The Tao of Networking

Howdy, Maine crime folk! Chris Holm here. I’m glad I got all that awkward introductory stuff out of the way in my first post as a Maine Crime Writers regular, because that clears the decks for me to talk turkey (and, apparently, mix metaphors) today.


Paneling it up with Kate, Ann, Barbara, and Barbara.

At this year’s Maine Crime Wave, I was lucky enough to participate in a fantastic business-of-writing panel alongside MCW’s own Kate Flora and Barbara Ross, as well as agent Ann Collette and bookseller Barbara Kelly. And predictably, the conversation turned to social media and networking.

As writers, we’re told we need to be on Twitter, and Facebook, and KikSnap, and Tumblr, and Friendroid, and Tubesville, and okay fine I made a few of those up, although there’s still a chance your writing career is suffering because you’re not on them. But while our cup overfloweth with advice about how not to behave (most of which boils down to DON’T BE A HUMAN SPAMBOT—advice that too often goes ignored), nobody really tells us what we should be doing.

The best advice that I could give you about networking is STOP TRYING TO NETWORK. If the goal is to connect with people who like the sorts of things you like, just go be you and it’ll happen.

“But Chris,” you might reply, “that sounds kinda hippie-dippie, and doesn’t address the fact that WHAT I REALLY WANT IS THESE PEOPLE TO DO MY BIDDING MWAHAHAHAHA!” Well, Somewhat Maniacal Hypothetical Objector, I respectfully disagree; I think my advice actually is the best way to get folks on social media to do your bidding. And because my brain’s been warped by nearly four decades of obsessive pop-culture consumption, allow me to use an obscure fifteen-year-old indie rom-com to explain why.


In my whole life, I’ll never once look this cool.

In The Tao of Steve, Donal Logue plays a schlubby, pot-smoking underachiever named Dex who, surprisingly, has quite an active love life (read: he’s a pick-up artist with a knack for dating above his station). He owes his success to a philosophy he calls the Tao of Steve, which he gleaned from the holy trinity of Steve Austin (The Six Million Dollar Man), Steve McGarrett (Hawaii Five-O), and, above all, Steve McQueen. As Dex claims, “Steve is the prototypical cool American male… He has his own code of honor, his own code of ethics, his own rules of living, man. He never, ever tries to impress the women but he always gets the girl.”

His Tao of Steve strikes me as a good way to approach social media. It breaks down into three simple steps:

1) Be desireless. Dex insists potential partners “can smell an agenda like shit on a shoe.” So it is with fellow writers, agents, and editors on social media. The default assumption when someone friends or follows is that they want something. Prove that assumption wrong in the near term, and you’re already ahead of the pack.

"If you think I'm cute, please consider giving my book five stars on GoodReads."

“If you think I’m cute, please consider giving my book five stars on Goodreads.”

2) Be excellent. This one’s pretty self-explanatory. Do something awesome in your new social media friend’s presence. That could mean hyping his or her books, or simply saying how much you enjoyed them. It could mean sharing links to cool stories, or posting adorable pics of your teacup pig. Interpret widely, and have fun with it. But—and this is important—be mindful to never not be excellent. Don’t whine, spam, or talk smack. People notice. Try to keep your neurotic meltdowns (we all have ’em) offline.

3) Be gone. As Dex says, “We pursue that which retreats from us.” Make your interactions meaningful, engaging, and brief. If someone’s responsive to your overtures on social media, try not to inundate them with @ messages and Facebook tags. And if you find yourself wondering how much is too much, see points one and two. If you’re failing at either, you’re probably overdoing it.

You’ll note none of the above steps involve asking for anything. What they do is help foster relationships whereby people might be inclined to boost the signal when you do (sparingly) engage in self-promotion, or to say yes should you (eventually, politely) ask a favor.

It’s worth noting that, because The Tao of Steve is a romantic comedy, Dex (warning: fifteen-year-old spoilers follow) ultimately learns the error of his shallow pick-up-artist ways, and winds up ditching his schtick in an attempt to build a meaningful relationship. Ideally, we’d all do the same on social media. But if the number of auto-DMs (don’t do that) and unsolicited newsletters (double-don’t do that) I receive every week are any indication, I wouldn’t bet on it.

Chris Holm’s latest, THE KILLING KIND (coming in September from Mulholland Books), is a thriller about a hitman who only hits other hitmen. David Baldacci called it “a story of rare, compelling brilliance.” If you follow Chris on Twitter, or like his page on Facebook, he might remind you of that a time or two, but he promises he won’t auto-message you or anything.

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20 Responses to The Tao of Networking

  1. MCWriTers says:

    Now if you could only help the total recluse?

    I’m best at “be gone.”

    Great post today, Chris. Hope it goes viral.


  2. Paul Doiron says:

    Great post, Chris, and I agree totally that people can sniff out an agenda from a distance. No one likes to feel used. Ultimately it comes down to being able to see the situation from the other person’s perspective. I’ve blurbed my fair share of books at this stage, but when someone I barely know tries to press a novel on me for a quote, I get depressed. I am busy with my writing and have a long list of novels that I want to read so putting a book by a stranger at the top of my pile means I am doing them a favor. I’ve been surprised in the past by how the gesture isn’t always appreciated. Networking should mean that both parties get something out of the interaction.

  3. Chris Holm says:

    Thanks, guys! I should mention I don’t pretend to be an expert, nor do I think I always strike the right balance on social media. But I try, and these mental guidelines have helped me.

    And Paul: Well said.

  4. Jack Getze says:

    I listen to Chris about everything — how to write, how to edit, how to talk the wife into cooking my meals. But I would never listen to the guy about social media. He’s way too nice. The internet is war! Everybody knows you have Facebook everybody and Facebook’em to death.

  5. Kate Cone says:

    Nice Post, Chris. And with your great humor as always. I like being on social media and don’t try to schmooze published writers so much as I like to get to know them as people and to perhaps ask advice. I like your comment about not asking for people to give 5 stars on Goodreads or Amazon. And I can only buy so many books! But I do my best to support my colleagues.

  6. Chris Holm says:

    Thanks, Kate! These waters can be difficult to navigate, but I think so long as your intentions are good, the people you’re interacting with can tell. I’ve been bowled over by the support I’ve received from writers I admire, and I always try to pay that forward, as well as express my gratitude. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the least I can do.

  7. Barb Ross says:

    As I always say, “Be a person.” Be the person you are in real life on social media. Unless in real life you are an arrogant, pushy braggart, in which case you might want to rethink that.

  8. Chris Holm says:

    Jack: I cannot stress to you how bad an idea it is to make me your life-coach.

    And Barb: AGREED. But if I’d said that, it would have been a much shorter post.

  9. Great post. Words to live by.

    Social media is a conversation, and who wants to spend time talking to some self-important jerk who never shuts up about himself? No one.

    Plus: online, as in life, a kind word goes a helluva long way.

  10. Amber Foxx says:

    Thanks. It makes me feel better about my “be gone” approach to a lot of social media. I don’t always have something to say. If I had a teacup pig, though, I would post its picture for sure. Give that critter five stars for cuteness.

  11. Chris Holm says:

    If having something to say were a requirement, Amber, my Twitter and Facebook feeds would be a whole lot quieter… And I’ll cop to including the teacup pig as pure clickbait.

  12. Janet Reid says:

    Excellent points Chris. I wish everyone in “I gotta promote my book” mode would print this out, staple it in plain sight, memorize it, chant it daily, and then F/ing DO IT.

    I’m still astonished the people haven’t figured out the best way to get what they need is to give me what I need (which would be that world dominiation thing of course.)

    Also, looking forward to reading THE KILLING KIND.

  13. Clair Lamb says:

    Anything that cites The Tao of Steve is tapping into essential wisdom. Great post.

  14. Chris Holm says:

    Kind of you to say, Janet! I learned most of what I know about being a person in this business from the terrific blog of a certain Miss Snark…

  15. Chris Holm says:

    Somehow, F.J., I didn’t see your comment until just now, but I wholeheartedly agree. Unless I’m the self-important jerk in question.

  16. Roslyn Reid says:

    Is Wynton Marsalis cool? You bet! And you will feel better when you know HIS definition of “cool”: it means you have a limited range of responses. (His example: a car crash occurs right in front of you, and you nod and say, “Uh hummm…”)

  17. Bill Peschel says:

    I agree 100%, and I’ll add a few things I’ve learned:

    1. Create Lists. I divide them into two types: Lists I’ll use every day and lists I’ll check every once in awhile. I try to follow everyone, but not everyone is worth reading regularly (especially writers who do nothing but promote their books). They go in the rarely read file.

    I follow nearly everyone in the belief (and I may be mistaken) that it’ll look better to have more followers. But I still want to engage with my friends and other people.

    2. I’ll Favorite Tweets I like, and retweet them, too. This lets people you follow know that you’re following them.

    3. Mention celebs when appropriate, especially in your area. This is how you can find people who might like what your books. I reviewed Christopher Moore’s “Serpent of Venice” book and posted a tweet about it. He retweeted it to his followers. Some of them followed me. (Of course, I’m not writing comic stories, but who knows. Maybe some of them like mysteries).

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