The Cocktail Party

I had the opportunity to talk to the students at the Hamline University’s low residency MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. It’s a new-ish program, but it’s off to a fantastic start with a great faculty and great students. It was a real pleasure to be involved.

One of the things I talked about was my take on how authors should think about approaching social networks—Facebook, Twitter, and general blogging. I’ll try to summarize it here. Basically, I think authors entering this world should imagine that they are arriving at a very large cocktail party that’s already in full swing. If you think of it this way, you’re likely to manage your time better and get more results (and by “results” I mean web traffic, particularly comments).

Martini foreground, Downtown skyline background by mezzoblue.For example, let’s say you’re a new author and you’re trying to decide whether you should spend hours crafting incredibly witty, finely crafted blog posts for your shiny new blog. Think of it this way, would you walk into a party, stand in the middle of the room and start telling your best stories and jokes to no one in particular? I doubt it. Likewise, you, the newly acquired author, might be wondering if you should spend your entire advance on web design so that you can have the best author site ever right out of the gate. Well, would you spend a mortgage payment to buy a dress for a party where you don’t know anyone? Would you want to be known only as the guest nobody knows who has a conspicuously expensive dress? You might get noticed initially, but are you getting attention for the right thing?

What you want to do at a party is find a conversation that interests you, listen in for a while, and then join in as you’re able and as you have something to say. Gradually, the circle opens up, you get attention on your merits rather than by grabbing the spotlight, and eventually you’re initiating conversations. The social network analogy is to start by commenting on active, interesting, relevant blogs. Spend as much time doing that as you do writing your own posts. This is the Web 2.0 equivalent of joining a circle of friendly folks engaged in a conversation. Soon, people will be coming to your blog for conversation. And so on.

Nixon MaskOne critical note on comments. Commenting anonymously is the equivalent of saying really witty things in this cocktail party conversation while wearing one of those creepy Richard Nixon masks. People might laugh uncomfortably, but they have no idea who you are and wonder if you’re insane. Don’t do it. If you’re going to comment, log in and take credit.

Go forth. Network socially. Try not to spill your martinis.

Martini photo: / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

3 thoughts on “The Cocktail Party

  1. Jill Corcoran

    Great post, Andrew.

    I started my blog after spending much time reading and commenting on others' blogs. I didn't comment to get noticed, I commented because I truly cared about what the posters wrote and I had something to add to their conversations. I was amazed how quickly the audience for my blog grew.

    P.S. I started my blog when I was a writer, not an agent. As an agent, I know it is easier to gain an audience. But as a writer, alone in my kitchen, blogging to what I thought was an audience of me, readers came. Traffic grew. Friendships bloomed. Magic happened.

    P.P.S. Cross-posted with Andrew's Carolrhoda blog

  2. melanie hope greenberg

    I’m new at FB. Funny that you mention a party, that is my metaphor as well. However, the last thing I have time for is to discover other blogs to promote. My FB social networking time is about *self* promotion. At times other blogs do play a role. Not always. As an illustrator I want to build a body of work to show. I also try to use the broadband sparingly, leaving room for all party goers to have a voice. The too many comments during the day as well as what that person just ate for lunch is not creative (for me). That might also turn off an editor who wants us to be working hard at our craft. My personal blog is about the creative process of my own books and I’m really not looking for comments. It’s for teachers and students to discover and read together. We can approach our social network communicating in expanded ways. One size does not fit all and that it’s individually user friendly. Just don’t get too sloppy at the party.

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