Over the next several weeks, I’m going to do a series just for my writing friends on networking. I have experience networking from organizing networking events for small businesses (watch and learn!) and from working for a professional networking coach (who published two books on networking, one of which I helped proof). This first blog post is geared towards someone who is in the beginning levels of working on their social networking skills.
I noticed that there are no networking books out there specifically for writers, and writers are very different because most of us do not have ‘salesperson personalities’ nor do we network in the circles most networking books are centered around. I want to share these secrets with other writers, so that ‘networking’ can be fun for them too! There is so much to say on this topic, so let’s get started!
Honestly, I’d like to come up with a better word to use than ‘networking’ because the term has such a negative connotation. ‘Networking’ is often a word that conjures up fear and anxiety for many writers, When you think of ‘networking,’ does it bring up images of a business guy handing out his card, desperately trying to earn your business, caring nothing of you and what you really need? We inherently know this is not what good networking is and we don’t want to participate in it. Good news is we don’t have to!
So I propose calling Networking by what it truly is: Building Relationships. Not trying to be the person who gets the tallest stack of business cards by speaking to the most people in the room. And not trying to sell your product to every person you meet with feigned regard for their interests. We all want to develop mutually beneficial relationships with others in the writing community. Supporting one another is how we all thrive.
The topic of Introversion:
While I recognize that not all writers are introverts, I think a lot of us are. And even if we are borderline or even full-blown extroverts, we spend a lot of time working alone. So I think it needs to be said that just because someone is an introvert doesn’t mean that they don’t or can’t have the social skills to network. I have worked with Director-level introverts who routinely have to give presentations, run all day sections at a conference, and network with politicians and lobbyists. These people have very strong social skills while being introverts.
I really want to change people’s thinking that “introvert” means someone who lacks social skills and is not good with people (because it clearly doesn’t). I think things like networking just tend to come easier to extroverts because they are often more talkative. Plenty of extroverts don’t have true social skills – they just make it seem like they do by being more conversational.
I’ve done a bunch of research on introverts and extroverts, because the main character in my series Twins of Orion is an introvert and I wanted to learn what that truly meant. So, the main question to ask yourself on whether you are an introvert or an extrovert is whether you recharge from being around people, or being by yourself.
Until more recently, I used to be an extrovert – I thrived off being around other people – I got my energy from it. A couple years ago something switched and now I have joined the introvert crowd, where I recharge by being alone, rather than from groups of people. Where being around tons of people used to energize me, now I feel drained and look forward to my alone-time after an event. That could be the only ‘downfall’ of meditating and training my mind for the past several years…
So why Network?
There are multiple reasons to network, here are three of them:
1) Networking is practicing talking to strangers. As a professional author, there are plenty of times when you’ll be speaking to people you don’t know, including fans, agents, editors, publishers, and other business contacts. It’s good practice because while researching for your book, you may need to interview other professionals in different industries and networking can help you build that confidence to approach them.
2) Publishing is not a solo-operation: This is such a big topic, but the publishing industry has changed drastically. My limited understanding is that if you write, publish and sell your book in a silo, your book will not likely sell well, even if it is the best book ever written. Readers need to be able to find your book amongst the overwhelming sea of reading possibilities, and that means having a writer’s platform, connecting both with others in the industry and your readers. For more information on this topic, please see Kristen Lamb. I recommend her book Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital World. The faster we recognize this, the faster we can move forward in our careers in the new paradigm!
3) All professionals need sharing and collaboration to succeed: Networking is also about sharing the skills/knowledge you have with other people. Everyone has something to offer another through their own area of expertise and interest. If there is a way you can help a fellow author or even know someone who can help, this is valuable. As Kristen Lamb says, “We Are Not Alone.” She even backs this up with an online community she created for just for writers: http://wanatribe.com/
Prior to the Event:
Before you attend a conference or networking event, take some time to review any available presenter and guest list. Make a list of who you especially desire to meet. For example, if you know you really want to meet Larry Brooks, make sure you take his class! Maybe bring a book for them to sign (where appropriate). If it’s another guest, find a pic, so you can scope them out! Then learn about the people you want to meet – this is especially important if you plan on meeting with an agent or editor. A relationship with an agent/editor is not a one-way street, it’s important for you to know if they will be a good fit for you too, and this comes from learning about them. Of course, this doesn’t mean stalking people and Googling each person for hours, just enough to appear professional…which you are!
Quick note on business cards: I’ve found that people will ask for your email address, twitter name, or how to get in touch with you and it helps to have a business card to share with those who are interested. It doesn’t have to be something fancy, you can even print them yourself. Here is what I recommend you at least list on your cards: Name, (Pen Name if applicable), website, Twitter name, email address (if you have a professional one). Optional items include: title of your book(s), summary of your current work, and a small pic. I just made little ones to share because I have not published anything yet, and I liked how they looked. 🙂
Five tips to get you started on Building Relationships during a Writing Conference or other Networking event:
You know what your style is and what you feel comfortable wearing. Dress sharp in a way that you will feel confident. It’s strange to think that what you wear can affect your attitude, but I’ve found it’s actually true! Practice feeling confident… ‘Fake it till you make it!’
Remember your handshake! Although it seems like a small detail, your handshake leaves an impression with the other person. It’s great to use networking events to practice your handshake so that you have a great, solid and confident handshake when you go to meet with an agent, an editor, a publisher, etc. Or even when interviewing for ‘day jobs!’
So what is a good handshake consist of you say? Clasp the other person’s hand firmly so it’s not wilted like a fish or bone-crushing like Thor. The timing is one down-up-down motion (or up-down-up); don’t hold the other person’s hand too long like it’s a life-raft and not too short like you are afraid of human contact. Take that moment to make confident eye contact, not gazing longingly like in a romance novel or with laser-beam eyes from sci-fi book. Best to practice with a friend until you get the feel just right. I have been told multiple times I have a good handshake by business professionals and I think this comes from lots of practice.
2) Recognize where you are in the Writing Journey:
Whether you’re new to writing, have a WIP, are in the editing stages, or have published novel(s), practice what you’ll say to other people when they ask about you. I know it’s weird, but I recommend practicing your personal spiel in front of the mirror. Feeling that uncomfortable edge in front of the mirror will help you feel that much less uncomfortable sharing about your story in front of another person.
And please, honor yourself for wherever you are in your writing journey. Many writers face the challenge of feeling insecure at conferences because they have not yet published a book which often makes these writers feel less than worthy from their fellow published authors. I challenge that this is not the case. All writers have gone through the various stages of a writer’s journey to get where they are now – even you.
Even the great Stephen King was once unpublished and received a multitude of rejection letters. Even the great Stephen King went through a time he didn’t think that he was good enough to be a published novelist. You’ll feel better and have a lot more fun if you can allow yourself to feel the freedom to be confident in sharing wherever you are in your journey. Honestly, the writer’s journey is something we all can relate to; it creates camaraderie between authors.
3) Make the first move:
We are creatures of habit and tend to sit in the same area of a room, which is perfectly fine. (I always like to sit in the front row, for example). Just don’t limit yourself to only speaking to the couple people right next to you. This doesn’t mean to ignore them after you’ve spoken to them once or twice. Try to strike a balance of continuing to speak to people you’ve already met and meeting new people. The key here is to listen and never ignore someone.
For example: You can turn around and speak to the people sitting behind you. Invite someone you found particularly interesting to join you for lunch. Sit at different tables for meals so you can interact with new people.
Practice being the one to make the first move in a conversation. In the last three writing conferences I’ve attended, I have probably initiated 70% of the conversations. If I had not spoken to people around me, we would have sat in complete silence prior to the start of a session or after a session is over. (I tend to wait a little before jumping in to speak with someone, not always wanting to say the first words). Although awkward at first, the practice of starting conversations with strangers becomes a lot easier. I’ve met plenty of fabulous people this way and had a lot of interesting conversations.
If you need a pressure-less environment to practice this, try saying ‘hi’ to people in the grocery line. Just a simple hi. Be friendly with the cashier when you check out. Also, things like Meetup.com and volunteering can help you practice meeting lots of new people.
Talking to strangers is really someone anyone can learn. (Except for people with agoraphobia, but then those people are probably not attending writing conferences, now are they?)
4) What to say?
Come up with an introductory phrase and practice prior to the event. You will find a few phrases that are comfortable for you and fit your personality. Always be true to yourself. You are your own brand, after all. Here are several examples to help get you started that I found worked well at the Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Conference in LA (August, 2014)
- Hi, I’m Jennifer, what’s your name?
- Hi, I’m Jennifer, what do you like to write?
- Hi, I’m Jennifer, I see your name tag says “author,” what have you written?
- Hi, I’m Jennifer, I see you’re from Colorado too! (Good for conferences outside of Colorado/your home state)
- Hi, I’m Jennifer. I heard you say that you are a musician. I am one too – what is your instrument?
- Hi, I’m Jennifer. I heard you write fantasy/sci-fi. I do too! What’s your story about?
You’ll notice that these sentences focus more on asking the other person about themselves versus starting off with a spiel about yourself. Once you get past this initial introduction phase, I find people are generally interested to find out more about you and will continue the conversation. So, be prepared to answer those generic questions, ‘tell me about yourself?’ and ‘what do you write?’ and ‘what’s your book about?’ etc.
A critical part of Building Relationships is genuinely thinking about how you can help the other person. I’ve found joy in sharing a marketing tip I learned from one session with another writer who didn’t attend that session but wanted to know more. I think it feels good to help other people. When you start networking with other authors, you’ll find what makes you feel good in these interactions as well.
I’ll be honest, sometimes you (or the other person) may find you’re not interested in chatting more past the first few sentences and that is perfectly fine. Seriously not everybody has to like everybody. You won’t ‘click’ with everyone, so don’t expect everyone else to ‘click’ with you.
But after a conference where you may interact directly with 20-30 people, my guess is that you will come away with 2-3 really solid people that you want to continue closer relationships with. Of course, it’s good to follow-up with the people you meet, continue to think of how you can help them. But there will always be a couple that stand out in your mind that you may end up spending more time with.
5) Take Notes!
I don’t know about you, but I have a terrible memory. And thanks to Google, I no longer have to remember everything. You may leave with a handful of business cards and have a slight memory of the people you met, but not the specifics. Do yourself a favor and jot down a note to yourself about each person you meet. I did this on my iPad, but a notepad, back of their business card (if it’s not shiny), or your cell phone works too. I like to make a note about what they do, note if they are in my genre or have a similar passion, and any ideas I had of how I could help them.
Most of all: smile, listen, and have fun! 🙂
And finally, while it is important to meet other people in the writing community, most of your efforts should be focused on writing the best book you possibly can. The next blog post about Networking for Writers will be about following up with the people that you meet. Good luck and Happy Networking… I mean Building Relationships! 🙂
What experiences have you had at writing conferences? Any particularly helpful tips you found? If you are shy, what is the best tip you’ve heard that helped you come out of your shell? Anyone have any funny networking experiences you’d like to share?