In the publishing industry, it's all about who you know. If you’re looking for a job, a book contract or simply a foot in the door, your chances of success will be greatly increased by networking.
As an introverted writer myself, starting the networking process has been a challenging task, but over the last year I’ve learnt so much. From being involved with a networking club at university to joining Twitter, I’ve discovered a few key steps and tips anyone can use to make the most out of networking.
While surrounded by people, introverts tend not to think on their feet too easily, and I’m no exception. After failing to take anything away from a few networking opportunities, I tried out the simple tactic of planning.
Know your target
Who do you want to connect with? An editor? A literary agent? Focusing your efforts will help you achieve the most out of networking opportunities.
If you don’t know what type of professional to connect with, research people who work on genres or topics you’re interested in. Once you have some names, be sure to remember them! Also take the time to follow them on Twitter and read their blog.
You want to network with people who can help you on your journey. But the literary world is one of community. Be sure to network with your peers as well as current professionals.
While you should focus on specific people, don’t be too picky. Professionals each have vast networks of their own. If you make a good impression on one, they may refer you on to someone offering a job or looking for a manuscript in your genre to publish.
Look for people who are associated with organisations you would like to research or work for. Having a plan gives you a sense of purpose and eliminates the fear that you will be aimlessly walking around.” – Stacy Harshman
Prepare your questions
Introverts network differently, and it’s important to know the difference and use your strengths. As an introverted writer myself, one of the most useful tips I found was to pre-plan questions.
In the relaxed setting of my home before an event, I’d brainstorm what I wanted to know more about. All the professionals I’ve met have been very friendly and happy to explain various aspects of the industry to my curious self.
I like to bring the written list of questions with me to networking opportunities – certainly not to actually read at the event or in front of anyone – but as a physical reminder.
I now add to the list even when I don’t have a planned event coming up, so I’m never out of things to talk about.
Some good questions to start with…
- How did you end up where you are now? (Education, career path, etc.)
- Where do you want to go from here?
- What do you look for in a manuscript?
- What’s the most important skill an aspiring should have?
- Why did you get into ?
- How have ebooks changed the industry for you?
- What was the most unexpected aspect of your role?
2. Choose the Best Places to Network
You’re not lacking for choice when it comes to finding a place to network. The choices range from large festivals and conferences to local writing groups and book launches. Opportunities are everywhere, but how do you tell which place is the best one?
Play to your strengths
Networking is hard, so find an event or place you feel the most comfortable at. Do you like the anonymity of a large crowd, or prefer the intimacy of a smaller group? Get out there, practice, learn which environments you work best in and play to your strengths.
I personally feel most comfortable when there is a task to do or a topic to talk about, so the best places for me to network are writing workshops and panels.
During the Brisbane Writers Festival, for example, I decided to attend as a volunteer rather than just a consumer, and in that role I achieved more in networking than I would have otherwise.
There are plenty of online resources that list upcoming literary events and festivals – even specific sites focusing on events in Australia and New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the USA, for example.
Try a quick Google search using keywords such as your location and the type of event you're interested in attending, e.g. 'writers festival + Melbourne', 'editing conference + London', 'publishing panel + Australia' and so on.
Consider your goals
Not all networking events are created equal. Your time is valuable, so don’t waste time on events that waste it.” – Amanda Abella
As it takes a long time to build up a network and, particularly if you’re an introvert, a lot of energy, it’s important to be focused.
Ask yourself: who do I want to connect with? This answer stems from why you're networking in the first place. Do you want to sell or publish a book? Get a job in the industry? Or co-create a blog with other writers?
The Australian Writer's Marketplace is a highly recommended book with a comprehensive list of contacts for Australia. You can look up contacts for specific genres, forms of writing, jobs and locations.
There are also, of course, many great online resources. The Australian Literary Agent Association has a great list of literary agent companies including a name, contact details and a brief description of the type of work they take. Just type your genre or target audience into the search bar to find the right literary agents for you to meet.
Go to the networking events your target contacts are most likely to be a part of. You’re more likely to find a professional, working editor at a conference than at a local writers’ group, for instance.
If you're looking for a job, make sure you approach professionals working in your area – unless you're eager to move!
If you want to target a specific person, find out if they’re speaking at any events and follow them on Twitter to see what they're interested in and for updates on where they go.
Be prepared for opportunities that come your way by chance. You could meet your new editor in a bookstore or bump into an old friend at a café who’s having coffee with your future agent.
Don’t turn down an opportunity when it arises. If you feel yourself starting to freak out, take a moment to calm yourself and push forward. It gets easier with practice.
3. Have a Business Card
If you don’t have a business card, get one. Not only does a card make you look professional and determined, it provides the recipient with a physical reminder of you, plus a way for them to contact you.
When to use it
Business cards are an essential tool for every networking event. Actually, it’s good to carry a few around all the time in case you bump into someone unexpectedly.
If you find yourself in a situation without one, remember to offer your email or some form of contact instead. And then stock up as soon as you can.
If you want someone to have your business card, be interested in them first.” – Phil Berg
Make sure you know the etiquette around giving business cards. It’s pretty simple: firstly, have an actual conversation with the person before offering it. Secondly, frame the offer in a way that is focused on them, not you. Ask if they would be interested in your card, or try asking for theirs first.
What to put on it
One thing that can stump professionals-to-be is what to put on their business card. Even if you don’t have a job yet, are still studying, or you're learning your own way through practice and workshops, you can have a business card. And if you’re serious about getting into the industry, you should have one.
Keep it simple. Lots of white space helps you or the recipient write notes on it. Stick to one email, and, if you want, one phone number. Also include your blog URL and your Twitter account if you use them to engage with the industry.
If you don’t have a paid job, are you a blogger? Or a writer? Or a budding editor? Put that on too. Then add your latest significant form of relevant study, whether completed or in progress.
If you’re looking to get your manuscript published, you should also put your elevator pitch on your business card.
Business cards are more graphic than ever. While not everyone can afford a graphic designer to help them out, there are many online collections you can choose from.
Whatever you choose, make it memorable but not cluttered and – most importantly – relevant to your writing style or what you write about.
In the end, I don't know if my business card is perfect, but I do know this: having a less-than-perfect business card is better than having no card at all.” – Barbara Diggs
4. Get on Twitter
Twitter is the place to be for the writing and publishing industry. If you don’t already have a professional Twitter account, start setting it up as soon as you can.
I’ve only been on Twitter for a few months, and while it was a little overwhelming at first, it’s not too hard to get the hang of.
Combine with physical networking
Twitter is a great way to get to know someone before meeting them. Following and commenting on their tweets gives you opportunities for a nice, smooth introduction. Go up to them and mention the latest novel you noticed them tweet about, or continue a conversation you’ve started with them online.
By using social media, we have the ability to remain connected to our communities even when we’re not physically together.” – Ken Mueller
Use it to follow up new connections you make as well. If you didn’t get their business card, at least try to write down their name so you can find them later on Twitter. Social media is a great way to keep your hard-won connections alive.
Handy hints for using Twitter
If you’re new to Twitter, make sure you take some time to learn how it works. In my struggles to find something to tweet about, I’ve found solace in retweeting. There’s nothing wrong with sharing others' tweets more than writing your own. In fact, they’ll appreciate the support.
Using lists is a great way to organise who you follow. In addition to saving time, lists help you focus on the types of people you’re targeting: professionals, peers, companies and like-minded people who may one day read your novel!
Using Twitter lists is not just a neat way to organise your social and professional connections; it’s also a simple reminder to connect with certain people, and a way to showcase those you love.” – Dana Sitar
Remember, you’re on Twitter to network, not arbitrarily increase your following numbers. Replying to others' tweets and joining conversations are great ways to make connections more personal.
- Almost everyone feels nervous networking, especially their first few times.
- Start early. Even if your novel isn’t ready, or your studies aren’t finished: get out there.
- If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you might be doing too much. Pull back and focus on a couple of people at a time.
- Build good, solid relationships; as you build your networking with new contacts, be sure to keep up the ones you’ve already made.
* * *
Networking seems a daunting task, but with the right strategies, anyone can quickly become proficient and even quite successful. Connecting with others as passionate as you is a joy. And the sooner you start, the more amazing connections you’ll have time to make.
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