If you follow a particular slice of Media/Literary Twitter (I hesitate to overstate “Literary Twitter” here because I assume most Actual, Serious Literary Types eschew frivolous things like Twitter altogether), you have undoubtedly seen someone tweet a book-deal announcement. It usually includes some text that’s either demure, like, “Some personal news” (although this is, by definition, professional news, not personal), or maybe something oddly flat, like, “I’m writing a book!!”
And then the Lit Shot: a screenshot that defies all best practices for posting successfully on Twitter. It’s rarely a mobile-friendly size, since it’s often screenshotted on desktop, making it impossible to read in-line. And if you’re seeing the tweet on your phone, you have to zoom in and pan across the image like a fiddler crab to read the text. There’s no link to follow to view the full article — you see just the snippet. The text itself is stark. A musty font, and distinct use of capitalization. A few blue hyperlinks to follow the author (or soon-to-be author). It’s instantly recognizable, even from its tiny, unreadable in-line appearance in your feed. Congrats — you’ve seen the Lit Shot.
The Lit Shot comes from one of two places: The first (and more common) is a $25-per-month publishing industry website called Publishers Marketplace. Subscribers can get a daily newsletter called Publishers Lunch, which has various tidbits of industry news: people switching jobs, events, awards. The web design of Publishers Marketplace looks like it’s from 2006 and not a great mobile experience.
Sure, it could use a redesign. But Michael Cader, founder of Publishers Marketplace, told BuzzFeed that it’s designed for utility, and its database of 25,000 entries means “this isn’t just another WordPress site that you can pop a new skin on.” As for the linkless Lit Shot’s ubiquity on Twitter, he said, “We’re delighted that people enjoy creating and sharing their own deal ‘tombstones’ with screenshots, and we’re happy to have the focus remain on the author and their deal rather than on us as the reporting site.”
The other source of Lit Shots is another paid subscription site with a newsletter and outdated web design, Publishers Weekly, but Publishers Weekly announces only a few select deals. Within the book industry, these email newsletters are important. “Everyone reads both, every day,” said Allison Hunter, a literary agent at Janklow & Nesbit Associates.
Of course, if you’re a celebrity or super-popular author, news about your upcoming books might even be written up in mainstream news outlets that you can actually link to instead of just screenshotting.
But for all the writers who aren’t Stephen King or a Kardashian, the Lit Shot is the only official announcement you’ll get until the book is released. And it has all the relevant information: the title, a summary, and credits, like the agent and editors an author wants to give a shoutout.
“When you put in countless years or months working on a book, you exist in this space where it feels like it’s you and the text all alone,” said Lisa Marie Basile, an author and editor with a forthcoming book on writing and healing. “When an announcement about the book or a contract is made, it suddenly doesn’t feel so nebulous. It feels real.”
The Lit Shot is convenient, but it’s also a recognizable symbol to those who follow these things; many people will recognize that it’s from some sort of nebulous book website, even if they don’t know exactly which. Author Maris Kreizman, host of The Maris Review, a literary podcast, felt similarly: “I feel like — and this could be my own insecurity — I’d want the screenshot because it adds some authority to the tweet.”
When it comes to subtle boasting, there’s a secret code to the Lit Shot, perceptible only to those well versed in the book business. Publishers Marketplace has a legend at the bottom of its site explaining the terms of a “good deal,” “big deal,” and “major deal” and their implied dollar amounts. Not all announcements include a coded money mention; typically, it’s up to the discretion of the agent, editor, or authors themselves (“I think ‘major deal,’ etc., is gauche! A little thirsty, as the kids say,” Hunter said).
“Self included, we are just so, so hungry all the time for validation,” author Emily Gould told BuzzFeed News. “Especially because books take so long and you are just fumbling around solo with no feedback for months and years. So when you’re given the all clear to tell people that your book or next book will be published … you can’t resist the opportunity to get Congrats Twitter.” (“Congrats Twitter” is not a community of users like Weird Twitter or Media Twitter; it’s a temporal mode for the rare moment when a bunch of your followers tell you “congrats.”)
Look, we all get it: It can be awkward sharing celebratory news on social media, whether it’s an engagement, a job promotion, a “major” book deal, or simply saving 15% or more on your car insurance by switching to GEICO. Self-promotion feels weird and uncomfortable for many people, so it’s easier to let the Lit Shot do the talking while you tweet something humble and simple like, “Some personal news…”
The rules and mores of Twitter, especially in niche communities like People Who Write Books, are often impenetrable to outsiders. A screenshot of a website with no actual link is confusing, and there’s no reason anyone would know that it’s from a specific paywalled publishing industry website. And while these rules can be confusing, they are also instinctive and often rigidly enforced through repetition.
Like many other writers, Matthew Gabriele, the historian who is coauthoring a book about the Middle Ages, doesn’t have his own Publishers Marketplace subscription. But he tweeted the screenshot his agent sent him because “that’s the announcement style we saw happening with others on Twitter.”