What’s a word that will make almost any introverted writer shudder? Networking. Or perhaps its cousin, platform.
Ugh. I have to talk to people? Can’t I just hide in my back bedroom and create such an enthralling novel that everyone will buy it on the merit of craft alone (without the unpleasantness of social interaction with strangers)?
Nope. Sorry. Maybe that’s the way the industry worked once upon a time, but not anymore. Networking, building platform, and mingling at writers’ conferences and book events are a part of life for any successful author in today’s market.
Wait. Don’t panic. It’s not as hard as you think.
This past week I participated in the Realm Makers conference for speculative fiction writers. Though I was attending as a representative of indie publisher Crosshair Press, where I serve as managing editor, I also had the privilege of attending YA author Mary Weber’s session on networking.
Her best bit of advice? Make friends.
Yup. That’s it. Be a friend. Not a fake I’m-talking-to-you-because-I-want-something-from-you type of friend. People want to be seen, not used, and industry professionals can spot that a mile away. But a real friend who actually cares.
Be the person who brings that agent a glass of water in between endless appointments. Be the person who tells other people about your friends’ books, and introduces people who are both awesome and need to know each other. Be the person who encourages other writers when they’re discouraged.
At Realm Makers I didn’t learn much about building a platform or networking in a conventional sense. But I made connections with some pretty fabulous people. Sometimes I was helping someone else. Sometimes they were helping me. But we are all on this journey together.
That’s what community is really all about. That’s how you find your tribe. That’s how you find the people from all strata of the industry who will champion you and your book.
Networking is nothing more than making friends, loving people, and letting them support you in return.
You know what true community looks like? It’s getting a hug from Sean and Suzanne Kuhn (a.k.a. SuzieQ, one of the top marketers in the industry) and hearing, “We love you and believe in you.” It’s top literary agent Steve Laube approaching me at the chocolate fountain and razzing me about the fact every time he sees me I’m eating. (Hey! What can I say? I love food. Especially chocolate-covered strawberries).
It’s one of the conference emcee finding out I’m suffering from a tension headache so bad I’m almost in tears, and sitting me down for an impromptu 30-minute back massage. Community is sitting down with one of the top editors at the conference and asking about her son’s health (my husband had similar health struggles in junior high and high school).
I could go on and on, but you get my point.
Networking isn’t about being the most charming, vivacious person in the room. It’s about being the person who genuinely cares. Community isn’t about being the most out-going person in the room. It’s about being the one person who asks, “How is your writing going?” and really wants to know. It’s giving generously and looking to invest first in others.
We can’t all be extroverts. We can’t all be the most popular person in the room or charm everyone into buying our books (though we can certainly learn and work at it!). Not everyone can know just the right words to say and spit them out at the appropriate time. We can’t all talk to people for hours on end.
But we can all care. We can all be a good friend. We can all build community. And at the end of the day, that’s really the key to effective networking.