Networking for Authors: 5 Survival Tips

by Gabriela Pereira
published in Community

Once upon a time, all authors had to do was write a good book. All that other stuff, like branding and publicity, was taken care of by the marketing experts. But times have changed and now more than ever the onus has been on writers to be part of both the writing and business sides of the publishing equation. Not only must authors go on a quest for the elusive “platform,” but now they have to engage in activities like “marketing” and “networking.”

But there’s another wrinkle. Any author who’s ever gone to a conference or other literary event has run into “that guy” (or “that gal”). You know the one. He carries five copies of his manuscript in his briefcase and tries to find any excuse he can to shove it into the hands of an industry professional. This is the woman who pitches to literary agents and editors while in line for the bathroom, even though every website under the sun says that’s the #1 thing NOT to do.

“That guy” raises his hand during the Q&A and asks a question specific to his own book, something along the lines of “would an agent on this panel acquire a book like…” This is the writer who asks for your business card and the next day you find yourself subscribed to her daily email newsletter. And there’s no way to unsubscribe.

Don’t be “that guy.” (Or “that gal.”)

Most writers are not naturally extroverted or comfortable in situations where you need to schmooze. But that doesn’t mean that networking has to be a painful or icky experience. Just remember these 5 Survival Tips and you’ll be well on your way to networking bliss.

 

 

Essential Networking Tips for Authors

1) Business Card Etiquette

The trick to business cards is to have them handy but not to foist them on everyone who walks by. I was just at a networking event and I was amazed at how many people showed up without business cards. I mean, the invite said something like “mingle and network with industry heavyweights” but people showed up sans card. Sure, you shouldn’t be shoving your card in every person’s face, but if someone expresses interest in learning more about your work, wouldn’t it be good to have a card handy?

Tip: when choosing cardstock for your cards, go for something non-glossy. Sure, glossy looks super-pretty but ever try to jot down a note on a glossy card with a pen? Smudge city.

2) Have a Conversation

Some of the best connections I’ve made with people in the publishing business have occurred thanks to a conversation. Agents and editors are people too, and after hearing pitch after pitch at a conference, they probably find regular conversation refreshing. Who knows, you may discover something in common that could help you get to know this person on a much more meaningful level. Unless you’re actually in a pitch session at a conference, save your pitch for those who ask you about your book. Otherwise, focus on getting to know the person behind the title.

3) Compliments and “Thank You’s” Are Powerful

If you’re sincere, a simple compliment can carry you miles on building a connection with an agent or editor. Of course, don’t pay compliments unless you really mean them and are sincere, but don’t be afraid of them either. I think many people get nervous about paying compliments because they feel like it comes across as flattery or toadying. The truth is that publishing industry professionals are people and most people enjoy getting compliments.

Tip: Keep compliments private, short and specific. Getting up during Q&A and telling an agent that they’re your favorite agent in the whole wide world might be more embarrassing than complimentary for said agent. Going up to the agent one-on-one afterwards and thanking her for blog post she wrote on world-building because it really helped you craft the world in your book… well, who wouldn’t want to hear that? Being specific and to the point makes the compliment more sincere as does delivering the compliment privately.

Also, remember to treat all fish (both big and small) with equal respect. After all, today’s editorial intern might be tomorrow’s editorial director. You never know where people will be in the future so treating everyone with the same level of respect  is not only the nice thing to do, but also the smart thing.

4) Have a Master-Plan

When I go to any book-related event, I have a master-plan. Whether it’s to hear a specific author read from her new book or listen to an agent panel. For me, the master-plan often revolves around DIY MFA, both spreading the word to more writers and also recruiting authors and industry professionals for guest posts or interviews. But a master-plan doesn’t have to be so specific. When I’m chatting with writers, I always have a question ready: “Tell me about your writing?” I learn a lot about what the person just by hearing them talk about their current work in progress.

5) Bring Along a Wing-Man

I’ve been to conferences and literary events alone and they were OK. But go with a wing-man and things turn from good to great. First, with a buddy along, you can divide and conquer, covering more ground. For instance, if there are two interesting panels going on at the same time, you can split up and each attend one, then swap notes.

Also, don’t be afraid to refer your friend to people you meet. The other night at the networking event, I met a guy who was in the same field as my lovely wing-lady. Immediately, I knew the two would have a lot to talk about and as it turned out, not only did they have a common interest, they also grew up in the same town! Networking is all about building your network, and if you meet someone who could be a great contact for a friend in your network, why not introduce them and spread the networking karma around?

When all else fails…

If networking isn’t part of your DNA, I hate to break it to you but you’re just going to have to do it anyway. Remember that saying: “Fake it ’til you make it”? That’s what I do. I’m a painfully shy person, especially when it comes to schmooze and booze types of events. I’m notorious in my family for sitting through entire dinners without saying more than “please pass the butter.” For me, networking is something I have to do, so I do it. If I could just sit at home with a hot cup of tea and a good book, that would be my version of heaven. Instead, before every networking event my husband psychs me up–like I’m a quarterback going into my biggest game of the season–pushes me out the door.

And every single time I go to an event, at the end of the day I’m always glad I went.

 

  • I’ve heard this bit about business cards, and I get it in theory, but every time I mock one up, well, it seems to mock me right back.

    I’m not eager to put my home (mailing) address down, and that only leaves my email and my blogs– which aren’t my “disciplined” writing anyway– they’re my detox and pressure-release valve.

    In that circumstance, other than a memorable graphic or (weird to me) a picture of me-the-author, I’m not sure what I’m handing them.

    I have a sort of core ‘tagline’ (“Beyond the Rescue”) but I can’t see that meaning anything to someone.

    Is that the sort of thing I’m supposed to create context for in my networking conversations? “Hi, I’m Amy Jane and my unpublished novels are all about…”?

    • Gabriela

      Amy, I totally relate. Before starting DIY MFA, I felt much the same way. Here’s what I suggest for a pre-published author business card:

      Name
      Email
      Twitter / Facebook / other social media (if you have them)
      Phone (I use google voice so I’m not giving out my actual home or cell number)
      Website or blog (if you have one)
      I wouldn’t worry about an author pic on the card. Keep it nice and simple.

      Here’s a trick, until you’re handing out so many cards that it’s worthwhile to get hundreds printed at a time, just set up a template on MSWord and print them yourself (just make sure to use an exacto knife to cut the cards or use pre-scored card stock). I print my cards in batches of 20-30 so if I decide I don’t like them, I just print out a new design. Now that I’m finally launching a DIY MFA logo that I love, I’m preparing to get cards professionally done but for years I’ve been getting by with ones printed on my trusty inkjet.

  • So you don’t think an effort at any logo or something is worth the effort?
    What about author theme/niche?

    I just know I do better with some sort of visual flag versus a string of text.

  • Gabriela

    It depends. If you’re a graphic designer and you feel like you could put together a good logo, then sure it can help. But between clip art or a rough logo and going with no logo, I would go no logo. But that’s just my preference. Everyone has a different take. Also, It depends on whether you’re printing out hundreds of cards professionally or are just doing a dozen or so on your inkjet. If you do the latter, you can print out the cards in small batches and get feedback from friends and colleagues.

    As for theme/niche my gut instinct is to avoid that, but that’s because of my own experience. If someone had told me five years ago that I’d be writing more how-to stuff than kidlit I’d have said they were crazy. You never know what direction your writing could go so why pigeon-hole yourself? Again, it depends on how many you’re printing. You could always do a batch on the home printer with niche/genre on it and see how it feels to hand them out and what the response is.

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