Case Study: How Twitter Helped Me Sell 500,000 Books

A year before my first novel was set to come out, I knew I’d have to turn to social media. If I wanted to move copies of The First Annual Grand Prairie Rabbit Festival, I’d have to switch to a new paradigm, think outside the box and, at the end of the day, create synergies with strangers across the country. After all, gone were the days when a well-written book was enough to make your mark (if such days ever existed). Advertising and other methods of old-fashioned marketing, I knew, are dead and don’t work at all anymore. And I certainly didn’t know the right people in New York’s celebrity-making blog and book factories — you know, the ones who decide who the next big thing will be based on a new writer’s degree from Iowa, or a handful of 500-word blog posts, or the lovely pallor of his/her white white skin, or a killer blowjob administered at a party.

Luckily there was Twitter. If it could overthrow Ahmanedinejad and bring freedom to all Iran, certainly it could sell a few thousand books.

Did it work? And how?

Before signing up for Twitter, I’d sold absolutely zero books. Of course, the book hadn’t been published yet. But I knew enough that you couldn’t just pop up on Twitter the day your product came out and scream, “Hey, buy my thing. It’s awesome.” No, Twitter isn’t a magic bullet. Rather, it’s a magic tool. And it takes time and effort for its true powers to be revealed.

Time and effort and, like most things magical, wizards. Or, in this case, social-media gurus. Thankfully, social-media gurus are a little easier to find than, say, Gandalf. Indeed, simply type in social-media, guru, help, marketing, free money into your Twitter stream and a host of gurus will be conjured up almost immediately. (As an added bonus, you’ll also summon up a legion of lifestyle coaches as well.) I was lucky enough to be approached by a number of these helpful people. And, for nominal fees, I was taught to make a really killer background for my Twitter page, how to use software that would magically boost my followers with other social-media gurus and lifestyle coaches and how to set Twitter to auto-DM anyone who followed me with the phrase. “Thanks for following. I hope we can share some awesome learnings!”

I didn’t know what learnings had to do with a comedic novel about a Catholic priest in South Louisiana, but who am I to argue with a guru? No one, that’s who.

So, I toiled away for a year on Twitter before Kensington released the book. And then the fun really began. I’d expected to sell a modest few books—10,000 or 20,000 maybe. But I’m assuming I far surpassed that. Granted, I haven’t seen numbers yet, but you only have to do the math. I have 2,901 followers at the moment—all certified real people. Not a porn bot, news scraper or company holding place among them. I think it’s perfectly safe to round that number up to 3,000. I asked each one of them to buy at least two copies of the book, which automatically brings me to 6,000. Of course, that’s just the beginning. Much like a virus spreads across your community, um, virally, such things on the web also spread virally. My base 3,000 people infected all of their followers with news of The First Annual Grand Prairie Rabbit Festival.

Let me stop to say it wasn’t all smooth sailing. There was one small hitch. The First Annual Grand Prairie Rabbit Festival might make a fine title for a book and touch on the recent fad of longish titles. But it takes up a lot of space on Twitter. #TheFirstAnnualGrandPrairieRabbitFestival was simply too long. I’d have thought at least one social-media guru would have pointed that out before hand, but half of them were too busy advising on my Twitter background as that’s the most important part of any social-media campaign (that and auto-DMs). The other half had quit, transitioning to FourSquare gurus.

And, sadly, #TFAGPRF looks like I’m making some sort of gay joke. So that was out, too.

Luckily, I settled on an elegant solution: #justinbieber. If you’re a regular Twitter user, I don’t think I have to tell you how successful that particular move has been.

So, back to the numbers. A base of 3,000 people buys two copies each of my book and then, here’s the beauty of Twitter, retweets my two-book request to all of their followers. And so forth and so on. If each of those 3,000 Twitterers had only 10 followers a piece, that would translate into 60,000 books sold even before the followers of those followers retweeted to their followers. But, get this. Some of my followers have thousands of their own followers. A few even have tens of thousands of followers. It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to see how quickly, how exponentially the figures start to add up in that case.

What’s the final tally, you ask? Like I said, I’m not sure. We’re only at the end of the first quarter so I haven’t seen hard numbers. But using an algorithm that accounted for rankings, my number of Twitter followers, my Facebook friends and #bieber-related tweets, I think 500,000 is a very conservative estimate. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a real number closer to 1.75 million.

At the end of the day, I think you’ll agree that Twitter delivers solid results. The proof is in the pudding. And the pudding tastes goooooood.

So good, in fact, that I’m happy to announce that I’m starting my own social-media consulting firm. For a flat fee of $5,000 per week-long project, I can do for you what the social-media gurus did for me. It’s the least I can do.

Happy April 1st.

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