I’m trying my best to sound literary in this post - the pseud’s headline, the confessional first line.
I was tweeted by an author this morning. The whole uplifting experience was enough to slap me in the face with the wet fish of Twitter’s usefulness to the author and publisher.
I thought suddenly, I should write this up for the blog! One of the great things about the blog is the opportunity it affords us to commit the bonne pensée to a medium slightly less fleeting than mere conversation.
The story is this: I was tweeted by an author and subsequently decided to buy her book. These things happened for a number of reasons.
I’ll detail the exchange and then discuss why this case study is symptomatic of Twitter’s use and usefulness.
I had been watching and reading Jonathan Meades for a year or so. I’d been waffling on about him to people who would listen. He was initially a bit of a secret but his 2013 documentary on Essex, a second wind for his book ‘Museum Without Walls’ this Christmas and some more TV work in the broad context of an architecture ‘season’ for the BBC has brought him almost into the literary mainstream.
Twitter, coincidentally has been instrumental in this late, or simply fortuitous, flowering of Meades’ popularity. Many of the Twitterati have tweeted about Meades – Suzanne Moore, Robin Ince etc.
I was talking with fellow Econsultancy blogger, Christopher Ratcliff, about Meades when Christopher mentioned Ian Nairn. I hadn’t heard of Nairn, until this morning I read one of Meades’ essays about him.
At that point I got on Twitter to let Christopher know…
@ChristopherRCLF just read a good piece on Ian Nairn by Meades. Will buy Nairn's London. Sounds like he met a bloated end.— Ben Davis (@herrhuld) February 24, 2014
This is where Gillian Darley, co-author of ‘Words in Place’ got involved to mention her book.
Notice she alerted me to the potential price of buying a copy of the book I had mentioned, which it turns out is out of print and only available for hundreds of English pounds.
I replied to show my disbelief.
I also sent a silly tweet about another author called Nairn.
Then I let Gillian know I was interested in the book (I’ve since ordered it)
The reasons Twitter is useful to authors and publishers
What makes Twitter work is exactly what makes water coolers such a meeting point and more pertinently what makes book clubs so attractive to the page flicker and the bibliophile.
Niche social networks are dealt a blow by Twitter because if all an audience wants to do is communicate without, for example, some dashboard to show what books they have read, Twitter is the communication tool non-pareil.
Publishers and authors can easily set up a Tweetdeck or Hootsuite search column for ‘Ian Nairn’, for example, and then reply to everyone that mentions Ian Nairn and might appreciate a little further information. Niche audiences are already agglomerated and accessible on Twitter.
The network is semi-private. This is amenable to almost all conversationalists and publicists. The air of exclusivity is maintained as is the spirit of sharing.
Semi-privacy means semi-publicity. Twitter users tend to want to share as a way of looking knowledgeable in front of a large audience. This means the flattery of an unprompted tweet about a new publication will certainly be noticed by Twitter users desperate to grow their network online.
I’ve already mentioned the Twitterati. If as a publisher or author you know you have one of these fêted and trolled individuals in your network, getting them to join in the conversation is bound to affect the reach of a book. As you can see below, a new documentary on Nairn is bound to bring with it some noise.
We all know in the tech industry that many startups have been dealt a good hand when Stephen Fry tweets in appreciation. The same thing applies in publishing – finding a patron is a lot easier on Twitter than in the real world of emailing or indeed printing and posting.
Don't forget to watch the doc on the marvellous architecture critic Ian Nairn tonight, BBC4, 10pm http://t.co/I0zC4auyon— Tom Dyckhoff (@tomdyckhoff) February 20, 2014
The approachableness of users
The reason Gillian felt free to reply to what was an @conversation (i.e. not a broadcast tweet implicitly suitably for everyone but a note sent semi-publicly to a friend) is Twitter’s suitability as a medium for approaching the stranger.
Unlike Facebook, exchanges can be fleeting. A Twitter user does not think of the network as an extension of a real life coterie of friends in the same way Facebook users do. A little flirting and howdying here and there is very much part of the experience.
Fewer commercial undercurrents
When brands interact with users on Facebook, adverts and products are the elephant in the room. Twitters relatively small commercial revenue compared to Facebook makes it a great place for brands to talk to potential customers without making them feel like just that, a potential customer.
In fact, I’d go as far as to say many Twitter users actually get a feeling of kudos when a big account such as a brand interacts with them. The semi public nature of the network means the user doesn’t think the brand is on their turf.
Publishers and authors can recommend their products if (and that’s an important if) they feel the user is interested in the topic. Simply tweeting lots of users with your book’s Amazon URL isn’t going to look good.
Twitter is for spreading ideas
Twitter’s very purpose is for the spreading of ideas. That’s a different idea to Facebook (your social life online, whatever the network wants to think) and a different idea to Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr etc, which even if occasionally as fecund are arguably not as diverse in audiences and content.
Books are essentially for spreading ideas, too. Twitter and books are perfectly matched. Spreading books on Twitter doesn’t have to mean the spirit of the book has to slip away within a moment of marketing. This isn’t about sales, though ultimately it will increase them.
Yep, Twitter has come a long way. Even the inexpert user that isn’t prepared to pay any money can effectively and easily search Twitter users mentioning a particular subject. The search used to be iffy and not full on mobile. Those days are gone (apart from on my iPad).
This searching can be done by simply checking a search every now and again, setting up a column in a Twitter client or by being all fancy pants and setting up IFTTT to alert you whenever somebody tweets mentioning a keyword.
The author may have the seed of an idea for a book. What better way to assay demand or to look for further public sources than by searching the hive mind.
Journalism’s reliance on Twitter
Not everyone is on Twitter. If your target audience as an author is greying, perhaps you think Twitter isn’t the ideal medium. But journalists rely more and more on Twitter for quick media digestion, so your messages can still hit these journalists and end up in print. Just like that book you’re writing.