Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Networking: The Fruit Bowl

For me, the word networking conjures images of bedazzled women and suited men standing around with half-filled flute glasses talking indulgently about their infinite knowledge and successes of which I know nothing about. So if you’re curious where I’m at in this imagery, I’m in the bathroom nibbling on a plate of appetizers while my good friend convinces me from outside the stall that, “You can do this…if you try.”

For this reason Networking is the fruit bowl: a necessary part of a balanced breakfast that just might get dumped under the table if no one else is looking.
Rest assured, this imagery has never come to life. Not entirely anyway; I’ve been in rooms filled with bedazzled women and suited men standing around with half-filled flute glasses talking indulgently about their infinite knowledge and successes of which I know nothing about - That part is true. However, not only did I survive it, I learned from it. And the only time I went to the bathroom was with my one close friend to laugh and make fun of the one or two people that took themselves way too seriously.

While my imagination seems to have its own definition nailed down, networking can be anything that puts you in contact with other writers. I spent years as a closet writer before I came out to the world. Once I did, my writing development progressed in leaps and bounds. I found other writers. Made close friends. I found myself getting great advice as well as giving it. I knew much more about what I was doing than I realized and the confidence that discovery gave me catapulted me as a writer in ways that I’m sure I haven’t even fully begun to see yet.

Networking will put you in touch with better opportunities via word of mouth. It can be done through writer’s conferences, creative writing classes, writer’s groups and associations, and even internet forums (though I would exercise some caution on the latter and do some checking on its reputability.)

*If you’re college doesn’t offer creative writing classes, they may offer a journalism class. While it isn’t fiction writing, you will most certainly meet those with an interest in fiction also. Journalism classes can also teach you to work on a deadline and you will get experience with critics and their critiques as well as editors and their editing. They will represent the thorn in your side as well as become an important part of your success. *

Networking is also a necessary part of being a published author. It’s an excellent way to market yourself and your books.

Networking can be scary for writers. We like spending our time in a quiet room alone otherwise we wouldn’t be writers. If not writers, we would be pathological liars constantly looking for someone to listen to the things we make up inside our heads. For those that empathize with my imagery of networking I have a few tips for surviving networking:

1.      When someone asks what you’re writing, don’t feel pressured to give them a detailed explanation. Try to have prepared a 30 to 60 second summary of your novel. If it’s a short story, your summary should be shortened to a sentence or two. This will keep you from fumbling. If your summary starts, “Well, it’s kind of about….” Try again. This is your story, know what it is about.

If you don’t know what it is about, that’s okay too. You can give them the main idea, “It’s about a burglary.” Or “It’s modern take on Little Red Riding Hood.” If you’re too self-conscious to divulge this info, I won’t press you to do so (though it would only help you) but your answer should sound more like this, “I enjoy writing (insert genre) (insert composition type i.e. novels, short stories…).” When I feel self-conscious, my answer is, “I’m currently writing a thriller novel.”

2.   If you are at a conference, know the speakers.
Go over the list of speakers as well as their bios. Authors are people - when they get recognized, they are flattered you know something about them. They’ll want to know something about you too. (and the window opens…)

3.   Remember names, save contact info.
The easiest way to stay in touch with your contacts is to keep up with their work. Follow their blog, read their books, then drop them a line to tell them you enjoyed it. Don’t be afraid to give them a little reminder, “We met at…” Most authors are great about responding to readers.

4.   Forget what your there for.
Try to put it aside that this is crucial. One of the worst things you can do is pressure yourself so hard to do well that you wind up standing in a corner for fear of screwing up. I am very bad about this. How can you help it when you want something so bad, right? One thing I do is pretend I’m at a different group setting. One where small talk is small talk and not life or dead. I ask questions like, “Where are you from?” And, “Where’d you get your shoes?” Rather than questions pertaining to writing. Networking is for building relationships of all kinds. Remember to reveal yourself as the multi-dimensional person you are, not solely a writer. You’ll find things in common with people and it makes networking easier and more effective.

If you aren’t a social butterfly, (and let’s face it…) networking can be scary, but it’s always manageable. So swallow down the wholesome networking fruit; it’s part of your career’s breakfast. Then go home and crack open a book for Part 4 of this series. Next post, Reading: The Pancakes and Syrup.

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