With Misty and Faith talking about Cons and with ConCarolinas starting today, I thought it might be helpful to discuss networking.

Networking is, quite simply, the act of building business relationships. That’s it. It’s talking and laughing and sometimes even drinking. It’s lunches and dinners and talk in the hallways and elevators. It’s intriguing conversation and boring dialogue.

Networking is getting to know people in the industry so that at some point down the road — not right then and there — you could get a little pay off. That might sound cold and calculating, but remember, this is a business relationship not a friendship. Sometimes friendships develop, but initially, you’re networking is business oriented.

So, here are some practical guidelines for those initial conversations:

1) Relax — Easier said than done, I know. But the truth is that you’re not in disguise, secretly infiltrating the writer’s ultra-guarded, hidden lair. So you don’t need to worry while talking to Faith that she’ll point her finger at you and say, “Aha! Imposter! You don’t belong here! You are not worthy to speak to me!” Not going to happen. With extremely few exceptions, all the authors I’ve ever met love to talk with other writers. Those who have been published know and understand how hard it is to achieve publication. They also know somebody who has helped them along. They want to return the favor. And the first step is talking. But……..

2) Don’t be NEEDY — You can’t go up to people wanting/needing things from them. It oozes off of you and turns them away. Just try to talk like a normal human being and not an aspiring writer who really, really, really, really wants to get published. Forget about asking for your manuscript to be read. Instead, find something worth talking about that’s not about you. If you saw the author in a panel, come up with a point regarding something she said. If you like his writing, tell him so (authors love positive reinforcement). The point here is, don’t go into the conversation trying to get something from the author. If the author offers, great. If not, that’s fine, too. Have your pitch ready just in case, but don’t go in expecting to pitch. First time around, you simply want to make a good impression, or at least, not a bad one.

3) Slow Down — Networking is a long term process. You build relationships by being a friendly, reliable, trustworthy person. You need to show that a) you’re not going to be annoying, b) you might be interesting, and c) you understand and appreciate the professional nature of networking. The things you’re craving to have these people see — your ability to write, for example — will be discovered later, often while you’re not even looking.

4) We’re all in the same boat — All that time you spent fretting about approaching Misty to tell her you liked Mad Kestrel, all that time you wasted sweating over how best to say hello to David or A.J. — well, the truth is, they’re going through it too (just not over you). David probably had to swallow a hard lump of nervousness before approaching George R. R. Martin. And I guarantee you that we all would be sweating if we had the chance to meet Stephen King or Neil Gaiman. See, networking never ends. Meeting those that share the same level of success as you does make it easier (it certainly gives you common ground to talk about), but there is always somebody higher up that you want to network with and it’s always hard. Luckily, authors, agents, and editors are usually nice, approachable, and happy to chat for a short time — which is all you want, initially.

5) Have something to offer — This is my best advice. It’s the opposite of being needy. When I first started networking, I was writing book reviews for several venues. After a simple, undemanding conversation, I could always end by offering to review the author’s book. I was doing something for them — not the other way around. The end result was a good networking contact. The author knows I’m not just self-serving, but I’m willing to do things for him. So, figure out if you have something worthwhile to give. The rewards can be immense.

Please note that these “rules” (really just guidelines) are not intended for the fan who just wants an autograph and a little gush time. This is about the business side of things. Some authors you’ll meet will break these business rules quite successfully; some expect you to follow them rigidly. You have to gauge each situation as it comes. Also, this post is about the first few times you meet with a professional. After that relationship is established, it will define itself including what is acceptable and what is over-the-line.

Ultimately, networking is about your people skills. The better you are at dealing with others, the more success you will have in this endeavor. Be very patient. It takes time and mistakes to learn how to do it.


17 comments to Networking

  • >>you don’t need to worry while talking to Faith that she’ll point her finger at you and say, “Aha! Imposter! You don’t belong here! You are not worthy to speak to me!”

    Yes I will! I’ll do that exactly!!! That is what I’ll say!
    See you at CC, Stuart!

  • Deb S

    You don’t need to worry while talking to Faith that she’ll point her finger at you and say, “Aha! Imposter!”

    Unless Faith meets up with Gwen.

    There can be only one:)

  • Great points, Stuart. I hope to see all of them acted upon this afternoon! See yout here.

  • Deb, most of my alternate personalities are well merged.

    No, they aren’t.

    Yes, they are!

  • Very nice.

    I think it all boils down to: be polite, be professional.

    Very few pros are amateur-eating monsters, but *everyone* is turned off by inappropriate and unprofessional behavior.

    Not fiction-related, but the same kind of networking happens at other professional conferences. I attended one earlier this year, and the very coolest thing happened. BiggestNameInTheField spent the entire opening reception wandering around the room with a beer, walking up to random groups of people. “Hi, I’m X” (as if we didn’t know!). “Are you a grad student”, or if that seemed unlikely “Where do you work?”

    It was awesome. I never expect to be BigName, but I hope that if I’m ever in a similar situation I remember his behavior.

  • Faith — er, Gwen, er, um, oookay, I look forward to seeing all of you tomorrow.

    AJ — Thanks. Good luck.

    Phiala — >>Be polite, be professional.<< If only people would respond to such simple ideas. 🙂 Actually, I do think that in some cases, people get so nervous that the "professional" side of your equation flies away. It's not that they want to be rude, it's just that they are so excited, nervous, hopeful that they can't help themselves.

  • I’ve really enjoyed all the how-to posts for cons the past few days. The advice seems like common sense, but there is always a chance for the “fanboy” to come out any time you meet an idol.

    I wish I could attend the ConCarolinas this weekend, unfortunately work has gotten in the way. Maybe next year. Thank you for the wonderful advice Stuart, as well as Misty and Faith for their great posts on con behavior!

  • Thanks, Alistair. Sorry we’ll miss you, but I’m sure some or all of us will be there in 2011. Hope to see you then.

  • My problem is that when I meet someone I want to impress, I try to think up something suave and witty. It usually comes off as being creepish and ignorant. Hopefully I will get better as time rolls on….

  • The best epiphany I ever had was the day I realized that I don’t need to put published authors on pedestals. I don’t have the time to get gushy and fangirly, either. Doesn’t mean I never do (I mean, there was that one time last year when I realized I was standing in an elevator with geek folk singer Jonathan Coulton and I totally froze), but at least around writers I’m better at controlling my squees.

    It does mean that I approach the conversation as a sort-of peer, just one with much less experience, ready to have a respectful discussion. And maybe this is just my own belief (please, Stuart, correct me if I’m wrong), but I get the impression that this approach is appreciated. Last year I got a chance to sit down with Terry Brooks (OMGSQUEEEEE) and have a useful, engaging chat without freezing up. It was invigorating.

  • Mark — There’s no need to be “suave and witty.” Just find some common ground to talk.

    Moira — If that approach keeps you calm and thinking, then great. It won’t work for everyone (a lot of people can’t see themselves that way), but I found that after I had published several stories, I felt like I could talk on a more level playing field with other authors — so I can see how your approach would work. Also, I met Terry Brooks five or so years ago and found him to be one of the all-time nicest Big Names I’ve ever come in contact with.

  • […] Jun Just came across this article on networking by Stuart Jaffe. He demystifies networking in simple terms and the way it […]

  • HarryMarkov

    Aha, I have finally registered. Can you believe I thought that I needed to use the WordPress username and pass from the usual account I have? Yeah, I am that bright.

    Anyway, I am quite possibly prone to gushing in excess. However, I do have the smarts. I am a reviewer / interviewer extraordinaire [yes, shameless plug] and this is how I approach authors and make friends. I start with ones I know I will love and work my way through to establishing a long lasting contact, if time and opportunity permits. As I do live away from any center of publishing, so I use the web as a weapon. Gladiator style.

    Will this post have a sequel regarding networking on the web?

  • Harry — Interviewing is a wonderful way to offer something to an author — especially because you end up getting one-on-one time with the author. Access you wouldn’t get through a simple review. Networking on the Web? I’m sure we can arrange something. Thanks for the suggestion.

  • I like to think of networking as relationship building. More people know that relationships take time, are give and take, and are best if taken slow. This makes it easier to remember all the great points posted above.

    If you just met somebody you were interested and go off into a monologue of how great you are and all the things you want from them, *zoomz* they’re gone. Same thing in networking.

    Have fun building relationships at the ConCarolinas.
    -Dave in China

  • NewGuyDave – You’re absolutely right. Perhaps because of the business pressures involved, we tend to make networking far more complicated than it really is.

    We all had a great time at ConCarolinas and enjoyed meeting so many of our readers. Thanks to all of you who could come and to all of you who wanted to be there. We truly appreciate your support.