The Rick Moody Twitter Saga: What Are We All Doing Here?

by Patrick on December 2, 2009

For the past few days, Vroman’s, as well as others in the book and publishing world, have been co-publishing a new Rick Moody story called “Some Contemporary Characters” via Twitter.  Every ten minutes, a new section of the story emerges in a 140 character chunk.  The distribution scheme is the brainchild of the story’s publisher, Electric Literature, a relatively new literary journal that publishes simultaneously as a gorgeous ebook and a fine print edition, as well.  The hope was that, by syndicating the story across so many different accounts, Electric Literature would reach a wider audience.

It didn’t work.  There was too much overlap among the social networks of the various co-publishers, leading to many people seeing the same tweet several times.  The book world has responded at first with confusion, and then moved quickly to anger, scorn and ridicule.  As Electric Literature editor Andy Hunter said in commenting on the blog HTML Giant, “One problem with the copublishing is that the people getting multiple feeds are the people who avidly follow publishing and literature – bloggers, media, other publishers, etc. Not a good group to annoy! They shape the narrative.”  Yesterday afternoon, I made the difficult decision to stop co-publishing the story.  I did this primarily because it’s December, and I needed the full power of my Twitter feed to promote the store at this crucial time.  The addition of my own Tweets interspersed with those of the story was too confusing for many people, and I just couldn’t afford that with the holidays approaching.  If the story had run in April, I’d have let it finish.  As it is, I think it was a noble failure.

Okay, so the publishing and bookselling world didn’t love it.  Should that matter?  What about the people outside the book and publishing world?  Aren’t those the people we should be trying to find and reach?  Did the Moody story reach any of those people?  I think it did, whether the literary world wants to hear it or not.  When I announced that we were ending the experiment, @minorheroine said “WAIT! But, are you gonna do this again?! I LOVED IT!!”  Others retweeted lines they particularly enjoyed.  Some people, it seems, were enjoying the experiment, even if it annoyed people who follow lots of book feeds.

The Moody Twitter experiment (and Moody wasn’t to blame for its failure, though I’m sure the first couple comments will be “ZOMG!1! Rick Moody is teh suck!1!!1″) depressed me for a number of reasons.  First, it made me wonder what we’re all doing on Twitter.  If so many of my followers are book industry people, am I wasting my time with it?  All this time, I’d hoped I was reaching customers.  To be sure, Twitter is useful for talking to colleagues in the book industry, and I’ll continue to use it for that purpose, but if it doesn’t have a reach beyond that, I’m not sure what the point is.  So much of the dialog that happens on Twitter and on the literary blogs feels masturbatory to me.  It’s the same couple hundred people talking about the same issues to the same audience.  Is that what I’ve been doing these past few years?  Is that what the book business is at this point?  If it is, then to quote the modern day philosopher Bunk Moreland “We ain’t about much.”

The book business is in major decline, and while we can all howl about the reasons why, the main one, it seems to me, is that not enough people read (and those who do, read less than they used to).  There are more ways than ever to get your entertainment and information, and books are having a lot of trouble keeping up.  Those of us who rely on selling books for a living need to devote a lot of time to finding people who are not readers.  We have to grow our market, or we are in for a very dark future indeed.   The reaction to this Twitter experiment seems to indicate to me that we’re not all that interested in doing it.  Or maybe we are, as long as it doesn’t interrupt our conversations about ebook formatting and the National Book Awards.

In the evening on Monday, one of my Twitter colleagues remarked that she couldn’t believe “Moody” hadn’t become a trending topic on Twitter for the day.  Really?  I can.  You know why?  Nobody cares.  Oh, not nobody.  A few thousand people care, the same few thousand who care about the National Book Awards and ebook formatting.  Those few thousand are enough of a market if you’re set up to do business that way.  But it’s not enough to support the whole industry.  To the general public, Rick Moody’s name probably rings out only as the guy who wrote the book that the movie The Ice Storm was based on, if that.  Books simply don’t have the cultural reach of movies or music or sports or politics.  And that, right there, is the problem.  But from where I sit, much of the book industry seems content to talk amongst themselves.  For recent evidence of that, look at Book Expo America deciding not to open its doors to the general public.  As Richard Nash put it, “Don’t want to have to rush erecting our foamcore cover mock-ups.”

I’m not arguing that books aren’t important or an inherent good for society, nor am I arguing that we’ll see the disappearance of the book anytime soon.  But we have to ask ourselves if we’re producing and selling something that fewer and fewer people want to consume, why are we doing it?  And if attempts to reach new readers like the Moody Twitter experiment are met with instant derision, how will we reach those people who aren’t currently reading?  I don’t have the answers, I don’t think.  At Vroman’s, we’re willing to try just about anything to get people into the store, and to be honest, we don’t care if they’re readers or not.  We sell all sorts of non-book products, including clothing for children, stationery, toys, musical instruments and food.  And that seems to anger some people, as if selling those products makes us less of a bookstore.  It’s the same thinking that leads book industry types to force something like the Moody experiment to failure.

We need to consider what people like Gary Vaynerchuk are doing to sell books.  Here’s a guy who put up billboards for his book, who went on a 24-hour airport signing tour, who bought video ad space at gas station pumps.  Did it work?  Well, his book debuted at #2 on the NYT Bestseller list.  But many in the book world dislike him, as he has repeatedly stated “I don’t read books.”  Exactly.  If we’re trying to reach people who don’t currently read, maybe we should be paying attention to them.  Since the Twitter experiment didn’t work, the attitude should be “What do we try next?”  That’s question I’d like to see answered.  Maybe I’ll ask it on Twitter.

[If you were enjoying the Moody story and would like to see it through to the end, I encourage you to follow @ElectricLit on Twitter.]

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{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

DonLinn 12.02.09 at 11:08 am

I think it’s fair to say that the ‘book crowd’ on Twitter is becoming (if it hasn’t already become) an echo chamber among people of a certain point of view, but blaming the customer/audience is seldom a good strategy.In my judgment the Moody experiment didn’t fail because of the audience’s inability to take a chance on a new concept; it failed because it was poorly conceived and poorly executed (as you point out) and because the story was just not very good. “New” isn’t enough; what you’re publishing in any format also has to be good.

My question to ElectricLit would be, who was your target audience and what did you expect the outcome to be?

Kat Meyer 12.02.09 at 11:22 am

Well said, Patrick. I didn’t love the Moody tweets, but I loved that Electric Lit was experimenting with storytelling. And, I love that we’re all having this conversation.

Regarding GaryVee and his relevance to the conversation, it’s interesting. Comparing the Moody/ElectricLit experiment with GaryVee’s use of Twitter to promote his book, I have to say I think ElectricLit did a much better job. Yes, they failed while Gary had a huge win, but the difference of intent — the genuine storytelling nature of what ElectricLit was trying to accomplish via Twitter really outshines the use of the platform as a purely promotional vehicle. (PS, I know that many in Gary’s fan base found value in his promotional tweets and happily sport the book cover Twitter badge for “Crush It!” but I think a lot of those who had no knowledge of Gary were turned off by the heavy emphasis on self-promotion).

At any rate, we in the book community really need to give each other room to experiment and find what works. We also need to support and encourage the experimenters, and if an experiment should be a failure, we need to respond with helpful criticism rather than ridicule.

Keep up the good work!

Ann Kingman 12.02.09 at 11:26 am

Well, count me in as one of the “annoyed but supportive” people among your followers.

I applaud the willingness to experiment. I don’t think the idea was a bad one. Now that we’ve (and yes, it’s a teachable moment for all of us) learned a few things, it can be tweaked and next time it just might work.

The multiple feed thing was annoying, but what made the experiment ineffective was the lack of a hashtag or other means to get the entire story, and the lack of context. I understand that the 140 character constraints required a conscientious decision to eliminate a hashtag. But unless someone read their twitter feed all day long, how was one to put together the entire narrative?

In addition, when one “stumbled upon” these tweets in their feed, there was no way to know what they were. They were confusing. Even if they hadn’t been multiplied by simultaneous tweets, the confusion made it easier to be annoyed.

But part of me feels that there is something here. I want it to be more social. If I like the story, I want to talk about it with others who are also following. I want to parse the lines that resonate, to get clarity from others who are reading the same lines that may confuse me. This can play out in any number of ways — selected lines that lead the reader to a richer online experience somewhere else … a “scavenger hunt” for particular words or phrases .. even a “choose your own adventure” type of experience. Whatever, I think that this was a fine place to start, to refine, and to later build upon. I can’t wait to see what you all come up with next.

Byron Go 12.02.09 at 11:35 am

I was only seeing these on twitter, and only through @vromans , so I didn’t mind at all. I actually enjoyed reading these, although every 10 minutes might have been a bit too frequent. My favorite: “I don’t want to say that something happened on the beach, that the ocean was somehow responsible, but she did put away her iPhone.” :-)

Keep experimenting, keep posting, and let me know if you’re doing this again. I’ll do my best to be there.

Danica 12.02.09 at 11:37 am

I am agog that this “failed.” I would have expected all kind of enthusiasm for it!

I for one, enjoyed it immensely- I even waited around on Vroman’s website while the tweets updated. I looked up Moody and Electric Lit, in the mean time, too! If that’s not the kind of response you were hoping for… then what was? It’s a great marketing tool – but it sounds like you stopped because, as you mentioned, because you found yourself preaching to the choir (which I happen not to be a part of). Streaming literature is an absolutely novel idea to me – I had no idea anyone but Vroman’s thought it. If it’s a novel idea to me, then it’s likely a novel idea to my friends, who I will point in Vroman’s direction so that they might have the same novel, enjoyable experience I’d be so willing to testify to.

I want to know more about why it was a failure. Because there was negative feedback? Because it failed to trend? Because the information was being co-published and the already interested market was getting annoyed with seeing it in multiple venues?

I think the experiment didn’t go on long enough to be called a failure. (Plus, experiments, by definition don’t fail, they yield results! if unanticipated or disappointing…) There are a jillion elements to this project, any one or a combination of them could have contributed to the negative feedback – but I doubt we could say with any certainty at this point what the problem with it was. Someone (Vroman’s!) should stick this out, try a different version, categorically eliminate factors and figure out what parts made the project weak! Because I see a strength in it and I know that I’m a member of the audience this is trying reach. But if there isn’t enough time for people outside the choir to serendipitously stumble upon such a great idea, will you really be able to discern a failure from a success?

I know that *I* don’t care about National Book Awards or ebook formatting. But I care about entertainment and I was thoroughly entertained. And, I realized yesterday, I care about literature.

Cindy 12.02.09 at 12:28 pm

Well, I am *just* a reader and a local customer of Vromans. @vromans was the only feed where I saw these posts. Here’s what rankled my goat: They looked like they were Vroman’s own words. There was no re-tweeting, no hashtag. For a second, I thought Patrick was kissing some guy outside a movie theater and tweeting about it on the Vroman’s feed?! I saw a friend mention something about Moody, so I googled and figured out what was going on.

I find the idea really interesting – hasn’t this been a success in Japan? When I went back and read the story, it was interesting and ok.

Here’s why I think it failed: You can’t create your own “hot” viral story on your own. Suddenly spamming us with the story doesn’t make the average reader want to read more – particularly if you can’t work out right away who’s story it is. For it to take off, it needs word of mouth, not a floodgate.

Perhaps in the future retweeting would make more sense? At least then those who aren’t interested in the story can shut off your re-tweets. And maybe once every couple of hours mention what the heck is going on.

Ben White 12.02.09 at 1:02 pm

I’m not sure this failed.

The simultaneous-publishing may have failed (it annoyed some but did help reach others, so call it as you see it), but the storytelling did not. @ElectricLit has over 20k followers where they only a few hundred before the Moody story.

Not everyone (not even most people) on Twitter care about reading, as you point out. But this got some people talking, got some press, got some readers. It’s not perfect, and many people have different (and often conflicting) reasons why they dislike the “experiment,” but I don’t think that’s not outright failure.

Twitter-fiction—in serials, in single-tweet stories, social, unsocial, collaborate, you name it—has been around for a while now, but in a few days EL managed to capture as many people (or more) as writers who have been publishing on Twitter for over a year. Pretty good in my view.

Ann Marie 12.02.09 at 1:20 pm

Check out the TV show Castle for an interesting example of a constructed social media personality. The show’s main character is a thriller writer working on a novel. The character has a Facebook page and Twitter feed that mention aspects of the character’s “life” outside the episode. The Facebook status updates during summer reruns were another mystery he’d gotten mixed up in. And now there’s an actual book on the stands. You could argue that it’s a successful package because the TV show came first, but they hit a good blend of frequency of tweets, tie-in with the show, revealing backstory, etc. that make it a fun follow.

Belén Rodríguez 12.02.09 at 2:33 pm

My two cents:
1) The Rick Moody Twitter experiment – was puzzling at first, but cool once I knew what was going on.
2) The “book industry” – has to change the same way so many other industries (auto, telephone, entertainment) are changing when innovations hit the mainstream.
3) Bookstores – may become obsolete, or they may return to the newsstand and specialty bookstore model. I don’t know. I’m just a reader, but I do know that I will continue to buy books, lots of books. Where I do that might change, but books will never die!
4) Independent bookstores – can and will thrive by embracing innovation and concentrating on what the customer values: knowledge, community, and quality. Specifically, stop promoting “books” and continue promoting “literacy”. I think Vroman’s does this very well. I live 70 miles away now, but I still make special trips to Vroman’s for author events and fountain pens. I always leave with more than I intended to purchase because Vroman’s carries unique and quality products for READERS (and the people we buy gifts for). Keep doing that and I will keep shopping there.
5) Social media – is awesome and I was so happy to see Vroman’s on Twitter and Facebook and blogging. Please don’t be discouraged.

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez 12.02.09 at 4:05 pm

The “experiment” was a smart publicity stunt for Electric Literature that co-publishers like Vroman’s probably would have been wise to avoid, in hindsight. I actually ended up unfollowing them while sticking with Vroman’s — a lost reader for them, but for you, I’m an industry follower, not really a prospective customer.

The echo chamber is definitely part of the Twitter experience, though, and while it’s nowhere near the mainstream platform some like to pretend it is, I believe your readers are out there, too. The beauty of it is it’s really easy to step out of the echo chamber and focus on your actual community. I make liberal use of, and highly recommend, the unfollow button for anyone who doesn’t add value to your stream.

PS: Both @nanoism and @veryshortstory are much better examples of how to tell engaging stories on Twitter without being obnoxious. I’d love to see a bookseller co-publishing their tweets, though not simultaneously.

James P. Othmer 12.02.09 at 6:46 pm

I loved the intent, the experiment, and the story. I also love the many ancillary dialogues that it has created. Yesterday, while Moody’s tale was being revealed in digital spoonfuls, I had lunch with the head of a advertising agency that specializes in creating non-linear narratives, mostly via social media, for brands. We talked a lot about the narrative revolution taking place in the arts, the commercial arts, and even in business. An artist and an ad guy, he was fascinated when I told him about the Moody/ElectricLit experiment, as well as what Pamuk was doing with the real world and fictional iteration of The Museum of Innocence. He was more interested in what they were attempting than whether they succeeded. Then my friend taught me something. He said that with digital narrative and non-linear storytelling his group considers failure (at least incremental, rather than complete) as important and necessary a part of the process as success. It allows them to adapt and shift the way a message is revealed, shared and (blasphemy for literary types) created. It allows them to determine what resonates and what turns people away, what’s a technical failure or a narrative success. So much of this all is in the Beta stage that it’s unfair to outright criticize. I applaud Moody and ElectricLit for taking a risk, and I’m fascinated to see what comes next.

bowerbird 12.02.09 at 7:50 pm

patrick said:
> It’s the same couple hundred people
> talking about the same issues
> to the same audience.

yep. did you just notice it now?

> Is that what I’ve been doing these past few years?

you’ve been doing this for _years_,
and you just noticed it now?

***

ben said:
> @ElectricLit has over 20k followers
> where they only a few hundred before the Moody story.

so i guess it was a big “success” for them, eh?

***

patrick said:
> We have to grow our market, or we are in
> for a very dark future indeed. The reaction
> to this Twitter experiment seems to indicate to me
> that we’re not all that interested in doing it.

well, being open to experimentation does _not_
mean that you have to entertain sheer stupidity.

this particular experiment was badly conceived.

twitter was the wrong tool for this job. wrong.
not just an “inefficient” tool. the _wrong_ tool.

the right tool would have been “daily lit”,
since e-mails accumulate in your absence.

but “daily lit” and e-mail don’t have nearly the
p.r. value these days that twitter has, do they?

-bowerbird

Laura Kuechenmeister 12.02.09 at 8:10 pm

Everything has to start somewhere – and it sounds like you got positive feedback from those not receiving the repeated tweets. Was that feedback at least in part from people that normally don’t respond and possibly just observe? Maybe the echo isn’t so bad, even if we don’t get frequent tangible evidence of its effect on passive listeners.

Regarding instant derision – it’s always been a part of innovation. Everyone’s learned something from the experiment, and improvements have been suggested, and can easily be applied next time. It’s hard to say that it didn’t work – it simply wasn’t immediately embraced as literature’s savior, and that’s okay.

Independent bookstores and publishing have a lot of avenues to exhaust in their evolution – and we shouldn’t be so pessimistic about one attempt at exploration in a medium and method that’s only beginning.

Laura Benedict 12.03.09 at 6:31 am

This is such a complicated issue for a writer. In the three years since I began blogging, Facebooking, Myspacing, Twittering, etc., I’ve acquired a vast number of “friends” who want me to buy their books, and very few new readers. I’ve come to the conclusion that there are three reasons to be involved in online networking: staying on top of industry news; keeping up with actual friends–industry and otherwise; solidifying relationships with current readers who have contacted me or whom I’ve met on tour.

What cracks me up is that publishers now expect authors to engage in all these online endeavors, despite the fact that they have no documentary evidence that doing so increases sales.

>>If we’re trying to reach people who don’t currently read, maybe we should be paying attention to them.>>

When you follow this trail all the way to its end, you’ll discover that there are way too many high school and college seniors out there who are great at Power Point presentations, but have never read an entire book. Let’s not go there.

Excellent post. Thanks.

Joe Durgens 12.03.09 at 6:40 am

Publishers want vampire fluff, zombie remakes, neo-porn and ultra PC trash. That’s it. Nobody buys “serious” literature anymore — as if all the potential readers are dumb and getting dumber. Maybe they are. But then falling down stupid isn’t going to work anyway. The trouble is, they don’t want great writing, big ideas, huge novels, lyricism that’s real — exactly the kind of thing that cannot be replaced by movies and other entertainment. And where has that got us? In an environment where most of the acknowledged American “classics” wouldn’t be published today, not even the short stories in today’s handful of pro markets. Why is content in publishing so tightly controlled that if it’s not stupid, PC, or hugely decadent it won’t be printed? Find a publisher to totally buck those trends and you’ll see the 21st century vanguard right there.

Will Entrekin 12.03.09 at 7:01 am

I’m not sure I believe reading is down, not with the amount of content online, not with the number of blogs, newspapers, and magazines with free features on the Internet. People may buy fewer books, but it seems like just about everyone is using Twitter and Facebook, sharing with each other links they happen to stumble upon as they surf the web. The way people read is changing, but I don’t think people are consuming less.

I’m also not sure about using Moody for an experiment like this; it strikes me it’s rather akin to using Sting in an experiment concerning high schoolers–it seems the wrong audience. If you’re interested in a trending topic, it makes more sense to go with a writer who’s already been one: Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer, Stephen King perhaps. Neil Gaiman partnered with someone not long ago to do a short story via Twitter. If the experiment had gone with Amanda Palmer, you’d already be selling tee shirts and coffee mugs in addition to the book.

To be honest, I think the writer making the best use of Twitter is, ironically, @writercastle. As mentioned above.

Also, I think that a problem is that nobody’s actually using Twitter; so far, it’s just people serializing novels or short stories or whathaveyou 140 characters at a time. That’s a gimmick, pure and simple.

Debbie Stier 12.03.09 at 7:54 am

Wow. Lot of comments. I only had time to read the first few…..but I agree with you Patrick….and Don, and Ann and Kat…..Love experimenting. Seems critical. It didn’t work for me because I couldn’t focus on it as a narrative. I think I wrote on Twitter that I’d see the Vromans icon and I’d get excited to see what you were going to say, and then I’d feel disappointed when it turned out to be a line in a novel that I wasn’t following.
I am so all for looking outside of our industry for new ideas. I saw that all of the time to anyone who will listen to me. I find the tech community inspiring (love the web 2.0 conf and sxsw) — and entrepreneurs of any type. I also think there are a lot of lessons to be learned from the music industry (obvious), and even some from media (though it’s not as exact comparison as it might seem at first).
Anyway Patrick, I applaud you for experimenting. and I applaud you even more for stopping the experiment when it wasn’t working.

Wendy 12.03.09 at 8:31 am

I think trying new things is good. I think thinking something is a pool when in fact it’s an ocean with current and tides is not good.

What Gary Vaynerchuk did to promote his latest book started 5+ years ago. He has 25 times as many twitter followers as ElectricLit and Vromans combined (currently) and those followers came from a variety of sources, not just (directly or indirectly) from sources related to his book. He has built this following, something most of us are just now attempting to duplicate. He also pays attention to the ebb and flow of the times and learns from previous trials.

What we should look at is things like the Moody Twitter Saga, what GaryVee and others do to promote their books, and how people engage each others in business (not necessarily just the publishing business) within media as stepping stones; ways we figure out what works.

Realizing you are drowning is huge and I commend you for getting out early. Trying new things is the only way to get attention in this new world. You did well.

Vanessa 12.03.09 at 9:11 am

Will, I think you are right on the money. If anything, I’m seeing a lot of people reading now that claim they “hate” reading. But because they’re doing it in blogs and in a different form, following links and hypertext, it doesn’t feel like the kind of reading they think of: being forced to read boring or preachy stuff in school.

Something no one seems to be addressing, at least not in the publishing circles I’m in, primarily adult stuff, is that to build and maintain an audience, we need to be making people WANT to read, and make them WANT to buy. Seems simple and obvious, but in all the panic about people not reading, or not buying, my question is: how do we make reading irresistible to an audience?

Melinda 12.03.09 at 9:52 am

I stumbled upon this post through Publisher’s Lunch. Having never heard of Vroman’s before this, mainly because I live on in New York, I had to a bit of research but I wanted to respond regardless.

The twitter experiment interests me greatly. I have never used twitter because it seemed aimed at teenagers with ADHD. I’m going to assume it’s similar to facebook. I’d like to know how many people read every tweet; who has the time? I skim facebook maybe a once a week just to stay in the know.

Readers today do read; there’s just a limit to how much one can read. Think about it. We read emails, webpages, facebook updates, tweets, blogs, news feeds, online news, the headlines on the morning paper and perhaps we carry a book or magazine to read on breaks. Let’s not forget that readable content now streams to cellphones and pdas.

It’s information overload. We’re reading all the time and all of that cuts into reading for pleasure. The number of books I purchase has declined because of this and I often wonder how many others have cut down on book buying for the same reason. I just can’t read everything anymore. There isn’t time. I can’t speak for all readers, but I have become very choosy about what I buy. Sometimes I walk out of bookstores with no books at all or an audio version that I can listen to while I work and commute.

In regards to the twitter experiment, was the entire book going to be tweeted? Or only a portion to hook readers? If it was the entire book, why would readers go purchase what they read for free? I wouldn’t unless the story was so gripping that I had to read it again. For that to happen, it would have to be of a different genre.

Patrick 12.03.09 at 10:40 am

Melinda, Venessa, Will–
You’re right, people are reading more than ever, but I still think people are reading fewer books than ever. I’m usually the exception to the rule, but there’s simply no way to get around it — I’m reading fewer books than I used to. In the past, if I were stuck on the train, my default activity would be reading a book. Now, I might check Facebook, write an email or two, scroll through a few pages of Twitter, post something to Tumblr or read some Instapaper stuff I saved for the trip or play a game of John Madden Football. Or I might read a book. But the book is now one choice among many where just a few years ago, it was that or a magazine.

The great shift of the past ten years has been from reading lots of professional writing to reading much more of a mix of professional and amateur writing, with the amateur side taking a bigger and bigger chunk of the “Patrick’s time” market. I’m okay with this; I wouldn’t be reading what I read if I wasn’t. Wearing a hat other than “bookseller,” I’m pleased about that. Not so much because of what I’m reading, but because it affords me so many more opportunities to write and to have a conversation about that writing. And from a bookseller’s perspective, it’s been a good tool for keeping up with the industry and meeting customers who want to talk on those platforms. But at the same time, those platforms are eating away at time that used to go to reading. (Also time that used to go to watching TV and going to the movies, two things I used to do a LOT more of before.) Not sure yet where a bookstore fits in that world.

Thank you all for the thoughtful comments. More than ever, I’m grateful to be living in a time when I can write something like this and then see intelligent responses from people I respect.

Daniel Goldin 12.03.09 at 10:44 am

Patrick & Co.
I know that a lot of industry people, as well as other booksellers, read my blog. But being on the floor so much more, I also get a customer about once a week who says they read it. I’m always trying to think about who my audience is, who am I talking to. There’s a fine line between insider info to my customers and industry jargon and gossip (or to counterpoint, insider-y). That’s why I’ve had such problems with Twitter. I don’t want to retweet (there’s enough people doing that) and I don’t want to make snarky comments while I’m listening to a talk (my snarkiness is private, thank you), but what else can I add to the bookstore experience, targeting customers, that I’m not doing elsewhere. Right now it’s the same event announcements we’re doing on Facebook. I’d like to do better, but I’m not sure how.

bowerbird 12.03.09 at 11:51 am

laura said:
> In the three years since I began blogging,
> Facebooking, Myspacing, Twittering, etc.,
> I’ve acquired a vast number of “friends”
> who want me to buy their books, and
> very few new readers.

it was obvious to me at the very outset that the
“use social marketing networks to self-promote”
meme was one that would never ever scale, but
i suppose people had to learn it the hard way…

-bowerbird

Jonquil 12.03.09 at 1:35 pm

” And if attempts to reach new readers like the Moody Twitter experiment are met with instant derision, how will we reach those people who aren’t currently reading? ”

These people *are* reading, you just didn’t adapt what you were doing to the medium. Just as a Web document is different from a print document, so a Twitter story has to be different from a short story. Listen to what Ann Kingman said — the story wasn’t accessible in the traditional way that Twitter marks things. People expect to be able to locate Tweets using hashtags. People also expect to be able to tell which Tweets are part of which conversations, which is why you see “@fredjones” to make it clear that this tweet belongs to a conversation with Fred.

To reach the people who “don’t read”, you need to produce something that’s native to the format they do read. If you’d told a story in a way that was Twitter-friendly, using hashtags, then people could easily have retweeted it and pointed their friends to it. The story also might have been picked up by some of the big tech blogs (you could have reached all your goals if BoingBoing had paid attention), which would reach outside the audience of your friends.

jstn 12.03.09 at 2:07 pm

yes, you are wasting your time on twitter

Ben White 12.03.09 at 2:51 pm

I’ve never been convinced by the hashtag argument. I don’t think people use them or search them as often as we’d like to think. Also, using hashtags, if the story was discussed a lot, would have also been a pain to follow. Easier just to the visit EL’s Twitter page to read.

The goal of every literary endeavor, especially in social networking, can never be exclusively to sell something. People like content, people like dialogue. No one likes people pawning things at them. Providing a story that can be digested on Twitter is a fun thing to do, and people do enjoy it. That’s the metric that should matter.

If it’s always just a numbers game, a profits game—no one will ever be satisfied

Tricia Roth 12.03.09 at 4:44 pm

I agree with Kat, we need to keep experimenting and giving each other the support to do so. Not everything will “work” -however that is defined. In many ways, my company is a major experiment in publishing. In partnership with publishers we re-publish their content in multiple formats of Large Print and accessible formats for the visually impaired. The model serves a wide range of readers and potential readers; those who are blind and visually impaired and have to go to extraordinary lengths to get a book in a format they can read, those readers who are tired of squinting their way through a book and those who have abandoned reading as a leisure time activity because of age related vision issues. ( a rapidly growing segment of the population) Not all readers buy books- they find them in libraries which are the major promoters of literacy worldwide. To keep people reading we need to provide not only good content and formats that suit the reader and their lifestyle.

Peter Ginna 12.03.09 at 9:17 pm

Patrick, thanks for this very candid post, which has stimulated so many good comments. Anyone who has spent much time on Twitter will recognize the “echo chamber” sensation–but maybe a certain amount of reverb is better than silence. It’s a place to get one’s voice out into the mix. I’m sorry the experiment didn’t work for Vroman’s (and understand why you say that) but if this is failure I’d say let’s have more of it. I’ve explained why I say that at http://bit.ly/6rSTz3 .

Amy @ My Friend Amy 12.03.09 at 10:25 pm

Ahh, so that was what that was all about. I am an infrequent customer of yours, but I follow so many people that while I saw these lines being tweeted a few times, there was so much other stuff clogging up my timeline I was just confused.
Which leads me to what everyone else said, if using Twitter to do this, a hashtag would have been useful. Or a different medium altogether.

I just wanted to speak to the idea of the echo chamber. I am a book blogger and people often assume only other book bloggers read book blogs but it’s simply not true. I think the bookish folk are the loudest so to say. The most active. But in emails, real life conversations, direct messages etc. I am always surprised to find out just who is reading. So I bet your customers are out there….they are just a bit quieter.

Mark Barrett 12.12.09 at 10:53 am

First, thank you for taking the time to post this. It’s exactly this kind of personal reflection that helps me see more deeply into the current publishing dynamix.

It’s always critical to distinguish marketing from content — and not simply because marketing always seeks to modify content for its own ends. It’s far too easy to confuse the success or failure of either with the other, and any claim that one has been critical in leveraging the other is always suspect. Does a great story make the marketing easy? Or does great marketing make the selling of any story possible? When a hit happens, what was the difference? When a flop happens, what failed?

The ElectricLit experiment was a marketing experiment, not a content experiment. I say that with some authority because there really are no new forms of fiction. You can put chopped-up stories on Twitter in 140-character bytes, and you can claim that there’s some new performance aspect to doing so, but in the end it’s still a story. At most what you might be proving is that Twitter is a new storytelling medium, where ‘new’ ignores oral storytelling traditions, serialized content, etc.

The great mass of customers — including your customers — is not clamoring for anything new in delivery or form. They may want their traditional stories in e-book format, or as a digital download, but that’s little different than saying they want them in paperback or hardcover.

Experiments like this are done for the sake of the experiment — and for attracting attention. They are not going to change anything — and again, I say that with some authority, having followed the question of interactive storytelling from endless theoretical possibility to limited practical reality.

The only dynamic that matters in fiction is suspension of disbelief. If you do A*N*Y*T*H*I*N*G to disrupt suspension of disbelief, your story fails. Interactivity cannot support suspension of disbelief. I suspect the same is true of Twitter.

Danica 12.17.09 at 2:48 pm

Mark Barrett :
>If you do A*N*Y*T*H*I*N*G to disrupt suspension of disbelief

At first this truck a chord of truth with me… but then I wondered, what about radio & television drama? I suspect that this is true to the effect that the pacing of Twitter is not set for us; but I also think that modern day readers might be a little lazy in ingesting information (and thus 140-character feeds are great!). Truly this is not for everyone. But I don’t think that it’s just for those avid readers nor ones interested in the industry.
Even the majority of my friends said Twitter itself was stupid until quite recently. Same goes for blogs. It’s a just a kind of information– drama/fiction– that hasn’t had a lot of life or time to catch on. Maybe it won’t – but @electriclit got a lot out of it.

More experimenting! More data!

Bowerbird said:
>(obnoxious remarks here)

Emily St. John Mandel 01.04.10 at 10:53 am

I personally found the Rick Moody experiment somewhat maddening, and was relieved when the co-publishers I was following stopped the experiment early. I think there’s absolutely a place for fiction on Twitter (see @arjunbasu’s magnificent little self-contained 140-character stories, for instance), but I agree with previous posters that Twitter just wasn’t the right tool for the job. I think of Twitter as a sort of a continuous conversation (a bookseller I know compares it to a very large cocktail party, wherein you can drop in and out of conversations at will), and the Rick Moody tweets had the effect of someone walking into a conversation at a cocktail party and spouting non-sequitors. It seems to me that it’s a poor medium for serialization.

With regards to the value of Twitter itself: there is an echo chamber effect, but at the same time, it’s an echo chamber that I personally find interesting, and I feel that it’s been invaluable to me as a writer. I’ve learned a lot about the book business by following people much more knowledgeable than myself, it’s an easy way to maintain direct contact with both readers and booksellers, and I’ve booked at least three bookstore/reading series events through Twitter (two came about directly through people I met and conversed with on Twitter; one was booked on the basis of Twitter buzz about my first novel, which I have to imagine was greatly helped by the Twitter activities of my impressively social-media-savvy publisher.)

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