My view on authors tweeting/retweeting – you may not like this…

Big time preface – YMMV. Everyone’s does. There are authors that do nothing but tweet book links, and they do fine. There are authors who aren’t even on Twitter, and do fine. And the converse – authors doing nothing but tweeting book links not selling a lick, and authors who aren’t tweeting aren’t selling.

Before you say, “Hey, I’ve seen YOU sending book links on Twitter, you hypocritical jackass”, relax. Yes I’ve tweeted about my books, and yes I’ve retweeted others’ in the past. But if you scroll through my stream (if that doesn’t sound icky, I’m not sure what does), you won’t find anything outside of price change announcements or new review mentions for a very. Very. Long. Time. I actually gave up hawking my own crap on Twitter well over a year ago after doing some of my own experimentation. Know what I found?

It. Doesn’t. Work. 

Again, YMMV, and feel free to dismiss my conclusions. But my A vs B comparison test, for my works, was very definitive. I spent over a month doing on/off weeks of tweeting/not tweeting. At the end, I tallied the results, and found absolutely no change in sales volume. The number of books I sold per day was no different between the weeks I tweeted the hell out of them and the weeks I stayed totally silent. No difference at all, not even a blip. My book sales have zero degrees Kelvin to do with tweeting about them. And that also relates to retweets. How? Because during those weeks I tweeted, I got retweets – just the nature of the medium. And during the weeks I didn’t tweet, I received (duh) no retweets.

Oh, and along the way, way back when, I probably pissed off a goodly number of Twitter followers who took me out of their lists or unfollowed me, and any future messages, like my upcoming cure for the common cold and tomorrow’s Powerball winning numbers, will never be seen by them. I’ve also lost them forever as a possible reader.

Now the reason I figured I’d put my thoughts to ‘paper’ is that I’ve been in contact with a fellow author, a woman who writes well outside my genre, and I’ve been watching what she does. Very interesting. She retweets other authors’ book links like a possessed madwoman, and with a purpose. She wants retweets of her own, which is understandable. And she gets them, in droves.

She herself has just over 10,000 followers on Twitter. She’s been on Twitter, according to the stats, only since this past summer, yet has over 74,000 tweets – an impressive online volume of over 300 tweets per day. Per DAY, folks. I don’t think I have time to inhale a breath 300 times per day (no need to correct me medically here…). She receives between 10-20 retweets of each of her own book links, each time, which is at least two dozen of her own tweets per day. And that’s impressive, so many people retweeting her links. It’s because she’s retweeting theirs, which makes sense. So she’s on average receiving 240 to 480 mentions of her book, per DAY, on Twitter to who knows how many hundreds of thousands of Twitterites, her own 10k followers notwithstanding. That’s a massive volume of Twitter mentions. Like mind-boggling. Her book is being mentioned maybe 500 times per day. So how does that translate to sales? She must be rolling in it, right?

She has one novel published, and it’s priced at $.99 (not that that has anything to do with it, but it needs to be mentioned because she’s making less than 35 cents royalty on each sale). Her current rank on Amazon (most of her tweets are Kindle; I’m not ruling out BN/Kobo sales, but they are certainly a small parts of the pie historically, and by nature of the links she sends).

Current rank on Amazon in the paid store: 310,167

Self-published authors know exactly what that ranks means. For those of you who don’t obsess in watching the KDP reports (ahem), I’ll tell you: not a whole heck of a lot. My guesstimate on sales volume would be around 2 to 3 copies per week, so maybe a dozen sales in a month. (Check out Edward Robertson’s quickie formula, which is quite accurate from what I’ve measured myself). This book is in a popular category and has an average ranking on Amazon of 4.5, with no 1-star reviews.

I am NOT belittling her or making fun of her sales. I’m not naming names – she may even be a he, so there. I’m just illustrating using a real world example (and my own experiment) how the medium of Twitter just ain’t what authors think it is. This woman, for all her hard work online (300 tweets a day? Good Lord…), is pulling in maybe four bucks a month in Amazon royalties. And that sucks. My opinion, should she (or he!) ever ask, would be to quit that craziness and spend that 300 tweet time per day writing another book, but she (or he!) hasn’t asked. (As an aside, she’s doing this manually and does not have an automated system to retweet certain people or lists or keywords. Don’t ask me how I know…I just do. There are ways to tell…)

Why doesn’t it work? Just off the top of my head, my first conclusion is that a lot of authors online are followed by…wait for it…other authors. It’s a great community, but we’re all writing and trying to sell. Don’t bombard each other with your own book links. We’re all too poor to buy books, and I mean that in two ways: money and time. My Kindle account is rife with books I haven’t gotten to, and may never get to, because my priority is writing the next one. (I can’t read a book while in the midst of writing – otherwise my thoughts, ideas, dialogue, etc. pull too much from that work.)

Another conclusion – Twitter is a volatile medium, one not truly suited for effective commerce. In order to be seen as much as possible by the widest audience possible, an advertiser (don’t kid yourself, authors – you are advertisers) needs to send many messages throughout the day in order to hit the right target when that target is watching. Which is why you see the same TV commercial several times each evening on the same channel – consistency and repetition in the message. So what happens is that advertiser is overdoing it to those who spend a lot of time on Twitter, and those messages are ignored (or the tweeter is taken out of a list and never looked at again) just so Johnny who checks his feed once every other day sees the message. (In other words, you’re pissing people off.)

I will mention my books from time to time, usually in conjunction with a sale price, or a mailer promo, or maybe when receiving a new review (I do like to crow whenever I have the chance, be warned). But I’m not the type to tweet incessantly, and probably never will. Because it simply doesn’t work.

Feel free to disagree, vent, call me names, whatever. But I’d love to hear your thoughts, or perhaps your results…



  1. Jarrett Rush - March 7, 2013 5:29 pm

    Excellent post, Steve, and right on the money.

    Twitter doesn’t work as a selling tool. I’ve all but given up promo tweets. I still do one on occasion, but it’s rare. Months between them. And it’s mostly because most of the people following me are, just like you said, other writers. These aren’t fans or readers. Well, not exclusively fans or readers. They may well like my work and want to read my next book when it comes out. But they aren’t the audience I am shooting for. I’d be willing to guess that they are just following me so I’ll follow them and they can add another person to the audience they shout about their book to.

    Twitter is great for meeting people and making connections. It’s how we got to know one another. But it’s not great for sales. Not directly, anyway. It helps with reputation and platform building which will hopefully lead to sales. But it’s never going to be the direct sales driver that so many seem to think it will be.

    • Steve Umstead - March 7, 2013 6:41 pm

      Thanks Jarrett. Great line you wrote: “Twitter is great for meeting people and making connections.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.


  2. Karen Rose Smith - March 7, 2013 5:59 pm

    Steve–I think your blog is right on in so many ways. I’ve been watching sales vs. tweets ever since I signed up with Twitter. I’m a traditionally published author as well as indie author and still doing both. I’ve always seen promotion and ads as an investment. It might not translate into correlated sales but I do believe everything I do contributes to my readers perception of me and my brand. I joined Twitter because I felt it was a necessity in this new age of book selling. (I’ve been doing this 20 years.) But now I do it because I enjoy it, because I interact with other authors who have great blogs to share, because now and then I do connect with readers. I look at Twitter as just another promo tool. But the bottom line for me always is that the process of actually writing has to come first.

    • Steve Umstead - March 7, 2013 6:42 pm

      Thank you Karen – yes, as you said it is just another promo tool, if used correctly. Otherwise the messages are lost in the shuffle…


  3. GL Jackson - March 7, 2013 8:57 pm

    Nicely stated, Steve. I just had a discussion about this very thing elsewhere. If someone’s tweeting 300+ times a day, I know they’ve got no time to read what I have to say. Twitter is a great place for information exchange (with a focus on exchange), but a terrible place to be pounded over the head with the same information dozens or hundreds of times a day. Being mentioned and retweeted is nice and in some cases it’s an ego boost, but Twitter is a lousy place for cold-call selling, if you know what I mean. I’ve unfollowed people (or not followed them in the first place) if their Twitter stream is all or primarily self-promotion. There needs to be more for their feed to catch my interest; endless linking to a book makes me much less inclined to ever read that book.

    Ultimately, I ask myself if I’d want to read my own Twitter feed. If the answer is no, then why would I expect anyone else to read it? The best advice for us all is simple: think before you tweet.

    • Steve Umstead - March 8, 2013 10:50 am

      Good point, GL – if someone is that active on outgoing tweets and retweets, they’re probably not reading a lot of incoming, and the two-way medium Twitter offers isn’t there.


  4. matix_san - March 7, 2013 9:46 pm

    Yup, that sounds about right. I’m a comic artist (or trying to be, anyway), and while I do use twitter to announce when I update my webcomic, or when I have new work out in an anthology or whatnot, I don’t push my stuff every day. Outside of update announcements, I like twitter for how it lets me keep tabs on what ppl I know and work with are doing/getting ready for/planning even when they’re on the other side of the country, or outside it for that matter. It also lets me pick up interesting and/or valuable ppl in my field to follow that I wouldn’t know about specifically otherwise (I’m kind of an introvert).

    I will say that I have unfollowed ppl if they post floods of retweets or book promotions, because the stuff I care about gets lost in it. I don’t mind occaisional tweets, I mean, we have stuff, we’re proud of our work! 😀 But yeah, flooding someone’s twitter stream? Not good form.

    • Steve Umstead - March 8, 2013 10:51 am

      Twitter is great for one-off announcements like you say (and I will continue to ‘announce’ things related to my work, like sale prices, reviews, new releases). Best of luck!


  5. Splicer - March 8, 2013 6:10 am

    I’ve tried several ways to use Twitter as a consumer rather than creator. I’ve found that for me, Twitter works best as a sort of democratic AP wire. I have one feed for work interests where I follow a sizable group of sports writers, one feed for my political habits where I follow a goodly number of writers and blogs, one feed for my more personal hobbies. I rarely tweet — very rarely. I might use my political login to send a snarky tweet to some right wing politician on occasion but that’s usually about it. Oh, I think I sent one out to Lena Dunham supporting her right to create things as she sees fit. I use Twitter for real information. As soon as any of the people in my feed start tweeting about how great the airport in whatever city is or that they just had a great steak sandwich, I put them on the watch list. If they persist, I no longer follow them.

    That’s how I use Twitter as an end user.

    • Steve Umstead - March 8, 2013 10:52 am

      Heh…I actually have close to a dozen different Twitter accounts for various (non-nefarious, I assure you) reasons, one of which is a newsfeed-type like you mention. If you follow the right people, it’s fairly amazing how it can almost replace traditional news for breaking a story.

  6. Yvonne - March 8, 2013 10:15 am

    Steve U is the only author I’ve found on Twitter that “gets it”. He uses social media as a handy tool, not to post inane BS. We get to see his wicked sense of humor, learn about what he’s working on now …. and not have to read about how many times his dog peed today **inane BS. I stumbled upon one of the Gabriel books and immediately searched down his Twitter feed. Very happy I did.

    Keep up the good work, Mr. U … we”ll keep on with the proud promotion of your work.


    • Steve Umstead - March 8, 2013 10:53 am

      Aw, thanks…but I have an inherent advantage. I don’t own a dog.


  7. jon - March 10, 2013 3:18 am

    The fact that I’m still following Steve on Twitter shows that he knows what he’s talking about here. Usually if some author follows me in the hope of getting a follow-back, I’ll at least check them out because I support indie publishing and know there’s a lot of underappreciated talent out there. But the large majority of these authors (who mysteriously have 30,000+ despite being neither talented nor entertaining) proceed to spam repeatedly the exact same link to their book on Amazon, the single quote that ever praised them or the one interview they did with some obscure blog somewhere… every single day. They don’t interact with their audience. Never once does their authorial voice, talent or sense of humor shine through the dross. Eventually I unfollow them, which almost always prompts a tit-for-tat unfollow within 30 minutes (showing how precious these people really are). So it doesn’t really surprise me that Twitter doesn’t work as an advertising medium because that’s not what it is.

  8. Kea Alwang - April 25, 2013 8:49 am

    Steve, I think you saved me today. I came across this post and my shoulders are now below my ears again. I have one YA book out, the next in the series in proof–which I’m in the middle of correcting. I have great reviews on the first, which tell me that my work resonates in exactly the way I wanted it to. Yet I have few sales and I’ve suddenly flown into panic mode over that, with the 2nd book coming out before summer. So, last weekend, I joined an author site where everyone “likes” each other’s FB pages and tweets each other silly. My FB messages are going through the roof with return likes, etc. It’s irritating, time consuming, and a waste of that time. None of those authors are going to buy my book, and why should they? I’m sure 75% of them don’t even read my genre! My point is….I know the tweeting and random liking doesn’t work…I’ve known it for a while ..and I don’t know why I allowed myself to get sucked back into it. Thank you so much for reminding me. I’m back to fixing my proof today instead of joining a Twitter group for the day, so that I can get this thing out for better or worse. The amount of time I have spent on social media this week is appalling.


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