To Retweet or Not to Retweet: On Rebroadcasting Praise

Today we’re happy to welcome back guest blogger James Sutter with some thoughts on social media. Thanks for your contribution, James!


Here’s the scene: You’re fiddling around on your smartphone, maybe killing time in line at the grocery store, when suddenly—ding!—there’s a new message on your Twitter. Somebody liked your book! Not only did they like it, they’ve given it a glowing 140-character review! Your chest expands, and your finger heads for the “retweet” button.

And then you pause.

Should you rebroadcast that praise? On the one hand, you’re proud, and you also think that maybe it’s a good way to remind people that you, ya know, have a book out. But at the same time, you don’t want to come across as a braggart or a huckster.

This is an issue I’ve wrestled with since 2011, when I published my first novel, Death’s Heretic. I can still remember the tweet that first brought the dilemma to my attention: a mean-spirited quip by someone whose name I no longer remember, saying, “Hey people who retweet praise—your parents’ divorce is showing.”

Now, I think that statement is pretty shitty on several levels, but the basic sentiment came through loud and clear: that rebroadcasting praise on social media is a sign of insecurity. Since I didn’t want to appear desperate for validation—though really, what author isn’t?—I proceeded to be very careful about what sort of praise I retweeted, avoiding anything that wasn’t a review by an “official journalist.”

Over the last few years, though, I’ve been rethinking my position. I’ve watched several highly successful new authors like Chuck Wendig and Robert Jackson Bennett retweet casual fan reviews (tweets along the lines of “Was up all night reading so-and-so’s new book—what an awesome story!”). And I’ve begun to realize that maybe I’ve got things totally backward.

So here’s why I now think retweeting praise might not only okay, but advantageous.

It works. Here’s a secret that politicians have known for a long time: name recognition is powerful—like, really powerful. Ever wonder why people put up a million signs in election season that just have the candidate’s name, without so much as a slogan or key position? It’s because studies have shown again and again that, in the absence of other data, simple familiarity with a name can make you positively inclined toward a candidate. They don’t need to win your vote—they just need to stick in your brain.

That recognition works for authors, too. Given that your audience has an overwhelming number of books to choose from, even something as simple as a familiar-sounding name can make the difference between a reader clicking on your book or the one next to it. Moreover, since you’re retweeting praise from a variety of folks, you’re giving people the impression that everybody’s talking about you. I find myself responding to this effect all the time, buying books because my brain sees a bunch of tweets and says, “You keep hearing about this book—it must be pretty good!” That’s despite the fact that I know they’re only in my feed because the author’s retweeting them. That’s powerful mojo.

It rewards reviewers. This is the second great thing about retweeting praise: you incentivize its creation. When a fan knows you have a habit of responding to praise on twitter, they’re more likely to tweet about you—because who doesn’t get a thrill when their favorite author responds to them? Retweeting also rewards reviewers by introducing them to your audience, even if only for a moment. Given that those reviewers are probably scrambling for exposure as well, you’ve just turned a one-way transaction into a mutually beneficial one.

So now that we’ve explored—in coldly mercenary terms—why retweeting praise is good marketing, I want to throw out some potential caveats.

Don’t Be a Spammer. The cardinal rule of social media still stands. While I personally find retweeted praise less offensive than authors constantly pushing their books, that doesn’t mean it can’t go too far. If you’re filling my timeline with every nice comment anyone’s ever made about you (“James L. Sutter is a reasonably hygienic author”), I’m gonna reach for the mute button. The burden is still on all of us authors to be insightful, funny, educational—whatever it is that we think draws people to us in the first place. Endless, blatant self-promotion is rarely entertaining. Make sure that retweeted praise is the exception, not the rule.

Choose a Praise Threshold. Everyone is likely to draw their line in a different place, but personally, I feel that an important distinction is whether the comment was directed toward the internet at large or toward me personally—the latter feels too much like a one-on-one conversation for me to be comfortable using it as marketing. So if someone tweets, “I just finished @jameslsutter’s The Redemption Engine—I love his creepy-ass angels!”, that’s likely to get retweeted. But if someone tweets at me directly and says, “Hey, I liked your book!”, I would probably just respond with a thank-you. In the former case, the person is already intentionally endorsing you to a wider audience, which in my mind makes it okay to publicize the comment.

 So now that my second novel, The Redemption Engine, is finally out, I’m going to take the plunge and try to retweet praise more often. I won’t say that I’m not a little anxious about it—regardless of rationalizations, there are clearly people who find it gauche—but I feel like I owe it to my book, and to any awesome people who go out of their way to say nice things about it.

That’s my plan. What’s yours?


 

James L. Sutter is the Managing Editor of Paizo Publishing and a co-creator of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. He’s the author of the novels Death’s Heretic and The Redemption Engine, the former of which was #3 on Barnes & Noble’s Best Fantasy Releases of 2011 and a finalist for the Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel. In addition to numerous game books, James has written short stories for such publications as Escape Pod, Apex Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and the #1 Amazon bestseller Machine of Death. His anthology Before They Were Giants pairs the first published short stories of speculative fiction luminaries with new interviews and advice from the authors themselves. For more information, visit jameslsutter.com or find him on Twitter at @jameslsutter.

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  • Tammy Salyer

    Great articulation of something I’ve been pondering lately. Thanks James and Inkpunks!

    • James L. Sutter

      Thank you! 😀