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.
"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 http://bit.ly/bO8b17 #fridayreads
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.