30 June 2010
Justin Halpern has shown that it is possible to tweet your way to a bestseller. He created the Twitter feed www.twitter.com/shitmydadsays to share the wit and wisdom of his 74-year old father.
Twitter seems to be the ideal medium for expressing his Dad's knack of getting right to the heart of a subject. His latest advice is: "Don’t focus on the one guy who hates you. You don’t go to the park and set your picnic down next to the only pile of dog shit."
Since the feed was established last August, Halpern has attracted 1,441,919 followers who subscribe to his tweets. That's a pretty impressive audience, and it's helped to make Halpern's book inspired by the Twitter feed into a bestseller. There is now talk of William Shatner starring in a TV show inspired by the Twitter feed.
There are two key lessons from this experience for writers everywhere. The first is that if you build a large audience for your work, it's a lot easier to get a book deal. This same advice is what has been driving bands to build up their live and online following for years: if you can show there is an audience for your work, others will be willing to invest in it.
The second lesson is that Twitter can be a valuable tool for refining characters. Halpern's feed is based on a real person, but there's no reason why you couldn't create a Twitter feed for fictional characters in your book and use the brevity of the medium to refine the characters' ideas and sayings so that they really shine. If people take an interest in what your characters have to say, they will be more willing to read about them in books. Of course, this does mean you need to have something compelling for your characters to say outside the context of dialogue, which is a whole new creative challenge.
If you want to get started with Twitter, don't forget to follow me! There's a chapter on how to use Twitter in my book 'Social Networking for the Older and Wiser'.