Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Cocktail Party

Reposted from the Lerner Books blog.

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?
Martini foreground, Downtown skyline background by mezzoblue.
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.

Photos: / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


Alicia Walker said...

I guess I'll start by not anonymously posting a comment:) Excellent advice and analogies. I'm going to twitter it right now.

Jill Corcoran said...

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.

Margaret Willey said...

Very helpful article. But it is really passe now to have a website to promote your book rather than a blog?

Susan said...

Good points. As the author of How To Work a Room®, your analogy is spot on! Increasing the conversation circle is something we ought to do in Face to Face situations as well as online.My assistant urged me to comment and start the dialogue as part of my pr efforts for Face To Face: How To Reclaim the PERSONAL Touch in a Digital World. As a blogger of 5 years, I appreciate comments as well. So turnabout is fair play!

Susan York Meyers said...

Great advice on an overwhelming topic!

God Bless,

Sugarbuzz Books said...

Yes, this is a great post -- very helpful. Just like Jill, who is my agent, I didn't start my new blog until I experienced the blogosphere for awhile.

Kindest Regards,

Steven Climer

Paul West said...

I appreciate the advice. However, what does a helplessly shy person do? He/she can write the most brilliant book, but because of his/her shyness on-line the book will never get the publicity it deserves.

Seems to me there's got to be a better way. I know publishers don't want to spend money on advertising, but isn't that how everything is sold in the non-publishing world?

aln said...

Great Post! Very helpful.

(and thanks to Jill, for mentioning it elsewhere.)


Ryan Potter said...

Hey, thanks for this, Andrew. You might not remember, but we talked about this very topic during one of our first phone conversations.

I was hesitant about author social networking at first, but I set up a very simple website for free ( and lurked around Twitter for a while before posting.

It's all paying off and the book release is still months away!

Micol Ostow said...

I thought this post was going to be about drunken blogging! Misleading. Pfft.

Heidi R. Kling said...

This is great. And hilarious. And true.

I'm going to send The Tenners over here to check it out.


Blythe said...

Thank you. As a crazy hermit with a limited on-line persona, I find your advice thought-provoking. For one thing, I'm not sure my neo-luddite/technopeasant self should ever go to cocktail parties. That said, "Salut! Uisge beathe! Minum!"

Sheela said...

I'm a tenner and this really spoke to me. Being under a deadline, it's important for me to figure out how much time to spend on non-book stuff. I will remember your cocktail party analogy!

Sairz said...

Great post.
This is something I've been wondering about myself, how to drive traffic to my blog and site, but you've made it so simple.
And fun! By commenting on blog posts I find interesting, I'm going to attract like-minded folk to my own site.
There's using the ol' noggin. :)
Thanks for the wisdom
Sarah Billington

Wyman Stewart said...

"I am not a crook!"

However, I do read blogs and leave comments. This results in few comments on either of my two Blogs. I think that may be because few people come back to Blogposts to see what others have said. Pretty much like entering the room of a social gathering, speaking to one person you find interesting, then leaving, while expecting everyone to remember you; rather than trying to talk to everyone about the new, wonderful book you have authored. Not that I have authored any books, just trying to establish an audience.

By the way, I am a shy person. Sick today, but I will return when I am feeling better to visit the Blogs of some of your other commen-tators, so I can be a common-tator to them too. Thank you for your post.

(I walk away, hands thrust in the air over my head, both hands reveal the V for victory salute.) May the silent majority speak at my Blogsites: and

"Now Spiro, about those nattering nabobs of negativity..."

Nancy Watts said...

Very good advice...Thanks!

Venus said...

It was great to hear you speak at Hamline this week. Everyone has been all abuzz over whether they should get a blog or even simply apply for a facebook account. I have tried to offer encouragement. It's a new frontier and some are still fearful of it. I for one love blogging. It informs my writing and gives me a place to share what I have learned. Great lecture!

lady hermes said...

I'm an old-timer in writing and illustrating children's books but a newcomer to blogging, so this was very helpful advice! Thanks.

Anne Rockwell

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