Hashtags Could Save Publishing

This post, from Jenn Northington, originally appeared on Shelf Awareness on 7/14/10 and is reprinted here in its entirety with the permission of that site.

Twitter has been hyped (and over-hyped, some would argue) in the book industry for many things, one of which is to improve communication between booksellers, readers and publishers. But trying to track conversations on Twitter is like trying to find a specific needle in a giant stack of needles–unless you have a hashtag.

Hashtags, for the uninitiated, are a way for people to "tag" their tweets with an agreed-upon word or phrase that follows the # symbol, so that others who may not be online at the same time or part of the same discussion can search for them, see who is saying what and join in. And yesterday saw the birth (and then explosive expansion) of #dearpublisher.

Booksellers will often tweet general musings and requests in the form of tiny letters; for example, yesterday afternoon I wrote:


HarperPerennial observed that a tag would be helpful in tracking these kinds of tweets and offered #dearpublisher as a solution.

The tag was swiftly picked up by booksellers, publishers and readers alike, and within a few hours a search for #dearpublisher turned up hundreds of diverse requests and observations, ranging in tone from thoughtful to snarky (and often both).

Katrina Lantz: Combine ebooks with hardcovers, but please don’t stop printing books ever. The book is not dead. It just had babies.

Bloggers[heart]Books: I’ve seen a LOT of gorgeous covers this year. But why are people not allowed to have a head anymore?

Kevin Smokler: Will I be able to pay one price for both a paper book and a digital copy anytime soon?

Justina Ireland: People of color don’t all live in the ghetto or have abusive parents or wish they were white. Why can’t we be vampires?

BriMeetsBooks: I really dislike books with wheels for kids. They never stay on the shelves.

And publishers responded, such as PublicAffairs: PublicAffairs code of conduct: I swear we will never publish a stupid book, books about zombies or vampires, or chick lit.

If communication is key, then Twitter could bridge the oft-lamented gap between publishers, booksellers and readers with initiatives like #dearpublisher. While publishing houses will certainly get conflicting feedback and some tweets will be less helpful than others, trends can become clear. For example, Katrina Lantz and Justina Ireland’s tweets quoted above had become "Top Tweets" (meaning that many other users had Re-Tweeted, or seconded, them) by 10 p.m. last night. At the very least, publishers will get to know readers and booksellers in a way that hasn’t been possible before.

Other tags on reading and the book industry, some more (ahem) playful than others:

  • #askagent, in which agents field questions from writers and readers
  • #bookrageous, chronicling some of the outlandish things readers and booksellers are doing in honor of their favorite books
  • #bookstorebingo, which tracks some of the crazier things customers say to booksellers
  • #followreader, featuring weekly conversations exploring the evolution of publishing as an industry
  • #fridayreads, which encourages Twitter users to exchange notes about what they’re reading on a given Friday
  • #pantyworthy, the book version of throwing panties at your favorite band
  • #pubQT, in which publishing veterans Ron Hogan and Ed Nawotka answer questions and encourage conversation about the future of publishing.