Thoughts on Using Twitter Effectively as an Indie Author

After a couple of months of using Twitter to promote my indie author career, I can say with confidence that I’ve learned two things:

  • Twitter is effective for driving traffic.
  • Twitter absolutely sucks for selling books.

This may come as a surprise to the many authors I see pushing links to their Amazon book pages non-stop on Twitter, but it’s one based on some fairly solid analytics. And if you’re using Twitter without using any analytics, you’re not really using Twitter, you’re just playing with it.

The first thing you should be doing is tracking your engagement using Twitter’s own tools. Just point your browser to https://ads.twitter.com/user/[your username]. What you’ll see is a list of your tweets, along with charts showing the engagements you got: link clicks, retweets, favorites, and so on. Further, you can click any tweet and it will pop up a summary of everything that happened since it went out. Another good tool I’ve started using is Author Rise, a new initiative that lets you track your book’s sales rank against your Twitter reach.

So why do I think tweeting book links is largely a waste of effort? It’s from following this data, specifically tracking link clicks. During Wednesday’s 24-hour Twitter period, which just ended as I type this, I got 14,132 engagements—an all time high (largely because of this). That’s great!

But from that I got a whopping 25 link clicks. If you’re doing the math, that’s a 0.17% click rate. That’s not so good.

Yet if you dig a little further, it gets even worse from a sales standpoint. Pulling up my WordPress site stats, I see that I got 23 referrals from Twitter during the same period.

Read that again. 14,132 engagements, 25 link clicks, and all but two of them went to my blog.

This leads me to believe that very few people actually click Amazon book links. It’s possible that I’m an outlier, but having spent a lot of time tracking how effective certain book teasers are and changing them often, I’m convinced this is a valid observation. I’ve been watching things like this happen for weeks.

More—admittedly anecdotal—evidence came to me this past weekend, when I had the best three-day sales period for The Wizard’s Daughters so far. Yet this period coincided with a brief blacklist from Round Team, during which my engagements plummeted. I got a mere 5,130 on Sunday—which was so far the best sales day ever for that book, during which it hit #47 on the Amazon Historical Fantasy bestseller list.

There’s probably not much harm in tweeting Amazon book links. I’m just not convinced it does much of anything.

Nat Russo, whose blog I’ve recently begun following, has more in the same vein.

 

 

35 comments

  1. I’ve also been using Twitter to promote books — and I’ve also found that my book sales haven’t jumped since I started. But the number of people that have signed up to follow me has surprised me, and that’s been wonderful. I feel that Twitter has brought me more into a community of writers. We re-tweet posts about each other’s books. Hopefully, that helps spread the word about our stories. Maybe that’s just spreading the word to other writers, who then keep re-tweeting. But there’s the hope that the tweet will eventually find a curious reader.

    Your description of Twitter analytics has inspired me to check this out. I’ve been focused on trying to promote my books and connect with people, but I haven’t checked the data behind my Twitter activity. Thanks for this nudge — I’ve got to look into these analytics.

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  2. Hey Michael,

    Interesting post & some real food for thought here, which tallies with some of my observations over the past few months.

    Generally I’ve found that twitter is great for getting people to read blog posts, or even to Smashwords (There is a clear uptick in views each time I tweet a Smashwords link (& since they provide decent tracking tools, unlike Amazon, I can see that that usually leads to an increase in sample downloads). Same with blog posts – the readers arrive), but selling is much, much harder. Like you, I’ve been surprised to find sales occurring for books that I haven’t been focusing my marketing efforts on.

    This may come as a slightly shocking admission from a guy who runs the @eroticauthortg, but there it is. I’m honestly starting to think it is better to use twitter to build awareness of your work by directing to blog posts rather than trying to do the “hard sell, buy my book now” approach. More reader engagement, more interest, less pressure on them to fork out immediately.

    Even with a grand total of 11,500 odd followers across two accounts (admittedly, half of which are shared with other writers), the reality is that it is tough out there, with everyone competing for attention & new self-published writers popping up every day (a lot of whom then vanish after a couple of weeks). Whether or not spamming our books constantly on twitter is the correct approach is something worth thinking on further. I’ve personally found myself doing that more often lately, and its something I’m seriously considering revising.

    Ultimately, If it isn’t helping to sell books effectively, then a different approach may be necessary. It could even be the case that twitter is, as you say, completely ineffective. In terms of driving traffic to blog posts, though, it certainly isn’t – so maybe that is a more effective strategy long term.

    There are other factors, of course – time, numbers and quantity of publications (not to mention quality, pricing, particular niche)- to be considered. Like you, I’ve only been self-publishing for a relatively short period of time, same goes for building my twitter account(s). I’m a relatively unknown writer in a sea of such, and haven’t built the audience yet to have the trust of readers to come back and buy my next book. Whether or not Twitter will prove more effective when I’m a household name (heh – you know, like when the sun turns into a black hole…) is anyone’s guess.

    ANYWAY – Thanks for the post. As I said, some good food for thought here.

    Ant

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m finding much the same thing. It’s good for getting blog traffic, and blog traffic is good for getting people interested in your work. It’s just hard to let go of posting book links, because you think, “Why not, it’s easy.” I wonder though, if too many book links turn people off so that they don’t see your other tweets. That’s what might actually drive down sales, as I’ve seen some other authors suggest.

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  3. I am new to Twitter, well to all of this social media stuff and I have to say that something that seems so simple is, to me at least, completely confusing.

    Have already noticed that some tweets seem to keep on appearing every seventh tweet or so and surely people are just going to pass on by …

    Thanks for the info tho.. gonna check some of this out…x

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      1. I think people feed their tweets to those automated things and set them for every ten minutes !!

        Even tho I am new I can see that some peeps will have to be blocked at some point.

        If you are interested you check the book or whatever out and if they are tweeting nothing else then what is the point of following them? x

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      2. And when you have automated platforms, and automated retweet services, and all the authors using the same tools … it doesn’t take a genius to see what’s really going on. Lots of tweets and retweets but how many of those are actually getting seen?

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      3. And how can you genuinely interact with these people and take an interest in what they are writing?

        I would rather have 100 followers who I know something about than 20 k who are just names.

        The one thing I am sure of is if you want support you must be prepared to give it.

        Must have a cuppa… I am going off topic now..x

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Quality followers are a big part of it. This is why I don’t follow back junk/bot accounts or people who are clearly just trying to pad out their number of followers. And yes, you absolutely have to interact with people.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Yep.. I am taking it slow and sorting the yes from the no… You get an awful lot of those buy twitter follower peeps don’t you…?

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  4. Michael, some really interesting stats here! For me it’s kind of logical; I think the way twitter is set up means you’re not going to be able to sell a whole lot, only to build a platform who might later follow you on a different medium and then click book links. I have to confess I find most of the books I read on blogs and not necessarily though twitter just because it’s not what I’m looking for when I login. I think it’s different when somebody reccomends a book on Twitter of a different author, perhaps? But I have no solid evidence. I only know I *do* pay attention to re commendations 🙂

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  5. Really smart anecdotes, data, and reasoning,Michael — and pretty much what I’ve been trying to convince my publishers and marketing clients for months/years. The difficult thing, even after years of direct marketing experience in traditional media, is the conversion.You’re absolutely right — between Twitter and Reddit (and to hell with Facebook) and maybe Tumblr (just getting started there), I can drive visits to my site, but getting them to (a) sign up for a newsletter or freebie or (b) click through to the product page from ads is a slow, SLOW process. Any advice or experience in converting in a fraction of those visits to sign-ups or sales?

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    1. I have no great wisdom to offer. All I can tell you is that my average daily sales have tripled from when I decided to stop tweeting book links and start trying to drive traffic here (more on that in some later posts, if you haven’t seen them). How much of that is due to a change in tactics, I can’t really say. I’ve gotten hundreds of hits to the blog, but only a handful of newsletter signups. I think this is just the landscape right now. We’re in an era when getting 1% clickthru on anything is a success.

      All I can tell from what I’ve seen with this and my day job is that whatever you want, you have to make it worth people’s while. If they perceive value in your content, the traffic and clicks will follow. If they don’t, there isn’t much you can do to sustain anything for long.

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  6. Don’t know what Tweets you were sending out, but we have been tracking hits to Amazon book pages from Tweets and we are getting thousands for every book we promote.

    Independently verified.

    Drawing conclusions from Roundteam is another issue. Take a look at our stats at TheBookPromoter.com and then think about your Amazon page and the appeal of your book before making sweeping statements about Twitter, please. I have been promoting on Twitter since 2009. It has to be done right to a large audience. Most people simply don’t consider what this means.

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    1. Hello, Lawrence. It’s not obvious from this post, but this was the first in a series and I’ve since tempered my opinions of Twitter. I’ve decided that it’s worth doing, if, as you say, it’s done right.

      That being said, I have to ask: thousands of hits from how many impressions? I see from your site that you’ve got ~350k followers. I’d say that’s a click rate comparable to what I’m getting with my paltry 3,500 or so. And I’d be surprised if there are many indie authors with that big a following. The point I’ve been trying to make is that Twitter can be a real time suck, and as an indie author, your time is limited and has to be spent carefully. I see a lot of authors devoting all kinds of time to Twitter when they have less than a thousand followers. That, to me, is a waste.

      Paying for tweets is a different issue. You get access to more followers, but what’s the ROI? Clicks don’t necessarily equal sales. I’m happy if you’re having success with it, but there are lots of people selling access to their tweets, and I’m not convinced most of them are worth it. My guess is that, as you suggest, it’s not worth it unless you can get yourself out to such a huge audience.

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      1. Michael, 1500 clicks to an Amazon page in one week is fairly standard for our clients.

        The conversion rate to sales depends on the cover, price, reviews, description and theme of the book.

        Blaming Twiiter when these may not be helping, is a diversion. Designing an author Tweet with a hook is an art. Getting the Amazon page right is critical too.

        The three elements, a compelling Tweet, a big audience, and a well designed Amazon page must all work together.

        Just Tweeting “Please buy my book” is a recipe for failure on Twitter. Blaming Twitter when that happens is simply a workman blaming his tools, when the table he’s making falls down.

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      2. We don’t disagree on all that, actually. Those are points I’ve made elsewhere on my blog about getting your cover, blurb, and so forth, as good as you can get them. I’m not blaming Twitter so much as authors who think “buy my book” is an effective approach. And I see way too much of that.

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    1. Hi Alex, interesting post. You’ll note my exchange with Lawrence of BGS above. I have to say some of the comments they sent you seem nonsensical. Shorten a three-word title? $278 is a “modest fee” for a stock image cover? The most I ever spent was $200, and that was for my two Twin Magic books that had custom art from an illustrator and additional work from another designer. Some of my best-selling books have covers that cost $35.

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      1. When I signed up for BGS, I thought I couldn’t go wrong. While I didn’t expect to sell 5,000 books in a 24 hour period like they advertised, I figured I’d see at least a little bump in sales. If nothing else, I hoped to break even on the cost of the ad campaign. After a week, nada. As you read in my post, Lawrence’s suggestions to improve my sales didn’t make a lot of sense.

        Should I redesign my covers? Maybe. So far, I have spent a fair amount of time and money in getting professional covers done, retaining an editor, and setting up a web site, Facebook and Twitter accounts. Paid advertising hasn’t created a positive cash flow, so I’ve spent more on the ads than I generated in revenue. The question becomes, “Where do I stop?” Would a darker or edgier cover translate into more sales? I don’t know. While I might consider tossing another $35-50 out there as an experiment, I’m unwilling to spend $278, as Lawrence suggested, to answer that question.

        While it may be true that Lawrence is getting the click-through ratios that he’s claiming, the problem was that it didn’t translate into sales. As we both know, clicks don’t mean diddly to an author if they don’t generate sales.

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      2. Well, in fairness nobody can or should guarantee increased sales with this stuff. The book-buying public is just too unpredictable. If your books aren’t selling, you need to look at the entire package. Is the blurb appealing? Does the cover engage the right audience? Is the preview section interesting enough to get people want to keep reading? It’s less how much you spend as how you spend it.

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