Networking is an important skill for an author to utilise and (for the purposes of this post) distinct from social media networking. Networking is hard simply because it’s purpose is to achieve more than just “getting your name out there.” It’s about building relationships and that takes a lot more effort than social media posts. It means going to events in the real world with people who may be unpleasant to you to your face. For the record though, the authors, publishers, producers and editors I’ve met have all been friendly and nice people. Some have been shy, some have barely let me say a word, but they’ve all been positive. Even when a rather gruff movie producer rejected my pitch, the subtext was still “not that idea, what else have you got?” rather than “you’re not worthy.” And here’s the key – all the people you need to support you as an author also have something to gain from your success, so in general, they want you to succeed.*
You also need to have something to give people you meet so they have your email, phone number and website/social media details. This can be a business card or bookmark or flyer. I was slow off the mark with this. It was only when I was talking to an author for advice to calm my nerves about pitching to movie producers at the Melbourne International Film Festival that I realised I needed one. He was walking me through the likely scenario of what it would be like, including the crucial detail that most meetings would start with an exchange of business cards. I didn’t tell him that at that point in time, I didn’t have a business card. I just hurriedly designed one when I got home and had them printed in time for the event. It was life-saving advice, as I was prepared for the day. Again this network connection was invaluable to make sure I didn’t appear as out-of-my-depth as I felt. Since then I’ve kept a few cards in my wallet and been pleasantly surprised by how frequently I’ve given them out and how useful they’ve been.
In a nutshell here’s the crucial advice I received; Hand out those business cards and collect as many as you can. Follow up with people. If someone shows interest or may be a useful connection in the future send them an email – “Thanks for talking to me at Event X, please contact me if there’s anything you’d like to discuss further…” (or similar). It doesn’t have to be an essay. The crucial thing is to invite the contact to keep in touch and let them know you’re okay with them contacting you.
So how do you meet people from your industry to form relationships? Short version, get out and get active:
1. Join a writers group – you’ll meet a dozen or so people who will pretty much be obliged to buy your book when you publish, keep you inspired and meet people who can put you in touch with others who can help you.
2. Go to writers conferences such as (in Victoria) the Emerging Writers Festival, Small Press Network’s Annual Publishing Conference meet people and learn about the industry.
3. Look out for conferences where you can be a panelist and get on as many panels as you can. Not only will you be seen as being at the same level as your panelists by the audience, you’ll get the contact details of your panel members (so you can organise what you are going to discuss, who’ll chair the panel etc.). Send them an email after – “I had fun on the panel and enjoyed hearing your views. If you’d like to stay in touch you can email/call me on…”
4. Go to you local library/libraries and offer yourself for an author talk or to be involved in any events they might be hosting.
And the hardest:
5. Spend a day going from bookshop to bookshop and introduce yourself. Ask if they can stock your book and try to get their buyer’s contact details. This has been the hardest for me and often unsuccessful, but I’ve managed to get a few. It’s worth doing so when your next book comes out you can contact the person you need to directly and direct people to said bookshop to purchase the book. Being stocked by bricks and mortar bookshops carries a certain cachet which is appealing. Equally, the bookshop benefits as you’ll promote them to interested readers.
Putting yourself out there is hard for many writers, and can be confronting when someone says no, but even if it takes some rejections to make a new contact it’s worth it. After all, who knows, the next person you meet might be the one who buys a copy of your book or gives it some visibility (see a list of ten things networking can achieve). They may introduce you to the person who’ll publish your book or turn it into a movie. You won’t know unless you network.
*If a publisher rejects your novel, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer, just that, that particular book wasn’t for them. If they give feedback on editing or story – listen to it, but don’t give up. A friend of mine just signed a publishing contract with a publisher in the UK (she’s Australian), after been rejected many times. Her persistence was the key to her success. An expression I like is that you need to be “tolerably persistent.”