What are you selling anyway? If you haven't figured it out yet, you're selling you. Remember we're assuming your writing will sell itself (and if it won't, then no amount of networking will fix that). Show the industry that you're not only someone who can write a good book, but someone a publisher can invest in, send on tour, get behind. Show editors and agents that you're reasonable, knowledgeable, and willing to work and learn and promote. Networking is a little like a casual interview; we're all sizing each other up.
When is the time to network? The time is now. I don't care if you're working on your first book or have collected dozens of rejections. Get out there and try to meet some folks (at least other writers, for the love of God. We need our tribe of
Do I really have to talk in front of people? Yes. You're a celebrity, remember? A writer. An author. People like you. They like your words (or they will!) They want to see your face and hear your voice. More's the better if a fan gets to say in ten years, I knew her back when.
Can't I just have fun? You can absolutely have fun. Just not too much fun. You aren't here to play, you're working. Yes, your work might involve having (several) drinks with publishing gurus and best selling authors.Yes, it involves working in your jammies. But successful writers work harder than anyone I know.
Do I really have to stay up late? No. But the magic at events like cons often does happen after midnight. There's real camradarie from being the diehards.
Can't I slip off for some alone time? Well, sure. We all like to do that. But I, and other introverts, tend to push ourselves a bit more at events. Last Worldcon cost me nearly a thousand bucks, between hotel, food, drinks, chipping in for a party, swag... so hanging in my room isn't really getting my money's worth. That said, we all know our strengths. Sometimes it's good to take a walk. Some people I know try to get offsite for a meal at least once. Others go write a thousand words in the afternoon, or nap so they can stay up late. I tend to sleep in a bit and give myself a slow start on mornings I don't need to be anywhere. I even request sometimes not to be on early panels. It really can make the difference for me, because I do stay up so late.
You really networked for years? Yes. I networked intensively, attending events and cons and getting on panels for about six years before I published my first trade paperback. I did a couple other things on purpose, though. I realized early that this is a marathon, not a dash. I started editing Electric Spec. When we'd been around for over a year, I started getting on panels. I had some street cred by virtue of editing a stable, well-regarded, paying market. I spent a few intense years on Sex Scenes at Starbucks and developing my online presence. I spent over a year writing only short stories and I sold them all. I stretched myself creatively and wrote my first book in a new genre when the opportunity presented itself. I volunteered and served on the board of my professional organization, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. I made friends with lots of writers from bestsellers to new writers and soaked up every bit of advice they gave me. And, you know, I was just around. Sometimes I was pretty quiet. People just started to notice that I was there a lot. Before long, they were coming up to me. Networking led to my first book deal and absolutely to my most recent two-book deal, as well as signing with my agent.
You mean there's more?
- If you get invited to dinner, go.
- If you know no one at the event, sit at the hotel bar, not a table. People sitting at the bar want to talk.
- Go to a party and find someone else standing alone. Talk to them. 9 times out of 10 they'll be happy you did, and so will you.
- Don't dress like you do when you write.
- Do design a look for yourself. I know a couple of writers who always wear a certain hat, for instance. It makes you recognizable. Lots of cool jewelry, a costumy item, its fun and worth it to do something to make yourself stand out.
- Don't get rip roaring drunk. Just, don't. Not to say you can't drink. But you don't want to be remembered as the writer who threw up on someone's shoes.
- Listen.Yes, it bears repeating.
- Be fun. Have fun. You're a rock star. Act like it.