The Twitter, it is NOT for selling books

Twitter isn’t built to sell books. Or anything else.

Yet if you belong to the Twitter, you see all sorts of authors pimping their books.

Some do it subtly, or randomly. Others do it faithfully, if not relentlessly.

And even if they mount a full Social Networking Offensive — a combined-forced attack with tweets on the ground, blog battleships at sea and Facebook fighter planes swooping down from above — even if they do all that, they will fail.

Attack of the Internet Fanboys

Oh, this is sacrilege. I know it.

Internet Fanboys believe that the Twitter, the Book of Face, blogs, the entire series of tubes — hey, that’s the future. Old Media is so old. They say, “Social media once was the student, and now it is the master. If you only KNEW the power of the Dark Side…”

Except they’re wrong. No matter how much you want it to work, how hard you squeeze your eyes and reach for that Internet lightsaber, it doesn’t fly through the air and into your hand. Even when you pick it up and push the button, nothing happens.

Faith isn’t enough.

Here comes the science
But spam works, right? And it uses the series of tubes.

Sure spam works. That’s why most email being sent today is spammalicious. Scammers send billions of emails every day, despite all the spam filters and barriers, because all they need to make money is a 1 percent response rate.

One percent. That’s a terrible success rate. Horrible. That’s like asking 100 girls out and hoping one says yes. But with enough volume, you can make money.

Surely, authors will do better than spammers. They aren’t peddling cheap Viagra and penis pills. They’re (a) pitching great books and (b) targeting their audience to book lovers rather than random people, therefore (c) the response rate for authors should be way, way better than 1 percent.

These are your internet friends, fans and family, right? They know you. They talk to you every day. They’re gonna buy your book.

But they don’t.

Want to know why?

Snooki vs. Nathan Bransford
Snooki can’t string a sentence together without committing sins against the English language. Yet she “wrote” a novel.

Nathan Bransford, on the other hand, is a muffin of stud.

  • He was a literary agent and understands the business of selling books
  • The man looks like a movie star.
  • He’s got 100,000-whatever Twitter followers and a blog with a lot of hits
  • He wrote a great book — a YA novel, which a hot genre, and his book got buzz and good reviews

If there ever was a picture of literary studliness, it’d be Nathan.

This isn’t an agent writing a book about writing (cliché). This man is writing a novel (brave!). So if anybody was poised for success using the Series of Tubes, it’d be this man.

I don’t know Nathan, but what I’ve heard of him made me root for the man. People say nothing but nice things about him. Every indication is that he’s smart, talented, good-looking — a literary rock star.

And his book had buzz before it even came out. I expected — and hoped — that he’d have a best-seller.

Snooki, on the other hand, is firing blanks.

  • She’s more infamous than famous
  • No sane human being would call her a writer and nobody believes she wrote this novel of with her name on it
  • She’s a walking, talking train wreck — would you let her borrow your car or babysit your firstborn?

It’s safe to say Nathan’s audience — people who follow him on Twitter and read his blog — are literary types who not only love books, but actually BUY book via the series of tubes — or, if they’re feeling really frisky, walk inside giant buildings stacked with bazillions of books where they hand people pieces of paper decorated with images of dead white guys, or let them touch a rectangle of plastic, then the people who seem to live in this giant buildings hand you books of your choosing and complete the ritual by asking you to have a nice day.

You could also bet the farm that 99 percent of people who know Snooki’s name and have seen her on the Glowing Tube would never guess, not even if you put a Nine against their noggin and started counting down from five, that Snooki has ever read an entire novel, much less written one. Her most avid fans, the ones who don’t watch her for the live-action train wreck and the irony of wallowing in low-brow nonsense, are 125.6 times more likely to be in a tanning booth than a bookstore.

Before we make our predictions about how well Nathan’s book did vs. Snooki’s book-like substance, let’s do some math.

The math, it is BRUTAL
Nathan having 100,000 Twitter followers should be a huge marketing advantage.

Marketing Architects used this formula: “If half the people in the networks actually see my posting, and one percent of them respond, and 5% of the responders buy, what will the outcome be?”

(possible audience) x (% who see it) x (% who pay attention) x (% who buy it) = sales

So for this example with Nathan: (100,000 followers) x (50 % see it) x (1 % pay attention) x (5 % buy it) = 25 sales.

Here’s another bit of math from Dan Zarrella, social media scientist, who I believe is the World’s Greatest Expert on Twitter.

He takes raw data from bazillions of tweets and studies the heck out of them. The rate for retweets is actually even more pessimistic than the first bit of math I used above from Market Architects. Now, retweets cost you nothing. The actual purchase of books, movies and whatnot will be far lower than the rate of retweets.

But let’s be generous and go with the actual math of what Dan has discovered from sifting through all that Twitter data.

Viral math formula from social media scientist Dan Zarrella, who is a Muffin of Stud.

Go read up on Dan the Zarrella, especially this post: Viral Math: R-Naught and Zarrella’s Hierarchy of Contagiousness. He’s a brilliant man, dedicated to using real science and math to get things done, and he hates the whole unicorn-and-rainbow advice out there about the series of tubes.

Back to the math: it’s brutal and evil. Surely this didn’t happen to Nathan, who I do believe is a literary muffin of stud. If I were a betting man, I would say no. He should buck this bad math and sell better.

Most authors don’t even have up-to-the-minute sales figures. We can’t know exactly how many books sold. We can get a good peek at Amazon sales, though, and if the Internet Fanboy theory is right, when you pimp your book via Twitter and Facebook, people click their mouse and presto, massive online sales.

The Amazon sales rank of Nathan’s book is 267,136 — which doesn’t tell us anything yet.

Rachelle the Gardner, another literary agent with a blog and a brain, blogged about a study from a major publisher that tracked Amazon sales rankings and sales over six months.

  • Books ranked 1 to 750 = 75 to 275 sales per week
  • Books ranked 750 to 3,000 = 40 to 75 sales per week
  • Books ranked 10,000 or above = 0 to 5 books sold per week

So that rough math isn’t crazy, at least in terms of sales on the Series of Tubes. I bet Nathan sold more than that. Maybe his physical book sales were a lot higher. HOWEVER: the Internet Fanboy theory that tweets lead to online sales of books gets shredded here.

What’s the Amazon sales rank of Snooki’s novel? 13,812.

How could a literary loser like Snooki do better — with a terrible book — than a literary rock star with a great book and a huge online following of book-loving writer types?

Why this happened

Part of the reason is simply this: if you’re friends with 500 writers and authors, you can’t buy all their books. Because you couldn’t afford to pay rent.

Same thing with politics. People who work in politics naturally know hundreds of elected officials and candidates, but donate to very, very few. Why? Are they heartless? No. They can’t afford to do otherwise. If you work in politics and gave $200 to all 200 candidates you know, that’s $40,000 out the door. You’d be living in a cardboard box.

Same thing with books. Most of the 13,000-whatever folks I’m connected to on Twitter and the blog are writers and authors. Love these people. Some authors send me free ARCs or e-books, which is great, and I do buy books from authors I know sometimes. But you can’t buy them all. Let’s say only half of those folks have books out this year. $10 times 6,500 is $65,000 in books.

Therefore, I’m not shocked that book-loving followers don’t buy books from each other all day. We’d go broke.

Back to my favorite New Jersey train wreck, Snooki. She isn’t a special case or some crazy outlier.

There are scads of untalented hacks — people who couldn’t write their way out of a paper sack if you handed them a sharpened pencil, people who typically don’t even WRITE THEIR OWN BOOKS — who sell more books than great writers.

It doesn’t even matter how bad the ghostwriters do their job. These books sell like hotcakes anyway.

And no, I’m not talking about some weird subgenre of books that live an in alternative universe. These untalented non-writers sell all kinds of books: fiction, non-fiction, children’s books, whatever.

What’s the secret?
You know their name.

That’s it. Name recognition. Nothing is more powerful.

Kim Kardashian could do nothing more than wave her mascara wand over a manuscript that her agent had some ghostwriter crank out, and yet she’d sell more copies of KIM KARDASHIAN’S ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO QUICKIE MARRIAGES AND DIVORCES than 99 percent of people who’ve dedicated their lives to writing literature so good you cry tears of unbearable joy and beautiful sadness.

Here’s a number that will blow your mind: Kim Kardashian makes $10,000 per tweet.

That’s right. Kardashian makes more for some 140-characters of product placement — something she probably has a staffer write for her in about 30 seconds — than some authors get for an advance on a book they spent years polishing and perfecting.

Kardashian got a reported $10 million for her fake wedding and could earn $5 million for her divorce. Yes, that’s a link to a story quoting an expert who has math backing him up. Click it and cry.

This doesn’t happen because Kim Kardashian is the prettiest woman on the planet or because oozes from her every pore. There are thousands of actresses on Broadway who can sing, act and dance circles around any of the Kardashians, but those Broadway actresses don’t have their own reality TV show.

Kardashian and Snooki make money, and sell books, because they are famous. Because you KNOW THEIR NAME.

I’ve written about name recognition for The New York Times’, as their expert on public relations, publicity and whatever. They sent me checks that said The New York Times on it, and I cashed those checks. As a journalism major, that was fun. The next three links are from stuff I wrote for that blog. There are reasons why corporations spend billions on ads that repeat the name of their company billions of times. Also, there is real science on how name recognition works — read it here at the brilliantly titled post, How Name Recognition Works — and finally, there are ways — evil, secret ways — to boost your name recognition.

(Yes, I know the last post says “Four Ways to Boost Your Name Recognition” when the url-whatever says Five Ways — this is a mistake. The internets, they are fallible, and I told folks to fix that long ago.)

Back to talentless celebrities who write books which make more money than people with writing talent on loan from God.

Glenn Beck wrote a terrible thriller, something that people said sounded like a bad parody of a bad parody, and yet it became a best-seller. Is he a talented writer? No. Did he even hire a talented ghostwriter? Nah. There’s no point in bothering with that when your name alone sells things.

Sarah Palin has “written” best-selling books that are — and this is a strange coincidence — all about Sarah Palin.

The fact these celebrities had best-sellers has nothing to do with talent and everything to do with name recognition.

That begs the question, how did they get such amazing name recognition?

Here’s the answer that will blow the minds of Internet Fanboys and make them wish they had the strength to run from the keyboard and wrap their Cheetos-covered fingers around my neck and squeeze really, really hard: all that name recognition came from dead, tired, obsolete OLD MEDIA.

It came from the millions of people who see Snooki and Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton on the Glowing Tube.

It came from the covers of People and US and The National Enquirer, who seem to be spending a lot of ink on real housewives who are on reality shows despite the fact that many of these women are not housewives, or married, or interesting at all except in a train wreck kind of way. But they’re on TV.

It came from newspaper interviews and entertainment sites like TMZ and from tired, obsolete Old Media standbys like Entertainment Tonight and hip new cable shebangs like The Colbert Report.

And it came from the millions of people who listened to Glenn Beck on the radio.

All these people with huge name recognition are doing something far, far different than the hordes of authors and writers placing their faith in the power of social networking and the Series of Tubes.

They’re using Old Media. There’s a reason it’s called “mass media.” It reaches the masses.

Bottom line: You could spend three years building a popular writing blog and getting to 10,000 Twitter followers, or 100,000 followers, and it wouldn’t be as useful as 10 minutes on a cable reality show with a weekly viewership of 3.5 million.

Think about that. Ten minutes beats three years.

Social networking — it’s not social media — is for meeting people. A few hundred people, or a few thousand, but not millions.

Social networking is meant for dialogues, not monologues where you spew links asking people to buy something, even something as nice as a book.

If you want to reach a mass audience, you must use the mass media. Must. Not “should.” Must. IT IS REQUIRED.

Now, it is true that big corporations are spending a lot of money on internet advertising. Banner ads do reach millions of people. That’s advertising, not social networking. And yes, it boosts name recognition. It just costs a lot of money. Earned media — coverage by the press — is free and has more credibility than ads.

Even the worst movies are a publicity godsend
It’s not an accident that a ton of big-shot authors got a rocket boost to their careers when one of their books became a movie.

Stephen King started out with CARRIE, which was a bestselling novel and then a movie — boom, off he went.

Scott Turow had an injection of Harrison Ford with PRESUMED INNOCENT.

Joseph Finder, Carl Hiaasen (funny man – but he needs more vowels, doesn’t he?), Elmore Leonard, Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler, J.K. Rowling — a ton of authors that are household names got that way not just from having bestselling books, but from having movies made from those books.

The power of name recognition is also why Hollywood has lost its mind and is busy making movies out of board games (Battleship – seriously) and Every Bad ’80s Cartoon Known to Man (G.I. JOE, TRANSFORMERS, HE-MAN, SMURFS and so forth).

Why are those good fodder for movies? We already know the name.

Here’s the rub: the movie doesn’t have to good, or a hit, for the author to get a massive shot of sales. That’s because studios spend millions promoting each movie.

You see endless trailers on TV, ads in the paper, posters. You hear radio ads and read reviews of the movie in the newspaper. The entertainment shows and blogs plug the movie, or pan it. The movie stars go on the talk-show circuit. Publishers put out new editions of the book that say, “Now a major motion picture starring this handsome man and that sexy woman on the cover, the two of them kissing while they hold a gun or whatever.”

Even if the movie bombs, the author just got millions of dollars in publicity, seen and heard by hundreds of millions of people around the world.

Am I saying you need a movie to sell a book? No, that’s not the point. I’m saying even the worst movie, and the worst book, will sell a lot simply because of the publicity budget Hollywood spends.

Let’s take a horrible example: BATTLESHIP was a bad, big-budget movie based on a board game. It only got made because toy companies like Hasbro realized they’ve built up so much name ID with G.I. Joe and Monopoly and every other toy, they can make bad movies with those titles and people will see them. And as a bonus, they can sell more toys, including special movie editions of Battleship and G.I. Joe dolls (sorry, “action figures”) and even rush books of the novelization of the movie.

Those bad books about bad movies based on toys? They’ll sell. Quality doesn’t matter when name ID is high.

Here’s the math: let’s saying only 200 million people get exposed to the trailers, reviews and hype for a movie. That’s a huge understatement, since movies make most of their money overseas now, and publicity campaigns for movies are global today, aimed at billions. Either way, I’m going with 200 million out of a sense of fairness, justice and equality or whatever.

(200,000,000 people) x (50 % see it) x (1 % pay attention) x (5 % buy it) = 50,000 sales.

That’s a bestseller right there.

The point is, quality doesn’t necessarily matter when exposure is that high.

The new math: to sell thousands, you need to reach millions

If you’re going from the other direction — high quality, no advertising and publicity budget — you can’t get to the audience needed via social media.

Without a big advertising budget, you’ve got to use the mass media to reach the masses. That means earned media, and reaching audiences in different ways.

Some people rely entirely on the Glowing Tube for entertainment and news. Other people listen to NPR as they drive to work. Others read the paper.

If you only focus on the series of tubes — and you don’t have a presence on radio, TV and print — then you don’t exist to those people. They’ll never see or hear your name.

But don’t tell the Internet Fanboys trying like mad to add more Twitter followers and Facebook friends and blog hits, like this is some kind of Tetris game where the winner is whoever racks up the highest score. “You just don’t understand the power of new technology — Old Media is so 1982.”

Think about big-shot authors again. What do they have in common? They go on book tours. They give interviews to newspapers and magazines and TV shows. They get movies made from their books.

They don’t just use mass media. They use the hell out of it.

Do most bigshot authors go all-out for social networking? No. Some ignore it entirely. Others have people handle that. Because it’s not critical. It’s a bonus rather than a pathway to success. They know something most people don’t: to sell 50,000 books, it’s not enough to tweet to 10,000 followers, or even 100,000.

You need to reach for a mass audience. Millions — or hundreds of millions. The only way to do that is through mass media.

The thing people can’t wrap their head around is that by using the Series of Tubes, anybody can reach any mass media market anywhere in the world, for free. But you need to know how to do it, and you need something worth that free ink and airtime.

The fact that your punk rock album / novel about elves with lightsabers / book of poetry Gertrude Stein would write if she were alive today is “super, super great” doesn’t get any ink and airtime. You can’t pitch quality — you need something worthy of free ink and airtime. And that’s a different topic entirely.

158 thoughts on “The Twitter, it is NOT for selling books

  1. Brilliant. Thank-you. I think I secretly, deep down, knew this, but you’ve picked the scab off the festering sore – shone the bright light on the elephant on the room…

    I’m going to send this to my Traditionally Published writing friends, because they seem to be trapped into meeting tighter and tighter deadlines for their novels (to keep up the momentum of fan expectations) while being cajoled into blogs, FB page posts and endless tweets – whereas clearly they just need a few minutes on a TV show somewhere…


  2. I agree with almost everything in the article – and that’s one of the reasons I avoid Twitter. But I don’t agree with the sales numbers. Not at all. The numbers are too narrow, but I know that none of my books rank under 10,000 (or not very often). Most average between 14,000 and 50,000, and I average between 200 and 300 books – every week – on a consistent, ongoing basis (for 9 books). And I keep daily records so I know this for a fact. And those are only the sales for So I’m thinking the averages listed from Rachelle the Gardner aren’t current.


  3. Reblogged this on Wine, Women & Wordplay and commented:
    This is from last year, but oh Lordy, I think he makes the sense. Also, it is funny, in a black and maths-oriented way. And frankly, I am glad, because now I can continue to use the Twitter for FUN!!! (And writing sprints)


  4. Interesting post. And I agree with all of it. I have been using social media to raise awareness of my books because, well, I heard this is what you have to do. I have no idea if it has worked but I can tell you that last year, before I was active on Twitter, Fresh Powder, one of my e-books started selling by the thousand in the UK and got to #4 overall on Amazon UK. I have no idea why this happened. I googled it, searched all over the Internet to try to find the reason for the sudden popularity of this title but found no mention of it. I am still mystified but very happy about the number of sales, of course. I don’t think there is a template for promotions and marketing (except of course mega stardom). Sometimes books just take off because of some kind of word of mouth effect that is silent. And that is something you can neither predict nor control.


  5. Well, I read the article and most of the replies. Here’s my two cents. Of course Twitter isn’t going to make us #1 Bestsellers. But, with my lowly three books, I’ve met a ton of people on Twitter and Facebook. I’ve had people in foreign countries email me to tell me they’d enjoyed my book.

    Now, without Twitter, etc, not one of those people would know I even existed. They wouldn’t know my books existed. TV and radio would be great–if I was James Patterson. I’m not.

    Most of us mid-list or indie published authors rely on the media we have easy access to. We do interviews on book review sites. We give away hundreds of copies of our work to review sites and readers. We run contests with copies of our books as prizes. Personally–those contests are to generate reviews–because reviews DO SELL BOOKS.

    If they don’t sell the book–they at least get someone to download a sample of the book. Readers decide from there.

    It’s nearly impossible for a new author to sell a book to NY these days. Half the new books contracted are found on the Internet. Amanda Hocking and HP Mallory are two examples of authors ‘found’ via the Internet. Bestselling authors found on the internet.

    So, in essence, while Twitter isn’t going to sell our books in general–it does give us the foot in the door to meet and interact with those that might grab a copy–and tell a friend–or ten friends.

    Again–just my two cents 🙂 Happily selling a couple hundred bucks a months’ worth of books on Amazon–even in the UK where I know no one at all. I’d be very interested in knowing your ideas on the ‘solution’ to marketing if we aren’t James Patterson or Amanda Hocking.


    1. Anyone has access to any media anywhere in the world, via the Series of Tubes.

      Free ink and airtime has never bee more accessible. The trick is to have great news hooks. Can’t pitch quality. Dan Brown figured this out.


      1. Hope I think you missed the whole point of the article, the energy that you are putting into twitter and other social media sites aint got the same clout as if you think of more inventive ways to get yourself into the mass media, and I have thought of a few already. might see me in court but hey, bestseller, This article has changed my whole perception, am new to twitter and the likes and have 3500 follows but I am glad I read this now. Another thing is what happens if these social media sites pull the plug on you and you lose all of your contacts? Your back to square one, its a load of crap really!!


  6. Aaargh. I wonder if I’d read your blogs first if I’d have made the same mistakes I am doing. Regretfully I’d probably have to say yes since I’ve read it now and am still doing it.
    I followed the advice on Bookbuzzr and similar sites and have a regular tweet sent out automatically daily to mention my books.Fear alone of the result makes sure I won’t look at the math of how quickly I must have reached and saturated my 1000+ followers with these ads. Plus, as most of us will admit, many of those followers are authors like myself and in the same game of trying to network ourselves so we’re tweeting to someone who is highly unlikely to be buying a book as they’re trying desperately to sell their own.
    I followed another piece of advice to create something on youtube which led to me reading out a chapter from one book. I confess even I’m to embarrassed to watch it never mind tweet it. So I’m going to tell myself that I use tweeting to make friends and network myself. In a way that’s now true since I spend less time mentioning my books and more mentioning things I have on my blog or other blogs that entertain me and hopefully will others. I don’t see the point in trying to make some poor soul get out their credit card online to make me 99c richer anymore.
    Like most indie authors I self published and sell only on the net, being unable to get hard copies in small bookshops ( not many left in rural UK) and the bigger ones are on their way out. Social networking seemed the way forward but in actual fact is the house of cards you describe so I shall now, thanks to your entertaining but educating words, just enjoy it for what it is from now on and hope maybe I get a JKRowling moment of recognition when someone picks up one of my books, likes it, and is in a position to do something about it.
    Thanks for the sound advice.


  7. Nice post, Guy! I like your style. Looking forward to more infinite wisdom and tips to use Old Media. (Oh, and thanks for checking out my blog, ‘Fraidy Cat Confessions. I know it’s not ideal for selling books, but it def helps put my mind in the right place ;). )


  8. Reblogged this on Madison Woods and commented:
    I’m still reading this post, but the author has made me laugh several times already, and I’ve been nodding my head in agreement and nearly crying from understanding how awful this truth is.

    So I thought I’d go on and share it now.


  9. Well made points. I think the ideal combination is mass and micro media, if you have the money/time/people.
    I will tweet links to my books and ask my author friends to spread the word on the day it is released. Other than that, I severely limit my own promo tweets. It’s true, I would go broke if I tried to buy all my Twitter friends books but I do try to help them get the word out on their new releases. I realize Twitter. Facebook, etc is not the most effective means of peddling a book but it is free and I have much more time than money. As an added bonus, the advice and support I have gained from authors, publishers and readers is more valuable than the books I’ve sold through social media.


    1. I agree with you. Social media does help improve visibility for the author. Plus connecting with other authors is awesome as I do not have the extra money to join any writing groups. Before I joined FB and Twitter my stats were lower than they are now. I won’t attribute the rise in stats entirely to social media, because I am also investing money in off line promotions as well, but it has helped. My fans have ways to keep in contact with me in more ways than just my blog. So it does work for some.

      I spend more time on FB than Twitter though and there’s just more to talk about there other than my book. I don’t mind talking about my writing and promoting my books, but it’s fun to interact with other people across the globe on more important (or maybe difference of importance as my books are very important to me) issues. And yes, I do buy other author’s books. I love to read as well, so the one thing I really like about FB is when my FB friends post a book cover to another author’s work because then I can find new (new to me) authors to check out. I have found some really good books that way.


  10. So true! I’m a statistics geek, so I appreciate the math and the links. I remember reading a blog post from a midlist author on the cancellation of her series. It was heartrending. The books were well written, she had good social media numbers, but couldn’t break through on sales. I hate to see that.


  11. Great blog post! I laughed out loud at the Snooki vs. Nathan Bransford part. 🙂

    When I first read the title of your article here, I disagreed, but you make very good points. Social media works better at generating books sales – reaching your niche bascially, while social networking is not an effective means. Makes sense.


  12. Well, what about indie eBook author John Locke & his ‘How I Sold 1 Million eBooks In 5 Months’ – that seems to buck the trend, given Mr. Locke’s formula of effective (i.e. writing that projects emotional resonance & sincerity) blogs coupled with linked tweeting to enable him to do exactly what you sat cannot be done. Of course, once everyone out there tries this method, it may no longer work (assuming it originally did for Mr. Locke), given recipeint fatigue due to the over-exposure caused by scaling up. The interesting thing is that Mr. Locke applied his method after failing at all the more traditional old media ways (which you discuss) of attempting to promote book sales. In any event, yours is an interesting, thought provoking post. Cheers.


  13. Ah, yes famous names with big marketing budgets will always have some advantage but then again, how many ‘Sookie’ type books end up in the bargain table after a week? Also, agree – there’s nothing more disconcerting than checking a follower’s timeline and finding it littered with ‘Buy my book’ links or ‘Like’ me on Facebook… um, thanks but…

    The Twitter is for connecting and networking and yes, a little socialising – I mean, hey – who is going to buy anything off someone who doesn’t talk back to you?


    1. I can only hope you unfollowed. That kind of thing drives me batty. I would never do that to my followers. Sure, I’ll occasionally post something about what I’m writing, or if something new is released, but I cannot imagine disrespecting my followers and spamming them with BUY MY STUFF. Blech.


  14. Oh Hurrah for this post. It makes me feel less lonley as I quietly go about writing instead of spamming my friends.

    Several years ago I ran a message forum for a tiny Caribbean island, we had hundreds of thousands of hits, thousands of members, loads and loads of active discussions and yet if you walked along a real beach on that little island and asked the bodies rotating in the sun if they had heard of us 95% didn’t have a clue who we were. That’s when you learn that cyber space can make you feel a lot more important than you actually are.

    If I try and explain this to other writers they get very angry. They think I am jealous of their Klout score, or their twitter numbers or their blog comments when all I am trying to do is soften the coming pain of banging their head against a brick wall for the next few years as they try and sell their book through social media. One paid advert is a million times more effective that a thousand free friends.

    I use Twitter, it’s great for gathering info and considering trends and meeting people. I’ve never bought a single thing I ever saw on there and I love buying things!

    Thanks for making me feel better 🙂



      1. I sometimes buy books from my author friends on Twitter. I’ve even been to a book signing at Prarie Lights, in Iowa City, because of a tweet I saw. I’m not saying your post is wrong, though.

        I find that I have become more and more comfortable with buying from tweets. The same applies to apps for my iPhone. Jeff Bezos was told nobody would ever buy books online and for many years not many did, but then attitudes changed.

        As an indie author, I enjoyed your post a bunch, even if it correctly pointed out how long a shot social media is, for sales generation. Of course, any author becoming a success is a long shot, as it is for an athlete, ballerina, or hurdy gurdy player.

        Though it is certainly the case that Twitter isn’t a great tube, today. It is also true that many authors write numerous books before one takes off, so it is best to be resigned to that fact. This is true for even the Tom Clancy and Dan Browns of the world, as I believe their first books weren’t hits until after later books. ( I don’t have data to support this, so I may be wrong), the point is, I know how long the tail is on this path. I also know that I do sell some books to people I’ve met through social media and I enjoy working on the pipes.

        If the day comes that it is more ‘normal’ to get one’s reading suggestions through social media, then I’ll be ready. If not, well, there is always the dream of finding some other way.

        Note: I found the amazon raking = sales data to be very helpful.


  15. Short of showing your ass outside a Barnes and Noble store at your disgust at them not stocking your book and pre contacting the media to film you while you are taken away by the police, old media is out of reach for the majority of authors. So the Math may not add up for new media, but for many, that’s all there is.


    1. That’s where you’re wrong. Dan Brown wasn’t a big shot when he got mondo press for THE DAVINCI CODE – he just had a great idea that was born to get ink and go viral.

      Anybody can do it. The trick is coming up with that magical idea that will catch fire with the press and public. And new media vs. old media is wrong. Twitter is social networking — not social media. Facebook is social networking. Blogs and YouTube are social media. Big difference.

      The real question is using social networking — in person or online — to reach a mass audience vs. using mass media (old media or new media) to reach a mass audience. Which is what mass media is built to do. Social networking isn’t.

      Don’t use networking of any sort to sell things, because it doesn’t work. Use mass media to reach a mass audience.

      The key is weighing audience reach and opportunity cost. How much time & energy are you spending to reach X number of people? Are there better ways? Even small-town radio stations and newspapers let you reach 20,000 or 100,000 people at a shot. It’s not a choice between the NYT and CNN or zippo. Most of the time, things like this will start small, then you refine it, get better, make it more viral before it catches fire and gets picked up nationally / internationally. PETA will try 100 different publicity gimmicks because (a) they don’t cost anything and (b) they’re not sure which one will go blow up and go big, and they only need ONE of those publicity stunts to go viral to get a ton of national and international press. So they swing for the fences, every time. And that’s smart.

      Try different things. Don’t put all your eggs in the Twitter basket.


  16. Great, if terrifying, post. I’m of the school that you do what’s available to you, try to be creative about what’s not readily available to you, and try to enjoy yourself a little because it all might fall flat anyway. Which was always true with publishing in the old days, too. I was inspired by your maths to write a rebuttal blog post, which I won’t pimp here. But you sure gave me a lot to think about–and to look up online.
    Thanks for sharing your expertise. Get well soon and blog.


  17. Really interesting post! I don’t agree that you can only accomplish success using old media – I know quite a few authors who have really broken through with smart marketing on line – but I totally agree social networking is not marketing or branding. And I love the math formula. One of the biggest mistakes authors/ publisher’s make is thinking you can accomplish branding/name recognition once a year or even every six months putting out a book and doing a little promo for it. It needs to be a year long strategy and authors and pubs need to get more creative in how to get more recognition to the masses.


  18. Maybe it’s because writers haven’t yet solidified an approach to melding their work to what digital really means. Books are still be written by the rules of the TRADosphere.

    Maybe the reason books sell so much better when promoted through “Old Media” is that books (whether paper, “e”, or laser imprinted on the cortex), as long as they continue to follow the traditional methods and constraints of storytelling, are Old Media themselves.


    1. Peoples of the Series of Tubes,

      Go read David’s post. IT IS WISE. He uses math in there, and talks about the Pareto Principle, which is good stuff.

      I have a different theory than word of mouth re: THE DAVINCI CODE and other smashing successes. Word of mouth didn’t do it. Will post soon.



  19. Assume that doing nothing generates no name recognition, using social networking generates x amount of name recogniton and using mass media generates y amount of name recognition.

    Assume that 0 < x < y.

    Mass media generates far more name recognition than social media, of course. That's not in doubt. But social networking generates more name recognition than doing nothing (which generates approximately zero name recognition).

    Bearing in mind that you have no access to mass media, would you like to generate some name recognition or no name recognition?

    You do the English.

    I'm not trying to say that the Old vs New Media name recognition argument presented above is wrong – far from it – I'm just saying that for those of us who aren't trying to make a living solely from writing, don't like spamming people, don't have access to Old Media and don't expect to sell millions of books, social networking is one way to develop an audience of people with whom you can interact, build credibility and maybe, just maybe, generate interest in your writing.

    Sales of my short stories are unsurprisingly pitiful, but they are non-zero, and that's solely due to social networking activity.

    Thanks for writing such a thought-provoking article about an interesting subject…



    1. Doing just about anything – standing on the corner of your Safeway parking lot, or selling books door-to-door – will generate sales in excess of zero. Doing terrible is terrible no matter how you spin it. People work hard. I want them to actually succeed vs. redefine success as selling more than one copy. Your momma’s gonna buy three, right? WE ARE NOT AIMING THAT LOW. If you’re gonna do it, do it right.


  20. I think there is one point that you missed though. A lot of the mainstream, mass-market media now rely on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to give them ideas and stories. Journalism has changed so much in the last five years, the internet offers a quick and easy way to generate stories. As such, it can be a good way for an internet-only, indie author to make the jump up to mass-market media.

    A lot of it relies on quality rather than quantity. I have a handful of twitter followers (who often retweet), less than 200 friends on Facebook, and my best day on my blog had less than fifty hits. But, I used a book I wrote five years ago as an experiment in creating an author platform, and in a month I got a sale. According to your stats that’s extremely unlikely, but I tend to develop targeted links with people who I think would be interested in the subject matter. Hopefully when they read my blog entries, they’ll like it and want more of the same – and therefore buy the book. But, I do make sure to be really low-key on the pressure to buy. There are links on all my pages to my page on Amazon, but that’s it. Not tweets saying “Buy this now!”.


  21. I am not on twitter….hooray. What encouraged most of my pitifully small number of sales were two radio interviews and an article ina newspaper. I don’t think that much I have done via the internet has had a result…at least not yet.


  22. I’ll be interested in your post on how get on old media with 3.5 million viewers…without spending a million dollars.

    I don’t think anyone believes that blogs, twitter or facebook generate big booksales. They are however a cheap way for writers to get some exposure and start building name recognition, which may attract attention of a newspaper,magazine, tv or radio personality and a guest spot or interview.

    What really sells books for authors who are not personalities is writing a good story with interesting characters that get readers talking about the book. Word of mouth is the best way to sell books.


  23. Guy’s post paints a dark and depressing picture for us ordinary writers. If we haven’t killed someone famous, cut off our hands in the desert, or hiked into Iran and touched off an international incident, if we aren’t movie stars or high rollers, we haven’t got a prayer on the wind of selling many more books than a small percentage to our family and friends can afford. Still, I believe Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and other Internet activities are good ways to get name recognition within the tiny piece of the world in which each of us live. The trick is getting our friends and followers to share and retweet our messages. However, the reality is that a stupid joke can go around the world three times in twenty four hours, but news about a book release dies after taking its first breath. Yes. Social media is not for selling books. It’s for networking, even if it’s on a small scale compared to the whole world. The math is brutal. So with failure to get our work read a near certainty, why bother writing? We ordinary writers know the answer to that.


    1. We do live in a great age, though. On July 14, 2012, if you had said, what will be the all-time most viewed video in the history of YouTube, by the end of the year. Would you have guessed a rap song…by a mildly successful artist…in Korean!!!? I doubt it, but alas, Psy has over 516 Million views.

      There will always be Amanda Hockings, J.K, Rowlings, and Gangham Style, popping up where they are least expected…and who knows the next unexpected success just might be you.

      Still, many more success will come through more traditional means. That is okay, at least now we all get to play.


  24. Thank you. I’ve been having this argument in my head for months as I continually spend too much time on Social Media and not enough on my writing.
    Now, back to writing… 😀


  25. The Twitter is not for selling books: Agreed.

    Can it help writers sell books? I think so. In fact, I’ve bought books because I’ve interacted with the author online (and I don’t mean just an RT or “my book is out,” but some long-term getting-to-know-you conversations…mostly with people I got to know way before twitter, when I blogged. [2005-2007]) I’ve also bought books based on recommendations from Tweeps who share similar tastes. I see Twitter as one tool among many (including Old Media) to help readers connect with books (and writers are some of the best readers and buyers…or, they should be). I’ve also vowed NOT to buy someone’s book based on his or her lack of Twitterquette or just plain online or IRL jackholeness.

    You make some interesting points here, but I believe you’re essentially comparing apples to oranges. Nathan Bransford now works for CNE, by the way, and is no longer an agent, though he still blogs about interesting writing and publishing issues and his book is a middle grade novel, not YA. He has a very different audience than Snookie/Kim/Glenn/et. al. I worked in Old Media for 25 years–including a stint as a YA book reviewer for a Pulitzer-winning newspaper that, like many other large-city dailies, no longer covers books and authors to any great degree.

    Old Media vs New Media (and New New Media) is a tired argument. Authors need to do everything they can to build a comprehensive plan to spread the word about themselves and their books without coming across as obnoxious. Me/me/me tweets will be as ineffective as most press releases sent to Old Media outlets, where they will be recycled or sent to the e-trash–unless you’re Snookie’s waxer. (I’m not saying don’t do press releases—DO THEM! But realize that the world has changed, is changing, and no one really knows how it will all shake out.) The other thing I’ve heard that I agree with: Don’t do the promotional things that you don’t enjoy doing. It will be obvious you don’t like it and just waste your time. But if you’re going to jump into Twitter or the rest, find a way to enjoy it and add something to the conversation.



  26. I do pick movies that way. Books less so. But when I do choose a book based off reviews. 99% of the time those reviews are found on the internet. Only time I listen to the radio is when I’m driving. And I agree on the reviews which is why authors try to get so many reviews on Amazon etc. Whether they do so legitimately is another question. As for newspapers, I don’t know the last time I bought one. I get my news from the internet. I guess you could consider that a form of TV as I am watching it as I would the tube.


    1. Yep. This makes sense. A lot of people are using their iPhone, Droid, iPad or laptop as a replacement for the Glowing Tube, the radio and newspapers. However: (a) huge slices of the population haven’t made that digital switch and (b) most of the.meaty content is still being generated by AP, the Colbert Report, ESPN, etc. – Old Media. People are using different ways of.getting to it.


  27. I’ve never ever bought a book based on an ad I saw on TV or an author’s interview on a show or any other mass media outlet. I, and the majority of friends I have, always bought our books by simply walking into the bookstore and browsing. That has now degenerated most days into going to Amazon or some such site and guess what? Browsing. Comparing movie/TV show/actor marketing to book marketing is a flawed argument. What works for TV, movies and other visual entertainment doesn’t work so well for books. If it did, bookstores wouldn’t be closing down and publishers shuttering their doors. How many of you have really bought a book because you saw an author on TV? How many of you have instead walked in the bookstore to your genre of choice and bought there or browsed the net and bought? I’m not saying twitter or whatever else works a great deal either. To me the thing with books have always been word of mouth, browsing and using every opportunity to get that word of mouth out there. All I know is all my favorite authors connect and keep up to date with what’s going on with them. I’m more likely to buy an author’s work like that than looking at T.V. Hell, I hardly watch the tube on the wall anymore.


    1. You’re the exception to the rule. A ton of regular people pick what movies to watch – and books to buy, and albums / concerts – based on reviews by critics in the paper, on the radio, on TV or on the series of tubes. Those reviews have more credibility than ads, posters or tweets.


  28. The big name authors and celebs can afford to ignore social media for now. Unknown authors can’t. Social Media won’t necessarily sell your book, but it is a tool which has, in fact, improved the visibility and sales of many lesser-known authors. You’d be totally bored, and I’d be out of time, if I listed all of them. This is a very interesting take on things and a good warning not to rely on social networking as a substitute for writing a great book.

    Carey Baldwin


    1. No worries. I am laid up with the Spanish Flu of 1918, and mainlining Nyquil is the only way to keep my brain functioning. I AM WITH YOU.

      Will do mondo post on earned media when my brain works again.


  29. I’m a first-timer her, and this is good stuff, brah. You’re confirming what my gut has been telling me.

    But HOW to get one’s name noticed without an act involving machetes and Carmelite nuns: that’s the question, Isn’t it? Needless to say, I await the next installment.

    Your site, it is teh shiznizzle.


  30. Interesting, thank you. For me, I am mxing it; social media, adapting to film and having fun meeting new folks.

    No one warns you that as a writer you have to wear many hats, not only create a best seller, but be a publicist, marketeer, sales person, spin doctor, producer… an all round ‘show-off’ (which is hard for us Brits 🙂

    The most important for me is reader word of mouth – that the novel is bloody good.

    Looking forward to your ‘mass media’ missive. Thank you again.


  31. Social Media is free name recognition for people who can’t pay for Mass Media name recognition. My name is far more known now than before fb, twitter, etc. You make it sound like we’re waisting our time, like there is some other option available. These are the tools we have. Thank God we have them. Just remember to use the tool properly, and it will work for you. Without cash your other name recognition options are:

    Secretly set fire to a school then save all the children
    Blackmail a director into adapting your book for film


    1. Hear me now and believe me later in the week: EARNED MEDIA IS FREE.

      Also, there are vast chasms of differences that not even Evil Kneivel can jump with a rocket-powered motorcycle when it comes to (a) social networking vs social media and (b) publicity vs marketing vs advertising.


  32. Dear Guy, alias Doomsayer,

    We’re not supposed to shoot the messenger, so I won’t.

    For the woes of getting published (or not) and read (or not), one has only to consider the relative difficulties of Cervantes with making good on “Don Quixote,” Dickens’s with “A Christmas Carol,” Whitman’s with “Leaves of Grass” — and the list goes on and on.

    To write with fame, glory and wealth as one’s objective is tantamount to spitting into the wind. One’s face simply comes up awash with spittle — when it isn’t entirely lost.

    Thanks for the post.



  33. If the mighty power of retweets and shares were true, than all 492,932 authors trying to sell books via the Twitter, the Book of Face and their personal blogs would be selling books like hotcakes.

    Check out Dan Zarrella, social media mad scientist, for actual science on retweets. IT IS NOT PRETTY.


  34. Excellent post, not rocket science or reinventing the wheel, just stating the obvious that nobody really believes; That if your name gets on a film or a television series you’ve more or less made it. How to get there though, rocket man? lol.
    Seriously, a top post, thanks a lot.


  35. Very information, sadly It makes for miserable stats. I was at Marie Duffy’s book launch Any Dream Will Do last night. In her speech she said the agent Sheila Crowly from Curtis Brown noticed her on twitter, requested a meeting and suggested Marie used her twitter voice in a book. Sheila Crowley now represents Marie who got a 2 book deal with Hachette. A nice ending to her tweets.


  36. As I’ve long suspected. I’ve used Twitter to promote my book religiously to my 1,200 followers, mainly by “positioning” myself as an expert in my arena (high on the list of Internet marketing gurus’ advice). Bupkus. Competing against hundreds of millions of websites might have something to do with it.

    I haven’t used FB to reach my 150 or so friends because I don’t think it’s right to put the arm on family/friends to buy one’s book; it’s like a life insurance agent coaching Little League baseball to scare up sales prospects. Reprehensible.

    So I’ve hit rock bottom with my marketing efforts: I’m pushing one of my sons, either one, it doesn’t matter, to hang around bars frequented by the ‘Jersey Shore’ brain trust to pick up Snooki or one of the other female Mensa candidates. My new tag line will read: “Written by the meteoric writing talent whose son, either one, it doesn’t matter, screwed Snooki’s brains out (that took two minutes–the rest of the hour was gravy!).”


    1. I like your new plan. It has merit.

      When I no longer suffer from the Spanish Flu of 1918, and my brain is working again, I’ll write a mondo post on how to get coverage in the mass media.


  37. Ugh. Horribly sensible. However, I’d rather be poor than Snooki. Oh, hang on – I am. Hooray! Now I’m happy again.

    One thing, though: I love Twitter and as well as loving it find it incredibly useful. But I am not there because I think it sells books (luckily) but because a) I love hanging out there and making friends, which I have and b) it does provide opportunities for useful connections. Which is fun as well as useful.


    1. You are wise and British – two great things that go great together.

      Now it makes sense. I wondered why 5.93 bazillion people hit the blog between midnight and 5 a.m. The answer: TIME ZONES.


  38. I wonder if there isn’t a major category error here from the iternet fanboyz you’re talking about (and whether maybe to a certain extent therefore the criticism of them is aiming at a straw man). And it’s the same mistake a lot of self-publishers are making because they’ve seen the breakout successes of a few mass market self-publishing authors. What you say about low click-throughs and the like is eminently sensible when it comes to any mass market product, but I would like to see a comparison for those writing in a niche. What the internet allows is the building of a series of close direct relationships (a thousand true fans – with any luck now that the mass market self-publishing gold rush is well and truly over people will start talking about that again – it never stopped being the best advice available). That’s exactly the kind of area self-publishing works best for – people who want to sell books in hundreds not tens of thousands, but want to do so to devoted fans who share something fundamental with them, be it an interest or an ideology. I would wager there are plenty of tweeters with a few hundred followers a quarter of whom buy everything they write.


    1. I’d take that bet, but THAT WOULD BE STEALING YOUR MONIES.

      This is the first I’ve heard of a micro-niche argument for publishing a couple hundred books, and it sounds too much like micro-fiche to me, and since I think librarians rock, it confuses my little brain. Professors selling textbooks for $200 a pop could swing something like this. HOWEVER: they’ve got a captive audience, since every class of sophomores has to give blood or pledge the rest of their life to some evil beast named Sallie Mae to buy the stupid books. So a professor wouldn’t need to waste time on useless tweeting at all.


  39. Great post. Scary for us indie and self-published authors but it’s good to know not to put all our eggs in one basket 😉


  40. Great stuff here, Guy. Depressing but great.

    I got on Twitter because everyone said it must be done, but I stay on because I like meeting other writerly types. Like you.

    Anxiously awaiting the how to get in on mass media post. I hope 100% of your followers read, respond, and buy this. 😉


      1. A blog is smart, though far too many people treat it like an online diary. And the Twitter is powerful, if you use it for TALKING to people.


  41. Oh dear I feel a little ill. Ill and smug. I gave up twitter feeling bilious. Futility and stupidity made fashion. 140 characters of twaddle. Everyone said I had to do it if I wanted to sell my books. I knew they were wrong and you have given me the ammunition to support that. Thank you.


      1. Yes! Exactly. 😉 We need this expert help. I agree with you totally. I even have a background in journalism, as you know. But… I still am not entirely sure what to do? Mass press releases to newspapers with copies of my book? Stalking the homes of my favorite directors until they agree to produce my book as a movie? I’ll do anything. Well, EXCEPT perform like a dumb monkey on some real housewives of blablabla. That I WON’T do. There must be another way. Tell me, oh Expert of Media, that there IS another way?


      2. I’m throwing in my plea here too. How does someone even lower than a ‘nobody’ on the publishing scales get that name recognition? I’m doing the only thing I can think of by working on getting short stories published before I begin pitching the novel, but that’s a slow process. My blog and twitter and Facebook efforts are more for actual ‘networking’.


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