Twitter DOES Sell Books—Just Not Directly


May is How To Sell Self-Published Books Month here on Catherine, Caffeinated. This being the last day of May, today’s the last day! (Sniffle. Sniffle.) Fear not, after this I’ll go back to posting about… well, pretty much the same kind of thing, really. Especially since I didn’t have time to fit in my “arguments for higher e-book prices” posts. Anyways. You can catch up here

The arguments for Twitter not selling books usually go something like this:

  • People do not want to be sold things on Twitter and therefore trying to sell them things will only lose you followers
  • Mr X (Arrested Development flashback!) had 10,000 followers but when he released his book, he only sold 500 copies of it. If Twitter sold books, it would’ve been 10,000 sales.

But I think this is applying the wrong set of expectations. In arguing that 10k followers should ideally equal 10k sales, you are treating Twitter like an advertising campaign, and gauging its effectiveness by its conversion rate. But it’s not an advertising campaign—it’s a social media tool. Twitter is about networking, and networking does sell books.

I’ve been using Twitter since October/November 2009. In my Twitter infancy, I was obsessed, and never very far from my tweet stream. Then as I got to know people, I got chatty and even formed some “real-life” friendships. Nowadays I pop in and out, but mainly use Buffer to tweet interesting links, which is what I love about Twitter. And since October/November 2009, here are some things that have happened to me whose root cause can be traced back to Twitter:

  • I sold books. The first month of Mousetrapped‘s release, almost everyone who bought a copy—and we’re talking paperbacks—was a Twitter friend. I presume that since then, a few other people I’ve “met” on Twitter have bought a few copies of my books as well.
  • I connected with people in the industry. I’ve met countless writers, editors and other publishing types through Twitter, and have gone on to meet many of them in real life too. It helps of course that Ireland is a small place, but still, it’s nice to walk into a room of writing types and recognize more than a few faces! One of them was Vanessa O’Loughlin (@inkwellHQ). Through Vanessa, who owns Inkwell Writers and founded…
  • I have been featured in national newspapers and magazines, interviewed on national radio, and…
  • I started doing speaking engagements. She gave me my first one, at the One Stop Self-Publishing Conference back in October 2010 (when, totally unprepared, I stood at the top of the room in jeans, holding scribbles on a legal pad!) and most recently, she organized my first solo event, Self-Printing: Everything You Need to Know To Self-Publish Your Book, in Dublin last March. Thanks to another Twitter friendship, I was also asked to do Faber Academy’s first ever self-publishing workshop at Faber & Faber in London last February. Ben Johncock (@benjohncock) was doing a social media course for them when adding on a day of self-publishing came up, and he suggested me. (Coincidentally he was also able to check with another Twitter friend of mine, my editor Sarah, that I could do the job—she’d seen me speak at the One Stop conference. Another another Twitter friend, Averill, suggested me for a speaking engagement in Belfast because she too was at the One Stop. Just as well I brought my A-game that day, eh?!)

Twitter is a glittering industry party you can attend without leaving your house. It’s packed full of writers who can help take away some of the loneliness and solitude that invade a writer’s life. And you never know what opportunities may arise from the people you meet on there. And in all these ways, Twitter can help you sell books.

But Twitter is not a billboard. The people there aren’t an assembled audience in an informercial studio. As I said in Why Promoting Your Books is (a bit) like Fight Club, “MY BOOK, NO GIVES A RAT’S ARSE, $2.99 ON KINDLE PLEASE RT PLEASE RT PLEASE RT” type tweets won’t get you anywhere. Doing that is like wearing a giant sandwich board advertising your book to the glittering industry party and, while you’re there in it, walking up to everyone and shouting in their face about your book.

Rest assured you won’t be invited again.

Twitter is a networking tool. It’s about building relationships, connecting with people. I think it’s the single best thing I’ve ever done for my writing career, and it’s a whole lot of fun too. Use it right, and it could become the same for you.

The observant among you may have noticed a shiny new book in my sidebar. If you’re thinking of buying it, DON’T YET! (Even though, if I may say so, it’s superb value and very pink.) It’s going free tomorrow, so just wait until then. 

17 thoughts on “Twitter DOES Sell Books—Just Not Directly

  1. Louise Behiel says:

    Another informative post, Catherine. I’m not on Twitter as much as I’d like but then i’m deep in the cave editing the next book. I like freebie posts on twitter – that’s cool but mostly I forward information that might be useful to people. when i’m hanging around, i chat a bit but it’s hard with a ft day job to write, blog and keep up – at least it is for me.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      I barely use Linkedin, and I’m sure not sure how you could use it to sell books unless you were say, renowned in a certain field and your book was connected to it. I really believe concentrating on the three main outlets (blog, Twitter, Facebook) is a much better plan than signing up for everything and spreading yourself thinly across them.

      • joyce nance says:

        OK Thank you. People (that I don’t know) are always asking me to Linkin with them and I don’t know what to make of it. Also, I noticed you didn’t mention website. Do you not consider that social media, just a necessity? Or do you just use your blog as a kind of website?

  2. kimmyldavis says:

    I love Twitter and totally agree that’s it’s a relational/networking tool first and foremost. I’m not self publishing or trying to sell anything on it but I have enjoyed meeting people and sharing common interests! I think if I did try to use it as amarketing tool I would be very careful about the approach.

  3. C. says:

    I assume by ‘blog, twitter, facebook’ that you only include your blog as your website… since that’s what it is for you. (As far as I can tell) We have a website, however, that is at our main webaddress ( and the blog is connected to it as a News/Info type of thing. I like the website because, honestly, it’s something I don’t have to update often and it still talks about the books/shows off reviews/etc.

    I also don’t have anything to blog about. I don’t know how to sell ebooks myself and the idea of writing a weekly post on that sound completely boring. But so does writing about anything other than interacting with characters (read: writing novels) directly. I have a feeling this means that real book ‘selling’ for us is just plain not possible.

  4. Angela Orlowski-Peart says:

    That’s what I absolutely love about Twitter – interacting with others and building relationships. It is a social media site after all, so shouting simply “buy my book” would be like going to a party and only nagging people to buy something or sign up for a membership of some sort etc. no mingling, no hand-shaking, no listening to others.
    Oh, and don’t even have me start on tweeps who right after I follow send me DM to “check out” their book, site, like them on FB, etc. Sigh.

  5. Lori Saltis says:

    I bought your book anyway because I want to thank you for all your great advice. I’m also going to add it to my list of Kindle freebies in my blog tomorrow. Thanks again for all you do.

  6. Bri Clark says:

    You’re right Catherine about LI. Now where it would serve you now is building that speaking campaign.

    As always great posts


  7. elskenewman says:

    I’ve only just got myself on twitter, and I’m at a bit of a loss as to what to do with it 🙂 I’m sure I’ll get going once I get used to it.

  8. antares says:

    “Twitter is a networking tool. It’s about building relationships, connecting with people. I think it’s the single best thing I’ve ever done for my writing career, and it’s a whole lot of fun too. Use it right, and it could become the same for you.”

    How do I use Twitter right?

  9. hkollef says:

    Reblogged this on hannahkollef and commented:
    I am loving this blog. It’s got tons of amazing tips for self-published (and self-marketing) writers. I’m going through the archives right now- hopefully I’ll get some new ideas!

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