Literary Agents Talk Blogging, Twitter and More

Outside, it was a warm Friday afternoon at Myrtle Beach. Inside, eager, nervous writers filled a windowless room at the South Carolina Writers Workshop, hoping to learn how to do the “social networking” thing that we keep hearing is no longer optional. We awaited the arrival of Janet Reid, New Leaf Literary (formerly of FinePrint Literary Management) agent extraordinaire, her inimitable minion and fellow fabulous FinePrint agent Suzie Townsend, and the amazing Joanna Stampfel-Volpe of Nancy Coffey Literary Management, to teach us.

 

Guest Blogger Michelle Hodkin
writes for young adults, tweets
(MichelleHodkin) and blogs
(
www.lovesandloathes.blogspot.com).

What is this Twitter thing, anyhow? And how does one accomplish this blogging they speak of? Must we have a website? What about Facebook?

These, ladies and gentlemen, were the big questions.

Twitter, for those of you who don’t know, is a free social networking site that enables users to “micro-blog” in short bursts of text not exceeding 140 characters. Still with me? No? Okay, let’s rewind. 

THERE’S THIS THING CALLED “BLOGGING”

The term “blog” is short for weblog. If you’re reading this, you probably get that a blog is a site maintained by an individual person or company that features regular entries – like a journal, only public. And if you’re a writer, you should probably have one, along with your website that should, at minimum, have your contact information listed so people can find you. You can set up your own blog, free of charge, using Blogger.com, WordPress.com, LiveJournal.com or Typepad.com. Each of these sites has helpful guides to getting your blog up and running. 

But what, we asked eagerly, do we write about?

Ms. Reid was undeterred by the open-endedness of this question.  While there are no hard and fast rules, she warned us not to constantly talk about ourselves and our writing. That gets boring  And annoying. You can narrow your content to focus on a specific area (such as Nathan Bransford’s blog), or you can blog about a veritable cornucopia of topics (cue Janet Reid). Here are some additional tips on How To Be Interesting:  

  • Just as we all have our own voices when we write, that should shine through on our blogs. 
  • Maintain a schedule so your readers know when they can expect new content. Try to keep your posts to 250 words.  
  • Ask questions of your readers to entice them to participate via the comments section. 
  • Join or form a group blog that focuses on your genre and rotates between writers, like YA Highway and Hey, There’s a Dead Guy In My Living Room.  
  • Write about other books and authors à la Suzie Townsend’s blog.  This has the additional benefit of letting those authors know that they’re being discussed in a (hopefully) flattering way, by virtue of Google Alerts. Google Alerts is a service that allows you to set up an Internet filter that notifies you when a name, phrase, or string of words is mentioned on the Internet.  

If this sounds hard, that’s because it is.  And if you don’t think you can do it well, Ms. Reid warned, you may be better off not doing it at all.  So what then?

WHEN IN DOUBT, COMMENT

Agents notice when people comment regularly, as do authors. Ms. Stampfel-Volpe elaborated on the right and wrong ways to do so at the session. 

  • If you are respectful and witty, commenting will help you make virtual friends. 
  • If you are sycophantic and/or belligerent, well, don’t be. 
  • Each comment you make should add something to the discussion. 

As with blogging, commenting done poorly is worse than not commenting at all.

AND IF NONE OF THIS SUITS YOUR FANCY, THERE’S TWITTER

Twitter allows you to make friends and influence people.  Well, maybe not influence people.  But make friends, certainly.

  • Ms. Townsend showed us how to “follow” literary agents like herself and Ms. Reid and see what they have to say; often, they post indispensable advice to authors.
  • You can follow other authors and celebrities and friends, too. 
  • You can compose “tweets” yourself, short updates letting your followers (friends, enemies, aliens,  whoever) know what you’re up to, what music you’re listening to, what your cats are doing RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE. 
  • You can tweet at other people, engaging them in conversation by using the @ symbol before their twitter username. 
  • And you can do all this from your cell phone in the grocery store or from a Restaurant At The End Of The Universe. It’s like magic. Just make sure you “unprotect” your tweets so that other people can follow you without approval. 

ALL OF THESE THINGS WORK.  BUT WHAT DOESN’T WORK?

Facebook. Why? Because people have to take the extra step to “friend” you if they want to learn more about you. And you don’t want to make your future fans work any harder than they have to. Also, Facebook is not searchable. And you want to be searchable, writers.  Indeed you do.

IN THE END?

Blog your little writerly hearts out, aspiring authors. Unprotect your tweets and let the public in. Start commenting on blog posts by your favorite industry folk. And for the love of all that is holy, remember that the internet is public and behave accordingly.

 

 

 

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12 thoughts on “Literary Agents Talk Blogging, Twitter and More

  1. Jennifer Ragan

    I know good advice when I see it! Within the last 2 days I joined twitter and created a blog. Although I don’t fully understand twitter, at least I’m trying. As for the blog it’s not unlike writing a query letter…my brain hurts.

    Thank you for the great advice and to Chuck for all the great posts…truly priceless

  2. Alice Anderson

    Great points about facebook and behaving on the internet! My husband is always sending back a note about the links I send him from facebook reminding me that he can’t view the page, video, or whatever I’m sending him. I’ve also never found facebook terribly easy to navigate, but as my friends and family are on there, so am I.

    re: Behavior, your blog may offer the ability to delete a post or comment, but remember that somewhere out there, there’s a good chance that your post has been saved for all eternity. The WayBackMachine catalogs websites and anyone can take a screen shot of your words. Which is why it’s nice that you can usually take a deep breath before you hit send (and publish something you’ll regret later.)

    I’m a big fan of ping.fm. It lets me send a blast to all the sites I belong to. So I can send a note on ping rather than twitter, then facebook, then myspace, then bebo. A great time saver. Blast once, update once. You can even post to your blogs via ping.fm.

    Another time saver, RSS feeds. Instead of visiting every blog I might want to read, I have them all come directly to my feed reader (I use Google Reader.) This makes it easy to browse all the latest posts from all the blogs I may be interested in reading.

    For blogs, like this one, that I want to read every time there’s a new post, I have the RSS feed sent to me via email. That way it really gets my attention.

  3. Natalie Aguirre

    Thanks for the great advice. I just signed up for Facebook (with the help of my 12 year old daughter) about a week ago and also set up my profile so that I could stop commenting on blogs anonymously. I don’t have a blog because I work full time so already have to squeeze time in to write and I wonder what I would have to say that’s not already well done by others. Do you have any advice on how those of us who work full-time, often at demanding jobs, can maximize our web presence? Thanks so much.

  4. april jarocka

    Great blog. Very helpful and I will be bookmarking it on my site while I re-think how I post in future!
    All the best
    April

    ps. Found you through Twitter.

  5. Stephanie Feldstein

    I’ve gotten to know people better on Facebook, but they’re people who were already in my network. Twitter has connected me to people I’d never know otherwise and it’s an amazingly informative, supportive community.

    "And for the love of all that is holy, remember that the internet is public and behave accordingly."

    That just cannot be overstated. It’s incredible how often that seems to be forgotten.

  6. Lisa Katzenberger

    Thanks for such a fun post Michelle. I missed this class, so it was great to have a review. I’ve been struggling with how to use Facebook for writer stuff. I have a fan page and my blog posts automatically go there, but I’m not excited about using it. And I’m not interested in opening up my personal Facebook page to just anybody.

    I am, however, crazy crazy crazy about twitter. Hits on my blog have skyrocketed since I joined just a few months ago. And twitter is now the biggest traffic source to my blog — last month it counted for 40% of my visits. And people are great about sharing writing articles and blog posts–there is so much writing information to read.

    The writing and publishing community isn’t using twitter to update you about their tasty ham sandwich or what their cat is up to. It’s all information sharing on books, writing craft, literary events, publishing buzz. And since I’m home alone writing all day, I know my co-workers are just a tweet away.

  7. Joanna

    Great recap on the workshop! And I second Janet on using Facebook as an effective way to network. I use Facebook, but more as a means to keep up with clients and colleagues, not as a way to attract new clients. For writers it would be difficult to attract new fans because they’d have to be accepted as your friend first. Heck, they’d have to have Facebook first to even know you have an account!

    Great post, Michelle!

  8. Simon Larter

    Talk about pressure to craft a witty, interesting, pertinent comment. Does this one count?

    As an aspiring author with a month-old (or so) blog and a Twitter account (which I may overuse), I feel like I’m already there! Now I just need to write a novel…

    However, I do find myself Facebooking less as I tweet more. I do realize you can link Twitter and FB, but @ conversations and #writechat tweets look weird on FB (out of context, and all). But for promotional purposes beyond friends and family? At this point in time, I’d use Twitter. Two years from now, who knows?

  9. Janet Reid

    The reason I’m not a huge fan of Facebook is that it can only be seen by people who are Facebook members themselves…not all your fans are, particularly not the ones who are at work and not logged in on their personal account there.

    Facebook doesn’t turn up on Google either, so it doesn’t have any reach past Facebook people.

    The remark was part of a class on "Effective Social Networking". Facebook is social networking, I don’t consider it the most effective, or highest best use of time.

  10. Chuck

    I have to agree with Jamie. I like Facebook! I’m surprised the agents said that but they may be on to something. I DO feel that blogging is better than FB in terms of marketing and connecting with people.

    Chuck

  11. Jamie Harrington

    Okay, I am a huge fan of twitter, but I have to disagree that facebook doesn’t work. I think with the way they’ve designed the fan pages that an author shouldn’t discount facebook as a valuable internet tool just yet. Not to mention the opportunities to play games and interact with their fan base in a different way than twitter or your blog.

    Authors should take every chance to build and get to know their fan base–and facebook is another way to do that. 🙂

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