I joined Twitter in 2007 when it was still relatively new. Not many of my friends were aboard, or for that matter, neither were celebrities and brand names. It hadn’t yet caught on as a serious means of conveying news and information. That would happen in a big way after U.S. Airways Flight 1549 ditched into the Hudson on January 15, 2009 and someone snapped a phone shot and posted on Twitter. All of a sudden people were talking about Twitter with new respect and people began flocking to Twitter.
Hashtagged conversations were already rolling by then. I attended several virtual conferences just by following the hashtag, and wandered into a few regular chats on specific topics. As a writer, I looked for a chat that discussed reading and writing, but found none. After a few days of thought, I came up with a name, opened an account, and created a plan. #LitChat was born on January 29, 2009.
My original plan was ambitious. Notice in the tweet above that our first chats were held Monday through Friday. Early topics were discussions of what books people were reading, what books were releasing, and what books hit the bestseller lists that week. Three weeks of daily twitter chats proved too much and in the fourth week of chats we dropped to three days a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Beginning this year, we moved our guest host chats to Wednesdays and eliminated the moderated Friday chat.
The first author who joined regularly in the conversations was Kristy Kiernan (@KristyKiernan), who immediately understood the potential of #litchat for building literary community and promoting books. We launched our first book-specific chat during the week of March 2, 2009. The topic was Current Events in Fiction–Novels that Mirror the News, inspired by the book Shimmer by Eric Barnes (@EricBarnes2). Barnes stepped in as the first guest host of #litchat on March 6, 2009. We learned how to archive chats that April, preserving our first #litchat on April 17, 2009 featuring poet Dobby Gibson (@DobbyGibson).
In the first year, #LitChat grew beyond expectations, creating a community of more than 5,000 people who read widely, who support literacy, and enjoy talking about books, writing and getting books into the hands of readers. We now boast nearly 17,000 followers from all over the globe. With such an international audience, it’s not uncommon to hear of people who stay up late or rise very early to catch #litchat.
We took our passion for books and reading into the holiday season with an annual charity campaign designed to promote book sales and support literacy. The crowning achievement of this campaign was the first ever Twitter auction of books donated and signed by authors. The auction was held live through Twitter and raised more than $1350 for The Reading Tree. We have since adopted Reader-to-Reader as beneficiary of our charitable efforts.
Through the years we’ve hosted such notable artists as Pulitzer finalist Luis Alberto Urrea, award-winning journalist and author Susan Orlean, critically acclaimed author Jon Clinch, reader’s favorite Mitch Albom, New York Times bestselling authors Sara Gruen and Melanie Benjamin, and dozens of other established and emerging authors.
In January of this year, we expanded the #LitChat website to include author blogs and book reviews. We are thrilled to present blogs from such authors as Dana Sachs, Lauren Baratz-Logsted, Lynne Griffin, Ian Barker, Patricia Mashiter Cooper, Mary Vensel White, Sweta Vikram and others. Next Friday, February 7, we’ll launch Friday Writing Prompts with a section where writers can post links to the stories they produce from our prompts.
We’ll be celebrating all this week with the second annual #LitChat Literary Salon at The Betsy. The Twitter sessions happen on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday with notable authors leading writing discussions (follow #litchatbetsy in Twitter to participate). Then on Friday, we’ll celebrate live from The Betsy Hotel with a day of writing discussion panels led by a host of powerhouse authors, poets and publishing professionals. Following the writing panels, we’re cutting the cake and popping the cork at a reception to celebrate five years of #litchat.
Can you think of a better way to celebrate our anniversary than recognizing others for their contributions to literature? This year we’ve initiated the Reader’s Champion Awards to honor a bookseller, a publisher and a writer’s support organization. The LitChat Reader’s Champion Awards will be presented at our anniversary reception hosted by The Betsy Hotel, at 6:30 p.m. E.T.
Finally, we could not have survived in the twitterverse without all of the amazing people who follow and participate the #litchat sessions. As I often say during #litchat, our followers are the rocks that keep #litchat rolling.
We are enormously grateful to The Betsy Hotel for collaborating with us for the #LitChat Literary Salon and for being champions for writers, poets and artists everywhere.
We hope you’ll join our regular #LitChat sessions on Monday and Wednesday. Remember, LitChat is all books. All the time.