Just How Effective is Twitter in Selling Independent Books?


My name is Curtis Edmonds, and I am an independent author and CEO of one of the world’s tiniest publishing companies, Scary Hippopotamus Books.

We’re scary like that.

Selling books online, you guys, is really, really hard. It’s difficult. I am not saying that it’s impossible, because I’ve sold some books, after all, but it’s not easy and nobody should think that it is.

There’s really three ways to sell books online now. One is to use sites like BookBub to advertise books. But BookBub is very selective (a term which here means that you need more than a little bit of luck to advertise with them) and expensive (although it is TOTALLY WORTH IT). And the other sites aren’t as effective, or they haven’t been for me.

The second way is to build a newsletter. The idea is that people will sign up for your newsletter, and then you can let them know about your new books, and they will buy them. Newsletters are very effective, but it takes work to build them, and I haven’t put that level of work into mine.

The third way — and by far the most common way — is to spam the living hell out of your Twitter feed, day after day. Don’t believe me? Go on Twitter and follow some self-published writers (well, not me, those other people) and you’ll start seeing tweets like this:

Okay then.

Okay, look, I have no beef with Marsha A. Moore, and I have no quarrel with anyone who writes this kind of stuff, or sells it, or reads it. (I picked this at random out of my Twitter feed; could have just as easily been werebear erotica.) I just don’t think this is a very effective way to sell books. I don’t think this because (as a self-published writer on Twitter) I see an absolute ton of these ads, and I never click on any of them. I don’t think most other people do. How do I know this? Well….

I am maybe a little vain.

OK, I use Twitter to sell books, too. Guilty. I have two Twitter accounts; my own (around 1700 followers) and my business account (over 14,000 followers, which tells you that life ain’t fair). My question is: just how effective is Twitter as a book-sales platform?

So I set up a little experiment. I started sending out tweets which offered a free giveaway (via Instafreebie) on all of my books, in exchange for people signing up for my newsletter.

Please RT, you guys.

Note that this tweet does a couple of things. It uses the #free hashtag, because people are cheap. It uses the #romance hashtag, because that’s what two of the books that I’ve written are. And it links to my site, which explains the promotion — basically, what I promise to do here is to send out an e-mail to the newsletter list with links to where you can download the books for free (which I won’t be sharing here).

I sent out similar tweets using HootSuite from January 15 through January 31, an average of five tweets per day. And whenever I had a spare moment, I would go on Twitter and send out a few more, and re-tweet other people who were doing the same thing (with the idea that they would re-tweet my books, you know).

And this was a controlled experiment, as I didn’t do any other marketing on any of the books, because if I did that, then it would skew the results. (You’ll notice that the tweets don’t mention anything about the books other than their genre.)

How did that work out for you, big guy?

Well, over the first week, I had over 20,000 impressions, and 8 clicks on my link, and two subscribers. This is despite having over a hundred retweets. So my subscription average was one in ten thousand, which is sucky, but it’s literally two more subscribers than I thought I would get. (A lot of the retweets were from bots, mostly with “egg” icons that indicate that they’re new or junky Twitter accounts.)

The total over the two weeks was over 45,000 impressions — but I never got any more additional subscribers than just the two. On my single best day, I got 3100 impressions — or a fifth of my actual Twitter following. And that’s with getting over 200 retweets.

Only one tweet got over a thousand impressions, due to 16 retweets. And it didn’t lead to any link clicks, and hence, no sales.

And I should also point out that I didn’t sell any books during this time period — not overly surprising, because I was hyping a giveaway, but still.

So, what have we learned?

  1. Having a lot of Twitter followers just means you have a lot of Twitter followers. It’s a meaningless metric. It doesn’t guarantee you impressions, and impressions don’t guarantee you link clicks, and even link clicks don’t guarantee you sales.
  2. As a result, getting more Twitter followers is like isometric exercise — you don’t get anywhere and it’s not nearly as fun as drinking a cold frosty beverage on a warm tropical beach.
  3. Spammy Twitter posts about books don’t get you anywhere and never will — you almost literally can’t give books away anymore, not on Twitter.
  4. Life is an endless dark void devoid of meaning, riddled with despair and agony.

Is selling books on Medium any better?

I don’t think so, but if you’ve read this far, enjoy this free copy of WREATHED, my latest novel. Thanks!