Image: Matthew Loffhagen
There are very few people who enjoy networking. For most of us it’s a dull, confusing, even intimidating task. Getting your name onto the relevant lips is a must in business circles, but you may think it’s something that doesn’t need to bother authors.
Sadly this isn’t the case, and writing as an art form is actually at a point where authors need to be doing more networking than ever before. Happily it’s also easier than ever for authors to do quality networking, since the root cause is the widespread adoption of social media.
However, not all your networking needs can be served online, and in this article I’ll be exploring some of the different networking options open to authors and some tricks for getting the most out of your networking time.
There’s nothing wrong with networking
Networking has a bad reputation, but there doesn’t have to be anything shady about your own efforts. The phrase ‘let the work speak for itself’ did not come into being during a time when writers from all around the world were publishing instantly and constantly. The work can only speak for itself if someone is prepared to listen, and it’s your job to grab their attention.
This is the point of networking; to build up a core group of prominent contacts whose interest will spread at an exponential rate. They will tell their own contacts about your work, who will share it with their own contacts, who will share it with their own contacts, and so on.
The benefits to good networking are hidden, and manifest in surprising ways. It may turn out that a major name has heard of your work through a friend, and is happy to give you a prominent cover quote for your next book. It may be that you are turned on to an agent, event, or project that you would have otherwise had no way into. It might be that you’re recommended immediately, or that you stick in someone’s mind for an article they’ll write months later.
That last example is provable fact – I’ve used examples in my own articles that I only encountered through authors’ networking efforts. A guest article on a popular site, secured due to their relationship with the regular writers, brought my attention to their work. When it came time to write about their chosen genre it was their story that presented itself as a good example, a spot that would have gone to another book if not for their successful networking.
Networking isn’t about tricking people into supporting you, it’s about grabbing the attention of those who might genuinely enjoy your work, and no other resource has as much reach as the internet.
Social media is a godsend for the writer who wants to network. Sites like Facebook, Google+, and especially Twitter (where users are more likely to curate their account personally) allow direct access to influential people, and can be a springboard to further interaction.
Engaging with – but not pestering – authors on these sites is a great way to start building relationships. Make an interesting observation on someone’s content and suddenly you have something in common. It’s up to you what that means; the accomplishment of them knowing who you are, an invitation to further discussion, or even an icebreaker when you meet in person.
Again, the dividends of social media engagement are paid in strange and unforeseeable ways. I know writers who have ended up going for a drink with their heroes after hitting it off on Twitter, and others who have turned a few social media interactions with comedians into favorable treatment from producers.
These may seem like extreme payoffs, but remember that the people you’re talking to are just people – if given the choice between working with someone they kind of know and someone they don’t know at all, they’re likely to choose the former. Social networking isn’t magic, but it is an incredibly useful resource you can do a lot with.
That isn’t to say that you always need to be aiming for the upper echelons with your efforts…
Writers aren’t just writers
If you remember only one thing about networking from this article, it should be this: everyone who has influence in the writing world is either a writer themselves or knows a great many of them.
It’s this truth that makes it so vital to network with, and support, other writers. A supportive word will be remembered down the line, and you never know who you’ll be introduced to. Remember that you’re not immune from this observation – there might be a bunch of ways you can help another writer out, even if it’s just drawing attention to them from your own audience.
Get out of the house
It’s difficult to name a literary event which doesn’t have fantastic networking potential. Writers’ conferences, book fairs, workshops and readings will all be full of people who are either in a position to help you, or one day will be.
Again, the networking relationship is a two-way arrangement, so don’t hold back your support. The poet whose reading you attend may have gone to university with the editor you want to impress. Don’t think of networking as an attempt to wow the person in front of you, but as a broader process of establishing yourself as a presence on the literary scene.
Of course you can’t be networking all the time, so when choosing what to do it’s a good idea to concentrate your efforts on people and work you like or find interesting. Commonalities of taste mean their contacts are more likely to be relevant, you’re more likely to be found interesting in return and, let’s face it, you’ll do a much better job of networking if you’re enjoying yourself.
It’s also important to start networking at a slow pace. Networking requires you to make smart business decisions, but it’s not a duplicitous process. The relationships you form should be real and built on genuine interest and common goals, so they may take a little time to fully form. Try to look for opportunities to interact in a genuine way rather than forcing a connection where one doesn’t exist. It’s better to wait a few weeks for a Twitter post you have an actual opinion about than to jump on the first one that comes along and appear desperate.
To make the most of your time, you’ll probably find it’s a good idea to do some research. Find out who you should be approaching – whether that means seeing if there are any readings or groups in your local area, or looking through someone’s past social media engagement to see how best to get their attention.
You should also make sure that your networking behavior fits with your current status – an author who’s not yet published has very different needs in terms of contacts and attention, than an author on their third book looking to build their audience.
Pay it forward
Most of all, it’s important to remember how it felt to be at each stage of the process. Once you’ve grown your brand a little then be sure to spend some time interacting with less well-known writers, and doing favors where you’re able to. This helps to encourage a healthy networking practice for authors, as well as building your reputation and prompting a few more of those unforeseen benefits of maintaining good relationships.
For more advice on making the most of your social media presence, check out Waste less time on social media with this one little trick. You can also try Why online communities are worth their weight in gold for more on building word of mouth.
Do you have questions about networking? Get in touch in the comments below.