As an agent, one of the most exciting—and necessary—aspects of my job is discovering new talent. That requires a great deal of sifting, as each day brings a barrage of new material and writers querying me to ask if I’ll read their manuscript or proposal or check out their blog. The real gems, however, come through word-of-mouth, a classic viral formula. Writers know other writers, and this has served book publishing well over the years. With the Internet, word-of-mouth has taken on an entirely new, powerful, interconnected dimension through social networks.

Facebook is useful because it helps me keep tabs on clients and colleagues and to play two (or three) degrees of separation with everyone. Twitter, however, is a completely viral phenomenon, and that’s where the action is happening. The people I follow on Twitter act like talent scouts for me, scouring the country—indeed, the world. When they come across an interesting tweet and amplify it by re-tweeting, they in essence promote the writer. While 140 characters may not seem like much, retweets usually carry a link to a blog post or article published online, which offers a fuller picture. And because Twitter makes it easy to backtrack through tweets, I can usually locate someone who can offer a personal introduction.

Twitter also keeps me informed. Instead of looking for news, it finds me. I find out about breaking news, events, trends, stories and ideas—the lifeblood of my work—and all customized for my consumption. Social media has allowed me to be part of more conversations, in more forums, than ever before. It’s helped me attract clients and get the word out about the books and authors I represent at a time when traditional ways of doing so are dying. Specifically, I use social media three ways in my work:

1. To learn about new and interesting writers, trends, and stories.

On Twitter, I follow writers and journalists I admire, and some follow me. One of my clients, for example, wrote a piece about a writer whose blog post had gone viral. So I started following the writer on Twitter and was able to gauge the response myself—it was enormous, and I signed her. A few editors also started following her feed, which helped me make an early assessment of who might be interested in the project.

2. As a source of news.

I find out about breaking news events on Twitter almost always before they’re posted on news organizations’ Web sites. I can see if events are trending on Twitter and gathering a critical mass, and get a sense of whether they’ll be a flash in the pan or something longer lasting.

3. To publicize projects and clients to a willing audience.

I push my writers to a network that subscribes to my Twitter feed, or with whom I’m friends on Facebook. Facebook provides a visual platform for posting articles about books and an ability for others to “share” that post—i.e., spread it virally by posting it to their own profile. With Twitter, I assume that those who have chosen to follow me are interested in what I have to say about my authors and books. Often tweets get retweeted, furthering the viral spread by distributing an idea to a new network.

Author Information
Kate Lee is an agent at International Creative Management (ICM).

More articles from PW's Viral Issue:The Viral Loop

by Adam L. Penenberg

The Listening Game by Megan ZabelSharing Is Caring by Ellen ArcherVirtual Book Tours by Kevin Smokler and Chris AndersonCreating Your Viral Loop on Twitter by Rachel SterneBlogging as Multiplier Effect by Adam L. PenenbergSoapbox: Where Ideas Go to Die, Not Spread by Seth Godin