Author Matt Stewart famously Tweeted his entire first novel, The French Revolution, to the glee of journalists nationwide. I asked him where the idea came from, and below is what he had to say.
Matt Stewart will read with DEBUT LIT at powerHouse Arena in Brooklyn on Sept. 10 as part of the Brooklyn Book Festival’s “Bookend” events.
Thirty-plus publishers turned down my debut novel, The French Revolution, the first time my agent sent it out. With the hardheaded optimism of a publishing newbie, I diligently reviewed editor feedback, spent three months overhauling the manuscript, and tried again with a new round of publishers. When the first rejections rolled in, it hit me like a slow-motion freeway crash between tractor-trailers carrying toxic sludge and fireworks: four years of working nights and weekends on a book I loved may have been a monumental waste of my life.
Quagmired, I went a talk by Peter Shankman, a PR/marketing guru who often talks about how self-promotion will save the world. He recounted how, when unemployed in the late 90s, he printed up a huge sandwich board with his resume and stood at 50th and Broadway in Manhattan all day handing out paper resumes to executives walking by. One day of his stunt led to several dozen job offers; he wound up landing a dream gig with the NHL.
I needed something to happen, to get unstuck, to stand out. Hoping for motion wasnt going to change anything; I had to DO something.
Thats when it hit me: why not release my novel on Twitter?
Twitter was (and is) a cultural touchstone, up there with the iPhone. My gambit was a quintessential sign-of-the-times story, with an innovation angle that contrasted sharply with the publishing industrys general reactionary attitude to technology. I recognized that actually reading a novel on Twitter was inconvenient, if not downright stupid; instead I framed my gambit as an experiment, a way to interact directly with readers and lure people to learn more after getting a 140-character taste of my writing. My agent, attorney (ok, my dad), and wife signed off on it; a friend even wrote a script to automatically chop and tweet my text. Hell, I had a day job in PR. Maybe, for once, I could sell a story about me.
This was the literary equivalent of standing in Midtown wearing a resume sandwich board. What did I have to lose?
For once in my life, my timing was impeccable. The French Revolution launched on Bastille Day (get it?), and by the end of the month my Twitter experiment had been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, CNN and dozens more. Six weeks later, I landed a publishing deal.
Everything pretty much worked out exactly as planned.
The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive; its been immensely refreshing to see first-hand how much people value fresh ideas. That said, literary types, especially of the hipster variety, are sometimes skeptical when they learn of my unapologetic self-promotion. On one hand, they have a point; my book has to be well-written and entertaining to earn their twelve bucks and eight hours, and my Twitter experiment doesnt say anything about how good a story it is. (That said, literary quality is what I spent the first four years working on and what ultimately drove the book deal. And you can always check out my reviews.)
On the other hand: fuck em. Thousands of terrific books dont get sold every year. I came up with a fresh idea and worked around the clock to create something noteworthy enough to ridicule.
If a little snarkiness is the price of making a dream come true, its a steal.