Sunday, January 24, 2010

Do's and Don'ts of Networking

The following is a transcription of notes I took during a presentation by Clint Johnson at the Oquirrh Hills chapter meeting for the League of Utah Writers, on January 21st.

Do’s of Networking.
  1. Do make use of every opportunity to network, no matter how unlikely you think the chance might turn into something significant later on down the road.

  2. Do be professional. Most professions require a degree, such as an AA, BA, MS, MBA, etc. There is no such thing for creative writers. A BFA or an MFA is not mean you’re a good creative writer. Agents and other professionals have nothing to go on other than your behavior and your manner of dress. Professionalism is extremely important.

  3. Do be nice. Be kind and genuine. Don’t over-do the charm. Don’t be overbearing. Don’t corner people to get their attention.

  4. Do be polite.

  5. Do be honest. Especially on your list of publications. This is a small world. Everyone is connected to everyone. Everyone is a beginner at some point. Editors and agents realize this.

  6. Do be confident. Go with your strengths. Don’t be too witty.

  7. Do be humble. Don’t put other authors down. Again, this is a very small world. Someday somewhere down the road, someone in this profession is going to be asked to do a favor on your behalf. Be humble.

  8. Do take opportunities when they come, even if they scare you. If you get asked to write something that is out of your genere, or something you know very little about, take it anyway. Opportunities are few and they are far between.

  9. Always follow up on a contact. If you meet with someone, always re-connect with them, just to keep open the lines of communication. Don’t let your contacts go stale.
Concerning #7, I was reminded of a couple experiences I’ve had professionally. The first happened in graduate school. I needed three members on my graduate panel. One would be my advisor, the second was anyone else I wanted, and the third was someone chosen for me by the department. My advisor suggested I go see a certain professor that I didn’t like at all. I thought he was an arrogant snob, and I got a C in his class—but I had been careful to not share my opinion to anyone else and I was very very very glad. I sucked it up, and when it came time to defend my thesis he gave me his shining approval.

Just sort of the way life works out. Go figure.

The second example I have seen over and over and over at work. I live by the maxim of be nice to everyone you work with. You never ever know who could be your boss. At the last place I worked, one of our testers wanted to transition into development. I was kind of doubtful at first, but I kept my opinion to myself. Again, I was glad I did because he ended up being my team lead.

Don’ts of Networking.

  1. Don’t be a fan-boy or a fan-girl when you meet an author. Don’t dress up in costume. In this world, there is a difference between fans and collegues. You want to be perceived as a potential collegue.

  2. Don’t monopolize someone’s time.

  3. Do not expect your heroes to be as interested in you as you are interested in them.

  4. Do not be scared to approach people in the right time or the right place.

Networking Avenues
Now that we’ve discussed the do’s and don’ts, let’s talk about some avenues appropriate for networking.


  1. If you’re just starting out writing, attend panels and workshops and breakout sessions that teach the craft.
  2. Keep a copy of the schedule, and mark the panels you attend.
  3. Keep a record of anything interesting that an author said, and who said it. Keep track of who you talked to, and what questions you asked, and the responses you gathered.

  4. After a while in your panels and workshops, you will start to hear the same things over and over and will get little value out of the lessons themselves. At that point, start attending your panels based on who’s speaking.

  5. Participate when you go to the panels and workshops. Get to know people. Ask good, relevant questions and offer any relevant input of your own. Again, write down anything interesting that other people say, and who said that.

  6. Be educated about the work that an author does. Be able to say what you like about it. If you don’t like it, at least demonstrate that you understand it, but you don’t need to share anything negative.

  7. Be outgoing. Talk to the other attendees. Don’t assume that the other attendees are nobodys. They could be just like you or they could be someone who is very well-connected.

  8. As you mature in your writing, and especially as you publish, you ought to have a goal of being a presenter at a conference. If you aren’t comfortable talking in front of other people, practice in smaller groups.
Book Signings

  1. You can go to the big authors, but they won’t have a whole lot of time to chat with you, and you can’t expect them to remember you at all.

  2. Go to book signings by local authors. It is always good if you have read something by them beforehand, especially their most recently-published work. Have a copy of their book of your own and ask to have it signed, and spend time chating. Local authors are a lot easier to talk to and they have contacts that are much more easy to get into than a big-name nationally famous author.

  3. When you meet with people and chat, ask if they have a business card. Find out if they have a blog. If they do, go and read it. Comment on it, and link back to your own blog.
Look for readings that have a meet-and-greet. You want face-time with the author. Other than that, readings are a rather poor source of networking.

Lectures or Workshops
This is a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate your writing ability. Do participate. Look for opportunities to contribute and give back.

Your goal in networking
Your objective in all this is to become a part of the “discourse community,” part of the “in crowd”. You want to get in touch with the themes and ideas that authors are currently exploring. What do they currently care about? You are trying to become connected to the community.

Read these peoples’ blogs. Post comments on their blogs. Then when you go and see them in person, make reference to the article you commented on. What you are trying to do is match your face to your name.

Over time, you will find that your network matures. You will gain credibility among established professionals, and your opportunities will increase.

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