Can you tweet your way to a bestseller?

30 June 2010

Justin Halpern has shown that it is possible to tweet your way to a bestseller. He created the Twitter feed 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'.

Labels: ,

Permanent link for this post | Blog Home | Website Home | Email feedback

How to make ebook apps for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch

23 June 2010

Writers Forum June 2010 coverI've just published an article about how you can make ebook apps for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. It's based on interviews with about 20 industry insiders, including bestselling app creators, authors and publishers.

A much shorter version of the feature appeared in the June 2010 issue of Writers' Forum magazine, but I've extended it online with lots of content there wasn't room for in the magazine.

It was an interesting time to be writing the article, because I think it captured a moment in time when it was easy for authors to build apps. It's already become much more difficult, even in the few months since I wrote the story. Firstly, the companies that enabled people to make apps based on RSS feeds have massively increased prices. The entry price used to be $25 and now it's many hundreds of dollars. That probably reflects the demand they've seen from big brands, and might not be a price that the market can sustain in the longer term, at least not without some consolidation in the companies offering those services. For now, with prices that high, you might as well commission a bespoke design (which the article also covers). Secondly, Apple has responded to the number of apps being created by setting much higher standards for approval.

For this project, I did try to create an iPhone app using RSS feeds, but it was unfortunately rejected by Apple for reasons unknown. It might have been a victim of a crackdown on the service I was using, or they might have visited on a day when I hadn't updated the blog for a week or two. With Apple, who knows? The process of making and submitting the app was easy from a technical point of view, but every support query took a week to get a response, and the admin was hard to navigate.

The new iPhone OS and the iPad support the iBook store, so this might create new opportunities for authors to get their content into Apple's handhelds, if they're happy to publish static ebooks. It will be interesting to see what kinds of content Apple decides to approve and reject, and how this changes over time. I suspect that once the catalogue of books is looking reasonably healthy, we'll see a lot of self-published content get deleted and new rules come into play.

To read some success stories from authors who have created apps and find out how you can create your own, see my article. (If you make audiobooks, check out my tutorial on how to get your music into iTunes and Amazon MP3 too. The same concepts apply for audiobooks).

Labels: , , , , , ,

Permanent link for this post | Blog Home | Website Home | Email feedback

A question about copyright permissions

10 June 2010

Michael MacMahon, author of a guide to personal debt called 'Back To The Black: how to become debt-free and stay that way', emailed me with a question about copyright.

He says: "The last job [in writing my book] is inserting external resources, especially case studies. Most of the latter I have clipped from newspapers (or the online world) over the last couple of years. I have about 25 of them and the majority are short(maybe 150-200 words on average). For these short ones I really don't want to get into writing to loads of different newspapers / websites and waiting for permissions. (plus in some cases I don't even have a record of who published the story originally)."

He asks: "In these circs do you think I might be vulnerable to legal challenge if I insert these shorter case studies in full and without permission?"

Absolutely. That's a clear copyright infringement. Even if you can get away with it, authors should ask whether they really want to be getting away with copyright infringement at all, given their income depends on copyright.

Permissions are a massive hassle, but they're unavoidable. Getting someone to sign a permissions form is a small price to pay for all the work they've done on your behalf (finding interviewees, interviewing them, writing up the case studies, etc).

Book contracts will often make the author responsible for ensuring all the content in the book is copyright-cleared, although I was fortunate to have fantastic support from my publisher for my social networking book. The terms of the contract usually make the author financially liable for any infringement suit that follows, so it's important to get this right.

A few things to look out for:
  • Make sure you're getting permission from the copyright holder. That's not necessarily the publication, and is almost never the interviewee.
  • Take care with layered permissions. For example, if you want to quote from a story in The Times which includes research from Gartner, there might be two copyright interests in that text. If you want to use a photo of a Coke can, you might need permission from the fizzy drinks manufacturer for its branding, and from the photographer for the shot.
  • It often takes companies a long time to respond to permissions requests, so don't leave them to the end. Get started on them as soon as you know what you'll need.
  • Be organised. If you've got a lot of permissions in your project, then use Excel or something similar to track the status of each one. Make sure you find out what credit the copyright owner requires.
  • Even short phrases can be protected by copyright if they are distinctive. Take particular care with song lyrics and poetry.
Michael's question throws up two other interesting points. Firstly, the interviewee might also have rights to privacy in this particular case, because of the sensitive nature of the subject, so it might be good to get it cleared with them too or at least to check the legal position on this properly. Secondly, there's the issue of trust when using content from other publications. Can you be certain it's accurate?

In this case, the best approach is probably to use fictional case studies, which Michael suggested might be a solution in his email.

Labels: ,

Permanent link for this post | Blog Home | Website Home | Email feedback

Dip into the blog archive

June 2005 | September 2005 | January 2006 | March 2006 | April 2006 | May 2006 | June 2006 | July 2006 | August 2006 | September 2006 | October 2006 | November 2006 | December 2006 | February 2007 | March 2007 | April 2007 | May 2007 | June 2007 | July 2007 | August 2007 | September 2007 | October 2007 | November 2007 | December 2007 | January 2008 | February 2008 | March 2008 | April 2008 | May 2008 | June 2008 | July 2008 | August 2008 | September 2008 | October 2008 | November 2008 | December 2008 | January 2009 | February 2009 | March 2009 | April 2009 | May 2009 | June 2009 | July 2009 | August 2009 | September 2009 | October 2009 | November 2009 | December 2009 | January 2010 | February 2010 | March 2010 | April 2010 | May 2010 | June 2010 | August 2010 | September 2010 | October 2010 | November 2010 | December 2010 | March 2011 | April 2011 | May 2011 | June 2011 | July 2011 | August 2011 | September 2011 | October 2011 | November 2011 | December 2011 | January 2012 | February 2012 | March 2012 | June 2012 | July 2012 | August 2012 | September 2012 | October 2012 | December 2012 | January 2013 | February 2013 | March 2013 | April 2013 | June 2013 | July 2013 | August 2013 | September 2013 | October 2013 | November 2013 | December 2013 | January 2014 | February 2014 | March 2014 | April 2014 | May 2014 | June 2014 | July 2014 | August 2014 | September 2014 | October 2014 | November 2014 | December 2014 | January 2015 | February 2015 | March 2015 | April 2015 | May 2015 | June 2015 | September 2015 | October 2015 | December 2015 | January 2016 | February 2016 | March 2016 | May 2016 | July 2016 | August 2016 | September 2016 | October 2016 | November 2016 | December 2016 | January 2017 | July 2017 | August 2017 | October 2017 | November 2017 | January 2018 | February 2018 | August 2018 | October 2018 | November 2018 | December 2018 | January 2019 | March 2019 | June 2019 | August 2019 | September 2019 | October 2019 | January 2020 | February 2020 | March 2020 | April 2020 | May 2020 | June 2020 | September 2020 | October 2020 | December 2020 | January 2021 | February 2021 | May 2021 | June 2021 | October 2021 | November 2021 | December 2021 | January 2022 | February 2022 | March 2022 | May 2022 | July 2022 | August 2022 | September 2022 | December 2022 | March 2023 | April 2023 | May 2023 | June 2023 | October 2023 | November 2023 | January 2024 | February 2024 | May 2024 | Top of this page | RSS


© Sean McManus. All rights reserved.

Visit for free chapters from Sean's coding books (including Mission Python, Scratch Programming in Easy Steps and Coder Academy) and more!

Discover my latest books

100 Top Tips: Microsoft Excel

100 Top Tips: Microsoft Excel

Power up your Microsoft Excel skills with this powerful pocket-sized book of tips that will save you time and help you learn more from your spreadsheets.

Scratch Programming in Easy Steps

Scratch Programming IES

This book, now fully updated for Scratch 3, will take you from the basics of the Scratch language into the depths of its more advanced features. A great way to start programming.

Mission Python book

Mission Python

Code a space adventure game in this Python programming book published by No Starch Press.

Cool Scratch Projects in Easy Steps book

Cool Scratch Projects in Easy Steps

Discover how to make 3D games, create mazes, build a drum machine, make a game with cartoon animals and more!

Raspberry Pi For Dummies

Raspberry Pi For Dummies

Set up your Raspberry Pi, then learn how to use the Linux command line, Scratch, Python, Sonic Pi, Minecraft and electronics projects with it.



In this entertaining techno-thriller, Sean McManus takes a slice through the music industry: from the boardroom to the stage; from the studio to the record fair.

Walking astronaut from Mission Python book Top | Search | Help | Privacy | Access Keys | Contact me
Home | Newsletter | Blog | Copywriting Services | Books | Free book chapters | Articles | Music | Photos | Games | Shop | About