Tweeting is not just for birds, though this little guy does it so beautifully in my garden just now
A few months back I began The Great Twitter Experiment to see if I could increase my Kindle sales by using Twitter more intensively. I began to tweet daily promotions for three out of my four Kindle book incorporating a glowing review quote, 5* rating, title in caps, price, link, and hashtags: Kindle, and thriller/mystery for my second crime novel THE OPERATOR.
Surgically tweeted, my second thriller 
 I put these in a Word doc for easy copy/paste in a sort of random rotation, and I tweeted each book twice, Amazon US and UK. I’ve also been tweeting my #JaneAusten comedy LYDIA BENNET’S BLOG, and my latest poetry collection ALL THAT LIVES. But, crucially, I denied my first thriller THE ROTTING SPOT the oxygen of the twittersphere as a kind of ‘control’. My methods and results follow. Trust me, I’m a scientist.
We scientists are not like other folk
It’s twitterquette to respond to retweets (RTs) with thanks, a return RT, or both. Now I was tweeting more, I got more RTs, and the whole thing is still snowballing like a 1970s cocktail. My increased profile (twitfile? Perhaps a portmanteau word too far. Or should that be tweetmanteau? Stop it!) led to more followers, who I followed back, and so on until now I have well over 2k followers, daily increasing by anything from 3 to 8. New contacts who RT me sometimes have huge numbers of followers, and a tweet might be RTd tens of times and therefore potentially reach hundreds of thousands of tweeps. YAY! Success, of a strictly tweety kind.
Snowball - only drink ironically

This effect is massively increased by learning to use hashtags. Apart from obvious ones like thriller, janeausten, kindle, beachreads, there are more cryptic ones I’ve learned to crack. I’ve met some very kind, delightful tweeps, often fellow authors, and I was invited to join a couple of cliques which has more than made up for the mental scars of being picked last for netball, hockey, athletics and pottery at school. The lovely AP Dahlke (whose ‘Dead Red’ thriller series features Ag pilot Lalla Bains) has her own hashtag and if I use it, she’ll automatically RT my tweet to her 11.5k followers. There are several other similar or bigger RT groups I’ve joined. Indie Author Retweet Group has 34.5k followers and RTs any book tweet when you follow and use their hashtag #IARTG.  There is the ASMSG group which supports its members on Twitter.

 This does all take time, however. Tweeting each book twice, once a night, from my list of tweets, takes only a few minutes. But each day, I have to go through my ‘Notifications’ on Twitter and RT each and every one who’s RTd me, which means clicking their icon, clicking the last tweet in their shortened profile to open it, click retweet, click retweet again on the button, and then click Notifications to find the next. This takes time when there are lots of them. Now the burning question is, has this worked in terms of promoting my books and increasing sales? Twitter has one big limitation – your tweet or someone’s RT of your tweet goes onto the Twitterfeed of all their followers, but it drops fast down the list as tweets arrive incessantly in millions, so they’d have to be looking at their phone/screen at the actual few seconds it’s visible. The sheer number of authors tweeting about their books is overwhelming, so the competition to be heard is pretty damn fierce unless you were one of the earliest Twitter users and have millions of followers and a Twitter readership.

Now, KDP has given authors a useful tool on our Bookshelf page, namely ‘Reports’ which gives various options for checking your sales (and loans). ‘Sales Dashboard’ gives you figures for up to three months back across all platforms and titles. ‘Prior months royalties’ gives you downloadable PDFs for any month for the last new years. Shamefully for a scientist, I didn’t record the date I began tweeting thus regularly, but I started including ALL THAT LIVES on 18th June. So I looked at sales figures over the last three months, for all four Kindle titles, three tweeted, one tweetless. And the result is clear. THE ROTTING SPOT,
Tweetless, yet selling best!
my oldest book on Kindle and first thriller, has consistently sold almost double its sequel THE OPERATOR! And LYDIA BENNET’S BLOG,
Marmite in ebook form
 always a marmite book, with avid fans and haters alike, is selling at about a quarter of TRS. The previous three months, Feb/Mar/April, the ratios are about the same though sales have if anything, dropped rather than improved. The poetry collection ALL THAT LIVES has sold ONE ebook in that time. This book has been successful in paperback,
Successful award winner in paperback, on Kindle, not selling - don't people LIKE dissected brains?
 gaining awards, prizes, good sales, reviews in eg Spectator, The Lancet, and from eminent scientists and poets to say nothing of powerful reactions from live audiences. I only put it on Kindle for completeness, and because some of my installations go abroad, so overseas contacts can see it. I didn’t expect much in the way of sales on Kindle for a book of poetry about dissected human bodies and how dementia acts on the brain, and malformed foetuses in a pathology lab, and my post divorce sex life. But clearly tweeting has made no positive difference. Twice as many bought THE ROTTING SPOT without benefit of Twitter, as THE OPERATOR, steadily tweeted and RTd. So how are people finding out about the existence of TRS? I’ve no idea. Yes, it has good reviews but so have many gazillions of others on Amazon, and with a lot more clout behind them.

It's all about the bottom line
The why question does have an obvious answer. TRS was priced at 99p/$1.55, while The Operator was £2.97/$3.99. So my royalties are much the same for both, as I get 70% for The Op and 35% for TRS, but twice as many people were buying/reading TRS on kindle and getting my work to people matters to me too. Some authors have found they sell more at higher prices: it could be though, that crime is a genre so saturated with free/very cheap kindle books, readers are used to cheap thrills unless the author is a high profile bestseller. LBB was $2.99/£2.03.

So what to do? I’ve decided to REDUCE THE PRICES OF MY BOOKS to match, approach or even undercut THE ROTTING SPOT. Another experiment, if you will. Not sure if I'll stop tweeting my books, after I’ve tweeted about the new prices, and this blog post of course. It’s nice to feel connected to other authors worldwide. And I still like tweeting fun bits of news and about my gigs. But perhaps my experiment shows that Twitter for authors is like birds on a wire. We tweet and share our and others’ songbursts but do enough people listen or have ear-room for more than a few tweets a day?

Feeling bitter? Complain on Twitter!
Twitter however, IS great for consumer complaining. I’ve used it a few times and recommended it to Facebook friends, and provided you use the Twitter handle of the offending company (this is vital) in your tweet expressing your disappointment and sorrow, you will usually get a response in minutes instead of being fobbed off through numerous phone calls. Tweety birds do get the worms occasionally!

Look out for my new prices on Amazon Kindle Store:
THE OPERATOR (Bruce and Bennett Crime Thriller 2) US UK
THE ROTTING SPOT (A Bruce and Bennett Mystery) US UK
LYDIA BENNET'S BLOG (the real story of Pride and Prejudice) US UK
ALL THAT LIVES (CSI: Poetry of sex, death and pathology) US UK

STOP PRESS: Tweeted the new prices last night, many RTs from kind Tweeps - checked today, and LYDIA BENNET'S BLOG has had an overnight sales spike like never before, almost all on Amazon UK! Was this my new use of the #99p hashtag? if Twitter's not getting the word out, what is?!

Visit my website www.valerielaws.com 
Follow me on Twitter @ValerieLaws
Find me on Facebook


Linda Gillard said…
Thanks for relieving me of the need to fret about Twitter (which I've ignored ever since someone introduced me to a tweetdeck.) I always knew in my bones Twitter didn't sell books, but it's really helpful to see someone take a scientific approach.

I've found the best way to boost sales is to regularly put the prices of books down to 99p/99c. As soon as you do that, they are picked up by numerous sites trawling for bargain/free books and for a few days, you will see a sales spike. After a week or so I'll put the book back up to its normal price and take another down to 99p/99c and it all happens again.

I wonder if there's a way to prove that the best way to boost sales of the backlist is to publish a new book? I'm convinced this is true which is why I focus on writing, not social networking.
JO said…
So glad you've done this. I mess about on twitter, but it eats time - will carry using it at playtime, but not mistake it for serious marketing (whatever that is!)
Jan Needle said…
thanks for that, and all the hard work. i'll do some thinking.
Nick Green said…
When I was on Twitter (I've long since deleted my account, and let me tell you it FELT GOOD), I would occasionally follow an author who then did nothing except tweet about their latest book. So I would swiftly Unfollow.

Some self-promo is fine and expected, but beware those who just treat Twitter like a car with a loudhailer. It's like sitting next to a bore who won't shut up.
Thanks for this, Valerie - fascinating. Like Linda, I think the occasional 99p deal gives me a spike in sales - and it lasts beyond the point where I raise the price again. I use Twitter quite sparingly, and tend not to use it to promote books since I so routinely ignore book promotions myself - but I know I could do more 'around' the books and the background to them. Lots of food for thought here.
Lydia Bennet said…
thanks so much for comments folks, and for the sales spike at 99p/99c info, I shall try the up and down approach to prices!
Lev Raphael said…
Thanks for the very specific results. Every guide I'd read about using social media had warned me *not* to market my books but rather to establish some kind of presence or identity and then do it surreptitiously. That is actually market my books but sub rosa almost. Which seems almost more work than you were doing in a way. I think we're all quietly being driven mad by this latest "answer" to the eternal conundrum: what will put our books over. Nobody really knew in 1990 when I published my first book, and nobody knows now. The book of mine that's sold over 300,000 copies hasn't rely on any of this hoo-hah. BTW,
AliB said…
Hi Valerie, I used to be an avid tweeter mainly for social contact with writers. (How sad am I!) But As soon as I started using it more mechanistically I had so many people on my timeline I lost interest and had the feeling people lost interest inme :( however I often buy books on special offer via twitter or fb posts so I assume others will do the same. Up to now I've had no say in price of my novel but that could be changing soon. I feel a price reduction coming on! Thanks for a v. Useful post.
Bill Kirton said…
Add my thanks to all the others, Lydia. As I began reading I thought 'Oh *$%@@! I'm going to have to do all these tweeting things that I've been avoiding for so long'. But then came your very welcome test results.
My recent Twitter experience has been a huge spike in RTs as a result of interviewing an Australian and a Canadian author on my blog, both writer-friends and both with lots of followers. It doesn't seem to have made any difference to sales but at least I know I exist now.
Mari Biella said…
Very interesting. I've always been a little sceptical about tweeting as a marketing tool, and it's good to see my instincts confirmed! Personally, I tend to switch off and lose interest when I see obvious self-promotion on Twitter, and I expect a lot of others do likewise. I do tweet, but not consistently, and I don't take it particularly seriously. At least now I know I don't have to worry about that...
Lydia Bennet said…
it could be that people tweet in order to feel like they are 'doing something' to market their books. We are under such pressure. On Facebook I don't have an author page just my timeline and virtually all my posts over time are social in various ways, with news about my books plays installations etc on there as it happens. I know fb does sell books though not in huge numbers.
Very interesting! I tend to ignore tweets that are obviously just people plugging books, though sometimes click on those advertising free books or limited price reductions... so I can see how a reduction in price might produce a spike, if the book has a good cover or other obvious CLICK HERE message.

Also interesting that my best-seller in print does virtually nothing on Kindle, whereas the book that publishers gave up on in print and had a really rocky road to publication via bookstores is consistently my best-seller despite being priced higher than the others. I'm pretty sure nothing I do in social media actually sells my own books, it's what others do on your behalf that counts. So all those RT's maybe?
Dennis Hamley said…
Thank you Val. For years now I've had the fact of not being a tweeter clinging to the inside of my mind like a tumour. A sort of rotting spot if you like. I was just psyching myself up into doing something about it but thank God you've killed the urge stone dead. I must find some more congenial way to increase my miniscule sales figures.
glitter noir said…
An important post, Lydia, and very well done. Twitter gets a bad rap from clodhoppers who do nothing but hawk their own wares. Claude Bouchard, with over half a million followers, maintains an admirable balance of touts and shout-outs for others, along with classy quipping. Readers may be more likely to check out a book by an entertaining Tweeter than constant huckster. But Twitter is very useful for occasional postings sales and new arrivals.

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