Freelance Writers: Why You Shouldn’t “Network” — And What You Should Do Instead
If you’re like most writers, you’ve heard success stories that hinge on connections – “A friend of mine in Prestigious Writing Program referred me to Famous Agent and I got a book deal out of it!”
As in most businesses, connections matter in publishing. Agents and editors are more likely to work with people they know, or who have been referred to them by someone they trust. Which is great, but what if you don’t have a friend in a Prestigious Writing Program who has a Famous Agent? Most of us aren’t born with a set of connections that’ll get us in the door.
But never fear! I’ve always said, “It’s not who you know — it’s who you get to know.” And “get” is the operative word there: you can do something about this! You can get to know the people who can help your career. How?
An unfortunate number of people think that networking is about you promoting yourself to other people. You’ve met the guy: you say hello, he hands you his business card and tells you to get in touch about your life insurance needs. You ask a friend what she’s been doing and she pitches the product she’s selling in a multi-level-marketing scheme. None of us want to be that person.
And being that person doesn’t actually work. What does work is something more nuanced and a bit harder than that. It’s about building relationships with people. And what that requires is for you to actually care about the relationships you develop. It means giving some of the time instead of asking all of the time (we’ve all met that writer who joins a group and spends all her time asking for editor contact information instead of introducing herself and sharing tips she might have).
I can easily ignore an email in my inbox from some stranger who wants to know if I’ll connect her with my agent. But if that same person says, “I read Dojo Wisdom for Writers and I really enjoyed it!” then I like her already and am more inclined to help her. That comment was an easy thing to give, right?
You can give a colleague a job lead, share a link to an interesting article, or offer a tip of your own. None of these are particularly hard to give.
However, if you want me to give you the name of my agent and a glowing referral, it’s not enough for you to say, “I loved your book! Can you recommend me to your agent?” I still don’t know who you are. To be blunt: I still don’t care about your success. I have my own problems, dreams, goals, and aspirations. I have twenty-two things to do in the next ten minutes.
So this is where you work on developing a relationship with me. You’ve introduced yourself by saying you liked my book. I have good feelings about you. Maybe in your next communication you ask for something simple for me to give – “What’s your favorite book on writing? Other than Dojo Wisdom for Writers, of course.”
A specific, simple question is easy for me to answer. I’ll probably say something like, “What kind of writing do you do or aspire to do?”
And you’ll tell me, and … guess what? We have a relationship now. That wasn’t so bad, was it?
That still doesn’t mean I’ll refer you to my agent (maybe we don’t do the same kind of work, maybe my agent isn’t taking on new clients, etc.) but it does mean I’ll be more likely to look out for opportunities for you.
“That’s great, Jennifer,” you say. “But I don’t have two years to spend working up a friendship with you so that I can get you to refer me to your agent.”
You’re absolutely right! But you’re not just networking with me, right? You’re reaching out to and connecting with all sorts of people. Some of them you’ll naturally mesh with. Others will be more off-and-on. Others will barely register on your radar. That’s okay. This is an organic and fluid process.
Your career as a writer will, I hope, be a long and varied one. So it’s fine if some aspects of it take time to build.
Where Do I Meet These People?
“I don’t live in New York,” you say. “Where am I going to meet these people?”
I live in Podunk, Midwest and always have. I’ve managed to have a very nice career in publishing despite that fact.
If you want to make connections that can help you with your career goals, think about what those career goals are. Want to have success as a blogger? Then look for groups of bloggers you can join. Leave comments on the blogs of people you admire. More inclined to write articles for online sites and print magazines? Join freelancer groups that focus on these areas. Check out writers’ conferences, Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups, and more.
Reaching out to others is the first step on the road to getting to know the people who can help you in your career!
How about you: Have you had success getting to know writers, editors, and other people in your industry? Do you have any tips to share? Please post in the Comments below!
Jennifer Lawler is the author or co-author of more than forty nonfiction books and novels. Her class on writing nonfiction book proposals starts on March 25, 2013!