29 May 2013

BEA 2013: Twitter For Readers Of Works Longer Than 140 Characters

For the next few days I'll be live from BookExpo America, a major U.S. trade show for the publishing industry. Hope you enjoy my notes and impertinent questions of respected authors.
This morning I attended a talk by Twitter’s Andrew Fitzgerald called “Your Next Readers Are On Twitter,” about the use of microblogging for authors and publishers. Fitzgerald began his talk with Twitter data for October 13, 2012, during the first presidential debate, when Twitter was used to “give Big Bird a voice” after Mitt Romney said he would vote to defund PBS. Then he provided several examples of authors who have been able to circumvent the traditional press cycle and stay relevant and visible using Twitter:

• During the series finale of “Gossip Girl” which drove the show to its highest number of mentions throughout the year, fans discussed the show live – and author Cecily von Ziegesar (@cesvonz) who wrote the original “Gossip Girl” series contributed as well.

• In March of 2012, Teju Cole (@tejucole) expressed his opinions on the #StopKony movement in 7 tweets that were later expanded to an Atlantic Monthly essay.

• Debut novelist Elliott Holt (@elliottholt) participated in a Twitter Fiction festival in December 2012, five months before her first book YOU ARE ONE OF THEM came out, and Slate called her story “Twitter fiction done right.”

I enjoyed Fitzgerald’s talk but found it pretty shallow, more of a sales pitch than a strong discussion. (Of course his employer has to be taken into consideration, but even then I thought he should have taken more latitude to discuss best practices for promoting your work online. (Of hashtags, he said “short is important” as well as easier to understand. Okay…) Better that authors learn these before they start using Twitter, but how will they learn? Fitzgerald suggests that publishers train authors to do it, but that doesn’t seem likely given how overloaded marketing and publicity departments are. He recommended Twitter’s landing page for authors, but that’s not enough.

Here’s my personal list of “worst practices” from authors I have seen on Twitter:

• Don’t just comment about your work and your book. Ask questions, share mundane details from your life, recommend articles or other books. An example of someone who does this well is Susan Orlean (@susanorlean) who often talks about her chickens and the differences between New York and L.A. as well as her New Yorker articles and book projects.

• Don’t follow people and then unfollow them right away to pump up your follower accounts. I can tell when people do this and it makes me feel like you’re not really following me for me, you just want to make yourself look more prominent.

• Don’t make your handle based on the book or project you’re working on now. Minor sin, but think of it as your permanent home on Twitter, like you would with a website, not @mydebutnovelforever. See how the authors quoted above use their names, or derivatives from those (props to Cecily).

• Don’t tweet 20 times a day. Less is more!

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