In the current social networking climate, many agents and editors are more available to aspiring authors than ever. You can interact with these publishing peeps through their blogs or websites, on Facebook and Twitter, through online chats with live Q & A.
That means you have an unbelievable opportunity to make connections and create a positive foundation for a professional relationship. But it also means you need to be careful that your online actions are working FOR you rather than against you.
Let's consider an agent blog scenario as an example. Commenting on an agent blog gives you a chance to get yourself onto her radar. Many agents say that they peek at the blogs of folks who follow or comment. So you'll want to make sure your blog, website, or whatever is entertaining and professional.
Certainly that's a good start, but I'd like to take things a step further and recommend a little showmanship.
If you read through the comments on most agent blogs, you'll find they generally fall into five categories:
1. Simple comments, such as "Great info! Thanks!" or "Thanks for posting this." These sorts of comments will certainly not harm you, but they won't go too far towards making you stick out as someone the agent wants to know more about.Number 5 is where you want to be. Which brings us to "Showmanship."
2. Kiss-up comments. The long, ingratiating (and often self-deprecating) paragraphs extolling the virtues of not only the post, but also the agent, the agent's friends and relations, the remarkable job her kindergarten teacher must have done, etc. These comments are dangerous, in my opinion. Flattery doesn't really get you everywhere and can seriously backfire, either by annoying the agent in question or by making your "I'm not worthy!" point so clearly that the agent agrees with you.
3. Practically Spam comments. You know the ones... not really intended to contribute to the conversation, but to post a link to drive traffic to the commentator's blog or website. This sort of comment seems like shameless self-promotion and is likely to work against you, unless the link you're including is meaningfully related to the agent's post, and you explain how in your comment (e.g. Interesting take on social networking. I think Twitter has some drawbacks, though, as I was discussing on my blog last week.")
4. Frustrated writer rant comments. Getting published isn't easy, and writers as a whole are extraordinarily sensitive souls who are very personally attached to their work. It can be an incredibly frustrating process, and you may feel the need to vent. Never, ever, no... NEVER EVER do that in public, especially not on an industry professional's blog or website. 'nuff said.
5. Thoughtful, entertaining comments that add to the discussion. Ah! The sweet spot.
I personally am very active online. I comment on agent and editor blogs, I tweet with them. But I don't do it constantly. I employ a technique I call the "George Costanza."
If you're a Seinfeld fan, you're probably familiar with the episode where Jerry tells George about showmanship.
George had made a great suggestion at a work meeting, but then followed it up with a bad joke and ended up feeling foolish.
GEORGE: I had 'em, Jerry. They loved me.
JERRY: And then?
GEORGE: I lost them. I can usually come up with one good comment during a meeting but by the end it's buried under a pile of gaffs and bad puns.
JERRY: Showmanship, George. When you hit that high note, you say goodnight and walk off.
So, here are my personal recommendations:
1. Take your time.
2. Comment sparingly, only when you have something important/thoughtful/entertaining to say.
3. Proofread your comment or tweet before posting it.
Hit that high note, and leave them wanting more. ;)