Tuesday’s post on the importance of avoiding the slush pile in the first place elicited quite the strong response. Some people pointed out that other agents are on the record stating that they find most of their clients through the slush pile (true – for them), some people expressed reservations about calling in favors (more on that later), some people wanted to know how in the heck you’re supposed to network when you live in Antarctica, USA (more on that too)…. and then we started talking about sports and that was that (the Kings’ offseason has been so bad it makes me want to talk about soccer).
So I thought I would revisit the post and reiterate some things that were said in the comments section and generally make an attempt to keep this conversation going because 1) I think it’s advice that perhaps some people may not want to hear, and 2) because that comments thread was interesting and people had lots of differing opinions. 3) Have you noticed how I like to number things?
First, on the matter of networking. There used to be a time when a lack of networking could be chalked up to living in Wyoming, not knowing the right people, not being familiar enough with the industry… any number of things. There really was no hope unless you lived in New York. And in fact, aspiring writers would move to New York just so they could run in the same circles as the publishing industry. This was a quaint time when writers wore berets and were not expected to be savvy self-promoters and when there was no such thing as a “platform” and blogs.
At the risk of getting all “the future is now” on you, well, the future is now. That time is no more. And that is because of the Internet. But also because berets are lame.
Physical proximity to the industry doesn’t matter anymore, or at least not nearly as much, and there’s not a whole lot standing in the way of someone becoming a well-connected writer with a strong network and industry connections. You can do plenty of networking from your living room if you have a computer (and if you’re reading this, well, I assume you at least have access to one). So ultimately (and this is where people may get mad) there’s no excuse for not being at least somewhat connected anymore. Unless, of course, you just don’t have the time (and who does?).
And it’s not just demanding agents like me who expect this — publishers increasingly expect even fiction writers to have a platform to draw upon, to be savvy self-promoters, to be capable with the media, to be able to draw upon a network. We live in a time when there are endless distractions competing for a reader’s attention, when publicity budgets are tight, and when there are a whoooooole lot of books beings published. Most (caveat: not all) bestselling writers are magnificent at promotion in addition to being great writers, and the two things go together like glass noodles and roasted pork (mmm… leftovers).
Now — will I pass on a prospective client with an amazing book who doesn’t have any connections, doesn’t have a network, and lives on the moon? No, I will not. A great book trumps all. But I will at least hope that the author is receptive to building a network and making some game attempts at self-promotion.
I know that a lot of writers are introverts, that knocking down doors and asking favors and talking to booksellers and trying to meet writers and doing a lot of non-writing grunt work is not most writers’ idea of a good time (and, tellingly, isn’t really a part of most people’s fantasy of what it’s like to make a living as a writer). Some people are wary of asking favors, of seeming unseemly, and find the whole thing generally distasteful. But. It is so important at every stage of the publishing process. Some people don’t like that a writer is now also expected to be a publicity machine, and deep down they want to just write good books and retreat back to their den and be showered with bestsellerdom. Good books do trump all, but people have to be convinced to buy them first. And that’s where networking and promotion come in.
So. What can you do about it?
Kaytie M. Lee posted a great summary of things you can do to network in the comments section of Tuesday’s post, and J.A. Konrath just happens to have given a fantastic rundown of things you can do to promote a book on A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing.
But specifically with regard to networking, the best way to network is to find other people who want to network. As I mentioned Tuesday, J.D. Salinger is probably not going to blurb your paranormal urban fantasy novel. But there are plenty of authors positively desperate to meet other readers and writers, who put themselves out there on the Internet specifically to meet people, and who are willing to invest time and energy in the less-fortunate writers out there. If they are out there on the Internet, posting comments on other blogs and maintaining a blog of their own, chances are they want to meet you. Why? They want more readers and to spread the word about their book, and they need your help. Read their books, comment on their blogs, help them spread the word about their books, keep paying it forward, and they’ll be happy to pay you back and help you out. It’s like rhinos and those birds that sit on rhinos and eat ticks — everybody wins.
I feel like I know a lot of the regular commenters here and would give their queries extra attention and try and help them out — not because I’m so flattered they read my blog, but because anyone who is reading industry blogs every day and investing their time in them is serious about writing, serious about the business of writing, serious about creating a network, and those qualities bode well for an aspiring author.
That’s how connections are made. And you’ll need every one of them you can get. Please share more networking suggestions and ideas (and disagreements) in the comments section!