a bookstore or two as a reader (not me, and that's another post) and go at it for years like the Chicken Soup guys, bookstores are so not interested in hosting book signings of indie authors.

Self-publishing paperbacks or hardcovers is such a fast process, that there are no galleys or ARCs to send to reviewers. Thankfully, the big reviewers now have programs for indies, but take about four months and they cost a lot. While I had just an ebook, I didn't have that option anyway.

Individual readers reviewing my books on Amazon, Goodreads, Smashwords, and other online bookstores is ├╝ber-good because (assuming reviews are good) they can affect my rankings and persuade people to buy em. But though most readers say they will they don't review them online. I am sending it out to small ebook reviewers, but again can take weeks and/or they may choose not to review it. Blog tours are another option. They cost, but I understand do work. And the Kindle and CreateSpace boards, which I've joined, are supposed to be good venues. Stamina in all of this is my main limiter, which is a pain. I need a secretary! :)

And the law of advertising is someone doesn't remember it till have seen it seven times; oftentimes people may think on it, forget, and are reminded or decide to try only after reading about my books (or anything) for the umpteenth time. And I get new followers all the time who don't know about them.

The funny thing is my new-style tweet, which went on Facebook too, got me a "going to get it" response. Coincidence or the content resonated for the first time?
I forgot to add that the advantage big, traditionally published authors have over ones like me is that people already know their work and who they are as authors and will be looking out for new works, which will be publicized in the mainstream press -- in newspapers, on radio, on TV -- so those authors don't have to talk about their newest books, just need to make their presence known. People know what they're going to get when they buy an Atwood book or Laura Lippman book. Not so with new or smaller authors like me -- until I build up a body of work.

I also wonder how much easier it would be for me if I wrote in the same genre. Every one of my books and book ideas is quite different from the others.
Anonymous said…
(It is a travesty that Blogger doesn't allow the blockquote tag. Grr.)

Write what you want to write. If you attempt to constrain your writing as a way to keep an audience, you are doing both them and yourself an injustice. If you love to write, write what you love.

Your observation regarding the obstacles to notoriety faced by newer, and especially self-published, authors are all true, but presumably the people who are following you on Twitter already know who you are, to some extent. I don't think the game changes based on how well-known someone is. And there are plenty of traditionally-published authors who are "small" or otherwise unknown (there's just a confirmation bias happening, because since they are difficult to know, we see them less). We seem to be at the precipice of a paradigm shift in publishing, and so, as you have observed, marketing has become something quite different from what it was ten or twenty years ago. It's good that you are trying new strategies, and maybe your new, more creative book tweets will indeed work. I'm not an expert; I'm just sharing my likes (and dislikes).

I have come up with one suggestion: I like when you link to blog posts, whether on this blog or your other site. (Also, your main site is very well designed, if I can say that as a long-time amateur designer/developer.) All the time you spend crafting trite little book tweets is time that could have been spent—and spent better, in my opinion—crafting blog posts, writing short stories (if you do that sort of thing), creating all sorts of real, valuable content that you can put on your site and link to from Twitter. Use Twitter to drive people to your site by linking to content that demonstrates to them why you are such a great writer.
Yup! But we make do. :)

I would hope so, but probably some know me way better than others, depending on how many people they follow and how often they are on Twitter. But I think the game does change on how well known someone is. They don't have to try and attract followers for one thing. And with regards to book authors, I just read that Indigo will only stock well-known authors in their bookstores as they clear shelves to make room for non-book items. They don't have to use Twitter to point people in the direction of where to find their books, for they're everywhere. Online, of course, it's a different matter, although I don't think I'll be able to get my novel "She" onto their virtual shelves. I'll find out in 6 weeks if I'm wrong.

In any case, I've had great difficulty in getting my ebooks onto kobo, which I wouldn't have had if I was traditionally published or well known. I'm hoping the latest versions of Smashwords ebooks will get mine into kobo. I see "Lifeliner" is supposed to be on the way there. Crossing fingers they stock it this time (they didn't last year)!

You're right, the publishing world is shifting. And I appreciate very much you sharing your thoughts and likes!

Thank you so much for your compliment on my website! It's good to hear that I got on the right track with the design.

I have been trying to write on my blogs more regularly. I figure Monday to Wednesday is doable; other days are gravy. And Goodreads' reviews are bonuses (they get posted to my website Blogs are more difficult, for me, than tweets for sure, especially when I decide to do one of my big ones and have to do it on the computer for the research links. I much prefer writing them on my iPad -- easier and more likely to get done. :) Unfortunately, my brain injury put paid to my short story writing. However, I'm planning on packaging all my pre-Y2K short stories into an ebook this year. Your suggestion is very encouraging to me to keep going on this track. Thanks!