If you’re like me, then networking as an author is hard. I hate feeling like I’m coming to the table with nothing besides my hat in my hands. I hate asking for anything, unless I can contribute something in return. Call it work ethic, call it stubborness, call it social anxiety, whatever, I originally, and still do, find it difficult to ask for anything from those who can really help.
That is a serious issue. Let’s be honest, the biggest hurdle for any independent author (after writing something worth reading and then getting it edited and self-published) is somehow getting their target audience to find them. This can be greatly assisted with book recommendations by other authors, blogs, book reviews, and word of mouth. Word of mouth sells the most, and I’m not talking “my friend wrote this book and it’s okay” word of mouth. I’m definitely not talking “my son/daughter who is living in my basement wrote this book, please buy it so he/she gets the money to move out.” What you want is “I met this author, he’s pretty awesome, and I really love his book, check it out.” That kind of interaction is priceless.
You have to reach your target audience and reaching them the right way is hard, sometimes. There’s a variety of research on the subject. I’ve already written a post on self-promotion. What I’m talking about now is networking, making those key connections that will not only benefit you… but benefit the community of independent writers. You may not even think of it this way, but somewhere, someone out there needs your help just as much as you need theirs. It may be a small thing, an introduction to someone you know, but that can be the difference between success and failure.
Networking has two aspects, the online and the physical. Online is typically LinkedIn, G+, or the dreaded timesink FB. It also includes blogging realms, but that is a story for another time. You find someone who posts on a friend’s page, you like what they wrote, you might see they’re into the same thing as you, and tada, you’re friends. Maintaining communication is a part here, striking up a conversation without being (A) a creeper, and (B) pushy is important. If you come off as someone who is entertaining and intelligent and with something valuable to hear, then people will be more likely to remember you in a good way. Physical networking is even more important to get write. Have a business card, be confident, make eye contact, and above all be professional. If you don’t have anything to bring to the table, then try to ask some questions that can help you. (Example questions: What conventions in the area do you recommend for new authors? Who could I talk to about participating in a panel? Introduce yourself and what you write, but don’t go into exhaustive detail about yourself. Be specific, be brief. There’s nothing like a 10 minute long heartfelt story of failure and depression to make any potential contact chew their leg off to escape) Here’s the brutal truth: most people will not take you seriously unless you view yourself that way. Conventions, both fandom and writing, are excellent venues for networking. Meeting someone face to face, talking about events or panels at the con, these are likely to stick with them and help them to remember you. Maintain that communication through online and other such events, and you can build your professional relationships.
For me, I’ll be honest, networking is easy enough in theory, but harder to maintain those important relationships. Part of that is maintaining communications, part of that is having something to contribute. Let me be clear here, plenty of people are willing to give the new guy (or gal) a hand at first, but patience wears thin if all you are is a taker. Give help, contribute, discuss, and when someone needs that introduction, help them out.
Yes, it can come back to bite you sometimes. I arranged an introduction for an acquaintance’s kid at a business. He never showed up. I got a nasty call. That kind of thing happens. I’ve also struck up friendships as a result of networking, learned a lot about the business end of writing, and had some help passed my way more than once. The important part of networking is to get out there and keep doing it.