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Reaching Readers – How To Sell Self-published Books On Twitter

Reaching Readers – How to Sell Self-published Books on Twitter

Irish indie author J J Toner shares the route he has found to raise the visibility and sales of his self-published thrillers via Twitter.

Twitter bird outlineI think everyone would agree that, once you have one or more well-written, well-edited and well-categorized eBook(s) for sale on Amazon, visibility is the name of the game.

I have four thrillers on Amazon, two that feature the Irish detective DI Ben Jordan and two spy stories set during WW2. The Black Orchestra was launched in January 2013 and The Wings of the Eagle 12 months later. So far, I have sold over 8,500 copies of The Black Orchestra and close to 3,000 copies of the sequel. In addition, interest in DI Ben Jordan is experiencing a revival! Here's how I do it.

Best Twitter Strategy

I use Facebook to announce launches and promotions and Twitter to maintain visibility. Having built up my Twitter following to 16k+ I use TweetAdder to schedule regular promotional tweets containing snippets from favourable reviews interspersed with notifications about World War II blogs that feature on my website.

This strategy was recommended by Laurence O’Bryan in November 2013 when I first signed up to his social networking support service BooksGoSocial.

In addition to this advice, selected tweets are sent out daily to the 235,000 followers of his service. This Twitter activity may seem like overkill, but as Laurence points out, only a small fraction of Twitter followers will actually read any one tweet, and of these only a fraction will click the link provided and a fraction of those will actually buy a book.

Compelling Evidence

jjtonerIn April I bought an Apple Mac to replace my old Windows PC. Switching my TweetAdder account proved tricky and I lost contact with Twitter for a couple of days. During that period, sales of my books declined. Switching off the twitter promotion by Laurence’s site for a month at a time had a similar effect, proving the value of that service.

If you're looking for a promotional site that does an outstanding job of showcasing independently published novels, you might want to give BooksGoSocial a try. The quality of your writing and editing must both be high, and your books need to be priced and categorized correctly, but if you have these factors in place then a small investment in marketing might be just what you need.

So that you can see JJ Toner's campaign in action, here's his Twitter handle: @JJToner_YA


The thing with Twitter is some people get really into it and for others it is a chore. And then other people just never get it. So the suggestion to all indie authors is to give it a good try for three months. If you get no benefit, or are not enjoying it, invest your energies elsewhere.

Good Twitter Picture, Good Twitter Profile

Your photograph should be recent and a good portrait shot. Remember it gets reduced to a teeny weeny little picture in twitter feeds so it should be clear and crisp.

Don’t use hashtags in your profile and go easy on the “award winning”, “bestselling” and “greatest of all time” accolades unless they really have a high value. If you have won the Pulitzer Prize or the Orange Prize for Fiction – by all means boast about it.

Twitter Lists

  • Create Lists (Click Lists < Create New List).  This is an easy and great way to keep track of tweets and tweeters that might otherwise get lost in your ever-expanding Twitter feed! Create lists for Authors, Influencers, News, Friends, etc. To add people to your list, go to their profile and select “add to list”.
  • Anticipate and join twitter conversations (as they are happening); respond to everything, positive or negative.
  • Use tweets to set up meetings.
  • Reach out, just say hello.
  • Make your bio and your tweets personal.

Set A Daily Twitter Task

For indie writers to succeed on Twitter, you have to do it every day/all day.

Check followers every day, follow back your new followers, and tweet them a message of interest or thanks.

Follow 10-15 new Twitters a day, but no more. It is very important that you don’t go overboard with following since this can be flagged as spam and cause Twitter to suspend or even delete your account permanently.

Use a site like www.friendorfollow.com to:

  • Make sure you are following your followers (that aren’t spam)
  • Unfollow accounts that are not following you
  • Unfollow spam accounts

Go through your feed and lists and:

  • Reach out. Tweet 5-10 followers with a message
  • Retweet 3-5 relevant tweets in your own feed

Check Trending Topics and top news stories. Trending Topics are the words, phrases, and hashtags that are the most popular on Twitter at the time. It is a good strategy to Tweet about Trending Topics daily, as people will click on the topic, and see the real-time results. The top 10 Trending Topics will appear in the middle, right-hand side of your Twitter feed.


Install  Buffer  or Hootsuite to schedule your tweets.

Tweet at least once a day, but we recommend one to two custom tweets, and one retweet. The best times for tweeting are early morning and evening/night — but of course it’s a global platform so it’s always morning or night somewhere. The point is to work out where your followers are — or where you want them to be. If you’re targetting a specific location, middle of the day is not as effective because people are at work.

Don’t be afraid to experiment and to tweet and retweet your tweet at multiple times during the day, to increase exposure on it.

Write Tweets that sound like headlines.

Types of Tweets

  • Links
  • Questions
  • Photo/Video
  • Quotes/Factoids/Anecdotes (where appropriate)
  • Relevant news/stories
  • Q&A

Twitter Hashtags

The # symbol, called a hashtag, is used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet. People use the hashtag symbol # before relevant keywords in their Tweet to categorize those Tweets to show more easily in Twitter Search. Clicking on a hashtagged word in any message shows you all other Tweets in that category.

  • Hashtags can occur anywhere in the Tweet.
  • Hashtagged words that become very popular are often Trending Topics
  • ALWAYS try to include a hashtag in your tweets
  • Hashtags should be relevant to what you are posting. For example, when posting about your novel, include “#fiction” and “#novel” in your tweet.

Tip: If you include another user’s @-handle, they’ll see your tweet. It’s like sending a message to them that the whole world will see.

Twitter Analytics

Use Bit.ly Url shortener. Bit.ly links are customizable and provide analytics on how many clicks your links are getting. (http://bit.ly)

Use Tweetdeck (or others like www.Hootsuite.com) as a resource to see what the top tweets/tweeters are in all different categories http://www.tweetdeck.com/directory/

Use a real-time Twitter search engine to find relevant tweets; use as another tool to reach out (www.kurrently.com)

Use Twilert.com to set up alerts for different keywords in Twitter. Similar to Google Alerts, it allows you to see what people are saying about certain topics in real time.

To share this post on Twitter, here's our suggested tweet:

“Can #Twitter really help you sell your books? Yes! Compelling evidence from @JJToner_YA via @IndieAuthorALLi: : https://selfpublishingadvice.org/how-to-sell-books-on-twitter”

Author: JJ Toner

JJ Toner is best known as the author of a series of WW2 spy thrillers. The first book, The Black Orchestra, was published in 2013, and the fourth, The Gingerbread Spy was launched in April 2018. He also writes science fiction and detective thrillers. He lives in Ireland. Read more about JJ Toner at his website: www.jjtoner.com.


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  27. Those twitter tips were helpful. (Not my work, btw). This one needs a caveat:

    “Tip: If you include another user’s @-handle, they’ll see your tweet. It’s like sending a message to them that the whole world will see.”

    This is true, but if you START the tweet with a user’s @ handle, only that user and his/her followers will receive the tweet.


  28. Thanks for the post JJ very useful information on what you have found works and backed up by figures. I certainly need to review my Twitter strategy – and all my marketing strategy come to that!!

  29. Thank you, JJ, for this excellent article. I have now signed up for Laurence’s BooksGoSocial for my first book. I’ll see how it goes and may sign the others up later. Cautious – that’s me!

    I’ll review my Twitter strategy. At the moment I try to be 70% social and 30% promotional. I can’t bear people just pushing out ‘buy my book’ all the time, but I do like creative tweets and those about their book’s world.

  30. Some good ideas here, how to vary posts and not get boring! As omeone else said, I’ve always found those who constantly tweet variations of ‘buy my book’ in 140 characters are rather a turn-off, so have tried not to do that.

  31. I’m interested in signing up for this, but I’m a little confused. It looks like I’m submitting payment via Paypal (which is no problem, I have an account) without having provided any information about me or the book? Did I miss a step somewhere?

  32. If I may add a comment. I believe the number of Twitter followers you have, who are interested in reading, has a real impact.

    Our numbers are just touching 250,000 now. These are not fake either. I have been active on Twitter since 2010. That is sustained daily activity, answering all mentions, engaging, helping, providing value since then.

    This is a huge personal investment.

    Part of this growth also happened as a result of promotions by Harper Collins when they published 3 novels for me and invested in various promotions and competitions to attract followers. I see no reason why these readers/followers should now not be promoted to by indie authors with good books.

    There is also a range of responses to the books we promote. The more popular titles do better, as you might expect with any promotions. Twitter can work. That doesn’t mean it always works in my experience.

  33. I always thought I would be boring on Twitter – if I had to come up with something to say. But you’ve given me the idea of tweeting snippets of Pride’s Children that 1) are short and pithy, and 2) I’m proud of having written (even if you would call them ‘my darlings’ and slate them for execution).

    Sometimes I forget that the reason I’m a writer is because it’s fun to write something – and then say, “I don’t know where that came from, but I like it.”

    The felicitous turn of phrase has to delight the writer – before it can delight anyone else.

    I should have picked up on this already. Every Tuesday, when I put out the new polished scene from PC on my blog, I look through the scene to find something short I can put in the announcement post (if you follow, you are told when the new scene comes out, and provided with a direct link) in the form of a graphic with a quote. Quozio.com – and others – provide the software (free) to take my little quote and make it look visually appealing.

    It is easy and fast and fairly automatic now – finding a quote and creating an image that goes in the post – but the quote could also be an easy tweet if I were marketing. And the work of reading the scene and selecting an appropriate teaser has already been done for many of the scenes when I first put it out.

    Another arrow into the quiver. Thanks!

  34. Interesting! This runs counter to the usual advice that tweeting constantly about your book turns people off. Can I ask how you built up your 16,000 followers in the first place?

    1. Hi Fran. It took several (3?) years to build up from zero to 16,500 twitter followers. The main strategy I used was to follow the followers of similar writers and hope they followed me back. I followed followers of Ken Follett and Phillip Kerr and Robert Harris, for example. I also followed followers of some WW2 thriller writers of eBooks. I found out of 100 that I followed, an average 50 followed me back and 10 bought one of my books. Mind you, I used TweetAdder to do most of the heavy lifting, but twitter have put serious shackles on TweetAdder and similar software, now, so it’s much more difficult to do this. It’s still possible, but it takes longer and involves a lot more keyboard time. JJ

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