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

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.

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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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