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What Publishers Really Think About Twitter

Anna Leinberger Posted by Anna Leinberger, Editorial Manager, Acqusitions, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.

Anna is a writer and editor for Berrett-Koehler in Oakland, CA. More on killer book proposals and writing can be found on her BK Blog.

What Publishers Really Think About Twitter


If I have One More Publisher Ask How Many Twitter Followers I have….

Today I take on the dreaded question, the elephant, the big one, the one that makes your stomach turn itself into knots…… When your prospective editor or agent asks

……So how many Twitter followers do you have?.......

“It seems to be all the publishers care about anymore!” I hear writers complain. “How are we supposed to have time to write and put in the hours necessary to build this massive online following?!!?” another complains.  I do want to preface this by saying that I can only speak for myself as an editor and Berrett-Koehler’s specific thoughts on social media and Twitter.  We do non-fiction, and what we have found that works in our niche might not work for a fiction writer, for example. 


Everyone is obsessed with data and metrics these days, and Twitter is just about the easiest metric out there.  It is a number, full stop.  It is easy, and a large number will always be impressive.  What that means is that we, at any rate, consider the Twitter number to be a very small consideration within the larger scope of a prospective author’s platform- just one piece of the puzzle.

The Key Distinction

The real twist here is how you think about Twitter.  When a publisher is asking about your platform and your followers they are not assuming your Twitter following is your only identity.  Your following is a reflection of the influence and reach into of your target audience.  If you have a large number of followers, it is likely that people are discovering your work, and then following your Twitter because they are interested in YOU.  Obviously this does not happen without any intention- you have to put your Twitter handle on your business cards, mention it when you speak, include it in your bio when you blog or write op-eds.  We want to see your Twitter following in large numbers not because we want you to have specifically a Twitter following, but because we can see how well known you are in general.

The unintended trap

The unfortunate consequence of this focus on social media for its own sake is that there is now a widespread and incorrect assumption that you use Twitter to sell your book. Publishers want you to have followers!  That must mean Twitter sells books!  NO.  At this point it is pretty well documented that Twitter and Facebook really do not “convert” to sales.  Convert in this case means “leads directly to a sale.”  Twitter is really bad for actually selling books. Twitter is great for engaging your followers, turning them into die-hard fans who will evangelize your books and your message.  Posting “buy my book!” or “I published a book!” on Twitter however, will not incite someone to go to Amazon and buy it.

Knowledge will set you free

If you understand that your Twitter following is just a reflection of your influence and reach in the world, then there are endless possibilities.  If twitter is not your thing, don’t use it!  When a publisher asks how many followers you have, you can respond by saying that Twitter is not really your medium- but that here is this other example of how many people know who I am and who are engaged with my work!  You will not only demonstrate the following a publisher will want, but you will get mega points for understanding the real question, and the actual value of your Twitter following.

(And for your daily inspiration, here is a person who got a 7 figure advance for a first novel who has only 189 twitter followers)