A Twitter Tale

In the summer of 2009 I was stuck. My agent had shopped The French Revolution to a bunch of editors, and most of them passed for various reasons hovering around "too risky" and "not for us." Naturally, this was extremely aggravating after laboring for years on what I thought was a pretty good yarn.

I was using increasingly using Twitter at work and at events, and realized that there was really nothing else like it for cutting to the point quick. In the shower one morning in late June 2009, the idea hit me -- why not put out the novel on Twitter? It's no way to read a novel, but it's a terrific way to connect with people fast, and give them a taste of the book so they can buy the whole thing later.

Gut check: The publishing industry is old-school. Twitter is new-school. It felt like a culture clash, the snobs v. the street, paper v. plastic. This could piss a lot of important people off.

So I talked to my agent. I consulted my attorney. I powwowed with communications experts, literary experts, tech experts, and lots of non-expert smart people. They all agreed: go for it. If it sold, awesome. And if nothing happened, I wouldn't be any worse off than when I started.

What did I have to lose? I killed the birdie.

Starting on Bastille Day - July 14, 2009 - I started broadcasting The French Revolution via @thefrenchrev and thefrenchrev.com. I braced myself for widespread ridicule ("What kind of moron's ever going to read a novel on Twitter?") - and was accordingly astonished when the feedback was overwhelming supportive. I wound up making headlines worldwide and landing a book deal with the ballsiest publisher of them all, Soft Skull.

Lessons: Go for it. In literature as in life. What's the worst that's going to happen? Nothing. And then you're no worse off than when you started.

*If you want more juicy analysis, check out the complete case study I wrote for the Big Book of Social Media.