Welcome Marcus Sakey, an author who uses social networking to promote his books. His novels have been called “nothing short of brilliant” by the Chicago Tribune, selected among Esquire Magazine’s Best 5 Books of the Year, and optioned for film by Ben Affleck and Tobey Maguire.

His new thriller, THE AMATEURS, will be released on August 6.


by Marcus Sakey

I didn’t want to do it. I really, really didn’t.

I didn’t judge, mind you. I knew people who did it. A lot of my friends liked to. But to me it just seemed…distasteful.

I’m talking about Twittering, of course.

Like most of us these days, I believe that self-promotion is part of the game. Signings, sure, and release parties, and a website. Also a mailing list and speaking engagements and guest blogging—thanks to the members of Ninc for having me!—and conferences and a Facebook page. But I intended to draw the line. Twittering seemed both self-indulgent and time consuming, sort of like masturbation without the payoff.

So I demurred when my publicist first suggested it, and when she brought it up again. But with my fourth novel, THE AMATEURS , coming out in an economic climate that could at best be called trying, I figured every angle was worth playing. Reluctantly, I signed up for an account, and for a couple of weeks, I kept fairly quiet, just slowly building a list of followers and getting a sense of what the thing was all about.

And you know what I came to realize? The trick is in how you use it.

Yes, you surely can Tweet every routine of your day. You can broadcast to the world that you’re going for a taco, or that your toe seems to be infected with something green and oozing. And some people do, and, crazily enough, other people follow those people.

Alternately, you can use it as a megaphone to shout about your work. For example, I could Tweet that THE AMATEURS comes out August 6th. I could Tweet that Romantic Times said it was “extraordinary,” or that BookPage called it “a roller coaster ride of epic proportions.” I could point out that buying it had been proven to lower cholesterol and save baby seals. (Okay, I made that part up.)

But far better, I realized, was to use it as a way to interact with people—and to let those interactions promote me obliquely. In this case, a carefully planned contest.

THE AMATEURS is about four friends in their early thirties who are dissatisfied with their lives, and who make a risky plan to try and take what they think they deserve. Along the way, they frequently meet to chat and drink and play games, one of which is called “Ready, Go.” It’s essentially a question game:

“If your best friend killed someone, how far would you go to help them cover it up? Ready, go.”

For my contest, I decided to host a two-week round of Ready, Go. Every day I would Tweet a question. To enter, all you had to do was Re-Tweet your answer, and tag it with @MarcusSakey and #TheAmateurs. Every answer counted as an entry. Dutton generously provided a prize package of a bunch of hardcover books. (A significant prize is important—small prizes feel small, and you don’t want that.)

The idea was simple. At this point, being relatively new to Twitter, I didn’t have a huge network. But this contest took advantage of the networks of everyone who entered. Every time someone responded with:

“I’d help bury the body. @MarcusSakey #TheAmateurs”

it flashed out to their entire network. In other words, it multiplied my reach exponentially. Every day my name and the title of my book appeared on thousands of screens. Not only that, but because the questions led to intriguing answers, a lot of people checked out what had prompted the reply—and ended up choosing to follow me.

Social networking, man. Gotta love it when it works.

Of course, the key to this is a personal connection. I wrote the questions myself, posted them myself. I responded to the juicier answers, and stoked the flames of debate where I could. I welcomed new followers, and thanked them for following me.

As with any marketing, it’s difficult to measure the direct impact, but I believe it made a big difference. Plus, I learned two key lessons. First, where possible, use the power of other people’s networks. Instead of being one voice, try and raise a chorus. Second, interaction makes for lifelong fans. More than a few readers told me it made their day to know that I had not only read their words, but had reacted to them.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go have a taco and get this toe checked out.

Visit Marcus’s website , or interact with him on Twitter or Facebook .