Born to Schmooze, F2F or Online / Author Elizabeth Zelvin

Elizabeth Zelvin

Elizabeth Zelvin 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 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.

"Death Will Extend Your Vacation" by Elizabeth Zelvin

“Death Will Extend Your Vacation” by Elizabeth Zelvin

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, and her music website, Liz blogs on Poe’s Deadly Daughters and SleuthSayers.

(The Killer Nashville Guest Blog series is coordinated by KN Executive Director Beth Terrell (  To be a part of this series, contact Beth at

About Clay Stafford

Clay Stafford is an author / filmmaker ( and founder of Killer Nashville ( As a writer himself, he has over 1.5 million copies of his own books in print in over 14 languages. Stafford’s latest projects are the feature documentary “One of the Miracles” ( and the music CD “XO” ( A champion of writers, Publishers Weekly has identified Stafford as playing “an essential role in defining which books become bestsellers” throughout “the nation’s book culture.” (PW 6/10/13)
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6 Responses to Born to Schmooze, F2F or Online / Author Elizabeth Zelvin

  1. You’re so right, Liz. If someone had told me ten years ago that so many of my friends would be people I’d never met face to face, I wouldn’t have believed it was possible.

  2. Me too, Jaden. And it’s so much fun when we do meet one f2f. 🙂

  3. Warren Bull says:

    Online you often get a picture of the person you’re “talking” with. When I know someone only by phone or e-mail I am always surprised by his or her appearance when I meet the person.

  4. Sally Carpenter says:

    With the Internet, our network of friends can stretch around the world and not be limited to our physical location. And networking is important for authors who are surrounded by non-writers and spend most of our time at the computer. Thanks for a great post.
    Sally Carpenter

  5. Brenda says:

    I enjoyed this! Did you ever read Andrei Codrescu’s funny essay on online and offline friends?
    The one time I got to meet Chester & Sarah Campbell Sarah Campbell inspired me for how to be a writer’s wife at signings. (I model my efforts off her friendly way of contacting you as a bookstore customer browsing.) I had never heard of Chester’s books until my husband and I stumbled in on a signing and had a delightful chat with Chester & Sarah.

  6. Brenda, Sarah is the perfect writer’s wife. My husband would rather dig ditches than stand in the doorway of a B&N and ask people if they read mysteries. 😉 The Campbells, like everyone else I met at Killer Nashville last time I went, are also great to talk with about country music!

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