#TwtrBkPty: How Twitter is Helping Publishers Reach 100,000 Readers 140 Characters at a Time

In English Language by Rachel Aydt

By Rachel Aydt

Like gallery openings, one might stumble into a neighborhood bookstore only to find a casual book release party. Maybe there’s a few cheap bottles of Chilean red, some chat, and a little reading to go along with it. So what happens when you take away all of those elements, but still call it a party? The Twitter Party!

Virtual book promotions have been around since 2003, but Twitter could be a replacement for the traditional book launch and author tour.

“I got onto Twitter in early 2009,” says Bethanne Patrick, a blogger and writer perhaps best known now as @thebookmaven on Twitter (and contributor to Publishing Perspectives), “after I was in a car accident and had a broken leg. I had to stay put and sit still for so long. The orthopedic surgeon said I had serious ligament damage and so I couldn’t go out for lunch, or coffee for months . . . Twitter became a form of social life for me.”

No matter how and why publishing types find their way to Twitter, there’s one thing that’s certain. They’re there, and it’s burgeoning into a true scene of sorts, where publishers are beginning to throw Twitter party invitation hashtags down like bartenders soaping up their bar for a busy a happy hour.

Attending the Twitter Party for “@WkmnShorts”

“Meet up from 11-1 to celebrate this new imprint! We’ll be serving Twitterinis!”, promised one invitation I stumbled into recently. I did show up, in this case to an event organized by Workman Publishing to celebrate a new online imprint of short-form books, Workman Shorts. The event was hosted by Patrick, a brilliant move by Workman since Patrick could advertise the event among her devoted list of over 50,000 book-loving followers who participate in her popular weekly Twitter event #FridayReads.

Of course, what I found when I “arrived” at the party was myself, in a chair, still in my freelance life wardrobe wearing my “third-cup-of-coffee-pajamas”, waiting for the Twitter event to begin.

At approximately 11 a.m., I typed in the hashtag #WkmnShorts, and suddenly the thread sprang to life. Three authors, Mindy Weiss, author of Your Dream Wedding on a Budget; Anne Byrne, the Cake Doctor herself, and Steven Raichlin, barbeque expert and author of the new Tailgating! book were going to be present to answer guest’s questions and talk about their projects.

“Hello @1000Places! Glad to see you here . . . definitely one of THE places to be! #wkmnshorts”, read one Patrick Tweet to an early arriver to the party’s thread.

The vibe of the party was certainly festive. There were tons of Welcomes and Hellos offered to various Twitter handles by Patrick, and some Workman publicists. Jokes were made about passing around the Twitterinis; there was even a recipe concocted, posted, and linked to in a Tweet posted by a Workman publicist.

People commented back and forth about one another’s locations, strangers chatted about the weather — envy aimed toward the guests from the south; a little peacocking from Southerners chatting with Tweeters from up north.


It was a crazy cold February, after all. Then came the book talk with the writers, who were systematically rolled out by the half-hour. By this time, my brain started to feel crowded and overstimulated . . . come to think of it, in the same way that I feel at crowded cocktail parties.

All of these new names swirling about, making my acquaintance, looking over my virtual shoulder to sidle up to the next new acquaintance. “Hey, don’t I know you from CosmoGirl?” I found myself Tweeting to a publicist I thought I’d worked with at one point in my former life as the magazine’s Research Director. She didn’t know me; that conversational thread dropped abruptly.

Social media as a marketing tool . . . since 2003

I’ve written about the social media life of authors before, for Publishing Perspectives. It comes as no surprise that authors have to get with the marketing program and jump into the virtual mix. As publishers continue to slash their marketing budgets, doing a “virtual book tour” can make a lot of sense. The idea goes as far back as 2003, when online marketer Kevin Smokler (@weegee — with 50,000 Twitter followers of his own) claims to have inaugurated the virtual book tour, then conducted through blogs.

Of course, it now seems obvious. Using social media is simply cheaper than sending someone out on the road, or if there is still an actual book tour, it can be an effective addition to the marketing plan. It creates a different kind of buzz: a community can gather no matter where they are. Maybe their newborn is sleeping and they live in Kansas. Or maybe they’re taking a lunch hour from a cubicle in Des Moines. Whichever it is, the long reaching connectivity makes throwing events on Twitter extremely attractive, not only for drumming up book publicity, but for creating a loyal following to an imprint.

That said, the idea — at least on Twitter — is a relatively new one and still needs some smoothing out. “Because this was the inaugural one, we had a few glitches,” said Patrick. “It’s a different set of technical process requirements in the virtual world; it’s not like, ‘What if the caterer doesn’t show?’”

Susan Orlean, @bookbday, and YA phenoms

Other writers who Tweet have jumped on the bandwagon. Susan Orlean (@SusanOrlean), who has nearly 110,000 followers, threw a Twitter party a couple of weeks back for her new book Rin Tin Tin. When I contacted Orlean via Facebook about her party, she described Twitter’s appeal. “The limits of 140 characters can be sometimes maddening but I was surprised by how complete my answers could be. I think Twitter has engendered a new compact way of communicating — not a perfect substitute for fuller conversation, of course, but you can be very efficient and actually say something. I like that challenge — to craft something in such a short space.”

Most writers are still in the dark about the Twitter party, but as they learn of them seem keen for their publishers to take a stab at it. Candace Walsh, co-editor of Dear John, I Love Jane (Seal Press, 2010), wants to get Seal Press on board sooner than later. “The next generation of book publicity is so plugged in to social media, and Twitter parties need to be a part of that strategy,” she told me.

That said, a few tech savvy publishers and writers have been on Twitter for ages now. Young adult author Mitali Perkins (@MitaliPerkins) is one of them. Over three years ago she launched TwitterBookParties.com (@bookbday) after realizing that social media could create a more festive environment for book releases.

“When my book Secret Keeper came out in 2009 (Random House), I realized that it was a big day but nobody really knew it.” She decided to pull together her large network of YA authors and illustrators to change that. She’s now created a huge base of Twitter followers who celebrate books’ releases on Twitter the day they’re released — she calls this the “book’s birthday.”

Her model is slightly different than Workman’s; rather than set up specific times where writers interface with readers, she simply sets up auto Tweets that announce new books on the day that they’re released, subsequently creating a rippling retweeting frenzy (RT’s, for you Twitter newbies). “We probably have hundreds and hundreds of people who RT new books on the books’ birthdays now. I always try to send them to indiebound.com or to the author’s website to support the writers. But if the authors only list Amazon and not any other indie bookstore, I’ll link to the publisher’s page. I don’t want to become an Amazon portal.”

Publicists are realizing that they can also drum up more sales and boost the event’s festivities by Tweeting links during the party to previously planned external pages — in Workman’s case, to recipes from their new books, essentially offering bite-sized excerpt teases — or drive them to an e-commerce purchase point.

Says Jocelyn Kelley, a book publicist who is a frequent book commenter on The Oprah Winfrey Show, “Twitter parties are a relatively new strategy but are proving fruitful in both generating more followers and increasing your book’s exposure on Twitter. For example, bestselling young adult author Lisi Harrison is hosting a Twitter party for her newest release, A Tale of Two Pretties. She is cross promoting the Twitter party on her highly trafficked blog as well as through her publishers site.”

Patrick, who is working with other publishers to set up further Twitter Parties, is striving to find a way of making the experience even more social, but is a natural hostess. In one of her early-in-the-party Tweets, she posted:

“I’m chatting with w @sraichlen, but @annebyrn, @mindyweiss, and @1000places are all here — keep mingling! #wkmnshorts.”

Read a couple of those per minute and you may find yourself either down with the party — or sporting a headache, depending on your TT — an acronym I just coined for Twitter Tolerance.

“Ultimately, we all want the same thing, to get our books into the hands of readers,” says Perkins. “I feel like in this day and age we have to celebrate each other’s books. It has to be about each other.”

SURVEY: Have You Ever Bought a Book Because of Twitter?

About the Author

Rachel Aydt

Rachel Aydt is a full-time writer, editor and researcher in New York City. She worked on the staff at American Heritage Magazine, YM, Cosmopolitan and CosmoGirl. Rachel has also contributed to Time International and Inked magazines. Since 2001, she has taught writing classes at the New School University.