How Not to Sell Books on Twitter … And What to Do Instead

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5-18-15 Twitter Book MarketingToday’s guest post on book marketing is by author and editor, Jordan Rosenfeld.

After the thrill of writing and the exhilaration of publishing comes the thud of marketing. For many writers, this is where they fall off the face of the cliff in exhaustion or anxiety. Writers are, after all, more often creative people than business people, easily overwhelmed by shilling one’s work in a crowded marketplace.

And yet, writers are perfectly poised to use that same creative power that writes books, stories and essays, to design their social media strategy. In particular, I’m going to focus on Twitter—though what I’ll say can be applied to most other forms of social media in one way or another.

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Despite the 140-character rule, Twitter is actually a heavily storytelling medium. The popular tweeps are those who have something funny, deep, pointed or powerful to say.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Twitter is actually a heavily storytelling medium via @JordanRosenfeld” quote=”Twitter is actually a heavily storytelling medium via @JordanRosenfeld”]

How many times have you known a friend to get excited because so-and-so famous person “retweeted” a person’s tweet? A retweet in this arena is like being high-fived by someone you admire.

There’s a Party Happening on Twitter

At its best, Twitter is like a big party where everyone is throwing out their best quips or one-liners, be they deep thoughts, funny jokes, or tantalizing snippets of information about a project that make one’s followers want to learn more. At its worst, it’s like walking into a bargain basement and having salespeople lob cheap products at you. Don’t be one of those.

Quip for quip, you engage with other likeminded people. Inspiring quotes and kernals of wisdom often do well, too, because in our hustle-bustle lives, we often need easy to digest morsels of inspiration to take into our day.

What doesn’t work so well is the in-your-face sell. You see a lot of this:

“Hot New Suspense Book, only $1.99 now!” #ebook #cheapreads #suspense

What’s wrong with that, you ask? For one thing, I’ve got to take the author’s word for it that it’s a “hot” new book or a “fantastic read.” And frankly, it’s a bit like a mother telling you her child is gorgeous—bias at work, right? Where’s the cred to back up that this book is hot? Things on sale do not necessarily equal quality. Most people are going to skim right over this.


The Sexy Vampire Chronicles, Free today. Don’t miss it. #hot #vampire #sex

How about this one? It’s got the word “sex” in it, it must work! Right? Nope. Once again, all we have are words without proof. How is this sexy vampire chronicle different from any other? What’s in it for me? How do I know this is my kind of vampire sex? Still, not enough information to make me, the follower, care enough to click or buy. Even, friends, if the book is free.

What makes us want to know more? What makes us want to click?

A hook of some kind. In many ways, writing about your work for Twitter is a bit like writing that opening paragraph of your query letter for an agent, or the logline for your screenplay. You have to hook me.

That means: tell me something in a new or interesting way. Set me up to want more. Sell me on the things that make your book unique (and don’t take your own word for it—just like you do with a manuscript, get feedback on your tweets). Talk about your book in a new and clever way without hard selling it. Just make me interested.

[clickToTweet tweet=”On Twitter, sell me on the things that make your book unique via @JordanRosenfeld” quote=”On Twitter, sell me on the things that make your book unique via @JordanRosenfeld”]

Does Your Tweet Answer this Question: What’s in it for the reader?

People are also always looking for: “What’s in it for me? What will I get out of this?”

So, now that you have an idea of what not to do, let’s look at what you can do:

  • Offer your followers something of substance: You can’t just sell your work and expect to win followers—you also have to be a resource or a go-to of some kind. Make yourself into someone that other people retweet because you share valuable information. Do you write in a particular genre? Share helpful writer tips. Explore books/workshops/classes and other material that have helped you be a better writer. Share about the process of writing and what has and hasn’t worked for you. Misery loves company. I have several writing guides published. My most recent one is about persistence. I’ve been blogging about the themes of the book for months. Then I share the blog posts and add a #persist or #WritersGuide2Persistence hashtag, but rarely do I add an actual sales link.
  • Share your work, don’t sell it. Instead of writing the kind of tweets I mentioned above in which all a reader learns is that you are selling a book for a certain price, share actual pithy lines or descriptions from your book. For my new book, A Writer’s Guide to Persistence, I share lines like these, adapted from my book itself. In fact, I take up to 10 tweets out of each chapter of my book and schedule them to run at intervals (I use the automated scheduling service Social Oomph):

Stand in your truth with courage. The haters & naysayers can write their own stories.#WritersGuide2Persistence #bebold #amwriting

If you don’t put the writing first, you inevitably put your energies elsewhere. #WritersGuide2Persistence#tametime

Better to disappoint others and write, than to carry resentment for not saying no.#WritersGuide2Persistence #amwriting #boundaries

[clickToTweet tweet=”On Twitter, share your work, don’t sell it via @CaballoFrances” quote=”On Twitter, share your work, don’t sell it via @CaballoFrances”]

I get vastly more retweets from these tweets than any other I have ever made that suggest I have a book for sale at “x price, in x genre.”

  • Put your book link (as a shortened bitlink or similar) in your Twitter bio.

Only about once in 40 tweets do I ever run an actual link to purchase my book. But I do leave the link to my book in my bio. On Twitter, people are always looking at your bio—when they decide to follow you, when they like your tweets. Apps make it simple to check the bio, as well. In this way, I’m not waving my link constantly in their faces, but it’s in an easy to find place for interested people.

  • Curate content from other writers of a similar genre or kind. Alongside my own tweets, I regularly share the tweets of others writers on writing whose work I admire and who also make a habit of offering something back to readers. Using the “list” function in twitter, I can easily keep track of them and retweet their content regularly.

How to plot and outline your novel without using a formula:… | @Book_Arch #amwriting

“Meditation is about paying attention…when your mind wanders.” @zen_habits to @WriterUnboxed

Remember that all social media is a conversation, and nobody wants to walk into a party and receive a sales pitch.

New to Twitter or just wanting to learn more? Download my free eBook, Twitter Just for Writers.

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Jordan Author headshotJordan E. Rosenfeld is author of: A Writer’s Guide to Persistence, Make a Scene, and, with Martha Alderson, the forthcoming Writing Deep Scenes, all from Writer’s Digest Books. Look for her new novel, Women in Red, from Booktrope in June. Her work has been published in: Alternet, Bustle, the New York Times, Salon, The Rumpus, the Washington Post, Writer’s Digest magazine and The Writer.


Frances Caballo- Author of Avoid Social Media Time SuckFrances Caballo is an author and social media strategist and manager for writers. You can receive a free copy of her book Twitter Just for Writers by signing up for her newsletter. Connect with Frances on FacebookTwitterLinkedInPinterest, and Google+. Be sure to check out my Social Media for Authors Podcast.

Practical Tips for Marketing Your Books on the Social Web

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