Does Twitter Make Sense for Most Writers?

delete-twitter

Yesterday I read “Goodbye to Twitter Village, Part II: Lessons Learned” by author Benjamin Anastas. It’s a lengthy post about why, after more than a year on Twitter, Anastas has decided it’s a waste of time.

It’s hard to disagree with much of what he says. (Perhaps this comes as a surprise to those who see me as a big advocate of writers having an online presence, building platform, etc.)

Here are some of his points that I find striking and true—each encapsulating things I’ve told authors myself, again and again:

  • “It’s all ephemera, meant for instant consumption and destined for replacement by the avalanche of tweets to follow.”
  • “If I wanted to gain an audience on Twitter—and keep as many of them as possible from un-following me—I had to offer something beyond a promotional platform for my book.”
  • “I came to Twitter because I had a book to sell, and my misgivings about the whole enterprise meant that I would never be any good at it.”
  • “I’ve come to doubt Twitter’s value as a marketing platform.”
  • “My friend A. was right when he said that you had to enjoy Twitter for it make any sense.”
  • “Tweets won’t gain you followers. Publishing in the real world will.”

It’s how Anastas ends his article that’s sparked me to post about it:

Mystery plays a big role in our love of books, and by using social media to promote yourself, you’re only demystifying your work for everyone who follows you. And that makes you lose potential readers.

It’s a perspective I find most common among the more literary authors—a desire to preserve the mystique of their work, who they are, and what they do.

I’m pretty torn on this.

On the one hand, the whole author mystique game is very peculiar to the literary community. It’s hard to find commercial or genre authors acting like a Thomas Pynchon; you won’t find them saying things like “I don’t really write for readers. I think that’s the defining characteristic of being serious as a writer.”

On the other hand, I think it’s possible to use social media and keep the mystique in play. That’s part of the artistry. Use the tools to your own ends, rather than letting the tools use you (which I believe happened to Anastas—and it happens to all of us, at one time or another).

The paradox for me: Anastas appears to have no problem with blogging. (I think—maybe that complaint is in a different post.) I didn’t follow Anastas on Twitter, but if I did, I wonder if I would know as much about him as I do now, from reading this single blog post. Blogging is as much social media as tweeting, Facebooking, and all the rest of it. Anastas has a comments section where he invites people to “fire away.” And now here I am, engaging in a dialogue in my preferred venue, because I’d like to bring his provocative perspective to a wider audience, if I can—I’d like to stir a discussion and see what you think. Because I’m still deciding.

One favor to ask: Pair Anastas’s piece with the following RSA Animate video. It’s about 10 minutes of your time, but watch it and see how the two perspectives compare. Are they compatible? And if they’re not, will writers in the future be able to take the same path Anastas has: “I’ll go back to being a writer again. Just a writer. Not a writer who’s wasting his time on social media.”


Upcoming Online Classes

Posted in Life Philosophy, Marketing & Promotion and tagged , , , .
Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

Jane currently teaches writing and publishing at the University of Virginia and is a columnist for Publishers Weekly. The Great Courses just released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (2017).

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

Join the conversation

68 Comments on "Does Twitter Make Sense for Most Writers?"

Notify of
avatar

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Daniel Anuchan
Daniel Anuchan
3 years 17 days ago

While I might agree that twitter may not be the best platform for writers, I would not argue that social media in general is a waste of time for writers trying to build a following. Twitter is a nice place for me to get info from sources I don’t normally follow. Many of the blogs I subscribe to were introduced to me on twitter.

Atomic 27 Media
Atomic 27 Media
3 years 17 days ago

I think the bigger question is really if most writers want to be entrepreneurs. I think that many, even those who are successful as indie authors, still run to a publishing contract merely because there are other people who can handle their marketing and promotion, and they can concentrate on their craft.

trackback

[…] Is social media a waste of time for writers? Is it possible, in the end, to just focus on writing?  […]

JosephRatliff
3 years 17 days ago

If “selling your book” is your only objective with Twitter, it will be a waste of time.

“Social” media implies conversation, and if none exists on your Twitter account, most likely you’ll be ignored.

That being said, I’m running a “Twitterless” experiment of my own, and I have to say, I don’t miss it much at all.

Carmel
Carmel
3 years 17 days ago

Maybe the word for me (instead of demystification) should be oversaturation. I don’t Twitter, but I do follow some authors and musicians on Facebook. I’m curious at first about their lives, but what I really fell in love with was their work, and that’s what I want to read and re-read.

JenniferLynKing
JenniferLynKing
3 years 17 days ago
I agree, that the world is complex and becoming harder to navigate by the day. We have to pick our values and where we want to spend our time, whether we’re writers, or other professionals. There is only so much time in the day. Having said that, I believe social media can be a rich experience, one of networking and meeting others with similar values and backgrounds, who also enjoy learning and interacting with others. Twitter, certainly, is not a place to sell anything. It is a place to be yourself, and join in the conversations. People looking for results… Read more »
Kathy Smiley
Kathy Smiley
3 years 17 days ago
If you walk into a bar full of people who want to listen to you, drop a backpack full of your books on a table and shout “hey, everyone, I’m selling my book today!”, you might receive a decent response. If you do it the next day, the response will be less positive. If you’re still doing it in two weeks, people will begin to actively avoid you. It is a myth that you can sell on social media… a huge social blunder. If you’re not willing to be social, to engage your readers in dialogue, to share your thoughts,… Read more »
M.K. Tod
3 years 17 days ago

Manuel Lima suggests that the web of life is a networked structure. While Benjamin Anastas rejects one element of social media (and hence one connection of the networked infrastructure available to authors), perhaps he’s merely being selective in his use of the networked world of engagement. If his blog is useful, others in the twitter sphere will bring his ideas forward. From my vantage point, Twitter seems full of writers screeching through megaphones like circus barkers and people whose only reason to follow is so you will follow back. I’m not ready to give up yet but I’m tempted!

Steve Weddle
3 years 17 days ago

He tried using twitter because he wanted to sell books there. It didn’t work for him, so he left. Seems fairly straightforward.

As folks here have suggested, if you’re being social in your use of social media, you’ll probably have a better time of it. Of course, you still have those writers who seem more social and engaged, only to post “Oh, golly. Thanks so much to @REVIEWERPERSON for this great review of my book. LINK” and other #humblebrags, but that’s a different post, I’d imagine.

And thanks for the WIll Self link. Hadn’t seen that.

Julia Gabriel
Julia Gabriel
3 years 17 days ago
I don’t think he really understood how Twitter works. If you’re just posting random thoughts (or book promos), that’s like standing on a street corner in Times Square and shouting at people. But if you take the time to meet and make friends with people on Twitter (and it does take time, just like making friends in the real world does) it can be valuable and enjoyable. You won’t sell huge numbers of books but you can sell some. You can get interviews and guest blogging invites from people you meet on Twitter. And you can just plain meet interesting… Read more »
Linda Paul
Linda Paul
3 years 17 days ago
I am relatively new to Twitter and I came to it kicking and screaming and rolling my eyes. I, too, wonder about its usefulness as a marketing tool, I understand that it is one more layer of exposure. Exposure is critically to marketing self-pub books. Once you’ve sold (or given) copies to your circle of friends & family, how are you going to reach the world at large? Twitter offers one additional tool in the arsenal. Used correctly, I can see that Twitter can surely drive up sales. (How else could Shades of Grey become a household name?) I confess… Read more »
Connie Brentford
3 years 17 days ago

I suppose mystery might be a necessity for literary fiction writers but as a nonfiction writer my job is to demystify my subject for my readers. Twitter is great place for me to continue to teach in 140 characters or less and I get to pass along bite-size chunks from other thought leaders on the same subject (more value for my readers). A Twitter connection landed me an interview in a US magazine with 2M subscribers. So, book sales were really good that month!

Ed DeCaria
Ed DeCaria
3 years 17 days ago

Blogging IS social media. What we think of as pure social media today (FB, TW, etc.) often act as gateways/gatekeepers to longer-form blog entries, but both are essentially social in nature. The degree to which either form is used to socialize depends entirely on the user. They can both just as easily be one way streets.

Amanda McTigue
Amanda McTigue
3 years 17 days ago
About 3/4 of the way through Lima’s brill-brill-brilliance on the big picture, I was pondering scale, when he raised the issue. This paradigm shift “is true” — or, in some minds, “may be true” — but for anyone, and certainly for the writer, participating effectively in the reality of network requires and expresses POV. Lima is in God-view which is fab for philosophy and theoretical physics and doing precisely what he does. I, as a writer, operate on a different scale. I’m down with the words, the sentence, the intended communication whether “just to myself” or to readers. This is… Read more »
AJ Sikes
AJ Sikes
3 years 17 days ago
I wrote a very similar post for my publisher’s blog about why I left Facebook. Pretty much the same reasons Anastas cites for ditching the Twitosphere. Facebook became a socializing form of media for me, not a form of media that I used to be social. On Facebook, I was a writer who wasted time on social media. Twitter, on the other hand, lets me engage in short conversations with people in publishing, writer friends and readers, and without the distracting ads, endless pictures of cats, etc. Using the lists feature, I can easily change between which group of followers/followed… Read more »
FrancesCaballo
FrancesCaballo
3 years 17 days ago
I agree with Kathy Smiley’s comment. Writers who self-promote nonstop on Twitter or any other social media network aren’t likely to have the type of following or sales as someone who becomes known for sharing great content. I like Guy Kawasaki’s idea: become the NPR within your niche. Become known for sharing the best nuggets of information that’s available. He also reduces the 80/20 rule to 90/10; 90% of the time we should promote other authors, ideas, news items, etc. and at most 10% of the time we can tweet about our blog posts, books, stories, etc. Another problem I… Read more »
Seeley James
Seeley James
3 years 17 days ago

I’ve 30 years of sales & marketing experience in my past life. Without reading the post, I can tell you he’s right & wrong. He’s right that you cannot ‘sell’ your product over Twitter. Twitter is like TV advertising, it’s mostly ignored because it’s a ‘push’ medium. Blogging is more efficient for indies because people who read it are doing so voluntarily. They want to hear you.

Indies have little time and (usually) little interest in sales. For that reason, the blog is a much more efficient use of time.

Peace, Seeley

Richard Gilbert
3 years 17 days ago
I am late to Twitter—like in the last two weeks—and don’t yet fully understand it, so I appreciate this. I truly was grateful to learn here the other day that I shouldn’t be feeding Tweets to my Facebook account. Of course. Duh. Now if I could only find how to turn that feed off! But regarding the comments here on blogging, I do think I understand that—and I see it very much as both a genre of writing AND as a form of social media. This is on my mind because July 17 I mark my blog’s 5th anniversary and… Read more »
Thomas Burchfield
Thomas Burchfield
3 years 17 days ago

It’s all what you’re willing to put up with. Me, I tried Twitter for a few years, but in the end found it boring, the tweets rushing by in a blur (It’s no good responding to anything older than an hour). Did I sell any of my books on it? I have no idea, maybe a few, but not enough to keep me there. I find Facebook easier to interact with and track. The conversations take place at a slower pace and allow for more thought. I have relatively few friends and, honestly, prefer communicating via my blog.

trackback

[…] the conversation triggered by our colleague Jane Friedman here at her site yesterday with her post Does Twitter Make Sense for Most Writers? She’s taking on the fascinating tour-de-social-media mounted by literary writer and memoirist […]

Mari Adkins
3 years 16 days ago

from the very beginning, i was taught that social media is for LISTENING — so, not for talking. makes perfect sense to me.

having said that, i left twitter back in the fall after having been there since its beta launch.

Kellye Crocker
Kellye Crocker
3 years 15 days ago

Mari, I think a lot of people forget the listening aspect. I believe it’s about sharing–giving and receiving. I’m curious about why you left twitter. Have you missed it?

I love twitter but am often tempted to leave Facebook. I blogged from 2005-2007 and have no interest in doing it again (at least now), although “everyone” tells me I must as an aspiring author.

Mari Adkins
3 years 15 days ago

Oh they already have forgotten the listening part. It’s one of the
reasons I left Twitter. When it first started up, it was about seeing
what others had to share, then retweeting as appropriate. That was lost several years ago and only got worse toward the end of 2010 / beginning of 2011. I’m not sure why I stayed there as long as I did, to be honest.

I’m always tempted to leave Facebook. But I’m fairly resigned that it’s a necessary evil. I’ve been blogging since 2000 and running my own website since 2002. It’s always good to have your own webspace

Kellye Crocker
Kellye Crocker
3 years 15 days ago

Thanks for your reply! Interesting. I would have loved to see Twitter “back in the day.” Blogging since 2000? I admire that! Will check it out. I’ve taken down my website and haven’t gotten it up yet…on the list… 🙂

Mari Adkins
3 years 15 days ago

Twitter was a lot different when it first launched, that’s for sure. Yeah, the blogging thing – that’s back when you had to ask for an invite to LiveJournal! I’ve hosted my own since 2002, though.

@kathybosin
@kathybosin
3 years 16 days ago

If you think twitter is a waste of time, you’re not following interesting people.

DJ Young
DJ Young
3 years 16 days ago
I’m a writer who joined Twitter for one reason: to follow other writers and connect with them. To this end, Twitter has been brilliant. The bonus of it is that I’ve managed to follow some amazing minds who share timely, well-informed opinions and thoughts on the art and craft and help to keep me up-to-date with what goes on in the publishing world. Any followers I’ve gained in return are just a lovely surprise, but never the intent (I do not have a book I am currently marketing). I’ve found since joining Twitter (2009), that writers who ‘succeed’ with Twitter… Read more »
Troy Johnson
2 years 6 months ago

I guess if you are using Twitter for the purpose it was designed–no problem, but if you are using it to generate books sales, as it it were your personal store front, you be disappointed.

trackback
trackback

[…] Jane Friedman wrote a great post this week about my favorite social media network, Twitter. Here is is: Does Twitter Make Sense for Most Writers?  […]

trackback

[…] post by Jane Friedman about Twitter for Writers caught my eye earlier this week. I can understand both sides of the […]

trackback

[…] author’s public resignation from the platform has inspired Jane Friedman to consider whether Twitter “makes sense” for writers in the first […]

Heather C Button
Heather C Button
3 years 15 days ago

I use twitter to ‘sell’ on a limited basis. (My current version of sell is updating that I’ve posted something to my website.) My primary use for twitter is to network with other people, companies, and groups, to engage in conversation that can happen there, in real time, where it doesn’t happen on my blog. Perhaps it takes away from my own blog’s engagement, but how will they know I’ve posted to it if they don’t see it on the other venues?

trackback

[…] Friedman: Does Twitter Make Sense for Most Writers? Excerpt: “Yesterday I read “Goodbye to Twitter Village, Part II: Lessons Learned” by […]

MichaelPeck
MichaelPeck
3 years 13 days ago

If you quit Twitter because it’s not worth your time, but then feel the need to write a lengthy two-part essay to explain why, it’s probably not for you.

trackback

[…] Does Twitter Make Sense for Most Writers? […]

Paul Aertker
Paul Aertker
3 years 12 days ago
The comparison of these two perspectives (quitting twitter and the interconnectedness of everything) to me mirrors the publishing industry’s current shift (or rift) between traditional publishing and indie publishing. Traditional publishing has always been cloaked in mystery (hence the undecipherable rejection letters) and those on that side of publishing and writing may still see writing as something esoteric, some secret held by those at the top of the hierarchy. To me, there is no better example of “disorganized complexity” than that of traditional publishing. Those of us on the indie side seem to be more social not just for marketing… Read more »
trackback

[…] Friedman, in her post, “Does Twitter Make Sense for Most Writers?” mentions reading “Goodbye to Twitter Village, Part II: Lessons Learned” by […]

Charles Hurst
Charles Hurst
3 years 11 days ago

Interesting as I have just started the launch of my novel. I have read twitter is outstanding and that it is a waste of time. I keep it there and we’ll see. Thanks for the opinion though.

Charles Hurst, Author of THE SECOND FALL. An offbeat Armageddon

dev
dev
3 years 10 days ago

Hi,

I really liked the post but my question is not about it. I have a query about this one, https://janefriedman.com/2012/01/23/permissions/

Can the title of a book be same as that of a song or book? Do I need permission to use that?

Wendy Ogden @eastbournewrite
Wendy Ogden @eastbournewrite
3 years 8 days ago
What a depressing article that was. My experience of twitter has been fun and friendly and I’ve got so much out of it that has helped my reading and writing. I follow people in a range of fields so get a variety in my feed that is interesting. Following local tweets is useful too and a way of building contacts, making friends even. I see tweets of amazing photographs of local scenery, and creative people doing street art that I can walk down the road and stand next to. Buskers I can listen to. An author in a nearby town… Read more »
Linda Adams
3 years 8 days ago

I’ve never liked Twitter. I’m an introvert, and I always felt like I was at a party I didn’t want to be with everyone chattering at me and expecting me to be constantly on. I’ve only had occasional bouts of fun with it — and it took time away from writing to do. I’ve been focusing a lot more on simply producing stories (I’m not a literary writer; I’m genre). Being published in a major magazine will do more for getting me out there than me struggling to send tweets on a regular basis.

Noel A. O'Reilly
Noel A. O'Reilly
3 years 2 days ago

Jane, one thing I’ve noticed about Twitter is that very few writers will follow you back. I have a separate account I use for tweeting about workplace issues and HR and most people will follow back. I get the impression with writers that it’s every man/woman for himself/herself – the other writers are the competition. I haven’t found it easy to connect with writers who share similar interests to me either but then I haven’t invested much time in it…

trackback

[…] up on emerging trends in technology. If you are Jane Friedman,  you’ll be adamant about connecting in certain ways. The average Joe may feel differently. Your job is to discuss whether e-mail is the best way to […]

Nina Amir
Nina Amir
3 years 1 day ago
I still find Twitter quite useful as an author. I do find that writers and readers follow me and those interested in the information I have to offer are happy to find and share the links to my blog posts. Readers of my book reach out to me on Twitter; it’s a highly accessible social media. I also find it a great place to connect with the media, especially fellow bloggers and podcasters. This means I land interviews and guest posts. And if I want a traditional publishing deal, the number of followers I have on Twitter still helps me… Read more »
trackback

[…] Does Twitter Make Sense for Most Writers? […]

Jim Sellers
Jim Sellers
2 years 11 months ago
I find this post and comments both helpful and confusing. The latter because I can’t tell if people have Twitter because they can’t get enough of it(endless feeds of comments and links from interesting people and a feed to make comments) and don’t care to evaluate the benefits it brings them. The former because I have the same question. I have a book out next month, I want to promote it and Twitter is automatically one of the 3 or 4 prime candidates for social media that people use. I’ve heard more people say “I’m done with Twitter” and I… Read more »
trackback
[…] This presents something of a paradox. How can publishers seek authors with platform (which often involves an online presence that can be quantified) AND claim author websites aren’t terribly effective? But I can see the rationale. If the platform is essentially established ahead of time—and that process probably took the author years—it’s integral, but it’s difficult for an author, on her own, to establish a meaningful platform from the time a book is contracted to the release date, especially if she’s starting from ground zero. (Though, undoubtedly, the author will still be advised to participate in some range of… Read more »
trackback

[…] No, it is not. (Jane Friedman follows this question closely; she says getting on Twitter is pointless if you’re only doing it because your publisher said to do so.) […]

Troy Johnson
2 years 6 months ago

I just wrote and article called “Author’s Don’t Need Twitter” http://aalbc.it/authorsontwitter
I stumbled across this article while looking to see if my article had been indexed in the search engines–I see this is a really popular site!

trackback

[…] Does Twitter Make Sense for Most Writers? https://janefriedman.com/does-twitter-make-sense-for-most-writers/ […]

wpDiscuz