2,000 uber-short stories make Montreal author a Twitter star

Frank climbed the mountain and the old man on top said, “Life is an illusion”. And Frank punched the old man in the face and watched him bleed.

That’s one of many 140-character uber-short stories that Montreal author Arjun Basu has posted to his Twitter account. The idea came to him soon after joining the micro-blogging service that has surged in popularity over the past year.

His first story was about a baby reaching for a cookie, only to be stopped by a cat.

“A light bulb went off in my head,” Basu says, moderating a panel of authors at Toronto’s Social Media Week Feb. 4.

He’s now written over 2,000 Twitter stories and the practice has brought him some attention. Basu is on Twitter’s suggested users list and has more than 13,000 followers.

“It got me an agent, which is amazing,” he says. “It was also a branding vehicle for the novel I’m working on now.”

Other Social Media Week coverage

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With success stories like that, it’s no wonder this group of authors seems to feel comfortable with how technology is changing their industry. When it comes to getting more books in front of consumers, e-readers can be a Trojan horse.

Social media isn’t taking people away from reading books, but can be great marketing tools for authors.

Still, some authors are concerned the book publishing industry could fail to learn from the music industry’s disastrous confrontation with file-sharing technology. With Apple’s iPad on the horizon, it seems like the same company that disrupted the music industry with iTunes could make a splash among publishers.

Publishers should consider selling e-book versions along with physical books, says Deanna McFadden, marketing manager at HarperCollins Canada. Reading habits all depend on when and where a person is cracking open a text.

“I don’t like to read my e-reader in bed,” she says. “But I don’t want to carry a 900 page book around with me.”

At the same time, publishers are also having to grapple with social media’s shake-up of the relationship between authors and readers, McFadden says. Now it can be a direct one-to-one dialogue.

“There was always a wall between us and readers,” she says. “Social media allows us as publishers to have a voice — to speak to readers in context, about things we’re passionate about.”

Social media can be tapped to inform an audience about the plot and characters involved in a novel before it is ever available on bookstore shelves, says Julie Wilson, founder of Book Madam and a guest host of the CBC Book Club.

Some authors have experimented with blogging, or tweeting, in the voice of one of the fictional characters in a story.

“Readers have these déjà vu moments and they get more enjoyment out of a book,” she says.

Wilson also used a twitter account and blog to promote her Advent Books campaign. The campaign asked bloggers to pitch a 25-word book recommendation in the days leading up to Christmas. The campaign had originally planned to run one mini-review a day, but received 130 reviews they could use.

“It was a viral thing that got people talking about books,” she says. “We just asked for 25 words, and you’ve got to be part of this massive, focused effort.”

Erin Balser also generates some discussion on books with short reviews. Using Twitter account @booksin140, she gives thoughts on a book such as: “NIKOLSKI/Dickner: Stylish & imaginative romp through lives of 3 connected people in Montreal. A fun & original read.”

“People have really responded to the types of reviews I’m doing,” she says. But also warns that social media can have pitfalls that authors should be aware of.

McFadden agrees. She shares one story about an author who was offended by a reviewer’s tough assessment of their book. The author took to Twitter to vent and probably went too far in doing so.

“It’s really unprofessional to personally attack the reviewer,” she says. “The free and easy going nature of social media can often work against you.”

Perhaps sometimes authors still need that wall separating them from the audience.

Follow Brian Jackson on Twitter.

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