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Networking with other authors is one of the best ways to keep motivated and also to learn more about writing, publishing and book marketing. I learn every day from my author network and I wouldn't be without it. But networking takes some work, both online and in the real world. In this article Chris Robley from BookBaby.com offers some tips to help authors get the most out of networking.
The verb form of “network” is a curious thing.
I’m no etymologist, but I’ll bet it grew out of an archaic Latin or Germanic word that meant, “Hey, get off your lazy butt and go make some friends for a change!” I imagine shy Virgil being told by his father to leave the farm and meet some nice politicians. Poetry needs patronage, after all!
I know, I know. Solitary creative-types (ummm, writers!) despise glad-handing. But networking doesn’t have to be a dirty word. In this post I hope to explain why networking (or forging solid professional relationships with other folks in your surrounding literary spheres) is essential, and how you can make the right connections without that icky feeling afterwards.
Why do writers need to network? Why doesn’t my work speak for itself?
Firstly, if a book could talk it would take 3 days to tell its tale. YOU have to speak for your work before anyone else is going to take the time to actually read it. (And speak quickly, for attention spans are shrinking!) Networking is one way of getting your foot in the door to give that initial pitch.
Secondly, in a world with lots of talent, success requires more than simply being great. If two deserving submissions are under consideration by an editor, which one do you think will be accepted? – The one written by the author who did the more effective networking, of course!
It’s a given in the business world that people do favors for their friends, or as Derek Sivers says, “Life is like high school. It's all about who you know, how socially charming you are, what scene you're in, what you wear, what parties you're at, flirting, and being cool.”
No, you shouldn’t just stay at your writing desk for the next 20 years and pray for a publishing miracle. You have to get up, get out, and meet people.
The good news is that the folks you need to meet aren’t necessarily uber-hip socialites, beautiful and fit fashionistas, or intimidating rock stars. They’re writers, editors, publishers—lovers of words—people just like you!
You can do it. Here’s how.
1. Start slow and adjust your expectations.
Not everyone storms a scene like Dylan in Greenwich Village. You don’t have to “arrive,” fully formed and trumpets blaring.
Get to know one person at a time, and stay in it for the long haul. Wade in the shallow end of your local literary community for a while. Maybe even show your face a few times at readings and other events before you start introducing yourself.
You might be itching to meet the book reviewer from your city’s newspaper, but if they see you around town a few times in all the right places, they might start thinking they need to meet YOU!
2. Be exclusive.
That’s right—leave some people out.
Networking is scary business; it can sometimes feel like a lot is riding on a certain connection, a certain interaction, a certain email exchange. If that encounter doesn’t exactly go your way, you can be left with some feelings of shame or inadequacy, like you botched your big chance and now you look like a fool.
Those feelings are normal, but one healthy way to minimize the stress is to narrow your focus and target just a few people that you’d like to network with.
If you write poems that are perfect for Tin House, forget POETRY Magazine. If you write detective novels and the aforementioned book reviewer seems to favor experimental fiction, forget ‘em!
Put time, thought, and energy into fostering a few really good relationships and consider those professional connections your new home base, your launching off point; build out your network from there in expanding concentric circles that cover the globe!
3. Use social media (especially Twitter) to make connections.
As BookBaby president Brian Felsen is fond of saying, social media allows you to “hang out with your heroes.” You’re just a tweet away from your favorite author, publisher, or critic.
In the Twitter-verse you should take things slow and steady too. Re-tweet other people’s content that you find intriguing, reply to the tweets of those you follow, and repeat. Once you’ve built up a rapport with those folks, they’ll be more receptive to your marketing messages, requests for help, queries, or questions.
4. Go to as many readings as you can.
Make a calendar and attend as many local readings as you can– and not just for the popular authors. Go to book launches, library events, and open mics, too.
Oftentimes the editors of magazines, journals, and reviews are writers themselves. Find out who they are, and where they’ll be appearing (for a reading of their own work, a lecture, fundraiser, etc.) Go meet them and put a face to their name.
Don’t be in sales mode. You can mention you’re a writer and what you’re currently working on if the conversation naturally flows in that direction, but keep in mind that this is THEIR event.
Follow up a week or two later via email and comment on something you appreciated about their talk or reading. Now when you submit a work down the line—your name will be on their radar.
5. What can you do for them?
Are you in a position to somehow help their efforts, either with a particular skill or product that you could offer at a discount? If you like and support this person’s work anyway, an extra favor (web design, printing, radio coverage, hosting of an event, etc.) couldn’t hurt.
6. Attend writers conferences, book fairs, and summer workshops.
If your time is limited, these events are great opportunities to combine learning and networking in a single day or weekend. But again, don’t show up desperate to sell, sell sell. They’ll smell your fear from a mile away. Instead, go in order to make friends, and to form or join a community of writers.
7. Assess where you’re at as a writer.
You want to be confident in what you’ve written. If you’re not convinced that your work is ready for a bigger audience, you’re going to have a hard time convincing others.
Be honest with yourself. Maybe your work is still a little undercooked. If so, don’t be in a rush to publish. Let things simmer until ready. Once it is, you’ll be firing on all cylinders; no embarrassment or doubt to hold you back!
In the meantime, you can still be networking to make friends and connections that will help you market and sell your book once it’s finished.
Hopefully these tips give you a beginning framework for a kind of networking that can come more from the heart. In my experience (as a shy creative-type), the more you put yourself out there, the more natural networking becomes. You don’t have to think of yourself as a slimy used-car salesman of 1950’s advertising exec.
As I mentioned above, most everyone you need to meet in order to further your career is probably going to be a writer or avid reader; they’re the same people you’d be trying to make friends with anyways!
So take it easy. Take it slow. Get off your butt and go make some friends.
How do you network with other authors? Is it most effective online or in person?
Chris Robley is a poet, songwriter, producer, blogger, person, & marketeer. He’s a contemporary American poetry fanatic and edits YRTEOP.COM (“POETRY” spelled backwards)– home to poet interviews, poetry news, and 1-Minute Poem Reports.
As marketing coordinator for CD Baby and BookBaby (distributors of independent music and books) he manages the DIY Musician Blog and the BookBaby Blog, free online resources for musicians and writers seeking promotional advice.