Daniel Vahab is a freelance journalist. His work has appeared in The Baltimore Sun, The Huffington Post, the Sun-Sentinel, the New York Press, and the Jewish Daily Forward. Visit Danielvahab.net, and follow him @DanielVahab.
“An otter was following me on Twitter,” recalls agent Brooks Sherman with FinePrint Literary Management. The otter was a character whose Twitter account was managed by a British illustrator. Sherman’s interest spiked when the character, appropriately named Otter, unfollowed him. He decided to view the illustrator’s profile, and was impressed by his several thousand Twitter followers, some of whom were notable illustrators, and even more impressed after viewing the man's online portfolio.
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Sherman found the author’s e-mail address and contacted him. “The other day an otter started following me on Twitter and I did nothing of it than remark on the oddity,” he wrote. “Sadly a couple of days later, it appeared the otter got bored and wandered away.” What followed were compliments on the man’s artwork, and as they say, the rest is history. Sam, the man behind the Otter account, ended up becoming Sherman's new client.
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And Sherman is not alone in using Twitter to connect with possible clients. Other literary agents have found talent on the site -- talent they might not have noticed otherwise. This is because many agents only review queries from referrals or prominent people, meaning a lot can go unnoticed. Twitter gives some aspiring writers the chance to stand out, to build up a rapport with an agent, to show that they already have a large following, and that they can, in fact, write. “It’s like someone having an accent. You can’t disguise it. If someone has an ear for language, they can’t help but utilize it,” says Jeff Howe who, with The Atlantic, runs @1book140, a book club on Twitter with more than 66,000 followers.
The engagement around writing and publishing has become a norm on Twitter. According to analytics expert Sheldon Levine of Sysomos, a leading provider of social media monitoring, there have been more than 101,000 tweets since the beginning of the year in which a Twitter user said he or she was writing a book or novel. Levine says that Twitter offers a way for an agent to do a little research and determine if a writer actually has the chops in a given genre.
For instance, the recent growth in popularity of “Downton Abbey” fans on Twitter marked an opportunity for romance novelist Evangeline Holland. Holland, who has a history blog on Edwardian Promenade, suddenly saw a spike in interest for the Edwardian and WWI periods. At the time she’d started to follow agent Kevan Lyon with Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, whose profile said “historical fiction fanatic,” -- Holland’s genre. After someone he follows retweeted a tweet of hers that included her blog link, Kevan felt compelled to reach out to Holland. Within months, a match was made.
Then there’s agent Carrie Howland with Donadio & Olson who found novelist Koa Beck -- or rather Koa found her. Koa had been following one of Howland's authors, Simon Van Booy, and realized that she represented him through their Twitter dialogue. Koa had recently written a novel herself and was planning on pitching it to agents. It was similar in style to Van Booy so she decided to reach out to Howland.
Stacia Decker’s story is a little different. Decker, an agent with Donald Maass Literary Agency, was following a community of crime writers on Twitter when she discovered author Frank Bill, whose short stories were getting rave reviews from other writers. “Because so many people I talked to on Twitter were praising his work, [when Frank queried me, I] read that query with special interest,” she says. Frank’s book, a short story collection entitled Crimes in Southern Indiana, was published in August 2011 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux and named a favorite book by GQ magazine that year.
Indeed, agent Jessica Faust with BookEnds, LLC says she’s astonished by how effective Twitter has been as a tool for finding authors. She even sees the platform in some ways as more effective than her blog, website, and even her participation at writer conferences.
That's part of why she hosts her “#askagent” events on the social network. The event allow anyone to ask her questions for a brief period of time. In one such event, a person asked if there was a market for paranormal women’s fiction. As it turned out, this was a genre Faust was seeking authors for at that time. Two months later, after the author, Sharla Lovelace, had finished writing her book, she queried Faust. “The next day I requested the partial novel,” Faust said in an e-mail. “Two days later I requested the full novel, and two days after that I offered representation. I can honestly say the book was something I'd been hoping would cross my desk for months, maybe even years.”
Berkley Publishing offered the duo a book contract. The Reason is You was published in April of this year.
But while Twitter can be a great medium for prospective authors, it’s not going to get everyone published. Getting signed is hard enough, and getting a publisher to actually agree to a book deal is even harder. For however many folks trying to colorfully tweet their way onto an agent’s radar there are only a handful who get noticed.
Of course, some may argue that even, uh, colorful writing has its place. Perhaps the biggest success story comes from agent Byrd Leavell with Waxman Literary Agency who found author Justin Halpern. A client of his had told Leavell to check out @shitmydadsays, Justin’s Twitter profile, which as of today have 3,065,107 followers. It was the summer of 2009 and Twitter was exploding. Agents like Leavell had been brainstorming how best to capitalize on the new craze with a book. The book that followed, SH*T MY DAD SAYS, was published in May 2010 by IT Books, an imprint of HarperCollins. It chronicled comical quotes from Justin's dad, Sam, which were part of bigger stories.
Turns out readers thought Justin’s dad was saying something worth reading. The book was number on on the bestseller list for eleven weeks, and it sold more than one million copies in its first printing.
This story originally published on Mashable here.