One day in the middle of my first-ever book tour, a thought woke me up early in the morning. I'd just had an event at a popular L.A. bookstore. I saw old friends, answered great questions, sold a good amount of books. But that next morning I realized: I hadn't tweeted it. My book is related to Facebook, so I'd created a Facebook event page, told all my book's fans there, as well as my own friends. I'd e-mailed people I knew in the area who might not be Facebook-friendly. I spread the word as much as I could. But I hadn't written anything on Twitter about it.
If there was a reality show for book authors in the vein of Top Chef or Project Runway, my fellow competitors would be gloating. "How could she not tweet it?" they'd ask, as if I'd forgotten to salt my artichoke dish or finish the back of my dress made of cornhusks. "Any writer in this day and age knows they have to pursue every outlet for self-promotion." Then they'd ridicule the sound of my voice or use of metaphors.
I realize this is a bit ridiculous. I know the chances of a crowd of people who hadn't heard about it anywhere else seeing my tweet and dropping everything to get to Book Soup on a Wednesday are slim; that crowd actually boosting book sales even smaller. Still, I felt like the good student who slept through an important test. How much is Twitter worth in my grade as a book promoter? I think I've covered the other basics, and had great fun doing it: building a website, making a funny video, creating a Facebook fan page (and just spending a lot of time on Facebook, where I'm more comfortable anyway), getting the word out. But Twitter seems to be my weak event in the publishing gymnastics.
Part of my problem is I'm not sure who I am on Twitter. I joined too early, perhaps. Back when people really did just write what kind of yogurt they were eating or when they'd be heading to the gym. To be there now as an author, it seems, you need to have a Twitter strategy. A persona. All kinds of writers are there, of course, but those who consistently play a role -- funny, helpful, snarky, friendly, wise -- seem to get the most attention. And those who get it wrong ... well, we all know the hazards of tweeting while reading one's reviews. So if I want to use Twitter in the best way I can, who should I be?
It seems to me, these are some of my choices:
The Heavyweight: This guy means business; he follows everyone who's ever mentioned the word "write," and spends eons of time cultivating his community of writers. His tweets are all re-tweets and replies. He's made Twitter one of his key priorities and he's taking this one all the way. But as I see his very serious headshot filling my page, I have to wonder: When does he have time to, um, write?
The Literary Mama: Oh, I could be her. I'm currently pregnant, craving Maple Brown Sugar Cream of Wheat and have a toddler upstairs who's refusing to take a nap. But there are "Mommy Bloggers" who write books who have this so mastered and covered from all angles, that I wouldn't know where to start. Plus it's all very personal, and I kind of don't want to tell you what that stuff is stuck in my hair.
The Comic Relief: This is probably who I should be, since I did write a humor book. This person's tweets are ridiculously funny; especially the replies, even out of context and without any hint of meaning. But again, unless you're naturally funny at any hour, humor takes time, and I've spent a lot of my day singing "Twinkle, Twinkle" and getting avocado out of the carpet (see above).
The Omniscient Narrator: This person shares everything going on in the publishing world: fun links, news, clever commentary. She's the go-to person to follow if you want to know all that's going on with books, writing, what new e-book technology came out today. But that's exactly it: I'd much rather follow this person than be this person.
The Make-Believe Tweeter: Clearly, this is where most writers, especially fiction writers, should be most comfortable. Why be ourselves when we could be Mr. Darcy or Peggy Olson, or my favorite, London Bridge (currently having it out with Tower Bridge)? But as fun as this must be, and unless your book stems from your Twitter profile (ala FakeAPStylebook), how does it help you as an author?
Maybe I'm going about this wrong. Maybe all that matters is being on Twitter regularly, being consistently interesting, and really connecting with people. But I have so little time. I'm asking you, Twitterverse, how does a writer who needs her sliver of work time to respond to e-mail, do interviews, keep up a website, and actually write, make the most of Twitter? And if I don't have time to do it well, should I do it at all?
Follow Sarah Schmelling on Twitter: www.twitter.com/sschmelling