Oct 31 2013 10:00am

Short and Tweet: Selling Books in 140 Characters

Twitter logoHave you ever read a short excerpt from a book that intrigued you so much, you ended up buying the book? I’m talking about an extremely short chunk — no more than 140 characters.

If you wander through Twitter-land, you might see direct quotes pop up in your feed. It’s also possible to seek out those tiny samples of books. When you do a search on hastag novellines, you get 140 characters lifted from novels—minus the chunk taken up with that hashtag.

I’m surprised by how random these little tidbits are. I see a lot of descriptions of weather. Eyes show up, often. People post lots of steamy bits. I’m struck by how even a line or two taken from a love scene seems . . .random.

Some of the choices are clever. Many strike me as haphazard.

I asked several people if they ever bought a book because of one of those short excerpts:

Linda: Nope. But I don’t use twitter. I’ve bought books because of covers and blurbs. Does that count?

Jess: Never. I avoid twitter.

Mike: Twitter does nothing for me. Have I bought based on a longer excerpt? Um, no. No wait, maybe?

So much for that random sampling of real people in real life.

I went over to the source of short and pithy and asked the people who count: Tweeters—specifically the ones who follow me.

My Tweet:

@KateRothwell Know that #novellines thing? 140 characters lifted from a book? Have you ever clicked on the link? Have you bought a book because of it?



Then, a half-hour later:

@kathyf  No, no, and no.

@kathyf I have, however, bought books from blog posts. Seems to be best way to intrigue me, rather than short tweets.

I tried again. My next Tweet:

@KateRothwell for an article: Do you read tweets lifted directly from books? Do you click on links? Have you bought a book as a result? #novellines


*crickets redux*

I went over to a Facebook group that’s all about e-books and excerpts and asked,

“Have you bought a book as a result of seeing a short excerpt at twitter? Or even facebook?”

That question got lost in about ten minutes, drowned in a sea of excerpts.

My own response to the question would be: Yes, and in fact thinking about the two books I bought inspired me to write this article. I’d heard great things about a particular author, but I’m not sure I would have looked her up without noticing the quote.

Because of a very short excerpt by @gailcarriger, I clicked on the link. And then I clicked on the buy button. Two series and six books later, I’m looking forward to clicking on more buy buttons.

The tweeted quote that sold me (and ended up buying Gail Carriger at least a pizza or two):

“Lord Maccon was built like a brick outhouse, with opinions twice as unmoving and often equally full of crap.” —Blameless

Another tweet that sold a book to me was from Colson Whitehead (or one of his followers).

“New York City in life was much like New York City in death. It was still hard to get a cab, for example.” —Zone One

I ended up getting the audiobook of that one. One of the best zombie books I’ve read (although to be truthful, I haven’t read many).

Here is a random sampling of #novelline and #excerpt tweets I’ve copied and pasted (please forgive any typos!):

What lines have persuaded you to purchase a book?

Image credit: Twitter logo courtesy of

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
1. Chronic
Wow...I'd click on the ones you clicked on. I guess it goes to show how important what you post is if you want it to work!??!?! I dunno. I rarely see them -- but you made me click so there :D
2. JenniferPorter
Wow! I wish I had seen your original tweets. I get almost all of my next reads via tweets these days. Tweets may be from authors, bloggers, readers or even editors. I've put several books on my "To Buy" list when editors tweeted lines from them.
3. ChelseaMueller
If we look at the ones that worked (and I would click on the ones you did, too, except that "more than two words one") its about showing that line that's indicative of the voice/tone of the novel. The ones that are akin to a great opening line are going to pull us in.
4. Kimba121
Thank you so much for the intro to Gail Carriger! I am going to start with Soulless.
5. Philip Tolhurst
There are three in that list I would click on.

I'm not into reading anything that seems remotely like it's a romance novel or chick lit etc.

However, the two you clicked on intrigue me and the 2 birds with 1 stone comment.

I have a further problem though. Twitter is full of words so whatever words you write have to stand out. What stands out more for me are images. Book covers etc.

So looking at this I checked out that Ailis quote. It's accompanied by a picture of a woman and a man with what looks like a badly out of focus book cover bottom left and beneath that is a really hard to read pink URL.

There's also a link for Legacy's Forgotten on the right with the same book cover and I'm intrigued enough to click on it.

On amazon the book cover is completely different and by that time. I didn't read much of the blurb at all I wanted to see what was on that book cover and was defeated. That to my mind is a missed opportunity.

Just my thoughts.

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