Thursday, April 22, 2010

Networking

I was recently on a panel of romance authors at a library event in my area. It was the first time I had ever been asked to do something like this. I felt very official sitting up there on the podium. Like I had really arrived! Stephanie Doyle - author!

But it’s not like they asked me because they knew me or my work - I just happened to know one of the organizing authors. And it occurred to me how little time I spend networking and putting myself out there at events like this. I was told to provide a picture – I didn’t have a good one. (That’s since been corrected.) I was told to bring some promotional goodies… huh? I brought some books instead.

I’m an absolute loser when it comes to this. I know other people get published and right away get a picture, pens, bookmarks and business cards. It took me 5 conferences to learn that when somebody asked for my “card” they weren’t asking for my day job business card. I used to think what the heck do they want that for? It wasn’t until that 5th conference that I actually looked at what I was getting in return that I realized people were handing me “writing” business cards. Ohhhhhhh. I get it. (This has also since been corrected.)

Anyway one of the questions asked of the panel was how did you get your start. Two of the authors said that networking played a crucial role for them in getting published.

As the anti-network person I thought how? You write a book, you send it in, someone likes it or they don’t. But they gave a really compelling argument. One mentioned that they started with the three C’s. Contests, conferences, and critique groups. That it was important to have face time with editors and agents. And two of the authors actually told stories about how after meeting their editor at a pitch session, it eventually led to a sale.

I felt like a jackass. Not that I didn’t get my start that way. Just that here were these other authors - some with fewer sales than I had - who had gone out to libraries and bookstores, had been asked to speak on panels and had been to conferences around the country.

Who had stuff. While I was totally oblivious to all of it.

So for the “networkers” out there - educate me. How do you network? How do you get invited to conferences? Where do you go to get all the stuff? And when you have it who do you give it out to? But more importantly do you think it helps? Do you think it’s making a difference in your career for those published and not published yet?

11 comments:

Karen W said...

My opinion is this and comes from a published author standpoint. Face time is important with your editor and if you're wanting an agent, you should make an effort to have face time at least once a year. RWA National is a good time for this, though I do know people who go to NYC or Toronto once a year.

The rest of it - meh. Don't know. I tried it for one year. I sought out and accepted speaking engagements at conferences. I went to probably 8 conferences that year (around my state and nearby states). I'm not an outgoing person, so that wasn't easy for me, but I did it. I also did signings, schmoozed with bookstore PR people, etc.

Did it help my career? I don't think so. Did I make friends? Sort of, but not long term, close friends. It seemed more of a time sink.

I do print business cards. I no longer do bookmarks or promo items, mainly because I've never bought a single book on account of receiving a promo item.

That's my take. I'm interested to hear others.

Karen W said...

Steph, I need to add to this what I think DOES work. An online presence. Web site, blogging, Eharlequin, Facebook, Twitter.

Also a time sink, but I think it has better results. But then again, that's just me.

Maureen McGowan said...

You know, I don't think networking is necessary, but I do think it can help.

Both of my publishing opportunities so far have come to me via networking, (not my agent). But now that I think of it my agent also came to me through networking...

Yes, to actually have those opportunities turn into anything but a submission, it was about my writing... AND the people who brought the opportunities to me did so because they'd also read my writing, not just networked with me, but still...

I think writing blogs are a great way to network. Also facebook and twitter. (And it's easy to do FB and Twitter together with tools like Tweetdeck and Seesmic.)

It doesn't take a huge amount of time... but it's time I'm not sure I'd have if I was working full time, or had kids... and it's much less important than writing time.

Maureen McGowan said...

Oh, and collecting business cards is great -- if you do something with them. Every time I go to a conference I swear I'll be organized. Make a note on the back of them to remember who it was and how I met them... Then log them all somewhere and start a database.
I've been to a scary number of conferences... How many times have I actually done this? ZERO. Next time. Next time....

Stephanie Doyle said...

Good stuff! I don't do Facebook (or I didn't) mostly because I never felt the need to put myself out there. It would just be like another website I don't update. But I will give it a shot.

So cards yes, bookmarks not really - facebook definitely...

Eileen said...

I think it's like all the promo stuff. You have to figure out what you can do without making yourself crazy.

I'm a bit of a party girl (Surprise!) so I love going to conferences and meeting people and hanging out. Those kinds of things can lead to invitations to speak at conferences and on panels which does increase your visibility somewhat. Will it catapult you onto a bestseller list? I kinda doubt it. But it is useful.

It's one of those things that kind of builds on itself. Someone sees you speak, remembers you when they're putting together speakers, invites you to the next thing where someone else sees you speak . . . and she tells two friends and she tells two friends and pretty soon your like Herbal Essences.

Sinead M said...

I'm terrible at networking, at the so very, very few conferences I ever make it to.

I think it's the followthrough. You actually have to make an effort to keep in contact with the people you do meet, and I never manage to.

It's like Maureen pointed out. If its a choice between networking and writing, the writing will always win.

Molly O'Keefe said...

I was thinking about this all day and I realized that I was getting promotion and networking confused in my head. I hate promotion - no clue how to do it. And while I'm not a great networker (not like Maureen, more on that in a second) I do like it. I'm pretty focused about the networking I do. Before a conference I contact a few people I know will be there, who aren't friends yet and I ask if they want to have a coffee. There's something about them I admire - thier writing and career. The way they handle certain things. Usually a coffee date is made and I get another smart woman to add to my list of writers I admire.

I love conferences and when I'm not having babies try to go to two a year. For several years I sent in proposals and they were accepted or not and off I went. Now, I'm getting asked which usually means something gets paid for besides the conference fee which is great.

I'm lousy at facebook and twitter, probably because I think of it as promoting rather than networking. hmmm must think about that.

But I think Maureen is an amazing networker, because she's got an informed and smart opinion on lots of things and doesn't mind answering questions. And does it in such a way that she comes off both smart and informed and friendly. I think that stuff builds a huge amount of good will.

Karen W said...

Good point Molly. Obviously I was confusing the two also.

I SUCK at Networking. I just don't have an outgoing personality. I try, honestly I do, but unless I'm in the bar with a few beers in me...

Ya know?

Stephanie Doyle said...

Definitely a good point about networking.

Molly - I would never consider inviting someone I didn't know out. Amazing.

Which of course is funny.

This is how Karen and I met...

Everyone else is at the "speaker" luncheon doing their networking thing.

The two of us were at the bar in the hotel restaurant by ourselves - each with a burger and a beer in front of us.

Finally - we looked up and said..

"Hey".

"Hey".

And the crazy thing is I would call myself completely outgoing. Chatty friendly - just not someone who puts herself out there.

I gotta work on that!

Eileen said...

Well, I wouldn't be here on Drunk Writer Talk without networking. I gave Molly some of my potato in Seattle, drank blueberry beer (and fell off my seat) with Maureen in Boston and voila! here I am.

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