Former Gawker writer Nick Douglas made a stir when his book-in-progress called Twitter Wit, a humorous collection of tweets, got picked up by HarperCollins for a pretty penny ($50K). Suddenly a publishing phenomenon that had been happening sporadically in the blogosphere had a new Web 2.0 focus: Twitter. As International Creative Management agent Kate Lee told The Daily Beast, “I look at blogs, Tumblr, Twitter — whatever you want to call it — as just another platform for finding talent.” But the reality is that only a handful of published authors have been discovered through their blogs or social networking sites. Douglas is one of the chosen few, so I asked him to spill his secrets. After all, Kate Lee may be reading this right now!
Flavorwire: When you started collecting tweets, did you intend to write a book?
Nick Douglas: I started collecting tweets simply by starring the ones I like. Since the star is invisible until a user hovers over it, most people don’t bother starring things. But there’s a community of people who star witty messages, and the most starred tweets land on a site called Favrd. Reading all of these clever tweets inspired me to put together a book. I think the idea was always in the back of my mind since when I started finding funny tweets in early 2007. But it took months to take the idea seriously.
FW: What kinds of tweets were you looking for? What are you looking for now?
ND: I looked for, and always will look for, humor that approaches Woody Allen-level wit. Of course that encompasses a wide range including slapstick, ingenious puns, and wry observations. I have two personal favorites: The microfiction, such as this tweet by the user Fireland: “Why should I be the one to take the kids to see their psychologist? I don’t even love them!” And the reversal, here used by Pagecrusher: “Why aren’t martini glasses shaped so that they don’t spill so easily on the bus?”
FW: Can you explain what the format for the book will be exactly?
ND: The book’s format is simple: Hundreds of clever Twitter messages, with no division of topic. It’s a book for flipping through, dipping into, finding someone witty that you can follow on Twitter.
FW: It seems like you’re really utilizing people’s interest in Twitter to help to propel the research and compiling for the book. What has the response been like?
ND: Response has been great. Nearly everyone I’ve approached has immediately agreed to be in the book, including many amateur wits and several professional ones, such as Rainn Wilson, Paula Poundstone, and Peter Serafinowicz. I’ve solved the ownership problem two ways: first, I find tweets that I like and ask the authors for their permission. Second, I set up a site where anyone can submit their tweets and authorize their use, and then I comb through that database finding the absolute best submissions.
FW: What are the ownership issues that you have run into? And how are you avoiding them?
ND: As a witty Twitter user myself (username: Nick), I value everyone’s right to their own work and detest projects that exploit users without permission or try to turn Twitter into nothing more than a giant marketing tool. (Not to say that using it for marketing is bad — the book has its own Twitter account, twitticisms.) Twitter Wit is a celebration of the best of Twitter, which is why the company and the users have been so supportive.
FW: What will Twitter Wit offer to people that Twitter doesn’t offer already?
ND: I hope the book gives people a chance to see just the best of Twitter, curated and well-presented, and inspires them to turn mundane status updates into something more sublime. I also hope it attracts attention to the hundreds of witty users who can get lost in the constant flood of Twitter. Finally, I hope it inspires other projects that bring witty Twitter users together. My personal dream is to see a sort of Algonquin Round Table form, and to see Twitter wits produce some original work outside of the site. But mostly I just want to make people laugh, or at least knowingly smirk.