How Author Newsletters Help Sell Your Books – with David Ebsworth

The Assassin's Mark book tour logoI’m delighted to welcome David Ebsworth to Off The Shelf today for a stop on his global tour promoting his latest historical novel, The Assassin’s Mark, which was one of the best books I read last year. Dave’s going to tell us today how he uses his author newsletter to keep readers informed about his work and to prime them to buy, recommend and generally spread the word about his historical novels.

But first, a little more information about The Assassins’ Mark

Anyone who knows Dave will recognise that he’s a bit of a globetrotter, whether whizzing around the internet or in real life, carrying out meticulous first-hand research for his novels and reaching out to new audiences for his published books. (Well, that’s his excuse!)

David Ebsworth, Debbie Young & Helen Hollick at Foyles

Dave at his talk at Foyles, Bristol about The Assassin’s Mark, with me (centre) and historical novelist Helen Hollick

I was lucky enough to attend one of his author talks about The Assassin’s Mark at Foyles in Bristol last summer, and his detailed, passionate account of how he came to write his novel and the history behind it was full of infectious enthusiasm.

I thought I had a reasonable knowledge of the events of the Spanish Civil War, having studied it at school and read Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, but Dave uncovered the most extraordinary facts that played a central part in his novel. Who knew that Franco organised tourist bus trips around the battlefields while the war was still going on, in American-style yellow school buses? The hero of The Assassin’s Mark, a British press reporter, goes along for the ride, and soon he has a murder to report on.

For more about the novel, read my review here – or visit Dave’s website,

But now back to the subject of how to use author newsletters to sell your books, with Dave’s providing the perfect case study…

My introduction to Dave actually came via a recommendation for his newsletter from our mutual publisher SilverWood Books, when I was researching my book promotion handbook, Sell Your Books! Publishing Director Helen Hart suggested I check out Dave’s newsletter as a model of direct author marketing.

Having read one issue, Dave won me over, and I immediately became a subscriber. His newsletters are so pleasant to read that I open and read every issue all through, immediately on receipt – and not many messages in my inbox get that treatment! 

So, Dave, over to you to share your top tips about author newsletters…

How long have you been writing a newsletter and why did you set it up in the first place?

Well, thanks for hosting this, Debbie. I set up the newsletter in January 2012. My first book, The Jacobites’ Apprentice, was due to be published and I had started looking at ways to market the novel. Helen Hart at SilverWood had advised me to subscribe to the free newsletter called The Book Marketing Expert produced regularly by Author Marketing Experts. Apart from all the other excellent book promotion and publicity tips offered, it struck me that a newsletter of that sort was exactly what I needed myself – mainly because I was sold on the idea that I needed  a more intimate and “one to one” contact with friends, family and supporters than I could achieve through a blog.

How often do you send it and is there any particular day or time that seems to work best for you?

The newsletter goes out on the first of every month, come rain or shine, at about 7am (UK time). It took me a while to realise that there wasn’t really a “best time” for this since lots of my readers are scattered across time zones from India to the USA, so I simply picked the hour that suited my own work schedule best.

How do you manage the mailing list – do you use MailChimp or something else?

I get a lot of stick for this, but actually I manage the whole list myself. There’s nothing wrong with MailChimp at all, but I like to be able to reassure subscribers that I use no third-party provider whatsoever and that the addresses are all “blind copied” so that nobody but myself sees them. With all the fears that exist just now around online security, I feel happier doing it this way. So I simply type up the newsletter, mail it to myself and BCC it to a batch of recipients – normally around 40 at a time so I don’t fall foul of any spamming controls. It takes 2-3 minutes for each batch, no more than that. And the whole process takes me less than an hour.

What software do you use to format the newsletter, or is it a simple email?

It’s a simple e-mail. I use Comic Sans or similar, and just add a bit of colour to some of the headings. Then, after I finish circulating, I also post to my website. You can see it here:

Copy of The Assassin's Mark with matching bookmarks

More great marketing materials from David Ebsworth

After you’d initially set up your mailing list and newsletter format, how much time do you spend per month managing it?

It varies. Subscribers end up on the list in two main ways. First, whenever I do an “event”, I always make sure (of course!) to have my Visitors’ Book with me and I specifically invite people to write down their e-mail addresses. That bit’s easy. I just add them when I get home – only a few minutes work.

But second, I monitor my presence on Goodreads a lot. So, whenever I arrange a Giveaway on Goodreads, lots of readers “add” the book to their own lists. Last time, there were around 600 who “added” my second novel, The Assassin’s Mark. There’s a facility to message each of them, although you have to be careful that this also does not fall foul of the anti-spamming guidelines. So I just send a brief thank-you for adding my book and ask whether they’d like to also receive my newsletter. From my experience, around 10% say yes.

It’s a very time-consuming process, and the Goodreads in-house security system will only allow you to send a limited number of messages each day. I just stick at it until the job’s done – maybe an hour each day for a few weeks. But obviously that’s only a couple of times each year.

How do people react to your newsletter? Do they email you back with a reply? Do you notice a boost in sales or website hits after you’ve sent one out?

Because it goes out as a personal e-mail, with only me and the recipient showing on the address lines, it seems to encourage responses. People will “chat” with me about something in the contents, exactly as with any other e-mail. And I often have a genuine “call to action” in there somewhere. I usually struggle, for instance, with titles for new books so I’ll ask subscribers to “vote” for various choices – usually with very positive results. I can’t honestly say that I’ve seen any boost in sales from the newsletter (I’m not that good at monitoring sales figures anyhow!) but certainly an increase in website hits.

What are the three biggest benefits for you of running a newsletter?

First, it helps me to both drive and monitor my activity. In other words, it gives me a chance to list both what I’ve done over the previous month, as well as what’s coming up in the following few weeks. If I struggle to fill the newsletter, I know I’m not working hard enough! Second, it helps me to spread the word about forthcoming events on a one-to-one basis. Third, it’s my favourite way to engage with readers and supporters – once again, at a very personal level.

What is the most surprising result you’ve ever had from one of your newsletters? The most gratifying? The most negative?

I have to be honest and say that I can’t think of a single negative result since I’ve been running this. The most surprising, gratifying and amusing, I suppose, was the response to a “call to action” I made about Goodreads listings. I guess everybody knows about Goodreads, and that the site has a Listopia section. So you can look up the books that readers have voted to include, for example, as “Best Historical Fiction”, “Best Romance” and so on. I’d not really looked at these very much but somebody drew my attention to the fact that my second novel, The Assassin’s Mark, was showing on the “Best Books about the Spanish Civil War” and at number 10. Well, that was OK, but I thought we could do better, so I invited my readers to look at the list and, if they wanted, to vote for Assassins.  

As a result, it’s now number 1 – ahead of both George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway. This doesn’t mean much in terms of pure book sales, but it’s a wonderful tag line, isn’t it? “The Assassin’s Mark – Voted by Goodreads as the Best Book ever written about the Spanish Civil War”!

How much has the mailing list grown or fluctuated since you set it up?

I had just 25 subscribers when I started, and the list has now grown to almost 600. And I’m pleased to say that I’ve only ever had one person unsubscribe.

What would be your three top tips to any author setting up a newsletter of their own?

First, keep it simple but informative – no waffle. Second, try to make it entertaining – a modest amount of humour goes a long way. Third, make sure you engage with readers through realistic “calls to action.”

What are the most popular elements of your newsletter? Do you run any subscriber-only offers? Do you give subscribers sneak previews of events and releases?

Anecdotally, I think the most popular elements are the “calls to action” since I think readers quite like to feel close to their authors. To “know” them, almost. And I certainly give subscribers sneak previews of events. But I’ve only recently started to think about subscriber-only offers. Mainly this is because I have badly neglected Twitter as a marketing tool, but have recently been persuaded to use this a bit more. So I’ve brought in some help from an organisation called PubShelf who are beavering away to boost the number of my followers. At the moment, I’m putting on an extra 100 followers each week, but I really need to drive these towards my books – or, better still, to my newsletter. As a result, my website now has its own Giveaway page. A series of tweets will direct people there to receive free copies of exclusive short stories (my own, naturally) and all they need to do to receive them is sign up for the newsletter. Simples!

Why do you need a newsletter as well as a blog?

Because I’m hopeless at maintaining a regular blog, of course! Seriously, I have huge admiration for those authors who manage to maintain their weekly or bi-weekly blogs but I’m just no good at it.  I tried – really I did! And, to be fair, I do still blog as often as I can, both on my website and on Goodreads. But the newsletter is simply more manageable for me. And, as I’ve already said, I feel as though it gives me far more two-way personal contact than I’ve ever experienced from the blog alone. There must be a thousand-and-one ways to improve on this model but, so far, this one has worked very well for me.

Thanks, Dave, for that detailed and inspiring account of how you’ve made such a success of your author newsletter. There are lots of inspiring ideas there, and you make it sound relatively painless and easy, provided the author is prepared to invest the necessary time. Good luck with the rest of your book tour, and I hope it brings you many new subscribers, as well as book sales! 

If, after reading this interview, you’d like to sign up for David Ebsworth’s newsletter, please feel free to drop him an email – you know he’ll be glad to hear from you! 

To read my review of The Assassin’s Mark, click here.

How to Sell More Books: Network! with Guest Author Chele Cooke

Photo of Chele Cooke, author of "Dead and Buryd"

Social networker extraordinaire, the author Chele Cooke

With social media now an established part of modern communications, self-published authors have at their disposal a huge armoury of networking weapons to raise the profile of themselves and their books. But which to choose?

Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest and GoodReads are currently the best known, but not every author feels comfortable with all or any of those. There is also the worry that if any social media currently in the ascendant may be be a bubble that is about to burst – who uses MySpace these days?

When most writers have day jobs and find it hard enough just to make time to write as much as they’d like to, it’s important to decide which of these – or of the many other networking choices – is right for you and your book.

I recently came across a debut fantasy writer – on a Facebook forum, as it happens – who impressed me with her particular approach to networking, including some routes that I confess I’d never heard of (showing my age here, perhaps!) She joins Off The Shelf today to talk about how she is using social networking not only to launch her debut sci-fi/fantasy novel, Dead and Buryd but also to foster her development as a writer.

Debbie: Hello and welcome, Chele Cooke! I first came across you and your book via ALLi’s private Facebook forum to which we both belong, and you immediately struck me as a natural networker. But you told me that you presence on Facebook is only the tip of your networking iceberg, and that you’re also very active in “RPing”. I had to ask you what that was! What exactly is RPing, how has it fostered your development as a writer and how is it now helping you spread the word about your writing?

Chele: It’s very nice to receive such a wonderful compliment right off the bat, as networking is something I’m usually quite worried about. As the new kid in school, so to speak, it can often be worrying that you’re coming off as pushy or asking too many questions.

RP (or Play-by-Post Roleplaying) has proved a massive influence in my writing. I started RPing as a young teenager, and it sparked my interest in writing and stories as a whole. Writing alongside others fosters a feeling of cooperation, as plots don’t always go the way you’d planned. I became used to changing ideas at the last minute and finding different directions to take things, which really helps me come up with a number of directions to take my writing now. If I feel that something isn’t working properly, I can change it.

The RP community is also incredibly enthusiastic about new ideas and when people decide to take their writing further. Different RP sites need to advertise themselves in order to gain members, and advertising my own writing is rather similar. I find that you have to be unafraid to catch people’s attention, but not too pushy as to annoy people. It’s a game of balances.

Debbie: In a way, RPing sounds similar to writing fan fiction, which is a great way of refining your writing and making new like-minded writer and reader friends. What part did fan fiction play in your development as a writer?

Chele: There is a well-known phrase that ‘you need to learn to walk before you can run’ and I am a big advocate for fan fiction for this reason. There are a lot of different aspects to learn when you start writing, from characterisation to setting, from grammar to plot timing. For a new writer, trying to take on all these things at the same time is, at best, tricky. By starting out in fan fiction, I took out some of those elements and focused on things like plot and sentence structure. The setting and characters (for the most part, I did have a few original characters in there) were already laid out, so I could focus on them less. Doing this meant that when I was ready to move on to my own original fiction, it was less to learn all at once.

Some of my fan fiction should probably be burned and never looked at again, but I have a number of stories that I’m incredibly proud of, and are still available online. In fact, I still get new notifications of people selecting them as a favourite, or leaving a review on pieces I posted years ago. I think they’re pretty good obscure advertisements for my new writing.

Debbie: Another social media that I’ve shied away from myself, and always wondered whether I’m missing something, is Pinterest, of which I gather you’re a big fan. How have you used Pinterest and what does it offer that other social media can’t?

Chele: I think RP and fan fiction have really bolstered my appreciation of a medium like Pinterest. These are often incredibly visual, with people creating graphics to advertise their work. As these are mostly non-profit, you get very used to searching the internet for images that represent part of your work. That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing with Pinterest, giving readers a visual insight into my writing.

There is a big similarity between Pinterest and Tumblr, in which they are both very image based, but I personally find Pinterest easier to use for an advertisement purpose. You can collect all the images in the same place, especially if you’re working with multiple books, where as Tumblr is completely chronologically organised.

I think the important part with any social media platform is that you enjoy doing it. If you don’t enjoy it and updating it becomes a chore, it isn’t going to be as enjoyable for readers either. I really enjoy using Pinterest, and I think that shows.

Debbie: Coming back to the more commonly used social media, Facebook and Twitter, how do you use those two to promote your work?

Chele: Currently, I’m using Facebook and Twitter a little differently than I usually would because Dead and Buryd has only just been released, so much of my social media has been geared toward that. However, on a day-to-day basis, I use social media to let people know about me far more than I broadcast my writing.

I find, and this goes for face-to-face networking as well as online-based relationships, that if you go into it with the intention of making a sale, people will quickly lose interest. Nobody wants to hear ‘buy my book’ screamed into a vacuum thirty times a day. I tend to focus my tweets and statuses more to my life. Sometimes this involves writing and where I am on a project, but mostly it’s things that I find interesting or amusing, little tit bits from my day. I find that if people are interested in me, they’ll be more likely to be interested in taking a look at my writing.

Cover of "Dead and Buryd" by Chele Cooke

Now on tour: Chele Cooke’s debut sci-fi/fantasy novel

Debbie: This post is appearing as part of a blog tour celebrating the launch of your debut novel. How did you go about setting up your blog tour and how is it going so far?

Chele: I’m finding blog touring very interesting, but I’ll admit, for a first-time author, it has been a little difficult. Blog touring, it seems, relies on connections, which I haven’t had all that long to create within the author and book blogging community. I think I probably would do better next time, when I have more of a background to my writing.

In general though, mainly I contacted friends and people I know through ALLi. There is a great feeling of cooperation, especially in groups such as ALLi, so I spent a lot of September hosting guest posts on my own blog, helping others the way they planned to help me. There have been a few hiccups with missing days, but I’m not letting it get to me. Hope for the best but plan for the worst, I guess.

Debbie: Of all the networking facilities that we’ve discussed here – the various social media and the blog tour – if you had to choose only one to promote your book, which would it be and why?

Chele: That’s a very tough question, because I use all of them for different aspects. I think that if I had to choose only one, I’d have to go with Facebook. There are so many little communities that you can become a part of, not simply for advertising, but because I find the conversations genuinely interesting. Plus, Facebook has the added bonus of being able to post a variety of different content, whether it’s texts, links, or images. Everything you post is right there, instead of linking you away to something else.

Of course, I’d rather have my selection of mediums going on. It’s far more interesting.

Debbie: Thank you so much, Chele, for that fascinating insight into how you’re using the combination of social media that suits you best. I really enjoyed your book, by the way! Good luck with the rest of your blog tour – I’m sure it will be a great success!

  • For more information about Chele Cooke, visit her website, where you’ll also find her many social media links!
  • To read  my review of Dead and Buryd, click here.
  • If you’re interested in finding out more about ALLi (the Alliance of Independent Authors, to which I also belong and whose blog of self-publishing advice I edit), click here.

How to Sell More Self-Published Books by Creating Online Events

I’ve blogged before about how running author events can help you sell your books (and how attending other people’s events can give you ideas for your own), but this week I’m focusing on events based online. One of the great things about online events is that people can join in from all over the world – and if you make them sufficiently inspiring, they will!

The author Satya Robyn, Fiona

The writer formerly known as Fiona (as Prince might say)

A great example of an online author event is Satya Robyn‘s recent “What I Live For” online event. She staged it to draw attention to the change in her author name. Formerly known as Fiona Robyn , she changed her first name to Satya when she became a Buddhist priest.

In these days of search engines, changing your name is a brave decision, because by doing so you discard the visibility you’ve built up from searches on your previous name. In her blog, Satya referred to her name change as “the worst commercial decision I ever made” – yet she needed to adopt her new name for writing in order to feel true to herself. My respect for Fiona’s decision was one of the many reasons that I decided to take part in Satya’s online event – and I’m very glad I did. For me, as a writer, it was an enriching, heartwarming experience. For Satya – well, it made me (and many others) buy her book and take notice of her full back catalogue. I also helped her spread the word by telling other friends about her event and linking to it from a “What I Live For” post on my personal blog. I also read, reviewed and recommended her book Thaw (at the heart of the event) to friends.

I’m therefore very pleased that Satya has agreed to join me at Off The Shelf today to answer my questions about her event. I’m sure it will inspire you to create your own.

Debbie: Welcome to Off The Shelf, Satya! To set the scene for our conversation, can you please describe exactly what your What I Live For event was?

Satya: I invited people to write about what they lived for on a specific date (May 10, 2013) on their blogs, or on Facebook or on Twitter or wherever they wanted to. I compiled a list of links to participants on my blog, but many more people took part than I had a record of.

Debbie: What I Live For was the first of your online events that I’ve taken part in, but was it the first you’ve ever done?

Satya: I’ve done plenty! I did my first blogsplash in 2009 when hundreds of bloggers published the first page of Ruth’s diary (from my novel Thaw) on the same day. I also organised an online event for Small Kindnesses and The Most Beautiful Thing. With my husband Kaspa we’ve also curated three ‘Mindful Writing Challenges’ where people have written a small stone (a short observational piece) every day for the month of January.

Cover of Thaw by Satya RobynDebbie: Why did you choose Thaw as the focus of the event rather than any of your other books?

Satya: I thought that, of the books in my back catalogue, Thaw was the most likely to stick in people’s minds – to be the one that readers were most likely to recommend to someone else.

Debbie: How many people took part, and, of those, how many were writers?

Satya: I think around 40 people took part – maybe a quarter to a half were writers.

Debbie: How many countries did your campaign reach?

Satya: Mostly the US, UK and Canada, and a sprinkling from Europe and elsewhere.

Debbie: How much time went into preparing for the event and running it on the day?

Satya: Maybe 30 hours.

Debbie: That sounds like an extremely effective investment of time. I suspect the effect was much more long-lasting than the day itself – do you agree?

Satya: It’s hard to know. On the internet these days, things seem to be ‘now or never’. When we post a blog, we’ll get a lot of clicks in that moment, but then that dramatically goes down. But I’m also sure that the event will live on in people’s minds too.

Debbie: Although the event was created to promote your name change rather than to sell books, any author is going to welcome extra sales! How did the event affect your sales of Thaw? Did the effect radiate to your other books?

Satya: I did see an increase in sales, but not dramatic – maybe sold 100 extra copies. There was a negligible effect on my other books.

Cover of Small Kindnesses by Satya RobynDebbie: I suspect there will continue to be positive ripples from the event for a long time to come (e.g. this interview!)  What mechanism was the main driver of the event – your website, Facebook, Twitter, any other social media, or was it a mixture of all of these?

Satya: A mixture of Facebook and Twitter as usual – combined with our newsletter.

Debbie: Did the event achieve all that you hoped for?

Satya: The results felt mixed. There was some beautiful writing on the day which moved me greatly, and people got a lot out of it. This was a success. The event had less effect on my sales than I hoped for, and I think this is because I didn’t tie in the event closely enough with the book.

Debbie: I really enjoyed writing my response to What I Live For and I had many lovely comments about my post from readers. I was also very affected by some of other participants’ posts. It seemed a shame that the event was over so quickly and we all went our separate ways again. Did you consider compiling the many contributions into something more lasting e.g. an e-book, or would that have broken the spell? (And I think spell is the right word, because it was a very magical event.)

Satya: Thank you, Debbie. It would have been a nice idea to do an e-book – but my time is very tight and I need to make sure I get my current novel finished…

Debbie: The event impressed me as a wonderfully innovative and generous way of promoting your new name, because it spread so much warmth and allowed  others to share your stage and the glory. Is that approach a product of your Buddhist faith and way of life?

Satya: I think my Buddhist faith helps to point me in the direction of this kind of offering-to-the-world. I’ve also been influenced by many teachers and writers over my lifetime. Spreading warmth always feels good!

Debbie: Dropping into my inbox just the other day was an invitation to another of your events – a 31 Days of Joy email campaign. Is this kind of collaborative programme the way forward for your writing now, or will you continue to write conventional(ish!) books and publish them as before?

Satya: I have two (well, at least three!) separate lines of work – as a writer (writing novels and non-fiction), as co-owner of the Mindful Writing company Writing Our Way Home (which runs mindful writing courses, including the new one on Joy) and as a psychotherapist in private practice.

Debbie: Writing on your blog before the event, you referred to changing your name as “making a terrible commercial decision (and being glad)”. I have an inkling that actually it’s been a great opportunity for you to raise awareness of a book whose launch had already come and gone. It also made people examine who you are – and admire your courage and commitment, both as a writer and a buddhist. So – are you still glad, or has it proven to be a terrible commercial decision?

Cover of The Most Beautiful Thing by Satya Robyn Satya: Thanks Debbie! I don’t think the decision has meant that I’ve lost out financially – my best selling novel The Most Beautiful Thing is still selling just as many as it was. We just uploaded a new cover onto the current slot on Amazon. Most people who knew me as Fiona now know me as Satya, and new readers don’t need to know!

Debbie: Apart from your 31 Days of Joy programme, what else is coming up in your writing life this year that we should look out for?

Satya: I’ll finish my new novel at some point this year – yet to be named. We run two e-courses every month, details here. And we’ll have another Mindful Writing Day on November 11th this year.

Debbie: Thank you, Satya, for that fascinating insight into the process of setting up a promotional online event – and I look forward to reading your new novel when it’s ready!

Further Reading

Twitter Tips from A Top Tweep………Lynn C Schreiber, Author of “Learn Twitter In 10 Minutes”

I’ve blogged quite a bit about different aspects of Twitter lately, and these posts have been well received by indie and self-published authors. But what I haven’t done is given a beginner’s guide – I’ve assumed a certain amount of knowledge in the reader. So to help out those who haven’t yet tackled the blue bird and won, I invited Geneva-based Twitter specialist Lynn C Schreiber to write a guest post here, aimed at the particular needs of authors and writers. She has very kindly produced the perfect beginner’s guide for you below.

Salt and Caramel

Sugar-coating the pill of Twitter

For future reference, I recommend you invest in her little blue book of Twitter for beginners: Learn Twitter in 10 Minutes. You really can read  it in 10 minutes, and it’s a handy guide to keep on your desk. It’s very pretty too – I feel calmer just looking at the cover!

Lynn doesn’t just write about Twitter, by the way. She also pens the fabulous personal blog Salt and Caramel (strapline: Not Just the Sweet Side of Life) and is the editor of Jump!, a brilliant online magazine for pre-teen girls. This fills a gap in the market for children like my own nine-year-old daughter, too old for pictorial children’s comics but too young to be exposed to teenage mags. Lynn’s also currently working on her first novel.

Over to Lynn…

Lynn C Schreiber

Lynn C Schreiber

Authors are often told that they should use Twitter to publicise their work. This advice is given to both self-published authors, and those working with a publisher. Twitter is easily accessible, has no barriers or borders, and costs nothing but time.

I hear you shout, ‘But I don’t have the time, I need to WRITE!’

That is what this post is about – ensuring that you get the very best out of Twitter in the time you can afford to invest.

Get Started

Take a day or two before you start tweeting to organise your set-up. Doing this ensures that every tweet you send reaches your target audience.

Pep up your profile

Your profile is your shop window. It consists of:

  • Header – the rectangular box
  • A profile photo – lose the egg. The generic profile picture is a sign of a Twitter newbie. Be brave and put a picture of yourself as your avatar as people tend to respond better to a face than a picture of a dust jacket.
  • Your Twitter name and your user name (the @name). Make it easy for people to find you by sticking as close to your author name as possible.
  • A short bio – You have 160 characters of space on your profile to provide a snapshot of your personality. Use them wisely, but don’t go overboard with self-promotion.
  • Your location – make this as vague or exact as you like
  • Link to website or blog
  • Header photo – lots of people don’t bother doing anything with it, but it is a good way of visually linking to your website, using similar colours or patterns

Background Photo

Like the header photo, the background photo is often neglected. Here is your chance to use that space to add information about yourself. You can include pictures of your books, photos, further information. You can create a header image and background photo using Photoshop. It may be worth hiring someone to do this for you, if you are not able to do it yourself. Have a look at some other profiles to give you some ideas of how to highlight your talents, such as Sara Bran or Debbie Young.

Build a Network

Twitter is a great networking tool, and enables you to connect with readers and with other writers. A recommendation from a fellow writer to their followers can be very helpful.

The secret of using Twitter successfully is in the name – SOCIAL media. It is all about communication, being social. As Debbie noted in her first post on this subject, potential followers will have a peek at your profile and recent tweets. (Aren’t you glad you sorted out that profile?)

There is nothing more off-putting than a timeline consisting of ‘buy my book’, especially if there is an air of desperation about the tweets. Your timeline should be at most 20% ‘promotion’ tweets, the rest should be chatter, sharing of information, recommendation of other books and personal tweets. And cat pictures.

While it is good to share some personal information, in order to connect with your readers, think about much personal information you wish to share. If you tweet about your family or friends, be sure you have their permission to mention their names, or share their stories.

Find Followers

Using the Twitter search function, look for your favourite authors, journalists, literary agents, publishers, bookstores and blogs. If you like what a person is tweeting, check their follower list to find other fans.

Do you want to communicate with readers, or with other writers? This depends if you want to use Twitter to network, or to actually market and sell your books. Most likely, you will want to do a bit of both.

Don’t just follow ‘book people’, or your timeline will be very insular. You need variety, so that you reach others out with the literary scene.

Search for people who tweet about your hobbies or interests, or those from your hometown, or favourite holiday destination. Follow news channels or blogs, or the twitter feed of your favourite TV show.

Twitter does not limit how many followers you may have, but they do monitor follower patterns, in the hope of sniffing out spam accounts. If you follow and unfollow hundreds of users a day, in an attempt to gain new followers, your account may be suspended. Don’t use any kind of Team Followback schemes to get more followers. People who do this often don’t actually interact with others, they are just interested in having a large number of followers. Aim for quality, not quantity – interacting with 800 engaged followers is more fun and is more effective than being ignored by 8000 follower-hunters.

Once you follow 2000 people, you may find that you cannot follow any more. This is due to limitations set by Twitter, which vary from user to user, depending on how many followers you have. If this happens, use a programme such as ManageFlitter to find which accounts are inactive and who is not following you back, unfollow some of them. When you have more followers, you will find that you can gradually follow more people.

I have found that once I follow more than 1200 people, I lose track of them. It becomes difficult to follow conversations, and I notice that I miss the tweets of ‘old favourites’ because I my timeline is too full. This is where Twitter clients such as Tweetdeck and Hootsuite come in. You can add columns with lists of tweeps you follow, eg. writers, literary scene, bloggers, social media…

Start a Conversation

Don’t lurk quietly and hope that someone notices you. Twitter is much too busy for that. When you see someone discussing a topic that interests you, jump in – politely! This works best with other ‘normal’ people, ie. not celebs who receive so many messages that they cannot answer them all.

There is a good chance that once you start chatting with them, they will follow you back. If they don’t, you can continue to follow them if you find them interesting, or unfollow a few days later. Don’t take it personally if they don’t follow back, and don’t ask them to follow you.

Offer Assistance

When you see someone looking for information, help by recommending any of your followers who might be able to help.

Search and Hashtags

If you write about a specific subject, or in a particular genre, set up a search column in your Twitter client. The aim of using a hashtag is to collate information about a subject, e.g. search for #chicklit or #economics – to find those writing in a particular genre, or tweeting about a specific subject.

When you tweet about your book, include at most two hashtags. Pick out the two main themes, or areas of interest. Doing this ensures that those looking for information on this subject find your tweets.

#FF and RT

On Fridays, use the #ff hashtag to recommend the work of other writers on your timeline. Consider these two recommendations. Which #ff would you follow?

#ff @debbieyoung for amusing chats, great advice on self-publishing, and extensive information on promoting your book

#ff @debbieyoung, @lynncschreiber, @anothertweeter, @yetanotherperson, @andyetanother

If you tell your followers WHY they should follow that person, they are more likely to do so than if you simply tweet a list of names.

Like #ff, a RT is a great networking tool. It lets the person you are RTing know what you think, while recommending them to your followers. A RT with a comment carries more weight than a straight RT. Which of these three tweets would you be most likely to follow?

Straight RT:

RT @lynncschreiber My book Learn Twitter In Ten Minutes is available now

RT with opinion:

RT @lynncschreiber My book Learn Twitter In Ten Minutes is available now << an excellent read


Have you all seen that @lynncschreiber’s book Learn Twitter in Ten Minutes is out? It is excellent, can recommend

The person you #ff or RT might not return the compliment right away, but it opens up communication.

If someone recommends you to their followers, try to thank them. RTing a compliment occasionally is fine, but don’t overdo it. No one wants to read a timeline full of self-aggrandising RTs.

Seek Endorsements or Recommendations

It is tempting to tweet celebrities, famous authors or literary agents with a link to your book and ask them to RT or read it. It may seem like a ‘shortcut’ but it comes across as slightly desperate – the grown-up equivalent of wanting to sit at the cool kids’ table. It is also not very effective, and if you send too many near identical tweets, you run the risk of Twitter blocking your account for spamming.

If you want to make contact with an agent or another author, follow them and engage with them first. Occasionally tweet an interesting or funny reply to their comments – with the emphasis on “occasionally” or you will look like a stalker!

Tweet your Book

Don’t use the same format to tweet about your book every time:

Read my book on how to Learn Twitter in Ten Minutes [link]

Tweet a pithy sentence from your book and add a hashtag:

Add a bio to your profile – be funny, be serious, but be brief #twitterin10 [link]

Twitter is about dialogue, not monologue, so don’t be shy #twitterin10 [link]

Be brave – add your opinion when you RT #twitterin10 [link]

Tweet a review

‘clear and concise, well written and lucid’ #twitterin10 [link]

 Timing of Promotional Tweets

Tweet about your book two to three times a day – around 9am, 4pm and 9pm are good to reach most readers – but experiment with the timing to see when your readers are online.

Thieves of Time

If you are using Twitter to promote your book, don’t get caught up in arguments that steal your time.


Trolls post inflammatory comments online in order to cause upset. While it is tempting to respond to a nasty comment or to RT it to your followers, it takes up too much of your time and energy – which is exactly what a troll wants. Block and report to Twitter.


Try not to spend too much of your time on Twitter getting irate about the current ‘scandal’ or ‘Twitterstorm’. Twitter has its own strange dynamic, and a throw-away comment can be blown totally out of proportion and then suddenly everyone is talking about it.

If you inadvertently offend someone, offer a sincere apology and move on.

Don’t let these storms steal your time. Tomorrow Twitter will be raging about something else.


One of the biggest thieves of time is Twitter itself. In my experience, writing and tweeting at the same time just doesn’t work. Shut down Tweetdeck, close your browser, or even disconnect from the wifi for a few hours.

I have heard it said that self-published authors should spend 20% of their time writing, and 80% of their time promoting. I’d say the opposite is more like it – if you spend so much time promoting your book, when do you find time to write the next one? Debbie wrote about scheduling tweets, and using free moments to tweet – this is a good way of fitting Twitter into your day without taking time away from your writing.

Don’t be fooled by anyone telling you that using Twitter will make you famous, or successful. Twitter is a marketing tool, not a magic wand. Be realistic in your expectations, and don’t believe the hype. If you are using Twitter in the hope that your work will ‘go viral’ or that you will be discovered, you are likely to be disappointed.

A well-managed Twitter account can however help you connect to your readers, and to other writers and editors. Take a day or two to set up Twitter, invest an hour a day for a couple of weeks to get it up and running, and then keep posting regularly.

Lynn, thank you so much – that was brilliant!

I hope Lynn’s helpful guide has renewed your enthusiasm for Twitter! Better pop off there now and follow @LynnCSchreiber. Oh, and do tweet me @DebbieYoungBN to let me know how you’re getting on! 

For more about how Twitter fits into the social media mix for authors promoting their books, please see Chapter 6 The Truth Is Out There: Harnessing the Internet! in my book promotion handbook for authors, Sell Your Books!

Three Tips on Twitter Timing to Turn Authors & Writers Into Top Tweeps

Image representing TweetDeck as depicted in Cr...

Tweetdeck logo image via CrunchBase

Please excuse the tongue-twister of a title, but following the popularity of  my recent post here to help writers and authors gain more followers on Twitter, I’ve come up with some more Twitter tips. These three will help you make your time spent on Twitter more productive, leaving you more time to write!

1) Use Twitter to Fill Odd Moments On The Move

One of the great things about Twitter is that you can make a real difference to your profile, your following and your social  engagement in a matter of moments. It’s the perfect social media for filling the odd five minutes. If you’re lucky enough to have a smartphone (a sound investment for any writer these days),  it’s fast and easy to dip into Twitter wherever you happen to be – while travelling, waiting for an appointment, at the school gate at pick-up time. Keep an eye open for such opportunities and grab them. You may even find you can do all the tweeting you need to solely within brief time slots that might otherwise be wasted.

I often tweet in the car (only when travelling as a passenger, I hasten to add). I get an awful lot done in the half-hour it takes us to drive to my mum’s for our weekly family visit. I also often check out Twitter last thing, as I keep my phone by my bed to recharge overnight. Conversely, on the rare occasion that I get a lie-in, it’s fun to sit in bed and catch up with the world scanning my Twitter timeline on my phone. I realised this morning (a Sunday) that I have al lot of Twitter friends with whom I mostly communicate when in bed. Hmm…

2) Consider Tweet Scheduling

English: Timezones in the world since Septembe...

Tweet around the time zones (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Depending on where you are and who you are trying to reach, it’s worth knowing that not all tweets need to be done in real time. There are a number of Twitter-related tools, most of them available for free, to enable you to plan your tweets in advance and make them go live at the time that best suits your target audience – especially useful if it’s in a different time zone.

Tweetdeck, Twitter’s own tool, is a good starting point but there are plenty more. Take a look at your Twitter timeline and you’ll soon spot the tools that your friends are using, as they’re usually highlighted at the end of a post that’s  been published this way. Do remember, though, that scheduling tweets is only helpful up to a point – you won’t be able to engage in live conversation with respondents to your scheduled tweets if you’re not on Twitter when they go live.

3)  Use the “Favourites” Facility to Mark Tweets to Revisit Later

Herz mit Pfeil thresh 90

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I first started using Twitter regularly, in my naivety I assumed the “favourite” option was just for marking tweets I really, really liked. I used it to highlight tweets that complimented my book promotions handbook, Sell Your Books!, this Off The Shelf Book Promotions blog or my personal blog, YoungByName, which was handy for boosting my morale when need be, but otherwise not very useful. Reading other people’s Twitter profiles, I noticed some favourited hundreds of tweets. Crikey, I thought, they must be popular!

But when I checked out their favourites (Twitter makes it so easy to be nosy, though you can hide your favourites if you prefer), I discovered that many of these bore no relation to their own work. And of course I twigged. These weren’t really that tweep’s favourite tweets, literally speaking. They were just using the favourites facility as a bookmark, to make it easy to return to those tweets later on. Typically they included tweets with links to blog posts or articles on which the reader might want to linger. This trick is especially useful when you’ve reached the stage of having more than a few hundred followers and your timeline starts whizzing by with new tweets every second. It saves a lot of searching – and time.

Coming soon: Guest Post by Twitter expert author Lynn Schreiber

Photo of Lynn Schreiber's book

Photo courtesy of Lynn Schreiber, from her “Salt & Caramel” blog,

Like so many writers I know, are you still avoiding Twitter for fear of becoming embroiled in a time-consuming, time-wasthing addiction that will erode your valuable writing time? If so, do come back again soon to read my next post about Twitter, which has been inspired by my previous two posts. It’s a guest blog by Twitter expert Lynn Schreiber. As you can see from her book’s title, Learn Twitter in 10 Minutes, she can turn you into a confident tweep in the time that it takes to drink a cup of tea and eat a biscuit! Lynn’s  guest post here will be with specific reference to how indie and self-published authors – so do come back again to read it.

Related posts:

To read my previous post about Twitter, click here: 6 Ways for Writers to Find More Twitter Followers

To read my previous post about guest blog posts, click here:  How Authors Can Gain New Readers via Guest Blog Posts

For a useful overview of Twitter and other types of social networking,  read Chapter 6 of Sell Your Books, entitled “The Truth is Out There!”

6 Ways for Writers to Win More Twitter Followers

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

@EstelleW_Author My goal of reaching 1k followers by the time I publish seems a little out of reach now. 400 in 4 weeks? Possible? #spreadtheword #mention RT

When this tweet by debut writer Estelle Wilkinson caught my eye on my Twitter feed, I started to tweet back some Twitter marketing tips to help her achieve her goal. But then I thought “hang on, these ideas could help other authors too!” What’s more, if I used more than Twitter’s limit of 140 characters per tip, I could be even more helpful. 

So here they are: my 6 top tips to help authors everywhere gain more followers on  Twitter. This is not an exhaustive list, and I’ll probably return to this topic again soon. In the meantime, this starter-size serving will help any writer struggling to get off the ground with Twitter to grow bigger wings  and take flight!

1) Maintain an alluring Twitter profile page.

When people see an interesting tweet that tempts them to follow you, they are likely to check out your profile page before they commit. Therefore use the  160 characters permitted there strategically to appeal to your target audience. Make sure you use the right keywords. “Ebay”, for example, is key to Estelle Wilkinson’s new book (believe it or not!) Include a clickable link to your website if you have one, or to an online listing of your book if you don’t. Make it easy to probe beyond the 160 characters.  Add an appropriate photo, cropped to work at thumbnail size on the Twitter timeline. Whatever you do, ditch the egg! (That’s the default logo provided by Twitter in the absence of a photo). You can also add an attractive background image. Mine is the cover of my book, tiled across the screen. Visit my Twitter profile @DebbieYoungBN to see it in action. Aim for a Pied Piper effect: make your target audience unable to resist following you!

2) Keep your tweets  interesting and outward looking.

Potential followers will also check out your last few tweets, as a sample of what they’re likely to get from you on their timeline in future. If all you ever tweet is “Buy my book, it’s fantastic!”, you’ll  get few takers: who wants to read that every five minutes? The occasional more subtle tweet of this sort is fine e.g. yesterday I put up what I hope was an intriguing tweet about my book: Every #writer needs this book” says latest 5* review for #bookpromotion handbook “Sell Your Books!”, (with a link to the Amazon page showing the review). But I use tweets of this kind very sparingly, interspersed with interesting links to relevant articles or blog posts, useful tips and inspiring  quotes to inspire. Retweets of other people’s tweets are great for boosting your output – but only if these are not of other authors saying “Buy MY book, it’s fantastic”!

3) Focus on the most appropriate kind of follower.

Search on the right key words for your genre to find appropriate followers. If you want to gain readership for a book about stamp-collecting, track down Tweeps who tweet about stamp-collecting, follow other stamp-collectors or list stamp-collecting as an interest in their profile. Philately will get you everywhere (ho ho). You might still want to follow non-philatelists for other reasons. Most authors add at least a few people unrelated to their book or their genre, simply for personal interest. But don’t be disappointed when Stephen Fry or Mo Farah don’t follow you back!

4) Don’t waste your follower ration on no-hopers.

When you are relatively new on Twitter, you are limited to following no more than 2,001 Tweeps until you have at least that many followers of your own. Regularly cut out the dead wood e.g. unfollow those who aren’t following you back. This frees up space to follow new people who ARE likely to follow you. Use handy online tools to help you do this more easily, e.g., but don’t be too hasty to unfollow. Although many people check Twitter every day from their computer or their smartphone, plenty more only do so only occasionally. Allow them time to spot you’ve followed them before you click unfollow.

5) Follow the followers of other authors in your genre.

You might be surprised to know that it’s fair game for you to follow the followers of other authors in your genre. At first this may feel underhand, like industrial espionage, but it’s an important factor behind Twitter’s success, so use it to your advantage.

6) Emulate the successful tweets of others.

If you notice certain kinds of tweet being retweeted within your target genre, see if you can produce some similar tweets. “Top tip” tweets, intriguingly presented and addressing a key issue in your sphere, are likely to go down well. I’m rather hoping that when I tweet the title of this blog post, I’ll harvest a few RTs and get some new followers myself! It’s also productive to tweet links to new posts or still relevant old posts on your author blog.

To help Estelle Wilkinson reach her own target of followers, or to see how she’s progressing (no pressure, Estelle!), you might like to visit her Twitter profile at @EstelleW_Author

Do you have any tried-and-tested Twitter follower tips you’d like to share? Please feel free to add them via the Comment section below.

Not Yet On Twitter?

If you’re a writer without a profile on Twitter, or an author who at the very mention of Twitter breaks out in a cold sweat, don’t give up! Twitter is a great tool to help you raise your author profile  before an audience of people that you don’t know personally. It’s well worth the effort to break through that wall! An easy first step is to read the overview in my book promotion handbook, Sell Your Books! See Chapter 6: The Truth Is Out There! Harnessing the Internet.