People from many different industries have watched the rapid erosion of Twitter. While it remains up and running as of this date, millions of people have abandoned or shut down their accounts for reasons ranging from owner Elon Musk’s reinstatement of former president Donald Trump’s account to overall disenchantment with the role social media plays in our lives.
But for me, Twitter has and always will be a platform that helped me find my way in book publishing, and not just because my @TheBookMaven account has more than 200,000 followers or because I created #FridayReads, which is used by book professionals of all types to share current reading choices. By “finding my way in book publishing,” I mean less my personal career than my overall views about our own industry and its changes in the 25 years I’ve written about, and worked in, the book world.
More ways exist to work in book publishing than ever before—and Twitter helped people find out about them. Twitter, a platform that originally limited posts to 140 characters, was the place where writers, authors, and book lovers wanted to hang out and share pithy thoughts about new titles, new contracts, and new colleagues.
I will never forget the first tweetup of BookExpo 2010, organized by the delightful and well-connected sales rep John Mesjak. Not only did he take care of designing special ID tags for the Twitterati involved but he found a venue that helped us all feel safe exclaiming loudly as we identified people we’d previously only known online.
There would be many more tweetups, which quickly became simply IRL encounters. Within my deliberately delimited world of writers and book people, I’ve seen a couple meet online and later marry, watched writers gain agents through answering calls for queries, and heard about hundreds of coffees and drinks and dinners arranged via DMs. Personally, I’ve eaten the best pancakes in Brooklyn while discussing reading metrics with a librarian for her dissertation and organized lunches at the Algonquin that led to long-term collaborations and friendships.
However, none of those things has kept me tweeting for nigh on 15 years; neither has the daily dopamine high from responses. What’s kept me and many of my favorite colleagues on what is often referred to as “this hellsite” is that the connection we find there has inspired us to advocate for change. Brief conversations about something that rankled might turn into larger discussions about how to make it better, be that something book contracts, bookstore practices, or submission standards.
As Twitter grew, so did the topics, including #WeNeed-DiverseBooks, #PublishingPaidMe, #ShopIndie, #ReadMore-Women. #OwnVoices, #OpenPublishing, and—my personal favorite—#DecentralizePublishing.
Because Twitter—love it or hate it, stay with it or leave it—has in part done what nothing else seemed to: changed the scope of publishing conversations. Someone who runs a small press in Ohio, such as Belt Publishing owner Anne Trubek, can engage with a Big Five editor-in-chief or a California bookstore manager. A self-published author might find herself chatting with her all-time favorite bestselling novelist, or vice versa. Twitter leveled so many playing fields at once for so long that it became a standard part of book PR and marketing even after we all determined that tweets seldom sold books—and while tweets may not up sales numbers, they do provide all kinds of data, from demographics to critical responses to word-of-mouth recommendations.
Twitter, like publishing, doesn’t exist in a vacuum. As Twitter changed and contributed to changes in publishing, publishing also changed. Consolidations and closings, a global recession and a global pandemic, fraught elections and a frightening administration all sent book publishing into spirals that could not be stopped by tweets. If I hadn’t known this before, I would have learned it quickly this past summer when I took part in the Publishers Weekly reporting on and live-tweeting of the trial over Penguin Random House’s bid to buy Simon & Schuster along with my colleagues Andrew Albanese, John Maher, and Ed Nawotka. Thousands of people followed us, read and commented on our tweets, and bemoaned the predicted outcomes.
Did anything change? Perhaps not. Were more people able to learn about an important publishing case minute by minute? Absolutely.
Today, after years on Twitter (that may soon become years on Mastodon, or Hive, or Post, or even years off of social media altogether), I know that its power to disseminate information and allow people to form meaningful connections is real and may never be duplicated. That said, I hope those of us in book publishing remember that dissemination of information and forming meaningful connections matters, especially as we continue to fight for a more equitable industry.
Bethanne Patrick is a freelance critic whose debut memoir Life B will be published by Counterpoint Press on May 16.