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.