Don’t Talk to Strangers: how twitter and book bloggers changed my life.

‘Thinking about blogging about the pointlessness of book blogging. Has anyone (except a book blogger), ever bought a book after reading a blog?’

I saw this tweet late last night, and I thought it was a really good question. So even though it was way past my bedtime, I replied yes: since joining at Christmas, twitter has definitely changed what I buy, and that tweets by bloggers are very influential.

The response was an incredulous ‘Really? You buy stuff based on what someone tweets? Seems nuts to me, but each to his or her own’. Later, he added, ‘Twitter is just random noise. Word of mouth is a friend saying ‘buy this’ whilst they look in your eye.’

Our (good-natured) exchange has made me think about what actually makes me buy a book. My mum always told me never to talk to strangers, so why am I not just talking with strangers, but spending money based upon their recommendations?

Twitter has transformed my reading habit. I have always read a couple of books a week, but I would guess that last year, only about 25% of the books I read were from 2014. Over half were probably classics or hand-me-downs from family, with a few hurried purchases in WH Smith as I waited for the train. Buying new books was therefore a hit and miss affair. My colleagues are not bookish people. At work, my reading habit is a known peculiarity, my writing ambitions a deep and embarrassing secret. Before twitter (BT), ‘word of mouth’ for me was a combination of book reviews in papers, the Richard and Judy stickers on covers, the charts in WHS and staff recommendations in Waterstones. This wasn’t a bad system for adult literature – I’ve rarely been let down by a Richard and Judy recommendation – but as Jim @yayeahyeah has observed, the situation for YA is dire. As the mother of a young adult and someone who aspires to write YA, I have always struggled with what to buy next, and, reduced to literally judging books by their covers, I have had to plough through a lot of misses to get to the hits.

Since joining twitter, the book bloggers (who I never knew existed before Christmas), have been a massive influence on my YA purchases, not just for the reviews that they write, but their compilations of favourite books and round ups of competition short lists. At the most basic level, bloggers such as @Yayeahyeah and @ChelleyToy, have drawn my attention to titles that I simply would have missed before. And whilst I don’t know them personally, when several bloggers rave about a book, and those same books end up on competition short lists (that they then blog and tweet about), there is a moment when it stops being ‘random noise’, and becomes digital ‘word of mouth’, switching me from being a passive observer to an active purchaser. Because of these blogs, I have read and enjoyed books like Half Bad by Sally Green, The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig and am about to read the Sin Eater’s Daughter. These are books I probably would have seen on the tables at Waterstones, but it is the passion and excitement of the book bloggers that has made me take them to the till.

I don’t think you need to look someone in the eye to know when someone is genuinely passionate about a book. @Frizbot is a book blogger who is a prolific reader and reviewer, but just this week I almost heard her gasp with emotion on twitter as she read The Last Act of Love by @CathyReadsBooks. It’s not out until July, but I already know I will be buying this book, based upon her response alone.

But it’s not just the book bloggers. Twitter has provided me with a virtual community of writers, readers, publishers and agents who I respect and admire for their judgement and taste. I am not stupid. I can tell the difference between the spammers and the book lovers. And of course, I expect agents to promote their authors – it’s what they’re paid to do. But when Juliet Mushens raves about Only Ever Yours on twitter by Louise O’Neil – an author she doesn’t even represent – then even before it starts winning awards, you know that this book is special.

And then there are people like me: readers who write, people who have no paid or professional role, but just love books. I have pre-ordered Letters to the Lost by @Iona_Grey largely because of @debrabrown and her powerful response to this beautiful looking book, and also Seed by @LisaHeathfield, because it blew @ldlapinski away. Thanks to twitter, I am the member of a virtual book club – @CBBookGroup – which has exposed me to stunning debut authors such as @jameshannah, author of The A-Z of You and Me and The Ship, by @antonia_writes.

Sometimes I buy a book just because I like the author on twitter. For example, after reading lots of useful articles and links by @hannahbeckerman, I thought it was about time I read her book, The Dead Wife’s Handbook, so I bought (and loved) it. Some of the most beautiful things I have ever read have been @HayleyBooks 140 character tweets, so how could her book, Jar Baby, be anything other than brilliant?

I did the same for @whatSFsaid, whom I initially followed because of his untiring passion for MG and YA literature. My ten-year-old adored his book Varjak Paw, and I found myself using twitter to feed his growing reading habit. The twitter responses he has since had from authors such as @redbreastedbird (Arsenic for Tea) and @moontrug (The Dream Snatcher) has really helped expand and build his love of reading. I am fortunate enough to be able to afford to buy the books that I want. I work full time and write at night, so with two young sons and a neglected house and partner, my main constraint is the time to read what I’ve bought. I am always conscious of the fact that time spent with one book is time lost to another; that time spent reading is time that I am not writing. But every book I have bought this year based upon a recommendation of a blogger or tweeter has been brilliant.

Maybe these books would have eventually filtered their way through the WHS charts and book reviews to reach me. Maybe the adult novels at least. But I would never have discovered all the great YA and MG reads I have enjoyed this year without twitter, the bloggers and the virtual community of book lovers. Twitter has provided me with access to a writing community of intelligent and passionate people, who have democratised and enriched my reading experience.

The book bloggers are at the forefront of this writing community: they are up there in the Crow’s Nest, letting us know when a literary storm is heading our way. I am so grateful for the time and passion that they devote to spreading the word about books that they love, because for those of us not fortunate enough to work or mix in literary circles, they are our ‘word of mouth’. If I ever got the chance to look them in the eye, I would say just two words:

Thank you.

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12 thoughts on “Don’t Talk to Strangers: how twitter and book bloggers changed my life.

  1. Book blogs have completely changed the way I read now and I feel that I read a lot more different genres than I did before. As an aspiring writer it is helpful to learn about the publishing industry from authors who have been through the process of becoming published. My friends and family aren’t particularly big readers and it helps to be able to read blogs by other passionate readers. While I still borrow books from the library it is nice to now be aware of new YA fiction books that crop up.

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    1. Thanks Kimberly for taking the time to comment. Yes I agree with all of this. I was very reluctant to join twitter, but as an aspiring writer as well, it has been so helpful. All the best and good luck with the writing. Jo

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  2. Awww, that’s rather lovely – and very true! I buy lots (far too many!) of books (or borrow them from the library if I’m lucky enough to find them) based on Tweets and blog posts by people I’ve met on Twitter, whose consistently fine and candid reviews I’ve come to trust and appreciate over time. I may not agree with them always – that’s what makes life interesting – but they are my essential filter.

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    1. Thanks Marina! Yes my book bill has gone up an awful lot since joining twitter, but so has the quality. I can’t think of any books I haven’t finished this year, and I have learned so much. All the best. Jo

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    1. Thanks Catherine for your kind comments. It’s funny, because I wasn’t sure whether to bother or not – I didn’t think anyone would be interested, but in the end I did it to clear my brain on a dozy Sunday morning and to explain to myself why I take advice from strangers. The response has been amazing, so thanks again for taking the time to comment. Jo

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  3. I think this is so true. Twitter has been absolutely wonderful in keeping me abreast of new releases and trends, & as someone with no connections in the book industry but a passion for children’s books, I feel so grateful for the inspiring chats and blog posts about wonderful stories and authors I have had over the years. It was a particular life-line to me when I was a carer for five years and felt very isolated – I could log on to twitter and read blog posts about wonderful novels and picture books and feel ‘normal’ in my love for children’s books! Then, as a nervous debut writer myself last March, the support once I was published was so encouraging. I feel that there is a supportive, genuine community of expert enthusiasts for children’s literature and for the writers and illustrators and publishers who make it. This is a really good post and I agree with it whole-heartedly!

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    1. Hi, yes this is it exactly. The world of twitter and blogging is so democratic, and gives us access to the best tips offs re new books that otherwise we wouldn’t have. Great to hear that you debuted last year – well done! If you can, let me know the name of the novel. All the best, Jo.

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  4. Thanks for this introduction to the world of book blogging. The Twitter discussion I think you refer to had mostly been deleted by the time I became aware of it but it continued on Facebook and then someone posted a link to your post.
    I will follow up on the bloggers you mention – very helpful!

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  5. Thanks – I really didn’t know about all of this when I posted my blog. I genuinely thought it was just me and a couple of night-owls exchanging thoughts, and I don’t follow Facebook. I still think it was a fair question/challenge, and @meandmybigmouth.typepad.com/scottpack/2015 has posted today a really interesting and balanced piece on the impact of blogging that you might want to look at.

    All the best, and thanks for reading and commenting. Jo

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  6. Yes! Yes! Yes! Sat reading this nodding vehemently … couldn’t agree more. Said it before – though not quite as nicely articulated as this – Twitter has been a revelation & a gateway to a fabulous fun, friendly, supportive & informative writerly community… and er, yes buyer of ALL the books😆

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