Books in 140: An interview with Twitter book critic Erin Balser

This piece, by Mark Medley, was originally posted on The Afterword on 3/10/09.

Erin Balser is the founder of Books in 140, the popular Twitter feed in which a book is reviewed in 140 characters.


By day, she works in the marketing department of the University of Toronto Press. The 24-year-old East Coast transplant exchanged e-mails with the Post‘s Mark Medley about the difficulties of short reviews, the site’s popularity, and the future of publishing.

The Afterword: Where did the idea for Books in 140 come from?

Erin Balser: I wanted to use social media — Facebook, my blog, Twitter, etc — as a space to better participate in the book community and validate the
ridiculous amounts of reading I do, but I couldn’t think of an original angle to approach them from. I had started to use Twitter as a means of networking and connecting professionally when it came to me — Twitter could give me the originality I was looking for while participating in the always-growing online literature community.

Previous to this, were you writing book reviews for any magazines or websites?

No, I wasn’t. But critique was a large part of my education and I was always talking about books, buying books for others and recommending books. Book reviewing, I think, is a natural extension of that.

So how hard do you find it whittling down a book to 140 characters?

It’s not as tough as it seems. I’ve been using Twitter for about two years now, so I think I’m used to the 140-character limit. I think it’s not the format of the review that makes it difficult so much as the books I’m reviewing. And some books are easier than others.

You’re up to almost 1800 followers — that puts you in the top 20 in Toronto. When did Books In 140 really take off?

Top 20 in Toronto? I had no idea! I started Books in 140 in October 2008 and it’s been an exponential rise from there. It was very much an organic, word-of-mouth thing. My followers have been amazing at promoting me with retweets, Follow Friday and more.

The book community — whether authors, publishers, ‘zines, or journalists — seems to have especially embraced Twitter. Why do you think that is?

Readers seem to seek out a vibrant community in which they can discuss books and social media is a logical extension of this. This curiosity and desire to communicate, coupled with the contraction of traditional media has those who are eager to share, participate and learn looking to other options through which to do so. The openness of Twitter really encourages these types of connections.

Read the rest of the interview at The Afterword.