Authors Don’t Need Twitter

twitter-logo-blog-postMany authors invest a great deal of time managing their Twitter accounts.  Hours a day are spent attracting new followers and keeping them engaged with pithy wisdom, personal minutiae and the occasional sales pitch.

During a recent online conversation, with a social media marketing maven, I was told Twitter is great for increasing an author’s readership.  I questioned the need for an author to use Twitter.  I reasoned all the time redirected from honing one’s craft and sleeping was not worth the tradeoff.  Sure Twitter is great for socializing, sharing celebrity gossip and sending messages to friends, but I’m not sure how effective a tool it is for garnering new readers.

I believe there is an inverse correlation between the amount of time one spends on social media compared to the amount of time devoted to reading books.  I doubt people who read at least one book or more, for pleasure, each month are very active on Twitter.  I also so doubt if serious and successful authors spent much time on Twitter as well.

Twitter Stats for Top Earning Authors
Twitter Stats for Top Authors

So I did a little research and checked the Twitter stats for the most successful authors.  Success, for this completely unscientific study, is defined by being on The World’s Top-Earning Authors, compiled by Forbes.

As you can see from the graph (click image to enlarge) and the table (at the end of the article), 25% of the authors on the Forbes list don’t have Twitter accounts.  Ten of the 16 top earning authors have tweeted less than 325 times.  With the exception of E.L. James, who is an aberration compared to her peers, most of these authors are not very active on Twitter at all.  Ignoring the extremely large number of followers, due to the author’s celebrity, these twitter accounts are quite unremarkable.

I’m sure someone is thinking, what does this prove?  These authors are rich and famous; they don’t need to be on Twitter.  I’d agree.  I’ll also add that these authors used their writing and story telling talent to become rich and famous.  Twitter had nothing to do with it.  So why do some many writers dedicate so much time on Twitter?

Part of it is perception; authors with a large number of followers are perceived, by many, as having a dedicated audience of readers. In reality, a large number of followers does not translate into a large number of readers and book buyers.  It is not clear how many readers discover books via Twitter (Answer our quick 5 question survey and help us find out).

How do your stats compare with the nation highest grossing authors who, ignoring E.L. James, have tweeted on average just over 1,000 times?

twitter-stats-slect account

As with most things online, the game is rigged.

You can, for example, go to a site like Fiverr and hire someone to obtain Twitter followers for you.  You can score a few thousand followers in just a day or two, for 5 bucks.  I don’t want to know how they accomplish this task, but it does work.

Another common way to increase Twitter followers is to use software that automatically goes out and follows others.  Often someone, you follow, will follow you back.  Later the software will go back an unfollow those that did not follow you back.  Over time, you’ll end up with many more followers than you could possible generate on your own, but you also end up following a lot of other people too.  If you ever see an account where a person is followed by 20K people and they are also following 20K people, this is usually a sign this technique was used.

Both techniques can generate a ton of followers, but they won’t add much value to an author interested in attracting readers to buy their book.  I experimented with these tactics and ended up being followed and following a bunch of bogus accounts, which opens you up to other problems, including the potential for an increased amount of spam.   I used an application called ManageFlitter, which allowed me to remove all the bogus accounts, bogging down my Twitter presence.

twitterfeed-logoThis is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to enhancing your Twitter account; you can pretty much pay for anything. In fact, I use a service called twitterfeed which generates tweets on my behalf—most of the tweets are quite good.

Basically twitterfeed allows me to query RSS feeds (a compilation of updates provided by a website here is the RSS feed for this Blog) and tweet useful information to my followers automatically—for free!  One of my queries checks for African American books on Amazon.  If it finds something that meets my predefined parameters it generates a tweet, with my affiliate code applied.  I’ve earned commissions on book sales from tweets that were generated automatically.  This article, for example, will be automatically tweeted.

I often have to respond to someone who has replied to an automatically generated tweet.  The vast majority of the time the tweet is a good one, but occasionally something gets tweeted that I personally would never have tweeted.  Fortunately those are usually ignored.  Indeed, many of tweets are ignored, disappearing forever into the Twittersphere.  Despite that my Twitter engagement is quite high relative to the vast majority Twitterers.

Someone asked me what percentage of my tweets are automatically generated.  I honestly don’t know.  But on any given day, the percentage of automatically generated tweets will range from 10 to 100%.  I may miss a day tweeting, but my bots (automated processes) never sleep.

Of course you can take advantage of Twitter’s offerings including Promoted Tweets, Promoted Accounts, and Promoted Trends.  Paying Twitter ads directly can get expensive in a hurry and the impact, relative to other types of ad buys, is questionable for authors.

If you are going to use Twitter the best way to grow your following is organically, interacting with others and tweeting interesting content.  Unless you are a celebrity you are not going to grow your list of followers into the hundreds of thousands without using artificial techniques.

As far as following thousands of people, that is pointless as well.  No one thinks our friend @ArabicBest (in the chart above) is capable of reading the tweets of the 2.4 million people they are following.

The data, and my personal experiences, suggest that Twitter is used by most people for the purpose for which is was designed; sharing humorous, mundane, silly, fleeting short messages with a group of friends; following the antics of one’s favorite celebrity; or quickly learning about some scandalous rumor or sensational news story.

Here are some additional interesting Twitter Stats

  • 90% of internet users don’t use Twitter
  • One-quarter of all tweets, are generated by software (automated tweets, not initiated manually by a human)
  • 5% of Twitter users account for 75% of all activity
  • 93.6% of Twitter users have less than 100 followers
  • 1 in 10 Twitter users don’t follow anyone
  • 92.4% follow less than 100 people
  • 6 out of 100 twitter users have no followers
  • 25% of Twitter users have never tweeted
  • 0.29% of overall Twitter users who follow more than 2,000 people

Below is the data used to compile the chart above.

Author Name 2013 Rev (In Millions) #Tweets #Following #Followers
E.L. James $95 31,512 397 451,454
James Patterson $91 1,399 2,227 49,899
Suzanne Collins $55 0 0 0
Bill O’Reilly $28 6,752 35 528,884
Danielle Steel $26 322 13 16,014
Jeff Kinney $24 301 16 23,621
Janet Evanovich $24 1,777 36 32,219
Nora Roberts $3 0 0 0
Dan Brown $20 240 44 81,026
Stephen King $20 89 17 254,926
Dean Koontz $20 133 16 10,637
John Grisham $18 0 0 0
David Baldacci $15 736 116 11,065
Rick Riordan $14 3,382 41 234,059
J.K. Rowling $13 29 3 2,828,647
George R.R. Martin $12 0 0 0

All of this data was collected in the evening of January 23rd 2014.  In the time it took me to finish the Blog post Katy Perry (@katyperry) gained 18,926 more followers.  Incredible…

Sources:,,, and of course




Troy D. Johnson is the President, founder and webmaster of, LLC (The African American Literature Book Club). Launched in March of 1998, has grown to become the largest and most frequently visited website dedicated to books and films by and about people of African descent.

  • R.L. Byrd

    I agree. Social media consumes a tremendous amount of time away from an author’s writing (I find myself spending two to three hours a day at it); however, it’s a part of marketing the author and his/her brand—keeping visible between books.

    The “mainstream” authors listed in the article, in my opinion, are established authors or authors who have been connected to the publishing/entertainment industry for years—primarily before the advent/explosion of social media (e.g., Nora Roberts, John Grisham and George R.R. Martin, who don’t tweet, per the article)—so their readership and “power to attract” followers was already established and can be easily understood. Factor in other factors, such as, book based movies and television shows like Martin’s, HBO Series “Game of Thrones” and you reveal/open other dynamics for their large Twitter following—not just on authorship alone.

    As for the aspiring, self-published, traditionally-published or hybrid authors who are NOT mainstream (or in that 1% author niche identified in the article), in today’s “marketing” world where many authors have very little resources (and who’s publishing houses don’t market them appropriately), social media IS a must. And although social media (especially Twitter) may not garner many readers which lead to book sales, it does provide a platform where authors can, economically, bring visibility to themselves and their work, as well as, connect with their industry peers, other industry professionals, and those on similar journeys.

    • @rlbyrd:disqus thanks for sharing your thoughts. I could have very easily collected data on 15 obscure, self-published, authors whose Twitter stats would blow the established authors listed above out of the water. But I did not want to put those folks on the spot, besides they can figure out if they are one of them.

      As a person who is actively looking to discover new books I have yet to find one on Twitter. Twitter skews to celebrity, entities that are already well known (Katy Perry has gained over 215,000 followers since I completed this article). There is also a bias toward authors readers already know, like the established authors above. Everything else gets crowded out.

      Also I do not think most self-pubbed authors actually measure the effectiveness of their fleeting tweets. There is nothing more deceiving than having a lot of followers if you do not know that they are not following your links or buying your books.

      I wrote the article not to slam Twitter; which is great at letting people the antics of celebrities. My goal is to caution authors.

      • R.L. Byrd

        Mr. Johnson, thanks for putting this article together, a lot of time and effort went into this post and I’ve had some engaging, if not, interesting conversations as a result. And yes, I’ve read @solomonjones1 comments and agree with him wholeheartedly. I also read your response to my post and agree with your “Is Twitter relevant to authors” analogy (which depends on the author, of course), but I do believe it can be used as one of many mediums to assist an author to get his/her name out (see this pulled from Twitter’s Business Marketing feed As for myself, I use Twitter to connect with other authors, writers and industry professionals (over 50% of my connections are with them); I use to gauge the effectiveness of my tweets and to follow my demographics (countries, cities, age, gender, etc.). I use Facebook to show the human side of R.L. Byrd. The Facebook audience is totally different than the Twitter and calls for another type of post—typically, not book or writer related, as I’ve learned those posts have relatively low views.

        I’ve talked to many authors in this business and there is no fool-proof way of gaining readership or sales (each author’s journey will be different), however, in this day and age, we all know social media is a necessity, how one uses it is the key.

  • Solomon Jones

    Social media is not necessarily a sales tool. Rather, it is a marketing tool. It’s a way to keep your name in front of the readers and to build your relationship with them, not as an individual, but as a brand. More and more I’m finding that readers behave like any other buyer. They are loyal to the brand rather than to specific products. I agree with Mr. Byrd, though. Social media is very time consuming. We have to learn to strike a balance. I don’t know if I’ve mastered that yet.

    • Thanks for your comments Solomon. Sales is the goal of any marketing effort, so I would not decouple the two things. I agree with you and R.L. with regard to social media being time consuming–indeed it is premise of the article. I believe an aspiring author’s resources can be directed to more efficient and effective forms of marketing. But if an author insists on using Twitter, there are a bazillion techniques to make the use of Twitter more effective. I shared some tools that work and others that do not.

      Further, if you are an author, using Twitter to market your products and are not taking advantage of external tools (i.e. manually monitoring and keying tweets) you are wasting value time and energy. I don’t think an author should have to spend 2 to 3 hours, a day, on Twitter. I appreciate some of the strategies require more technical expertise than the average author has, which is another reason I’m not keen on Twitter for authors.

      You have not mastered the balance, because it is a hard thing to accomplish–and for folks not worth the effort trying.

  • Instead of tweeting, author James Patterson is giving cash to independent bookstores

  • torin

    I wouldn’t consider myself an author (not even close) but I did find the angle of this piece interesting. I’d add that many of those depicted grew their popularity long before the rise of social media and that may speak to why they have chosen to give such so little attention. With the landscape as it is, @solomonjones:disqus is correct, and for many a part of their business equation. Challenge for many of us, is how to best leverage our time, and grow our reach. Here’s something funny, while drafting this quick response and reading the insightful comments posted by others, my twitter following grew by zero. Incredible!

    • @disqus_LycANoYYY2:disqus True, True and LOL! Yes most of the authors shown popularity predated the rise of Twitter and that was actually my point. We never needed Twitter to raise anyone’s profile. So while social media is indeed part of the landscape, the idea that it is a requirement for the average author is the conventional wisdom I’m questioning.

      I agree completely that the challenge for authors is to best leverage their time (money and energy) to grow their reach. I submit to you there are better ways for the average (non-celebrity) author to do this.

      What makes your last joke so funny is the fact that, like most good jokes, it holds a grain of truth. Your Twitter account is no different than any non-celebrity. They grow very slowly and take a lot of effort to grow substantially (without tricks), and I’ve seen no data to suggest the effort translates into sales. It is more likely Twitter followers come from sales not the other way around.

  • I use for Searching User Tweet RT and Favorite listing and deletion – Unfollower finding an deletion. Even the site is new, it works well!

    Site also allows you to see any twitter user’s (included yours) unfollowers, followers and followings without login.

    Of course it’s free and unlimited!

  • Mary W. Walters

    Excellent information. Thank you, Troy! Tweeting in spite of it all!

☆ Mission
Promote literature and literary nonfiction from Africa and the African Diaspora to readers of all backgrounds and ages. Advocate for independent web sites.

☥ About Us
Started in 1997, (African American Literature Book Club) is the largest, most frequently visited web site of its kind. More
Customer Service
Advertising Rates
Advertiser Login
Subscribe to Our eNewsletter
About Our Founder