First off – I’m no expert. I’m a wife… mum… writer – who in 2013 was thrust into the publishing world and had to rapidly learn how to navigate. But over the last three and a half years, and eight books, I’ve gained some experience. So here are my five top tips, which probably apply to any business environment – and might sound a bit obvious. But some times the obvious needs saying! If you have any tips of your own, I’d be fascinated to hear – please do post them in the comments.
Don’t be afraid. The photo, below, was taken a the first formal author event I attended – the summer party of the lovely Romantic Novelists Association. I’d been told it would be good for networking – whatever that was. It sounded very grown up and intimidating. I had a deep-set fear of being found out for not being a “proper” author. What if people asked me high-falutin’ questions about my view on the latest published literary novel? I imagined all sorts of nonsense whilst I had my hair done and bought a posh frock. As it turned out, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The party was exactly that – a group of friends and like-minded people turning up to celebrate their common interest and have fun. So keep your fears in check. Networking boils down to talking to people. As time passes you will learn skills to get the most out of those conversations.
Give and take – understand that networking is not all about me, me, me. It’s about respecting the other person and also helping them if possible. No blogger or fellow author wants to stand chatting to a writer who does nothing but promote their own work and hand out business cards. Show an interest. Ask the other novelist about their latest book. Find out what that blogger really likes to read and enquire about their day job. Basically, be good-mannered as you would in any other situation. I’ve found the writerly world to be super supportive but that works both ways. Of course hand out promotional material, if someone shows an interest – but do it subtly. I attended a blogger/author meet in Birmingham this Saturday just gone (see previous post!) and very much enjoyed handing out some of these promotional chocolate bars (which are actually tiny and probably went in one mouthful!). They are for my latest book, The New Beginnings Coffee Club. Some went to friends – others to people who didn’t know my work. The recipient gets a tasty treat and probably won’t throw it away like they might a business card!
Decide on your goals – what are you hoping for when you turn up at a writing event or connect with a a fellow author online? Here are two general goals to start with: firstly to garner support for your work. Secondly, to garner support for yourself. If you get on with a writer and start to support their career, for example by retweeting their promotional tweets, they will no doubt do the same back. Eventually you will probably share tips about agents and publishers and perhaps invite each other to launch parties where you can further network. And publishing is a tough business. Having writing friends you can seek advice from, or just vent at for a while, is priceless and has got me through difficult times. I have formed invaluable authorly friendships online and in real-life by going to events, joining online forums and participating in social media, namely Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. These relationships are easy to instigate. Spend time, on social media, cultivating friendships. They will follow their natural course – some may never blossom, others will lead to a lifelong association. And then you can tailor your goals. Perhaps you are looking for people to support a particular novel or participate in an event you want to run.
All hail customers! In my case, readers. Never forget that without these people your career would be NOWHERE. So, when they connect on social media ALWAYS respond. If they loved their book and tweet you or send an email the time they have taken deserves an answer. And if their communication contains a criticism (and is polite!) then address this, as well. Only yesterday I exchanged messages with a reader who’d got confused about something in one of my books. I was grateful to be able to clear up the problem and we had a lovely chat. Networking with readers is very important – I’ve formed some significant friendships and had readers recommend me to their friends. If you are brave enough, do book signings, talks and workshops, get out there and meet your fans. The internet means that authors are expected to be more accessible than in the past. Work that to your advantage.
Be genuine. This above all else. My advice could sound clinical but the thing is, when it comes to networking I follow my heart. I am passionate about my career and passionate about getting involved in the writing world. I’ve genuinely made good friends and even if I wanted, couldn’t force the fun we have together, online or when we meet. I’m fascinated by other people’s stories and their journeys and would soon get bored of just talking about myself.
So chill 🙂 Networking doesn’t need to be scary. Just be yourself. And realise that it runs along a two-way street. Do that and you’ll expand your own writerly community in no time at all.