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.