« Editorial, Resources

Should I Tweet?

• This piece is adapted from Betsy Lerner’s new book The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice for Writers (Revised and Updated for the 21st Century).

By Betsy Lerner

Betsy Lerner

When I was a young editor at Houghton Mifflin in the mid-Eighties, I was assigned to work on a paperback series of successful books called Guerrilla Marketing. The books were an odd fit for the white shoe firm, but they sold a lot of copies mostly thanks to the tireless promoter behind them: Jay Conrad Levinson. When he was scheduled to speak at BEA one year, the sales director pulled me aside and said, you gotta see this. The room filled to buzzy capacity. When Levinson got behind the podium and started gunning down marketing ideas like a sub-machine gun, the assembled settled down, whipped out their pens, and started taking notes like a bunch of high school kids before finals. People were hungry for Levinson’s brand of boot camp inspiration and so long as we kept printing his camouflage-bordered books, they sold.

Levinson asked the audience how many owned stores. Lots of hands went up (this was still the golden age of independent bookselling). Let me ask you something, he said. What would happen if you filled your shop with wonderful books, hired the best buyers and the smartest sales people, developed a gorgeous logo, and put a sign in the window that said, Open? What would happen? He stared at the sea of faces. Nothing, he said, hitting the lectern with the heel of his hand, nothing would happen. Why would you go to all that trouble and just wait for something to happen? By then, I was working at my third publishing job at a third publishing house, and I felt that Levinson had just described the marketing plan for most books. All that work: writing, editing, titling, jacketing, trawling for blurbs, reselling the book to your own publishing team, printing, and distributing just so your book would sit on a table, if it were so lucky as to get on a table.

I also learned about the oxymoron known as a marketing budget. Often, at least for the kinds of literary memoir I generally worked on, it all came down to publicity, which seemed the equivalent of going to Vegas and throwing the dice. You could a get a young publicist filled with enthusiasm and a Rolodex thinner than Anna Wintour. Or a war horse devoted to the big authors, her Rolodex bulging, with absolutely no interest in your newbie author. Your galleys could go out with a bang or a whimper. And in no time, prior to publication, you would be able to tell if the book had any traction, or if it would “come into the world with the fanfare of a stillborn,” as James Purdy wrote in some of the darkest words about publishing I’ve read.

Over the years, we have all heard authors of all stripes bitterly complain about their publishing experience, even those who have fared well. Are these complaints warranted? Of course, many authors are underserved with justified frustrations, just as publishers most dedicated efforts sometimes fail in the marketplace. But it strikes me that the real problem comes from the fact that no one adequately prepares an author for what to expect. Often, they are kept completely in the dark about print runs, marketing plans, co-op, etc. Authors who don’t come with a major platform need to be enlightened about what the publisher will reasonably do to support their books and then, if they are so inclined, pick up the slack. Too often, this huge disconnect leaves both sides disappointed. If you want your book to be a success, you have to do more than put an “open” sign in the window. Writing is easy compared to finding an audience. Where does the fantasy come from that getting published will be like getting a blow job in the back of a limousine whilst jetting off to Chicago for your Oprah taping?

People who have long given up on Santa, on lower taxes, on the likelihood of Lindsay Lohan’s rehabilitation, still believe that Oprah would like their book. Is this the Quixotic self-belief that compels a person to write in the first place? Or that leads him to be believe that his book should be a bestseller, and that everyone on the planet would like it, no matter that it’s about copper buttons in 18th Century France.

The one complaint that consistently bothers me the most is when an author angrily takes credit for getting a blurb, an NPR booking, a reading, a review. Within the complaint is a condemnation of what the publisher didn’t do, “I got that reading,” “I got that interview,” “I knew so-and-so at NPR, the publisher didn’t help at all.” When an author tells me this, I always annoy him by saying good for you. You got the booking. Your contacts are invaluable. Your ability to makes these things happen is not a shortcoming of the publisher but what you bring to the table as an author.

The writer who can marshal her forces and promote her book wherever and to whoever might actually get the word out is a secret weapon. No one did this more successfully than Walt Whitman who took a letter he received from Emerson which praised him to the moon and blasted it all over town. “I am not blind to the wonderful gift of Leaves of Grass . . . I greet you at the beginning of a great career.” In no short order, the letter mysteriously found its way into the New York Tribune without Emerson’s permission, and, according to biographer Justin Kaplan, Whitman “fell on it like a hawk,” sending copies to other celebrated writers, had it printed in Life Illustrated, circulated it to editors and critics in the form of a broadsheet, and to top it all off gold stamped the “blurb” on the spine of the second edition of the book. Can you imagine what he might have done with a Facebook page, a Twitter account?

At writers’ workshops, I generally spend a couple of hours talking my heart out about all the things a writer can do to improve his chances of getting published and then helping his books sell in the market place. And invariably, when it’s time for the q&a, a hand goes up and someone innocently asks if she should tweet. If publishing a book is like bringing a bucket of water to the ocean, as a despondent writer once lamented, then tweeting is the foam upon the waves. That said, marketing your book in the golden age of technology affords amazing opportunities never before available to authors. Whether you should tweet is a little beside the point. The task at hand is to decipher what is most powerful in your work and connect it to every person, institution or media outlet who will listen. It’s not the form, it’s the content. What do you have? Why does it matter?

One of the best examples of a writer connecting with his audience is Chuck Palahniuk through his website aptly titled The Cult. I don’t know what Palahniuk’s site looked like when he started, but clearly over time it’s become an incredible resource for writers with forums, workshops, blogs and a store. Another great site that beautifully showcases a writer’s body of work and creates its own community is Alison Bechdel’s Dykestowatchoutfor.com. One can feel on both sites the presence of a large and loyal following that clearly pushed the authors’ book onto the bestseller list. When writers blithely say they’re going to blog when their book comes out, or throw up a site, what they don’t realize is that while everything on the internet seems to happen instantly, finding an audience still takes a lot of time, and is an ongoing effort that requires research, planning and diligence. But the results can be dazzling. Author loyalty: priceless.

Lately, when selling books, I’ve had editors ask, does the writer tweet, blog, or have a Facebook presence. It isn’t about jumping on every available piece of internetworking. Nor do you have to put on some pasties and swing yourself around a pole. It’s about finding the nerve your book strikes and going after it. You are probably not going to have the best site, most Twitter followers, and have the most Facebook friends. Not to mention whatever new social networking permutation pops up next. One of my clients has 60,000 Twitter followers. He tweets 2-3 times a day with targeted messages about this field. They also happen to be brilliant and his following grows daily. Better to be the Jack of all Tweets than Master of none. Maybe the best way to market your book is to send a hand written letter to every pastor in the country, or create a hoax, or stage a spectacle in Herald Square. Or maybe it’s just to write a book that will take everyone’s breath away.

In 1998, a beautifully designed new literary journal appeared on the scene. It was extremely hip, showcased some great young writers, and would likely last a year if that –- such is the fate of most literary magazines. The magazine more than lasted; and the editor at its center, Dave Eggers, has gone on to create his own publishing empire in the ten-plus years since he started McSweeney’s Quarterly. The magazine now produced as a hardcover book with superb production values and exquisite design – each edition a collector’s item – is nationally distributed. Eggers has also published or co-published more than fifteen books, publishes the monthly The Believer, and Wholpin, a quarterly DVD that features short films and animation. His blog was awarded a Webby, and of course he is the author of the bestsellers, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and Zeitoun, the latter published by his own outfit. I could go on (his co-written screenplay with his wife for a Sam Mendez directed film, his national volunteer organization for tutoring kids), but I’ll stop here except for mentioning his pirate store in San Francisco and Superhero store in Brooklyn.

Should I tweet?

PT Barnum (with Tom Thumb)

I think of Eggers as a literary PT Barnum, impresario extraordinaire: writer, book maker, publisher, entrepreneur, activist, film maker. I’m not saying that everyone can or should be creating a personal literary dynasty, but it’s essential for authors to be thinking about how to market themselves. Always has been. Sometimes they cry, “but I’m no good at marketing,” or “Isn’t that the publisher’s job?” I think publishers should help authors think about what they can do early on in the process, whether it’s creating a blog, developing mailing lists, or getting speaking engagements lined up. If you’re lucky enough to be signed up without a platform, start working on one! Marketing and selling books is not for the faint of heart. Whitman knew that. Palahniuk knows it. Jay Conrad Levinson preaches it.

But no one knew it better than P.T. Barnum, “Without promotion something terrible happens,” he said. “Nothing!”

DISCUSS: Share Your Best Social Networking Story or Tip and Win Betsy’s Book!

Betsy Lerner Betsy Lerner is a literary agent with Dunow, Carlson & Lerner Literary Agency in New York. She is the author of the memoir Food and Loathing, and the newly revised and updated Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers. She also has a popular blog www.betsylerner.com on the miseries of writing and publishing..

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  1. Chris
    Posted November 12, 2010 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    This is great. Thanks PP & Betsy.

  2. Posted November 12, 2010 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    Wonderful post, Betsy–thought-provoking content and delicious writing.

  3. Posted November 12, 2010 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    I remember those Houghton Mifflin days and that series, Betsy! And though I’ve not been an agent, I’ve played many sides of the street (yeah, I know that doesn’t make sense), as have you. I’ve worked at publishing houses, I’ve been a partner at a publishing ad agency, I’ve written more than 20 books, and now, I’m even a bookseller. (This makes it a little easier to move my own titles — but I’m only one woman, in one store!)

    Everything you say is true. Wishing does not make it so,as far as marketing is concerned. The more you do, the more you know, the luckier you are to have worked “several sides of the street” — well, I’m far from famous, but it helps.

    Oh, and in the meantime, readers? Please go to http://www.onegooddeedbook.com and see what I’m up to: doing ONE GOOD DEED every day for a year, and chronicling it. Abrams will publish in in 2012.

    There, see that? I’m marketing!

    Thanks for this great piece, Betsy!

  4. Posted November 12, 2010 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    I’ve been in advertising since the 80’s – I find it amazing that so many other industries are finally realising that no matter what business they are in, they are in marketing. As a famous ad-man once said “Nothing happens until somebody sells something.”

  5. Posted November 12, 2010 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    As a publisher of 2500+ authors, we’ve seen this and have developed three interesting business processes to deal with it. Not only do we need to help the individual authors, we have some interesting business plays with regards to getting all the authors to work together for their common good. So, Betsy, let me take your thinking up one level to leveraging this new thing, “marketing and new media” across a network of 2500 authors. As one example, imagine if 1000 of my authors befriend each other and then get 1000 of their friends to do the same.. (that’s 100 million connections) I can’t even fathom what that will mean. But, to get there, we have to address the people side of the equation.

    1. What many/most of us forget is that for anyone over 50 (most authors), the technical side is an incredible challenge. We now offer Facebook training, Twitter Training, and technical coaching and hand holding. We also provide “personal assistant” labor at our cost to help authors that understand the importance, but just don’t have the time or skills to get into the game. Ghost tweeters anyone?

    2. We are offering a 52 week book marketing and technology class that, if the author completes, we increase their royalty by 10%. It’s win-win for both the author and publisher. (Yes, you read that correctly, we are going to modify their contracts and increase their royalty by 10%). The core of the class are the book marketing techniques found at http://www.StrategicBookMarketing.com. Sorry, we are only offering the class to our published authors.

    3. “We don’t want authors that taste good, we want authors with good taste”. We figured heck, if we want selling authors, let’s filter and find and reward authors that can sell. Is it a travesty to say, give me an author that can sell and I don’t care what is inside the book? The newest business process that we have added is that we are now offering NO COST publishing contracts to any author that can presell 100 books. (www.SBPRA.com) If an author can sell 100 books, they can sell 1000. Given the competitive nature of the writing industry, we, as a publisher, can’t afford a single non-moving book, even if we were paid to publish it.

    Thanks Betsy, and to Ed and Publishing Perspectives. I make sure my authors are subscribing and this is a perfect launch for our training class. And I love the OneGoodDeedBook.. right on!

    Robert and his mob of authors!

  6. Posted November 12, 2010 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    I think this is one of the best crafted and stated articles on the issues of the day.
    However, I have the opposite issue – I am a cookbook author for a few lovely publishers AND a platform – a website of 13 years running with the most devoted readership ever. All I need from any given publisher is a budget, a few staff (geeks mostly, app designers, someone to help me get my website coordinated with book launches, B&N et al and listen to my marketing ideas which are sound as a perfectly baked challah) ….But no one seems able to offer the minimal support (well,except a book advance and I am appreciative !) I would, as an author, require to do maximal, strategic promotion with minimal effort (plus I Tweet, do Sirius and print and electronic publishing).
    It is frustrating to read articles like this and know I do have the opposite issue – I can promote, I can produce and I feel like an untapped well. I an a writer who is not allergic to marketing. The issue is also everyone is busy and nailed to their own expertise or ignoring their own instincts about publishing which is still -promotion or not – it starts with great content. Then it’s promotion, faith, will and luck. Why do we do it? We are in love with what we do (we authors and writers).

  7. Posted November 12, 2010 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    Given what you describe, what value will the agent or publisher add? If I as the writer am going to do 99% of the production and marketing, what will they do for me? Thanks for any info you can provide.

  8. Posted November 12, 2010 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    Great article, Betsy! I’m sending my authors to read it. This is something I deal with every day–“Won’t the publisher promote my book?” My authors have great books out (http://www.maloneeditorial.com/index.html), but it’s the ones who sink their teeth into the marketing who become successful!

  9. Posted November 12, 2010 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Thank you for the wonderful post, Betsy and PP.

  10. Posted November 12, 2010 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    I agree with everything in this great article! But in social media, it’s a stampede with everyone heading in the same direction. I tweet and use Face Book and am constantly working to engage and build relationships with [hopefully] thousands of people. Nevertheless, the image of tossing a pebble into the Pacific ocean comes to mind. Perhaps the person who can come up with a truly new initiative in this new marketplace will be the one who stands out.

  11. Posted November 12, 2010 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Betsy. I’m the debut author of a novel that releases next fall, so I welcome advice.

    I also promote other authors on one of my blogs, and I’ve noticed a correlation between the number of hits I receive and author promotion. Too bad more writers don’t pursue sales with the same zeal they chase down agents and editors.

  12. Posted November 12, 2010 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Terrific article! I’ll tweet about it.

  13. Posted November 12, 2010 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    I’m a debut author in the YA market (Faithful, 2010, Speak/Penguin), and I have many colleagues who don’t get the need for self-promotion. In fact, I’ve encountered resistance to the idea. But as a result of my (somewhat meagre) attempts to reach my audience, my literary novel has done better than expected. I’ve seen many works of great quality disappear into the void because the author doesn’t understand the need for self-promotion.

    This is an excellent article – I love your analogies – and I’m going to pass it along.

  14. Posted November 12, 2010 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    I’m so excited to read your new updated book. Thank you so much for all the great info! Melissa Buron

  15. Posted November 12, 2010 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    This is an excellent article. When my first book was published, I fell into the trap of thinking the publisher would promote it. But once I realized how little they would do, I got busy and self-promoted, which made a huge difference. Next time, I’ll be ready sooner with more tools!

  16. Posted November 12, 2010 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    Emerson was pissed about Whitman’s shenanigans, though. Personally, I’d rather sell fewer books and keep my powerful allies, but we all have our preferences…

    Speaking of which, WHERE can I find this book about copper buttons in 18th century France???

  17. Posted November 12, 2010 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the terrific article, Betsy. It may be that this is one area in which self-publishing authors are actually ahead of the curve. Most writers who decide to self-publish, regardless of the reason, come into it knowing that they will be responsible for their book’s success. Without the real or imagined support of a large publishing house, they take on the production of their book and then go on to become Tweeters, bloggers, speakers, PR staff and their own cheerleaders. The necessity of having to rely on themselves for all their marketing, promotion and sales energizes these entrepreneurial authors and has lead to many successful publications.

    This article is so useful I’ll be featuring it this weekend in our roundup of the week’s best blogs.

  18. Rashda
    Posted November 12, 2010 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for an insightful post! I think a lot of opportunities nowadays are about connecting. If you comes across as a sleazy sales person, you get tuned out, defriended or unfollowed. It’s about making genuine connections and creating a conversation.

  19. Posted November 12, 2010 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    The statement that the technology is an incredible challenge for anyone over 50 quite takes my breath away in its patronising ageism – apart from the fact that being over 50 doesn’t make you old.

    Btw, I’ve tried and given up on Facebook. Blogging? Some are great but there are millions of them, only an infinitesimal number will get noticed in a way which will boost book sales. Myself, I’d rather spend my time writing my books – and then doing my best to sell them.

    Maybe this is a difference between the UK and the US but as an author who has always done her utmost to promote her books and very rarely had much support from publishers I can only summon up a hollow laugh at being lectured on this subject as though all writers are moles who never leave their garrets and who are incapable of grasping the commercial realities of the business we’re in. Puh-leez!

  20. Posted November 12, 2010 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    I’m doing a presentation to the California Writers Club in December entitled, “From First Draft to Movie Option,” and a big part of it will be focused on the importance of book promotion. I am so happy to have found this article to support my belief that you must spend as much time, energy and effort promoting a book as you did writing it.

    Thank you, thank you!
    Judith Marshall
    recently optioned for the big screen

  21. Gretchen Griffith
    Posted November 12, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    I am a digital immigrant. I wasn’t born into this internet culture, but I am embracing it. I think it’s necessary, a little scary, but exciting. Imagine what PT Barnum would do in this culture.

  22. Posted November 12, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Joel. I think that self-publishing authors are prepared for the work ahead. We know no one is going to just hand us success on a silver platter, so we’re always looking for ways to get our name and our work out there in front of people. Many authors with traditional houses and traditional dreams say things to me like, “I’m a writer, not a promoter, I don’t want to get into all that.” I always just smile and nod my head, but inside, I know that the times are changing. All writers need to have their minds on marketing. I’m still a writer, but I split my time now because I know the importance of self-promotion.

    To be honest, though, the more work I do for myself trying to build a platform and a blog, a list of twitter followers and goodreads friends, etc, the happier I am that I decided not to try the traditional route where a publisher would be taking 92% of my sales. Thank you for a great article!

  23. Posted November 12, 2010 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Having long been cognizant of the slog I would have to go through to see my books in print, ebook format and on retailing sites I find that my day consists mostly of marketing the books I have already published, as opposed to settling back at my desk and working on the next one. I reserve my weekends for that. But I have not kept all of it secret. In fact, I wrote a book of my own about it, which can be found at http://www.antellus.com/book/Principles-of-Self-Publishing.html and in two formats. I tapped into Guerrila Marketing some months ago when doing my research, but have since updated most of what I learned from my own experience.

    Yes, one has to blog, tweet, exchange reciprocal links, email blast, and do whatever else is necessary to see one’s book marketed effectively. It is not enough to rely on the publisher to do it, since many publishers now think it is fine to just park the book on Amazon and forget about it, or to focus on their bestselling authors and not on the many authors who are left behind.

  24. Posted November 12, 2010 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    First off, great article.

    As far as social media goes, the best thing you can do is be genuine. People can still spot a fake, and if you appear forced, or disingenuous then a big chunk of your potential audience is going to be turned off. That’s not to say you can’t market your book, of course you can, but if the ONLY reason you Tweet/Blog/Ect is to hock your stuff then social media is going be an uphill battle.

    If you’re genuine and approach these services as a way for you audience to connect with you (as opposed to just giving them a BUY NOW button) then social media can definitely help.

  25. Posted November 12, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    I am an author, and I agree with you, definitely!


  26. Posted November 12, 2010 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    Enjoyed this slice of publishing reality. As much as publishers would like to spend endless hours on specific titles, the reality is 8 out of 10 are lucky to get anything.

    Too many books, too few marketing/publicity/sales people to work it.

  27. Frank A
    Posted November 13, 2010 at 3:39 am | Permalink

    Nice article! Very illuminating and empowering. I wonder if Emerson knew he was writing for mass publication. Anyway, it seems business principles creep into many walks of life: organizing, optimizing a human’s energetic output, social aspects, persuasion…

    Hm, comments in this thread make me ask whether making a “genuine connection” vis-a-vis social networking is, in fact, genuine – if the underlying impetus is, in fact, commercial.

    If such “genuineness” is normal on these sites, and a good number of people are ultimately “selling ice to the eskimos” – what’s the point of calling a social site anything other than what it is – a marketplace? It’s like watching a retrospective of the year’s best TV commercials and calling it entertainment.

    I may be wrong, and out of touch, but isn’t part of the appeal of these social sites their power to connect wtih people outside commercial channels? Is there a broader cost of normalize them as commercial channels? As in, social network malaise? (Sorry if I just coined a hex).

  28. Posted November 13, 2010 at 5:08 am | Permalink

    Very interesting article – I look forward to the book! My novel is still at the submissions stage but I’m already planning my strategy, on- and offline, and new ideas are always welcome.

    @Frank A – I agree that if “commercial” tweeting is all someone does, it doesn’t come across as genuine, and as a result I’m turned off and don’t follow that person. A worthwhile Twitter feed, to me at least, is a mix of serious content (e.g. links to articles like this!) and random, entertaining comments that show there’s a human being at the other end. And don’t forget you can reply to other people’s tweets and they may even tweet back. I find it an easy way to keep in touch with people I’ve met offline but don’t know well enough for, say, email correspondence.

    @Maggie Craig – hear hear! I’m not over 50, but I’m fast approaching it, and I’d like to point out that some of us have been using the Internet longer than many of the 20-somethings out there, because we knew an important new trend when we saw one. I can imagine someone coming to it completely new might find it perplexing, but that could be said of any adult, regardless of age.

  29. Posted November 13, 2010 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    For my book, Get Seen, I initially set up a twitter account for the book:


    But after a while, I ended up using my main account to selectively tweet about book related things, along with my regular tweets:


    I think Chris Brogan already knew this when he just decided to tweet about his book in jis main twitter stream:


    I thought that it would be better to put the book related posts in it’s own account, but that requires maintaining multiple accounts.

    In the end, my readers want to hear from me and that’s what they get on my main twitter stream.

    If they want to heat about the book, they can go to it’s facebook page.


    It’s a lot easier to update that page with book info.

    I wrote a whole post about what I learned while promoting my book this first year:

    Book Publishing Secrets: Steve Garfield at PodCamp NH 2010 http://offonatangent.blogspot.com/2010/10/book-publishing-secrets-steve-garfield.html

    Hope it helps.

  30. Joe Boyd
    Posted November 13, 2010 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    I completely agree about the importance of an Author to promote and sell his/her own work. The way you describe it, it seems that the publisher doesn’t do a whole lot more than print the darn thing…and have an easier time getting into stores so we, as authors, can tell our people where to buy it. So aside from having the connections to get the book into the world, what is the benefit of using a publishing house as opposed to self-publishing? If I have sales ability, wouldn’t it make more sense for me, financially, to publish the thing myself, promote it and get 100% of the royalties? I’d be putting that much effort in anyway, why not get paid for it? If you could get back to me or fire off a website (facebook page, twitter account will also suffice:-)with the pertinent info I would really appreciate it. Thanks for getting my brain going so early in the morning!!


  31. Posted November 13, 2010 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    Love it. Great post. :)

  32. Posted November 14, 2010 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    Great article. Marketing doesn’t come naturally to a lot of writers (me especially), so advice like this is excellent.


  33. Posted November 14, 2010 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for a great piece. Jane Friedman, impressaria emeritus of the Writer’s Digest empire had a recent blog essay along similar lines entitled “Building an Enthusiastic Fan Base as a Self-published Writer” http://tinyurl.com/29lwuc4 , and Bruce Sterling, Wired “Beyond the beyond” blogger and SF legend, recently had an entry called “The Future of Printed Fiction” http://www.wired.com/beyond_the_beyond/2010/10/the-future-of-printed-fiction/ . Friedman and Sterling were both writing about a borderline-successful but endlessly hustling/self-promoting writer — me.

    Your readers may find things therein to instruct, or, at least, amuse.

  34. Posted November 14, 2010 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

    Great article. I started using social media only a month ago, and I have to say I’m glad I did it. Little by little, my following is growing (not nearly as much as the 3K followers I see others having), but I’m glad I did it NOW, before I have a book out. Hopefully, by the time I have a book out, I’ll have a “fanbase” (of sorts), or at least a small “following.”

  35. Posted November 14, 2010 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Betsy, great post.

    I think you’ve put it really well. One thing I’ve noticed from the comments is people asking what publishers are for if writers need to put so much into promoting their own work.

    Despite the fast pace of these times, publishers are still tastemakers. They still have the networks and the power to handle a book when it really takes off. Sure, some authors might find great success self-publishing. But with the plethora of writers, readers need a quality filter – or endless time to trawl Amazon.

    This is exactly why McSweeney’s and others will have an important role for a long time yet.

  36. Nicole
    Posted November 14, 2010 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    Well, there’s a clear explanation for why the industry is failing. What sort of business can’t be bothered to promote it’s own products?

  37. Posted November 16, 2010 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    Awesome article. I loved the old edition of your book, and am looking forward to reading the update.

    But I do have to defend at least some of the writers who expect publishers to take charge of the promotion for their books. I don’t think these expectations — however naive — come out of arrogance, laziness, or ignorance as much as from desperation. Most of the writers I know are a lot less P.T. Barnum and a lot more hide-under-the-bed. (I could never have done what Whitman did; I found it painful enough to ask people for blurbs.) Writers tend to be introverts. Who else would spend so much time alone listening to imaginary people?

    Sometimes, when I read articles with marketing advice — JUST DO IT OR YOUR BOOKS WILL DIE!— I feel the same way I did when my elementary school teachers yelled at me to speak up in class: hopeless. I wonder if it wouldn’t be useful to talk about how writers — at least the introverted ones — can work around that introversion and find ways promote their books that are effective, but don’t make them feel like throwing up.

    — Laura

  38. Posted November 16, 2010 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    Yes! You should tweet and tweet and tweet and then tweet some more. It’s essential, practically, to sell anything any more. And it’s probably one of the more fun ways to promote a book. I mean, you have another chance to be creative in order to be successful with so few words. Mostly, I love the opportunity to dialogue with potential readers. I feel lucky that I actually love to promote, though, that isn’t to say I find it easy. It’s a helluva lot of work. So I keep trying and practicing and looking for new ways to sell an old idea. In time, it works.

  39. Posted November 16, 2010 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    Excellent article!

    As a writer who has spent her entire adult life working a “day” job in sales and marketing, nothing could be truer.

  40. Posted November 17, 2010 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    To adopt what someone so cleverly says in the Ambassadors: “I really ought to go home and go into business myself. Only I simply rather die”.
    Many writers I know claim that they cannot be bothered to blog and tweet and all of that nonsense. Other writers I know claim that they cannot be bothered with all the nonsense of publishing. One should perhaps throw a party where these people could hook up.


  41. Posted November 18, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    Thank you. This came on a day when I’d contacted my publisher to say I was depressed about how my novel wasn’t moving. I have tried self promotion. I realise that it is important. I just don’t know what to do. I’ll leave the publishing site here, maybe someone will buy a copy.
    Glyn Pope – author of ‘The Doctor, The Plutocrat, and The Mendacious Minister’

  42. Posted November 21, 2010 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Great post, Betsy. I’ve been speaking and writing on the subject of online promotion for sometime now (http://www.stabenow.com/2010/05/07/random-friday-5710-2). I wonder if I might reblog your post on my website? I would of course properly attribute the author, and include a link back here and to your own blog. Please let me know.



  43. E. Martin
    Posted November 21, 2010 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    Another lit agent joining with publishers to dump more and more non-writing responsibility onto writers.

    How much water does the ship of publishing have to take on before the captain and his officers take professional responsibility instead of constantly wagging their smug fingers at those who provide them the cargo for not being better sailors?

    And, shame on all the lickspittle writers who respond to this sort of ridiculously exploitative attitude with the typical yes-man grovelling. I hear James Frey is looking for artists like you guys.

  44. Posted November 22, 2010 at 3:22 am | Permalink

    What a fantastic article. I am an author, self published, of two books, and have done all the marketing and selling myself and am well over 50. It has not been easy, and has taken up a lot of my time, but I have sold a goodly number of books. I don’t see any other way to sell books except to promote them myself. Your article makes a lot of sense and I appreciate it.

    Mary Lovel, author of “Journey to a Dream” and “Suddenly it’s Spring”

  45. Posted November 22, 2010 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    As my book Heart of the Sound prepares to come out in paperback and two other books head to publishers, I appreciate this rousing post reminding me that no matter how good the book is, it doesn’t get off the shelves if I don’t advocate for it. It’s like parenting–it’s not enough to give birth, no matter how beautiful and intelligent the baby.

  46. Sloan
    Posted November 22, 2010 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    Your client with 60,000 Twitter followers tweets “brilliant” messages to his fans 2-3 times per day? Really? Sheer brilliance surges from the buttons of his iPhone in a continuous stream of easily digestible snack-sized bites? I must have missed him during my brief, unpleasant Twitter stint. All I saw was an endless flow of self-serving mediocrity.

    I’m sure you’re right that devoting energy to building an online following helps to sell books in this day and age. But I guess I’d rather keep some semblance of dignity, not sell any books, and not be pelted with mind-numbingly superficial tidbits day and night.

  47. Posted November 26, 2010 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    Wonderful article – a breath of fresh air. I think there is a big problem in that publishers aren’t honest with authors. They don’t manage expectations. But also, they don’t let them know what is going on behind the scenes (if anything).

    I agree that the question is not “Should I tweet?” but more “If I do tweet, how do I make sure I stand out from all the literary tweeters?”

    I look upon twitter as another channel of communication. I think it has tremendous creative potential. But there are challenges too.


  48. Posted November 27, 2010 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    After going through the traditional publishing channel with 4 books (and 2 different publishers), we learned that the publicist will focus on a new book for a month or so, but then forget about it and move on to the next new titles (unless you happen to be a proven, hugely-successful author, of course).

    When it came time to publish a new book — an autobiography this time — we opted to self-publish. Because of the groundwork we’ve been building for a number of years, our sales during the initial 2 months since the book’s release have been as good or better than sales of our previous titles.

    We’ve emailed announcements of the new title to people who purchased our other books, have a Facebook page, use Twitter, have our own online bookstore (http://wingerbookstore.blogspot.com), and a blog. We distribute press releases, contact local media with story ideas related to our books, and talk to independent bookstores about carrying our title (it is available through major distributors as well).

    But we’re always looking for new ideas — so thanks for a good article and some useful examples. Promoting a book isn’t a one-shot thing — we keep looking for new ways to reach our potential audience.

  49. Posted January 30, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for all the gems! It reminds me of when I worked at a start up during San Francisco’s dot com boom. Our CEO was convinced we only needed to tell the press about our online radio shows, yet had no plan to build an audience. I told him that from my experience in advertising and marketing, the audience is the product an advertiser buys, not the program, and that without an audience, we have nothing to sell. He waved me away, yet the business failed in rapid order. You can have the best program, book or widget in the world, but if no one knows about it, you won’t sell it.

  50. Posted September 15, 2011 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    I like what you guys tend to be up too. This type of clever work and reporting! Keep up the good works guys I’ve you guys to blogroll.

  51. Posted October 21, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    Hello, I think that I saw you visited my site thus I came to “return the favor”.I am attempting to find things to improve my web site!I suppose its ok to use a few of your ideas!!

  52. Posted March 25, 2013 at 4:24 am | Permalink

    nice read, thanks for sharing.

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