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).
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.
One 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.