Let's say you're interested in submitting to a few specific agents. Would you look them up on Facebook to learn more about them as a person? Many of you probably already have. What about MySpace? Twitter? LinkedIn?
But then questions arise: Would they agree to befriend you on sites like Facebook? Are they open to messages, pitches and/or conversation through such a site? What's the procedure and protocol here?
Well, my coworker Alice Pope, editor of Children's & Illustrator's Market, really wanted to know how agents interact with writers on such sites, so I decided to ask a few and find out.
WHAT I LEARNED
Here's the deal. I contacted six agents (I'll leave their names out of it because it really doesn't matter) and asked them about their experiences with writers on such social networking sites. They were all on Facebook, but only some were on MySpace, Twitter or LinkedIn. It was very varied. Here are some things I learned:
On Meeting Writers at Conferences:
If you're a writer who meets an agent at a conference, they probably still won't accept you as a friend on Facebook, because they want to keep "that life" separate from their professional one. An agent said this: "I'm trying to keep Facebook for friends only, and for a few professional contacts, like other agents or my already signed authors."
Several agents were on this site, but the common caveat was that they don't check it or update it often at all.
First of all, Twitter is the big exception, because it's a network for writers to FOLLOW agents, rather than interact and message them, so no agents had any problems or stories about tweeting.
As one agent said: "The reason Twitter works is that all those people can follow me and I don't have to do anything. I can only talk to and see the tweets of the people I want to follow."
If you query an agent through Facebook, you know that your message will avoid the slush pile and stand out from the crowd; problem is - that's a bad thing in this case. One agent said this: "I rarely get writer inquiries via Facebook, but when they do come in, they are way too casual and so not professional. The first few I directed to my agency Web site, but lately I've been deleting/ignoring them. Same with LinkedIn. Very few and I ignore."
The lesson here is simply not to query through a social networking site. I realize the temptation to do so, especially after you haven't heard back from someone or have been turned down by 50 agents, but this will not help. It's not the correct avenue.
Writers vs. Publishing Professionals - The Difference
When you're a writer, it's in your best interest to be plugged into many social groups. It's called networking, and it allows you to have a lot of friends, a lot of contacts, a lot of people who will buy your book. As an author myself, I completely understand this. But agents, on the other hand, have no motivation to simply befriend everybody. That's probably the biggest reason they will quickly turn down a friend request from someone they don't know.
As one agent said: "For authors, it's easy: everyone is your friend, the more the merrier. This is not true for agents."
Well ... if agents and editors don't want to interact and befriend writers on social networking sites, who DO they want to meet?
Industry pros! They want to keep in contact not only with their friends & relatives, but with other agents, editors and authors. Note how I said authors, not writers. They keep in contact with their OWN authors (their clients) and other writers who have already made it and can be of value in networking. That's what's in THEIR best interest.
Sending a Friend Request
If you try to befriend an agent, you may want to add a little message of some kind along with it. This may help; it may not. One thing's for certain. If you write to an agent or other pro and say "So nice to meet you in Florida at the conference!", and put in a friend request, but they DON'T accept it, then you SHOULDN'T ask them a second time, or a third time...
They said no for a reason. Repeated requests for friendship will only come off as pestering.
If an Agent DOES Befriend You...
Let's say you want to query an agent, so you find her on Facebook and ask to be her friend. She accepts your request. You've succeeded. Just remember the basic rule here: You now have the ability to learn more about the agent in the hopes that it will help your query & pitch. However, that is not an invitation to chat or converse with them. Interaction through a networking site is a bad thing (unless it's invited, naturally).