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Tweeting for success – part one

The tweeting for success seminar at last year’s London Book Fair was hugely popular and I made it into the room by the skin of my teeth. Limited seating meant that many were left disappointed and fire regulations prevented organisers from doing anything to help, like allowing people to sit on available floor space or even to stand at the back of the room. My advice to anyone attending this year is to check the programme with care and to arrive in good time. I took notes throughout the meeting and had all but forgotten about them until now.

The event had three speakers: Joe Pickering from Penguin; Tom Hall from Lonely Planet and Davina Quarter, Marketing Manager at Blackwells.

Joe Pickering – Publicity Manager at Penguin

It’s a known fact that where Stephen Fry tweets, others will follow. When he tweets about a book he’s read and enjoyed, sales figures shoot up. He’s a publisher’s dream but regrettably, they have little control about what he reads and subsequently tweets. But most will appreciate that social media is something that they have to actively engage in if they want to influence book sales and some will employ people for the sole purpose of using Facebook and Twitter to promote their authors and titles. But they have to be clear about what it is exactly that they’re trying to do: are they trying to build a brand, create communities around content, or drive sales figures of a particular title?

Joe Pickering says he came across a book called The Legend of Suicide which he fell in love but which presented huge problems publishing wise. It went straight to paperback as the author was unknown and literary fiction doesn’t sell well in hardback. But paperbacks aren’t taken as seriously as hardbacks so it was easy for the book to just disappear. Plus, given that it’s a book of short stories, presented as a novel, with the word ‘suicide’ in the title, and it was being published just before Christmas, the book was in danger of disappearing altogether. But he was convinced that in 20 years’ time, it would be a classic.

Traditionally, he would’ve had to go through old media, using traditional outlets to build up enthusiasm for the title. Problem was, it’s hard to get them to listen. These are intelligent, opionionated people and they are without exception, suspicious of publicists and what they’re saying about a prospective title. Furthermore, had he gone down that route, it would’ve meant that nothing would have appeared in print about the book, before its release.

So early in 2009, he decided to do two things: to contact former book sellers individually, aware that a personal recommendation from a bookseller can, in his words “sell the hell out of book”; and to write a blog over on the Penguin website.

The aim was to write like the author, adding a twitter link to each post. He hoped to build follower quickly by finding a voice that worked on twitter; a voice that people wanted to hear from. And, he says, he shamelessly gave away books.

He would start a hashtag #bookgiveaway topic, for example: ‘On Friday, I’m giving a book away. Please RT. #bookgiveaway,’ the next day he would say which book and that he would only give it away once he had achieved 5000. A polite RT request ended each tweet (something that most of us hate). Part of the promotion included raffles and competitions and tweeting a lot of information about the book.

He says that he found literary bloggers to do Q and As with and made contact through traditional journalists that he says he would never have found had he gone through traditional media.

By the time the book came out, the word ‘hype’ was being used. It’s a much-despised word because it implies money and power was at the root of the promotion but on reflection he accepts that it means he and his team, did a good job. By the time the book came out, the media knew about it and crucially, a buzz had been created: people online were now talking about it.