Sunday, 31 January 2016

The Great American Tweet

Twitter Fiction, if it can be described as a single entity, derives its uniqueness as being a subset of electronic literature delivered specifically via the Twitter platform. It affords the author the advantage of the platform: an opportunity to connect with some of the 330 million users who visit monthly and (presumably? hopefully? potentially?) consume content.

The base material of Twitter Fiction is the Tweet which is limited to 140 characters and may consist of text, links, images, and (now) polls. Users may interact with the Tweet via likes, poll voting, retweets, or comments. Underlying it all is a global network. A 140 character tweet can represent a complete work or can be the building block – the ‘page’ – of a larger work. Unlike the page of a book, the tweets more closely resemble looseleaf pages that may be seen in isolation or become lost among unrelated material, requiring rework by the reader to assemble or sequence them back into something meaningful.

The staccato delivery of tweets can afford the author to adjust the narrative as it progresses, either implicitly through audience reaction as likes, retweets, or comments, or explicitly via polls.

This contrasts with print narrative which is usually more substantial, more rigid, and necessitates a physical presence to connect with a reader. Putting books in readers hands becomes a production and distribution problem and adds an economic aspect to narrative production. It is not enough to have a story, it must be one worth printing.

Osbourne Cox: Some clown, or two clowns, have gotten a hold of my memoirs.
Katie Cox: Your what?
Osbourne Cox: Stolen it, or I don't know...
Katie Cox: Your what?
Osbourne Cox: My memoirs, the book I'm writing.
Katie Cox: Well why in God's name would anyone think that's worth anything?
From "Burn After Reading" (Coen, 2008).

To reach audience, a story destined for print has had to have a certain value (perceived or demonstrated) to justify cost of production and distribution of a given print run. Systems would develop around the economics of book production and market factors would inform editorial decisions. Stories perceived to be marketable were printed, others were not (see a glimpse of the modern calculus of print production here). In short, a published work was not just the output of an author, but the work of an industry (Darnton, 2007). In traditional print media, that meant authors (among others) were paid.

Twitter Fiction pays its authors in likes, attention, and visibility. If there is a single beneficiary of Twitter Fiction it would seem to be Twitter itself, a reminder to authors and users alike that something interesting is happening on Twitter. User growth and activity are the metrics by which shareholders hold the publicly traded company accountable and any and all activity that feeds the aggregate is welcome.

Twitter Fiction is short fiction that directly and immediately connects authors with a global audience. It will not produce the next Great American Novel, but that's not the point. Diminutive and global, it plays a different angle. And yet…
Even in the shortest of form, good fiction retains the ability to capture the spirit of its time.


Company | About. (n.d.). Retrieved January 31, 2016, from

Crum, M. (2016, January 20). How One Author Used Twitter To Write A Thrilling Choose Your Own Adventure Story. Retrieved January 31, 2016, from

Darnton, R. (2007). WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF BOOKS?" REVISITED. Modern Intellectual History, 4(3), 495-508.

Friedman, J. (2015, July 08). How Publishers Make Decisions About What to Publish: The Book P&L | Jane Friedman. Retrieved January 31, 2016, from


  1. I really like your Twitter fiction examples, and agree with your points on the economics of print vs Twitter. After looking at yours and the examples of our classmates, I have started to feel like Twitter fiction is as much of an exercise in my imagination as the authors. It's sort of like a leap from picture books when you are a kid to books with no illustration as you get older. Unlike the narratives in different accounts, over time, stories told by accounts like "veryshortstories" allow the reader to participate by imagining the rest of the story.

  2. I like your metaphor of Twitter as a piece of looseleaf paper. The Twitter literature reader is left to aggregate and de-code, thereby creating their own meaning.

    Your interpretation is of Darnton is on point and makes me despair for the traditional publishing industry. That said, as a writer I find it heartening that I can publish whatever I want, whenever I want.

    You said, "Twitter Fiction pays its authors in likes, attention, and visibility" -- a true statement.

    Now -- of course -- the question is: how can e-literature or Twitter writers get paid?

  3. Good question about getting paid. Is it a platform to getting paid for other things (like an internship of sorts?) or should part of the business model include payment for the number of people who read/follow you? What would you like to see?

  4. It's all solved with the end of capitalism. Easy peasy!

  5. I also really loved your comment of twitter posts being like loose-leaf paper. I had never considered it like that, but after reading your comment that's exactly it. Nicely done.

    I don't know if Twitter will ever create the next Great American Novel. Maybe, maybe not. It's a great way to release your work, and I have heard of authors who became famous after posting on social media accounts.
    Some authors have released their entire series on Twitter:

    There are websites to help people sell books, promote works on Twitter, though the ones I read seemed like a guide to online networking as opposed to actually releasing work.

    This author states that Twitter simply does not sell books. But authors can still use twitter to sell themselves and get to where they want to be. It's a stepping stone, or one more way to hopefully get there you want to be: