N is for Networking.
Writing is one of the loneliest careers you can choose. You don’t report to an office. You don’t share meetings with colleagues. You don’t have a water cooler, a break room, any of the social trappings that most people are accustomed to finding in other jobs. Rather, you sit alone in a garret, scribbling away (for modern values of “garret” and “scribble.”)
And yet, writing is hugely dependent on communication with others in order to succeed in the fast-changing, diverse world of modern publishing. Authors need to understand trends and developments in publishing and distribution. They need to be aware of other authors in their field, friends and competitors (the two terms are not mutually exclusive), along with blockbuster successes. They need to reach out to readers, to the ultimate consumers of their work, with an eye toward growing that audience on an ongoing basis.
Authors need to network. And they can do that networking in person or electronically (or, of course, both.)
In-Person Networking—Writers Groups
Many writers rely on a writers group for their “entry-level” marketing. They meet with fellow writers on a regular basis (typically, once a month), sharing works in progress. At those meetings, they typically discuss news in the field (which publishers are buying what, who is paying large advances, which markets are trending at which vendors, what changes are being made in distributors’ terms and conditions, etc.) Because they’re human, they also discuss gossip (which author made a scene at which industry event, who got into an online flamewar with whom, who got upset with whom about a perceived slight, etc.)
Writers groups are typically small; otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to process the crucial business of evaluating authors’ works in progress. But they can be a rich source of networking, because everyone at the gathering has a common interest—publishing.
Writers groups are a good option for authors who are introverted. There aren’t too many people in attendance and the author likely knows everyone at any given meeting before he arrives. Writers groups are also a good option for authors who have limited finances. Typically, an author might be expected to bring food or drink (or to purchase food or drink, if the group meets in a public space), but there are no membership fees, no travel costs, no accommodation fees, etc.
Writers groups, however, are not likely to “spread a wide net.” Members will not necessarily get a broad range of perspectives, and they might not learn new topics, due to the relative insularity of the group.
Conferences lie at the other end of the in-person networking spectrum. Conferences (as they’re known in the mystery and romance worlds) or conventions (as they’re known in the fantasy and science fiction worlds) or cons (as they’re known in fandom) are gatherings in a public space, where anywhere from a hundred to a hundred thousand people get together to discuss their field.
Conferences typically have panels, where speakers address pre-determined topics. (At some conferences, these discussions are relatively ad hoc, with panelists conducting little or no prep work. At other conferences, panelists are required to submit written handouts nearly a year in advance.) Conferences also usually have book-signing events where readers can purchase books and have them signed by attendees. They may have official parties, awards ceremonies, off-site tours, etc. Editors and agents may take appointments with individuals during the convention.
Some conferences function as the annual meeting of a specific writers organization (e.g., RWA Nationals is the premier meeting of the Romance Writers of America.) Others are sponsored by interested groups of fans (e.g., Worldcon, the World Science Fiction Convention, is run by a group of volunteers from whichever city is hosting that year’s conference.)
Conferences may be devoted to a particular genre, or they may have attendees interested in multiple genres (e.g, the Novelists, Inc. conference.)
Authors desiring to network at a conference should do some scouting work ahead of time. They should determine whether a specific convention has the features they’re looking for in terms of size, formality, types of panels, ability to appear on panels, availability of appointments with industry professionals, etc.
In a relatively recent wrinkle, some authors are limiting their attendance at panels based on the operating policies of those conferences. Some authors won’t appear at conferences that do not have written harassment policies, or policies about accessibility, etc. Generally, these policies can be determined online, by studying the promotional sites of the conferences.
Given the vast variety of conferences available, an author is likely to be able to find one that meets his needs in terms of subject matter, location, time, money, and scale. The networking opportunities are wide, although some conferences provide better access to publishing professionals, some to fellow writers, and some to readers.
Social media exist to allow authors (and others) to connect with people. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and thousands of similar communities typically allow members to build communities of like-minded individuals, often creating smaller groups or lists based on common interests (such as a private group for editors, or a private group for authors collaborating on a single project, or a public group for fans of a particular series of books.)
The largest social media networks provide free platforms for people to communicate. In exchange, they harvest data about those people. The networks have policies to influence that data-gathering, often forbidding types of speech, or limiting communication deemed to be promotional in nature. Social media giants change their policies on a frequent basis.
Networking strategies that worked well in the past may not function at all in the future.
Nevertheless, social media networks are a good option for authors who have financial limitations. They allow an author to determine the amount of time she’ll spend with others.
At the same time, social media networks can become a huge time drain, requiring many hours to build and maintain relationships. Also, the transience of social media network rules may result in the loss of an author’s “social capital.”
So? What methods of networking have you tried? Why do they work for you? What can you change about your behavior to make them work better for you?