Twarketing?

Lately, I’ve been getting a little frustrated with marketing books on Twitter, so forgive me if this turns into more of a rant than I intend at the outset. I use Twitter a lot and I welcome any and all who follow me and want to hear my thoughts on my life and writing. (As a side note, if you want to follow me, click that little button on the sidebar or find me under @NickPalmerWrite). Inevitably, I follow a lot of writers and publishers because it’s good to stay connected to others who share the insanity that comes with the territory.

Via The Guardian

It happens to us all.

What I find is that this means I get a lot of books marketed to me via Twitter. I don’t have a problem with that, I want to make that clear now so there’s no confusion. I don’t think there’s inherently anything wrong with marketing to prospective audiences via social media sites. What is bugging me at the moment is the way things are being marketed.

Most of the tweets I’m seeing follow a generic pattern; they give a quick snippet about the book or from the book which then runs into the book’s title (usually in capitals), and a link to where the book can be bought. What’s wrong with that? Well, nothing’s wrong with it as such, apart from that none of these tweets make me want to read the books, which is sort of the point of marketing.

I’m going to go ahead and assume that the majority of these books are good books. They might be awful, but I haven’t read them, so it would be disingenuous of me to say that they’re not good based purely off a tweet. But even if they aren’t the best works of literature, I’m sure that the plots are reasonably compelling and the character’s believable and so on. This isn’t a post about the wider accessibility of publishing or the quality of literature that such systems produce. So, if these books are good, why don’t I want to read them based off their Twitter marketing (Twarketing).

I think the main reason is that they’re just not appealling to me. The 140 character limit of Twitter doesn’t leave you a lot of room to explain what a book is about or to give a real insight into a character. Think about a book’s blurb – I happen to have a copy of Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction by Sue Townsend to hand; not the best book, but sold reasonably well, was enjoyable and is a popular series with a popular character by a popular writer. The blurb starts with 30 words from the novel (or so my word processor tells me). That boil down to 186 characters with spaces. That’s already longer than the Twitter limit, but we haven’t even got to what the book is about yet. The rest of the blurb (the bit that actually tells you what the book is about) is 79 words and 470 characters with spaces.

This is where the problem with Twitter arises. There’s just not enough room to give an adequately thorough explanation of a book, plus a link (however short) to the book’s page in just 140 characters. All I am getting on my Twitter feed is a lot of half-explained books that don’t stand out from the crowd.

There’s another problem with Twarketing. Often I’ll get a list of these books on my feed because a selection have been retweeted by kind and generous fellow authors, who are trying to do their bit to help people. I don’t want to criticise them too heavily for this. For those of us with small, independent presses, or those who are self-published, getting word out can be hard and it’s great that other authors are willing to lend a helping hand. Unfortunately, whilst I respect that, when I get 5 or more retweets of books one after the other none of them stand out from the crowd. The 140 characters doesn’t allow them to stand out and they’re nestled in with other books, so they can all blur into one. Some of them I’ll recognise verbatim from the last time they were retweeted.

What am I saying then – should we stop marketing books on Twitter? No. I’m convinced that Twitter is a valuable tool for authors who need to get the word out. Where I think the problem lies is in tweeting out the same snippet time and time again which doesn’t get people interested in the book because there’s not enough information to make that decision. What you’re looking to do is make people interested enough to click the link and small snippets don’t really do that in my experience, particularly when they’re used over and over again. What I think then is that we need to find a way to market books via Twitter without putting people off by not giving the books the attention they deserve. I don’t know how we go about doing that completely, but here are a few ideas:

1. Don’t use the same tag lines over and over. Vary between a few to show different sides to your novel.
2. If you’re retweeting for a fellow author, try to give one author attention at a time so that all of those tweets aren’t lost in a sea of similar ones.
3. Vary what you put up – book covers, snippets of the book, bits of the blurb, reviews from genuine customers, author interviews, book trailers, etc. Varied content attracts different people and some of these avenues may give you more space to plug a book.
4. Try keeping the links in your bio. The down side is it’s more work for your readers, the upside is it’s more space to show the work’s quality and USP.
5. Discuss books with book people, don’t just tweet links to your writing. Twitter is as much about interaction as it is about marketing.
What are your thoughts on Twarketing? What other ways can authors use Twitter for good marketing and public outreach? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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