Award-winning historical novelist Anna Belfrage from Sweden shares the results of her experiment to determine whether Twitter is an effective tool for selling self-published books, and considers whether the return in terms of book sales is worth the time invested.
To tweet or not to tweet?
Let’s face it. Twitter can be severely restricting for us authors. 140 characters require discipline and creativity, and I imagine I am not the only one who finds the disjointed and brief Twitter conversations a tad frustrating. I never quite know what to do with it, truth be told, and the few times I attempt to tweet about truly relevant stuff, like the recent terrorist attacks, I feel as if I’m dropping a very, very, very small pebble into a very, very, very deep well. No response – which has me breaking out in depressed song, along the lines “hello from the other side”.
About My Twitter Trial
Still, I have a number of author friend who insist tweeting is a great way of enhancing your social image, which is why I decided some months ago to invest time and energy in my tweeting endeavours. I joined a tweet group, I started thinking about suitable Twitter pics, I revised my short-links and set about trying to formulate punchy little texts.
One thing about joining tweet groups is that unless you RT their tweets, people will not tweet you back. Ergo, time needs to be invested on retweeting other people’s tweets. Rarely are these tweets focused on the human condition in general. People who make the effort to join tweet groups are generally there to promote something. Like a book.
Consequently, when you start tweeting these tweets, your own Twitter stream runs the risk of becoming a blaring advertisement channel. Not good, IMO. I want my followers to find interesting articles, posts about history, the odd nice picture. So it follows that as a consequence of all my promo tweets, I now have to tweet MORE of the “serious content” tweets. Very exhausting, at times.
The Scheduling Imperative
Being serious about tweeting also requires that you learn to schedule your tweets, as otherwise you will drown. I use Tweetdeck or this, and mostly it works, but now and then it doesn’t. Once a week, I will invest two hours in scheduling a nice combo of promo tweets with “historical post” tweets. I do not schedule promo tweets for all days.
I have discovered that having the odd day without any promo tweets leads to a higher number of RTs the day after.
I guess people get tired of the same old, same old, even if the veterans among the Twitter community say it doesn’t matter if you use the same tweet over and over again, because chances are that anyone will see it popping up repeatedly are slim, seeing as Twitter activity is constantly high.
How Much Time Should Authors Invest in Twitter?
These days, I probably spend an hour a day on Twitter, five days a week. I RT, chase down interesting posts to mix in with the promo stuff, add the odd quote or pic. The truly distracting aspect about it is that I can’t spend that one hour in one go. I dip in and out throughout the day.
The big question is whether all this activity sells more books. Judging from my own behaviour, yes, it does.
I have followed tweets through to their Amazon link and purchased the promoted books. Often it has been due to a neat one-liner or a beautiful picture. Rarely is it because the writer in question sends off fifty identical tweets over fifty minutes. Those books, I don’t even look at.
Being a number person, I have estimated that the percentage of sold books is dismally low versus the actual tweets. Using myself as an example, I’ve bought around ten books in three months, which would put the percentage at somewhere like 0.00001% of all book tweets in my promo group,but at a substantially higher 0.001 % of the tweets I’ve actually seen.
Still, not the most impressive of numbers, as it indicates I need 909 tweets to sell one book.
Well, what I need is for 909 people to SEE the tweet to sell one book. And here is where the economies of scale kick in. Through my Twitter groups, I reach thousands upon thousands of people. I would estimate that 1-2% of all the people I reach actually look at the tweet, and one in nine hundred buy the book. If I want to sell 100 books a month, it follows that I need to reach 6-9 million people a month,or 200,000 to 300,000 a day. That’s a LOT of people. Depressingly many, right? So, does it work?
My Verdict on Twitter
Over the last few months, I have focused on promoting two of my books: A Rip in the Veil and In the Shadow of the Storm. And yes, sales have gone up by approximately 50-70 books a month.
This leads me to conclude there is something to be said for Twitter promotion – but it has to be done with care.
Tweets need to look professional, they have to be varied, and now and then they must be about other things than the book you want to flog. Quite often, actually.
In conclusion, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Yes, Twitter can help you sell books, but be prepared to invest the required hours. In my case, around 30 hours per month for 100–140 sold books.
Do the maths, peeps. Not the biggest return on investment, is it? However, I am still a newbie at this, and as I learn I expect to become more efficient. Or not, seeing as the biggest time drain is all the time I spend reading the stuff that pops up on my Twitter feed!
OVER TO YOU What's your experience of Twitter – have you discovered a strategy that helps you equal or surpass Anna Belfrage's tweet-related sales? Or do you think Twitter is simply a net drain of time better spent writing or doing other promotional activity? We'd love to hear your views!
- A Masterclass on Twitter from Laurence O'Bryan and Ian Sutherland (part of the IAF BEA conference)
- Twitter Strategy Chat with Ian Sutherland (our August #AuthorALLiChat)
- An Easy Twitter Trick for your Blog by Debbie Young