I’m on a social networking site for personal reasons (it’s not Facebook or MySpace). I’ve got a lot of personal friends on there, many of whom I don’t keep up with in any other way. But I don’t mind letting people know that I’m a children’s book editor because it’s fun to point people in the direction of the basics, like The Purple Crayon, SCBWI (and its attendant local writing groups), and a few other good children’s book resources.

I’m on MySpace too, in a more professional capacity. I generally use that account to promote Mirrorstone (but now that we have a Mirrorstone MySpace, it’s less necessary) and to participate in groups like the Readergirlz chats. The Mirrorstone MySpace lets librarians and others on our friends’ list know about author appearances, contests, and other important information. On my personal account, I love connecting with teen readers and with writers published and unpublished on a social level to
talk about literature and recommend both books that I’ve worked on and others’ books.

I personally use social networking sites, in other words, to network socially. There’s a professional aspect to it, but mostly it’s about the fun of, in one case, all sorts of things with my personal friends, and in the other, all things books-related.

The complications come when someone expects personal attention because they’re a “professional” in some related industry. (Perhaps they know graphic design, or they are in the magazine industry, etc.) But if they don’t know children’s books–and there are a lot of really great people on both sites who aren’t published but who know the industry–generally their lack of understanding of this very particular industry shows, and they’re just as likely to tell me all about the illustrator they found for their picturebook, or to ask me, a perfect stranger, to read their manuscript.

So here are a few guidelines for connecting with an editor on a social networking site. Just some friendly advice that hopefully will help you avoid annoying the person you might like to help you. For most people who know children’s books, this will be obvious information. 

We editors tend to be a cynical bunch, because we’ve probably seen the same thing a hundred times before in our slush and at conferences. So it’s best to treat an editor online the same way you would in person.

·         Don’t expect them to read your manuscript. We’re not on those sites to read more slush, and you, as a perfect stranger, are slush. If they ask you about your manuscript, that’s another thing entirely. But certainly don’t act like you’re doing them a favor by offering to let them see your book. And DEFINITELY don’t just send it anyway.

·         Don’t question their ethics and trustworthiness while at the same time asking them to read your manuscript. (No, we won’t steal your ideas.)

·         Don’t say that you’ve been working with this great illustrator and you’re just looking to “partner with a printer” who can give you national exposure. Believe me, you look like you don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.

·         DO make sure to follow the links to the basics of the industry that the kind editor has sent you so that you know the lingo the next time you try to pick her brain.

·         Do your homework. If your question is answerable by a hundred other sites on children’s lit, you probably don’t need to ask an editor.

·         Don’t tell her, “Oh, I’ll get to those links sometime. I don’t like looking at 3rd hand information when I have your ear.” You don’t have her ear that much, and she’s not going to retype all the basics just because you don’t want to click on a link.

·         Don’t complain that it’s been the “most formal exchange I’ve had on one of these sites.” The editor is being formal because you’ve asked quest
ions about her profession. If you’d asked questions about her cats, she might be a little less formal. But don’t ask questions about the cats just to get in with her on the professional side. If you want to be her friend, be her friend. If you want to be a writer, act like a professional.

It all comes down to basic professional behavior. Just because you’re on the same social networking site as the editor and 50,000 or a million other people (and ESPECIALLY if you don’t even have a friend in common!), don’t think that somehow it will give you any kind of edge. If you ask me a question about publishing on a social networking site, I’ll give you the same information I give anyone on this blog, on my blog at Gleemax*, on the Mirrorstone blog, and pretty much at any conference I might speak at. I don’t play favorites, especially with perfect strangers.

Know the industry. Write well. These are the secrets to success. There are no magic bullets. 

* I’ve been meaning to post about that blog at Gleemax for a while, but I haven’t really gotten it up and running yet. Mostly my plan is to copy over important posts from here for a while, but I haven’t really had the time to do a lot
of copying yet. Gleemax is Wizards of the Coast’s new gaming social network, which is in alpha right now. Several staff members keep blogs there. Most of them are from the gaming side of things, though I and an editor from the adult imprint keep blogs, too.