Dictionary.com offers an inadequate, even misleading definition:
schmooze verb (used without object)
1. to chat idly; gossip
No no no. Not even close. The British “to chat up” is closer, though chatting up always has an object, usually to get the person you’ve met in a pub to go home with you. In New York, where everyone uses it and no one needs to define it, it’s used as a synonym for “network.” A friend of mine claims that you can convey the flavor of any Yiddish verb by adding “shamelessly” to the official definition. Thus, “to schmooze: to network shamelessly.” Sounds a lot like BSP, doesn’t it? Blatant Self-Promotion, an activity of which today’s mystery writers are hyper-aware. You’ve got to do it to succeed, but if you do too much of it, you’ll offend and alienate readers. As we say in New York, oy veyzmir!
What schmoozing, or let’s say networking, is really about is forming human connections. That’s not a bad thing, is it? I love to schmooze for the same reasons I’m a writer, a therapist, and a performer: I’m interested in you, I want you to be interested in me; tell me all about you, and I’ll tell you all about me. How I do it varies. As a therapist, I listen while the clients reveal themselves. As a mystery writer, I reveal myself through the filter of my fictional characters and what they say and do. But the end result in every case is that we connect on an emotional level. We form relationships: writer and reader, therapist and client, performer and audience, fellow participants at Killer Nashville, Friends on Facebook, fellow mystery lovers on DorothyL.
When my first mystery, Death Will Get You Sober, came out back in 2008, before Amazon and e-books changed everything, I set out across the country on a book tour. I was told that how many people came to my signings or bought the book mattered less than connecting with mystery and indie booksellers and librarians. My job was to make friends, to form relationships—to schmooze. A niece of mine, who knows me well, said, “You were born for this!” She was absolutely right. I loved every minute of that tour, whether my audience for a library or bookstore talk was three or thirty.
Killer Nashville 2009, my first time attending, was a festival of schmoozing for me. I loved the folks I met there, and they have been helpful to me in countless ways. Photos on my website at http://www.elizabethzelvin.com/Gallery.htm tell the story. There I am with law enforcement expert and all-around great guy Lee Lofland; with Beth Terrell, who generously shared her room with me and is working out a way that I can sing at Killer Nashville 2012; with Margaret Fenton, who invited me to Murder in the Magic City in Birmingham, AL because we’d met at Bouchercon; with Linda Black, who won the Claymore Award that year, shared my banquet table, and put me up for four days when I visited Atlanta that fall; with Chester and Sarah Campbell, whom I’d never met f2f before, but whose technique for meet-and-greet signings I’d been using all over the country, having learned it from Chester’s posts on the Murder Must Advertise e-list. (“Hi, do you read mysteries?”) I hope to make a lot more terrific friends when I return this August with my new book, Death Will Extend Your Vacation, and my CD of original songs, Outrageous Older Woman.
So how does virtual schmoozing compare with f2f? There’s no question that hugs feel better in person. But the connections we make online are crucial to our sense of community. Think about it: when physical book tours stopped happening except for superstars, when the economy tanked and it was harder for people to get to mystery cons, how come writers weren’t thrown back into isolation, with no way to make their work known and get support? Thank goodness, we still have the Internet. To give a more powerful example, almost eleven years ago, when 9/11 hit us in New York, by the end of the day, emails were pouring in from friends all over the world to make sure my family and I were all right. The next evening, I helped facilitate a chat in a law enforcement chat room where cops and firefighters and their families all over the country had a chance to connect and express their rage, frustration, and fear.
Are online relationships real relationships? Are they authentic? You bet they are. Can they convey true emotion? Can they go deep? You bet they can. Since 2000, I’ve been seeing therapy clients from all over the world online by chat and email. They cry and laugh and share their secrets and heal and grow just like the clients I used to see in a conventional office. And why shouldn’t we be able to get real with folks we only know online? As readers and mystery lovers, we respond to our favorite characters in books—Sherlock Holmes, Amelia Peabody, Jack Reacher, Kinsey Millhone, or a couple of my favorites from other genres, Miles Vorkosigan and Jamie Fraser—with as much emotion as if we could run into them at Killer Nashville, give them a big hug, and start schmoozing.
Elizabeth Zelvin is a New York psychotherapist, a three-time Agatha Award nominee, and author of the mystery series featuring recovering alcoholic Bruce Kohler, starting with Death Will Get You Sober. The third book, Death Will Extend Your Vacation, is just out, and “Death Will Tank Your Fish” was a 2011 Derringer Award nominee for Best Short Story. Liz has also just released a CD of original songs, Outrageous Older Woman. Her author website is www.elizabethzelvin.com, and her music website, www.lizzelvin.com. Liz blogs on Poe’s Deadly Daughters and SleuthSayers.
(The Killer Nashville Guest Blog series is coordinated by KN Executive Director Beth Terrell (http://www.elizabethterrell.com/). To be a part of this series, contact Beth at firstname.lastname@example.org.)