11 April 2009

Publishing and Twitter: A Good Mix?

If you're one of the many book bloggers on Twitter, you know that there is more to it than just announcing your every action. There are literary chats, debates about the worth of book reviews, discussions about books and authors, and Twitter-based book clubs. Twitter provides a means of connecting with authors, book publicists, and publishing companies.

But here's something even experienced Tweeps might not be aware of: John Baird, an author from Seattle, is experimenting with writing a novel on Twitter. Every day, he presents his novel in a series of tweets. The Man Who Does Not Exist is also on John's blog, where you'll find posts that take you through the novel from the beginning to the latest tweet.

I read through the first chapter of the novel, which establishes the setting and introduces us to one character. There is enough mystery to make the reader want to know more. Basically, we are in the wilderness, following a man who seems to have been on his own for a long time. We don't know why he's there and how he got there. All we know is that he has or keeps a journal, he reads Wordsworth, and he suffers from some kind of fits. Although the text could use the firm hand of a good editor, the core of the chapter has potential and serves well as the introduction to a novel.

You can read the story in daily tweets by following @johnmbaird, and you catch up with the action by visiting John's blog.

Let's Discuss

John is involved in an innovative experiment of using the new(ish) social media as a publishing tool. Although I find it a bit a difficult to keep up with the story (Twitter goes down, I fail to pay attention, I'm involved in another conversation, I'm off the computer for a while), and I often forget or don't have time to read the installments, the project got me thinking: Is this a trend? Are there other authors self-publishing in 140 or less?

More important: What do you think? Will Twitter become a source of new talent for publishers and acquisition editors? Does John's experiment sound intriguing? Is he on to something or is it just too difficult to read a story in tweets? Would you consider reading or writing a novel on Twitter? I'd love to hear your honest opinions.


bermudaonion 4/11/09, 9:11 AM  

I'm not sure if I would read it or not, but if the Japanese can write books on cell phones, why can't someone write one on Twitter? I'm going to check out his web site right now.

Unknown 4/11/09, 9:12 AM  

Good one Beth, what an interesting way of showcasing a story. I've just signed up for twitter a few weeks back and will check out John Baird's twitter profile.

Jen - Devourer of Books 4/11/09, 9:17 AM  

I think it definitely a very interesting experiment. It could end up being a way for authors to gain a following or get noticed by a publisher, but I can't imagine actually trying to read a novel in tweets, mostly because I would either miss tweets completely or they would just get lost in the noise. However, if I was really interested in a novel being tweeted, I would probably subscribe to the RSS feed and read the tweets in my Google Reader, which I did with a couple of tweeters before I joined Twitter.

Beth F 4/11/09, 9:22 AM  

Berumda/Kathy: good point. Yes, is using Twitter much different than using texting?

Ulat Buku: I agree, it is interesting concept.

Jen: I hadn't thought about the RSS option. That might help the interested reader stick with the story.

Sandra 4/11/09, 9:36 AM  

The one-on-one convos with publishers and agents remind me of the writing conferences I attend and their social mixers. It's the same concept. An author can interact with publishing professionals, gaining a little more insight into the publishing biz. Plus, the author can establish a rapport which might lead to future opportunities. Twitter can definitely give an author a boost.

Unknown 4/11/09, 10:11 AM  

I really don't think it's a good idea. Twitter does play a more and more significant role in the social sphere but reading a novel on twitter in 140-word takes would probably get boring quickly.

Margay Leah Justice 4/11/09, 10:57 AM  

I'm not sure if it's a good idea or not, but it just inspired a story idea for me. Thanks, Beth!


John 4/11/09, 11:24 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
John 4/11/09, 11:27 AM  

John here. I'll be the first to admit that writing a novel on twitter is a strange experiment. Readers will be the ultimate judge. That said, two things inspired the idea: The fact that many of our greatest writers (Dickens comes to mind) developed a following by serializing their works through periodicals. Twitter, obviously, looks very different than a monthly magazine, whicht brings me to the second reason. Declining readership and our hectic, on-the-go culture seems to demand a different way to consume books. Even the busiest executive or mom of six has time to read a sentence or two every few hours. Pro or con, thanks for all the great feedback.

Unknown 4/11/09, 11:43 AM  

It is a very interesting idea, and I'll be going to have a look as soon as I've posted this comment, but I can't imagine reading many books on Twitter. 140 characters just isn't enough to be able to hold my attention, and develop a plot. I'd get too distracted by all the other tweets flying around.

I'm willing to give it a try though - as I love pioneers!

Thank you for bringing this to my attention!

Sandy Nawrot 4/11/09, 11:59 AM  

You have to give the guy credit for using the latest technology to promote his work...I guess if it works great, if not, it was a fun experiment!

I have resisted Twitter. I know I am going to become a dinosaur soon because of this. If I introduce one more diversion in my life, I will implode!

Lisa 4/11/09, 12:16 PM  

I've been following John's #tweetednovel on Twitter and I find it very refreshing. There is no way you're going to catch every sentence he writes but what John does well is offer little morsels of the story that make you want more, like following the breadcrumbs. So in the sea of Tweets I watch flow by all day, I always enjoy the #tweetednovel because it's different.

With tools like TweetDeck it's so easy to follow his story. What's so nice is that he's not asking you to go off Twitter multiple times a day and read his blog, he's making it easy for you to just follow along.

Love the experiment, I think it's very creative.

Robin M 4/11/09, 1:09 PM  

It sounds interesting. My thought is with all the teens and ya out there who are growing up on twitter, it is a great way to market to them.

Me - however. Getting something in bits and spurts wouldn't be satisfying to read. But I'm not really a twitter fan. Will check out his website though.

Robin Wendell 4/11/09, 1:09 PM  

I tried reading John's novel tweets and found my brain short-circuiting continuity-wise. There seems to something about flowing along with the written word for as long as you need for an image to form that brings to life the phases and connections that are carefully crafted in order to take you into a story and it's characters. 20-25 words were not enough for me. I do enjoy reading John's novel a bit at a time on his website, my brain is happier with a longer format.

I've read Alexander McCall Smith's novel serialized in the Telegraph Corduroy Mansions ,receiving it through google reader and enjoyed the experience. Being a popular published author and being serialized in an online newspaper means he has a built-in audience.

I believe that unknown writers can develop a following by blogging their work I'm giving it a go- My Blog Things are changing rapidly in the world of words. It will be very interesting to see what develops in the years to come and how books will find their way to the consumer. I think good writing can eventually find its place in the world with or without a traditional publishing introduction. Perhaps instead of big clunky Pub-houses some kind of freelance editor/agent job will evolve to develop and shepherd groups of genre writers towards public recognition and print on demand or digital selling will be the norm someday soon.

All in all it's an exciting time to be writing and I personally am having a ball and enjoying the efforts of others like John who are tying new ways to showcase their work.

Jeanenne 4/11/09, 1:14 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeanenne 4/11/09, 1:22 PM  

I don't think the real story here is the story he's Tweeting. It's the fact that he's getting his name and his work out there. At this point, his idea is unique enough (for now) to garner some fresh eyeballs and that could pay off going forward. So while I doubt very much that Twitter will the next big publishing "format" it is great for getting the word out to a huge network of his potential readers and that's always a good thing.

Joanne ♦ The Book Zombie 4/11/09, 1:30 PM  

While I don't think I could read a book through Twitter, I do think it's a fascinating way to grab a reader's attention. And as long as the author provides another way to read their work, such as on a blog, I think it could very well become a useful way of getting noticed and/or connecting with readers, writers, editors etc.

Kim 4/11/09, 2:02 PM  

I have never actually been on twitter--but my impression of it is of little snippets constantly bombarding the senses! I don't know if that is accurate or not, but even so, my thought is that this might be a great way for a new or just unknown author to get noticed. If he is just writing it along on twitter I would think that maybe there could be risks with copyright? I personally need to read long documents,(books, long magazine articles, long emails at work) printed out and being held in my hand. The computer screen begins to hurt my eyes after awhile.

But hey! Look at how much everything in our life has changed with the advent of the internet--why can't writing and the publishing industry change a bit?
Great question Beth--

Beth F 4/11/09, 2:32 PM  

Sandi: I agree that connections among authors, readers, publishers, and publicists is so much easier on Twitter.

Lilly: I'm with you on the 140 at a time, but then you can go to the blog and read in bigger in chunks.

Margary: yay!

John: Thanks so much for adding your thoughts.

Jackie/FarmLane: The concept and its current execution has got me wondering. And I, too, like to see what's up and coming.

Sandy: Yes, sometimes I feel that I just can't handle one more way to communicate.

Lisa: I agree that John is on the cutting edge. I use TweetDeck too, and searching for hash tags helps a lot.

Robin (2 blessings): It's just another medium and likely this type of writing has it's own style and rules.

Robin Wendell: excellent points. And yes, I find the blog reading to be more to my tastes. Really good developmental fiction editors are hard to come by, but they do freelance. I'll be checking your blog in a moment. Oh, and thanks for the info about McCall Smith, I didn't know about that.

Jeanenne: The recognition and feedback that John's getting is super -- but not everyone would be able to pull it off. You have to have some talent and skill and something to say to make it work.

Joanne: I agree with a lot of what you said. Jen mentioned that one can get tweets through an RSS feed.

Kim: All great questions, for which I don't have answers. But yes, technology has changed us all. I remember thinking that I'd never read a newspaper online -- now I read the NY Times online every day!

Steven (Book Dads) 4/11/09, 3:36 PM  

Even if you can't follow all of his tweets, if something about the story catches your interest and you click through to read on the blog, or some day buy a book then his experiment will be successful.

Amy 4/11/09, 4:08 PM  

When I first heard about this, I knew there would be no way I could follow! But, I agree with Steven in that it's been successful to get his name out there!

Margot 4/11/09, 4:22 PM  

Excellent conversation. There are so many changes happening at a faster pace that I tell myself to try to keep up. I signed up for Twitter and I'm still trying to figure it out. The first few lines of your post was news to me. Wow, there's a book club on Twitter?

In spite of being social media challenged, I love the idea of a novel on Twitter. It's just another form of communication, so why wouldn't it work for certain people. I'm going to go find out for myself. Thanks for bringing up this discussion.

Beth F 4/11/09, 4:26 PM  

Steven and Amy: absolutely. It's a successful experiment regardless. And John was smart to jump on the idea early.

Margot: Glad to know you joined Twitter. Let me know what your Twitter name is so I can follow you. We talk books all day long and one publisher has started a book club. You can request a free book -- winners are chosen randomly -- but everyone can join the conversation. There are also set chats every day at 4:00.

John 4/11/09, 6:39 PM  

One of you sent me a tweet via DM asking me to post the link to my blog. While Beth listed it within the text above, here it is again just in case: http://manwhodoesntexist.blogspot.com/

Thanks for all the comments.

Unknown 4/12/09, 5:25 PM  

I don't know if I could remember to read all of the tweets. I don't get on twitter every single day. But I think it's a pretty cool way to get yourself noticed. I'm all for embracing the new technology, seeing what works and what doesn't.

Great discussion question Beth.

Becca 4/12/09, 9:23 PM  

I have to disagree with most of the commenters.

As a reader with A.D.D. I find it extremely difficult to read, as much as I love it. I cannot read only one book (as visitors to my blog this week can attest to!) and I struggle reading novels with long chapters. I relish James Patterson because he tends to have shorter chapters. It makes it so much easier for me to keep focused and I also don't feel like I have to stop after every chapter wondering if I have the attention span to give it another chapter. Three more pages is another chapter with Patterson. It rocks.

Tweets are only 140 characters- just bite-size morsels of info. I guess this could be an annoyance for most people, but for me it is a welcome change of pace! Maybe Baird could market it to the A.D.D. crowd, lol.

Janet 4/12/09, 9:43 PM  

While I applaud John's creativity, I couldn't stick with it. The pieces are too small, they don't come fast enough, and they scroll backwards. Add to those complications the fact that it's difficult to navigate backward through Twitter pages and it's easy to understand why it is so incredibly difficult to maintain any sense of flow and pacing.

Twitter is great for a lot of things, but serious reading is not one of them.

Jenners 4/12/09, 11:07 PM  

I don't Twitter so I'm not really one to speak. I can barely keep up with blogging...

And I think I would like "the firm hand of a good editor" first ... I like all the stuff worked out before I read a story so I don't think I would want to read a book this way. But who knows ... I didn't understand the iPod at first.

Beth F 4/13/09, 9:14 AM  

John: thanks for leaving your link!

Laza: Yes is a pretty cool way to get noticed. And fortunately John posts to his blog so you don't have to follow along with Twitter.

Rebecca: What an excellent point. I never thought about ADD!

Janet: I don't disagree with you. I keep forgetting to follow along, too (but then there's the blog). If you use TwitterDeck (or another reader with columns and filter), then it's not that difficult to find the tweets. But I do know what you mean.

Jenners: Each to her own! Some people love ARCs and some don't. Some people support authors who are self-published and others shy away. I tend toward preferring "finished" books myself, but then I've plenty of published books and wonder where the editor was! So there's no guarantee. And good point about getting used to new media.

Melissa 4/13/09, 3:10 PM  

I've actually been following along with the novel both on Twitter and on the blog. What a creative idea! For those of you who need longer reads, the blog fills in nicely and it's a great story so far. I'll definitely continue reading it!

Meghan 4/13/09, 5:36 PM  

I hadn't heard about this. I think it's an extremely clever idea, though I'm not 100% I'd be able to keep up with it or remember to look for it every day. I'm going to check out the author's website now, though!

Beth F 4/13/09, 5:39 PM  

Melissa, thanks for commenting -- good to hear another voice from someone who's been following the novel.

Meghan: it is a great idea. Remembering is difficult, but the blog helps.

Briar Rose 4/14/09, 12:30 PM  

In this day and age of advanced technology and documented shortened attention spans in several age groups, this concept fits the bill on a number of levels. I remember reading the Stephen King serial novels several years ago and the anticipation of the next unpublished portion heightened the excitement of the story. This novel is a similar concept, and I'm following intensely with that same sense of eager anticipation. I hope John Baird or other authors will consider pushing forward with this concept for other novels. I'll be reading.

Stephanie 4/15/09, 8:27 PM  

I think writing (or reading) a book on Twitter would be too dissjointed for me, although I think it's a cool idea!

Kristine 4/21/09, 8:35 PM  

I like to read John's story via his blog. I'm notified of updates via my Google Reader. The entries are short and sweet, so keeping up with the story is easy for me.

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