I mean it. Book Twitter is a weird place.
And yes, that’s already acknowledging that Twitter is a flaming cesspool. Which was true long before Musk got his hands on it. It definitely hasn’t gotten any better, but my brief examination of the book side of things the last few weeks was … Well, let’s just say it kind of felt like watching The Godfather or reading about The Sopranos.
Book Twitter is a very strange place.
Okay, let me give you some context. Normally, I ignore Twitter. I only have an account at all for two reasons, the first being that I didn’t wish anyone else to claim my name and start making posts and tweets under false pretenses—which is sadly something the book world has to worry about—and the second being that one fan has requested that I keep the Twitter account going because that’s how they keep track of the goings-on of my site.
Those are the only reasons I have it. Occasionally I’ll dabble in tweeting something specific for a book, or occasionally it has come in handy when needing to contact tech-support somewhere, but by and large, Twitter is something I ignore.
Oh, and it’s a flaming cesspool, if you haven’t heard. Twitter is insane. Even checking out my “feed” (which is supposedly content you’ll “like,” but Twitter seems to have a very different idea of what a rational person would like, and it’s only gotten crazier under Musk) a few times a year was enough to convince me “No, I have nothing I need here.”
But these last few months, I decided to actually look at the book-side of Twitter. I was following a project that interacted with “Book Twitter,” which until now I’d avoided, and I finally got my look at it.
It’s an utterly odd place.
Look, here’s what most rational people would assume book Twitter to be like: Author pages, tweeting about their writing projects or their books.
But for most of them, it’s not. It’s very much not. Sands, I spent several minutes on more than one author’s page just trying to find more than a single post (or in some cases, even one post) that pointed to their own content, and was unable to do so. Instead, all I found was dozens upon dozens of retweets from influencers for other books. Pages and pages of them. This extended across profile after profile. It was rare that any of these authors were talking about their own content. It was largely other people’s content.
Now, where did that other content come from? Sometimes it was other author’s single posts about their content, endlessly retweeted in a giant chain. Or, more commonly it was from social media influencer sites promoting authors that had bought their promotion package, retweeted by an author’s page because you need to promote what “the family” does or they’ll never look at you twice.
Okay, let me explain that last one a little. In watching book Twitter, it’s pretty clear that the entire thing is built on a sense of “if you don’t scratch my back, I’ll never scratch yours.” Influencers spend money to gain views, then in turn it’s understood that unless author after author retweets the influencer’s posts, the influencer will never turn their favorable eye on the author.
It’s “the family.” You gotta do your part for “the family” or you’ll never get the family’s attention.
And it’s so freaking strange.
I don’t care for it, obviously. I don’t know how this sort of “you’ll get a favor if you do me a favor, or a lot of favors,” became the norm for Book Twitter, but it doesn’t strike me as a particularly fruitful engagement. Effectively what it’s become however, is something completely worthless when all is said and done.
Most author Twitter pages—which are “helpfully” identified by having a handle that includes not only their name but “author of” and usually a few promotional tidbits, which is already way over-the-top—are as a result little more than retweet pumps for “book influencers” rather than their own work. Unless the author is big enough that they don’t need these influencers.
In addition, they all follow one another like some Ouroboros, each endlessly regurgitating and swallowing the same content. If an influencer follows and author but doesn’t get a follow back, followed by retweets of that influencer’s posts … The influencer unfollows them. No publicity for that author unless they’re willing to play the game.
And yes, I’ve seen this happen with my posts. Multiple times a year I’ll see a book influencer follow my Twitter page after I say something about books they find interesting or post about a new release … only to unfollow within a day or so because I didn’t immediately engage in their system. And then turn around a few months later and try the same thing again. Follow, leave, repeat.
Ultimately the entire system is just endless link-sharing. Like a Facebook feed gone mad. And if you don’t engage with it, then no one is going to pay attention to your posts. After all, if you were important, you’d be retweeting the family’s—I mean, the influencer’s—tweets, wouldn’t you? And if you’re not doing that, then why would the influencer pay attention to you?
Ergo, checking an author’s Twitter page is all but useless for a lot of book Twitter, because you’re not going to find much of anything about or from said author.
Sands, sometimes this even extends to their personal site. During my shallow dive of book Twitter I went to several author’s “webpages” (which in a number of cases just turned out to be a redirect link back to Twitter) only to find that they were exactly the same. One was so bad with being a mouthpiece for an influencer page that the entire opening page of results was just shilling for influencer stuff. The author’s own work was buried behind several sub-menus.
But they do it, because if they don’t, the influencer will never give them that attention when they pay for it (oh yeah, influencers aren’t shy on the “pay to win” bit), and their posts will never end up splattered across hundreds of other author pages and twitter feeds.
So, that’s the state of Book Twitter: A crazy, hellish Ouroboros of endlessly promoting other’s work in a giant circle in the hopes that your time will come.
But will it? The other immediate problem with this kind of system is that a few people—the influencers—have a lot of control and answer to no one. All the “power” in this system is channeled upward into the hands of a few, rather than being in the hands of anyone else. And so anyone who enters has two choices: Don’t play the game, or do. There’s no middle ground. You play, or you don’t. You join in, and donate your feed to the influencers … or you get ignored. Completely.
Unless, of course, you become so famous that the influencers can’t ignore you. Then you’re golden.
But it just seems like such a feudal—oh, sorry, futile—sort of system. And frankly, one I have zero inclination to engage with.
Some say, of course, that “you have to learn to play the game to get anywhere.”
Me? It seems a strange game. The only winning move is not to play.
Back to work. The next Jacob Rocke book won’t write itself!