Converting Strangers into Friends

How does one break into the world of published writers? Coming up with a catchy title for your book certainly helps. “Strangers Have the Best Candy” got off to a good start by winning the 2015 Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of the Year. It’s probably also a slight advantage if the author has an unusual name, eg. Margaret Meps Schulte.

It turns out that this person’s full name is “Margaret Esther Peigi Schulte”, hence “Meps”. And “Strangers” is her first book, published by her very own publishing company, Choose Art. Looks like it’s all coming together for Meps!

The title is derived from the parental admonitions often given to young children: Don’t talk to strangers, Don’t get into a stranger’s car, Don’t take candy from strangers. (We Aussies would probably say “Don’t take lollies from strangers.”) All good advice, particularly in cities where close-knit communities can be pretty much a thing of the past. Meps’s thesis is that this advice is appropriate for children, but for adults, almost the opposite is true. The book is subtitled “How talking to strangers leads to a life of crazy adventure and lasting friendship”.

Liz & Keith Silverton

I was attracted to this book, because in the process of years of travelling in the Outback, I’ve met many strangers, had a number of adventures (some of them crazy), and made some lasting – and deeply valued – friendships. And looking back, I’m aware that most, if not all, of those friendships resulted from one or both parties taking an initiative of talking about not just the matter at hand – eg. The engine’s overheating, Can I book some accommodation?, Is this the road to Grong Grong?, I’ve locked the keys in the car, Isn’t this an amazing place? – but rather something a bit more personal:

  •  Where’s home for you?
  • Come over and join us round the camp fire.
  • Did you get hit by that dust storm yesterday?
  • Is this your donkey?
  • I couldn’t help admiring how well that tent’s erected!
  • Where are you heading for next?
  • I like your T-shirt!
  • Call in and see us when you’re up our way.

Of course, you don’t have to be in the Outback to do this. It might be in the supermarket, on a bus, in a queue, at the beach. The important thing is to be a bit sensitive about whether the other person is open to conversation. Some people are their own worst enemies in this regard. But you’ve got a better chance if you don’t just talk about yourself.

If such an encounter is a positive experience, you need a way to keep it going. We are fortunate to live at a time when technology makes this easy, so get an email address or a phone number. I’ve found emails a very good way to keep a friendship alive. Some will find text messages preferable.

Meps has done a good job of describing the potential benefits of talking to strangers. There are billions of strangers out there, and some of them would love to get to know you.


About dazzlerplus

Writing about the things that interest me helps me to discover what I think. One of my loves is the Australian Outback, and I travel out there often, and when possible take friends with me.
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8 Responses to Converting Strangers into Friends

  1. Lavinia Ross says:

    Well said, Rob! Friends can be found just about anywhere.

    • dazzlerplus says:

      Thanks, Lavinia. I’m sure you and I could find plenty to talk about over a few cups of coffee! Call in and see us when you’re down our way!

      • Lavinia Ross says:

        Will do! And come visit us over on this side of the pond as well. Good food and plenty of it, conversation and lots to see and do here. Blueberry and cherry season coming up shortly! Rick makes great homemade buckwheat pancakes from scratch.

  2. While talking to strangers can lead to friendship, I think talking to travelers is an even surer way of connecting with people. Simply by hitting the road, travelers have shown that they are open to new things.

    As for breaking into print, having a good story is the key to that door. And persistence. I’ve got a couple of books out now, so speak from experience. The trickier part becomes selling the books. Hope your post helps your friend sell a few books.

    • dazzlerplus says:

      Thanks, Cynthia, I think you’re quite right about travellers. And of course, in the Outback, the travellers — your potential friends — are often the only other people around, so starting a conversation is usually easy.

      As a blogger, I sometimes think how good it would be get something into print, but then wonder whether that is just my ego talking. Millions of people around the world have free and easy access to my blog, but relatively few have actually visited. A number of people have told me they haven’t looked at my blog because “blogs sound a bit too complicated for me. I just do emails and sometimes look something up on Google.” I tell them it’s no harder than typing in a web address, and reading what’s on the screen. But without someone sitting down beside them and showing them, I suspect many of them are still not going to try it. Maybe my problem is that many of these people are not the ones who’ve grown up with the Internet, and hence will never make the transition. Perhaps with the passing of time, we’ll have a situation where everyone has known of and used the Internet all their lives, and blog-phobia will be a thing of the past. And maybe by then, printed books will be regarded as antiquated.

      • Actually, books are coming back — ebooks have had a big impact on this trend, but even print books are on the upswing. However, with books, as with blogs, it’s all about figuring out how to connect with your audience. But if you do have a story that you think would make a good book, I’d encourage you to write it. There are more ways of publishing now than every before, even as publishers dwindle in number. I’ve done books both ways — with a traditional publisher and print-on-demand (aka POD — a cost-effective way of self-publishing). Each has its virtues. The traditional publisher helps with publicity but keeps most of the money. With POD, you do all the marketing but keep a lot more of the money. (For example, my royalties with the traditional publisher are 9% of the sale price, while with POD, it’s 35% of the sale price.) So if you think you’d like to write a book, write it. You might find a publisher keen on putting it out there for you, but if not, POD means you can do it yourself. (I used CreateSpace for the book I published POD, and they have been great.)

  3. Mandy says:

    Talking to strangers on blogs is another way to make new friends. I highly recommend it 🙂

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