Friday, April 22, 2011

Friday Author Feature: Matt Stewart on tweeting his debut novel

Before Matt Stewart landed a book deal for his literary novel, The French Revolution, he'd already received numerous rejections. First, it took 8-9 months and more than 150 pitches to find an agent. After some promising critical feedback from one, and 3 months of revising and resubmitting the book--voila! Then his agent only had to find a publisher. Over 30 rejections later, Stewart came up with a brilliant marketing plan.


Beginning on Bastille Day 2009 ("I was doing something revolutionary") and with a nod from his agent, he would serialize his novel (at 140 characters per tweet) to encourage people to check out the book. Stewart also offered it on Amazon's Kindle for $1.99, as well as a free upload on Scribd for one week.

The result?

"It became more of a tech story than a literary story," he said as guest speaker Thursday at a local Writers Forum. Of course, the book soon found a home in print too--with indie publisher Soft Skull Press. "They'd have to pay me to stop tweeting," joked Stewart, who said having clever sound bites to drop in like that one are key.

Stewart's success is in great part due to his own diligence, including pitching the 'tech story' to reporters at the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, who ran it right away--after a few follow-up calls. "You don't want to be annoying, but you want to be charmingly persistent," he said about contacting media.

And it caught like wildfire. The list is long of articles and news clips, with worldwide media attention--from TechCrunch to Australia's The World Today and beyond.

According to his website's A Twitter Tale:
I braced myself for widespread ridicule ("What kind of moron's ever going to read a novel on Twitter?") - and was accordingly astonished when the feedback was overwhelming supportive.
French Revolution, a San Francisco family saga "cast in a unique historical structure, plus jokes," is also considered by Stewart to be "a Confederacy of Dunces meets Animal Farm." It was picked as The Best Book of 2010 by The SF Chronicle and was named a Notable Debut by Poets & Writers.

Still, Stewart says his biggest challenge is to resist being known as "the Twitter guy" by audiences who might snicker at the notion that tweeting a novel has merit. (I admit, I had a similar adverse reaction--initially. But one peek inside the book and a few words from the brilliant author convinced me otherwise.)

But Stewart is no stranger to failure. Like so many great writers (see prior post on Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida), Stewart threw out his first novel. Having worked on this debut novel, his second try, over weekends while working as a marketing specialist full time, he saw an opportunity with social media and seized it.

"There's always something you can do," he said about "taking back the reigns" of publication and publicity. "I used social media to get the attention of traditional media" since Twitter is often one step ahead of traditional news.

So why Twitter, as opposed to more common online venues like Facebook, a blog or traditional website? Sure, he's got all three (though instead of his own blog, which I can attest takes much time to write, he posts instead on such sites as The Huffington Post). Stewart called Twitter "the new Parisian cafe" and for today's fast-paced, multi-tasking, quick-consumption literati, "brevity is key."

"The beauty of Twitter is that by the time you've looked at it, you've already read it."

There are three places for deep reading--3 B's--buses, the bathroom and bed (as well as the beach, he added). Reading 140 characters at a time can lead your readers to 250 pages of your book.

While Stewart thinks there's nothing like in-person communication, he says social media platforms influence how we make decisions. With such a compression of meaning in each tweet, he suggested offering "one piercing thought, a witticism, a factoid. Don't be boring and keep it positive."

Here's an example of one of Stewart's tweets. Click on the highlighted link to read the passage. Hint: The prose is as lovely on the tongue as the culinary creations he describes:
  • Hungry? Check out a delicious food-filled excerpt from my debut novel, The French Revolution #fridayreads
As far as following other tweeters? It can become addictive, Stewart agrees. "Twitter is like a fire hose and you drop your ladle in a few times a day. But it's worthless if it doesn't enrich your life or get a tangible result."

If you're at all like me, a semi-Luddite who prefers long days listening in quiet contemplation to real birds twittering, you may feel some resistance to the Twitter phenomenon. But Stewart has convinced me to at least give it a whirl.

If you want to get started, check out How to Post a Tweet at the Twitter help center. Stewart recommends using TweetDeck, where you can update Twitter, FB, LinkedIn and others all on one site.


Rosaria Williams said...

Man, too too clever for me!
It goes to show that the maker/the artist/ the writer better learn how to sell.

On another note. I'm trying to find someone to share writing and critiques with. Any ideas?

jdawords said...

Enjoyed this post. Thanks.

Nicole R. Zimmerman said...

Glad you enjoyed the post, thanks.

Rosaria--You might find a writing partner networking online or in person. Put the word out in whatever forums you have--Facebook, your blog, email, listservs. Join a local writing network (like Redwood Writers that I belong to) and ask around. See if there's a website listing local writing workshops, events or groups and announce your intentions there. Attend a local conference or take a community class. In my county there's a ton of writing stuff happening and most of it I can find online. I'd only be wary of posting something on craigslist or bulletin board where you could attract too many random responders. Good luck!

Rosaria Williams said...

Thanks for the suggestions.

Nicole R. Zimmerman said...

Well, after Matt's talk I finally pulled my head out of the sand and learned a few things about Twitter--at least the basics to get me started.

Now I've got an account profile and a handful of followers.

But the best thing is Matt's tweet: "There's nothing like waking up to a ninja author profile courtesy of paperpencilpen" with a link to the blog. Not only is it nice that I made an author happy and was complimented in return, but I'm hoping some of his 1200+ followers might check out my posts.

Ah, the power of online networking!

shane mcgarrett said...

Hey Nicole,
Great review of Matt. I too walk away feeling excited about what little i know about Twitter.

Mrs. Henry said...

do share your learnings re: Twitter. I still can't seem to get myself on there. Part fear of yet another internet addiction, part reluctance to learn another new thing. Wondering if the quick and focused ease of it would actually benefit me.

Nicole R. Zimmerman said...

Shane-thanks for your comment; always nice hearing from readers.

soulyluna; I went to the "how to post a tweet" page linked above--super helpful in getting started or just understanding the logistics of it. I bet twitter would bring you more blog traffic (you've got quite the following already) and commerce for your treebottomwool kids' clothes too! Tweet me! ;)

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