Literary Twitter: For writers, it's a 140-character development

To Twitter. Or not to Twitter. That is the question the publishing world is asking these days.

Hundreds of authors, possibly thousands, are using the social networking service to talk about their books with fans, a unique challenge especially for a wordy novelist who has only 140 characters to get his message out.

Whether tweeting will help sell books is still unknown, but it's certainly the newest form of literary self-promotion.

"It's definitely made me more social," says John Searles, author of Strange But True and book editor at Cosmopolitan. "I've gone to readings to see authors after meeting them on Twitter. And while there, I've found myself sitting next to still more writers who I met on Twitter, too."

Also in the book world:

•The Other Boleyn Girl author Philippa Gregory is writing a series of tweets this week in the voice of Elizabeth Woodville, the queen in her new novel, The White Queen.

•The roll-out of Eoin Colfer's And Another Thing, Book 6 in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, will include a program called "Tweet the Galaxy" that allows fans to submit messages that will be beamed into space on Oct. 12.

•Romantic suspense author Jayne Ann Krentz is writing a "micro-novel" on Twitter, with tweets from her detective protagonist. His last tweet comes just before the publication of her new novel, Fired Up, on Dec. 29.

•Marcus Sakey, author of The Amateurs, held a Twitter contest to promote his book. He says the responses were "fascinating. I feel like I'm having a series of intimate conversations with fans from all over the world."

Blogger Bethanne Patrick, who runs the "Twitter Book Club" as part of (her Twitter address is TheBookMaven), says she sees Twitter's role not as "the future" but as part of the future of connecting readers with authors.

"I don't think Twitter is a sales mechanism," she says. "Twitter allows all users, including authors, to curate their own feeds of information, and that can help authors to find new readers and audiences."

There is a downside. Alice Hoffman didn't like a Boston Globe review of her new novel, The Story Sisters. She complained on Twitter. A dust-up ensued that was reported nationwide.

"I don't like touring or appearing in public, so Twitter is a way for me to field questions from my readers. Other than that, it's a way for me to keep in touch with updates from journalists/writers I'd like to know more about."

•Aravind Adiga, author of The White Tiger