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Networking for Freelance Writers

Oh, the pains writers go through. It's not enough to write until blood spills all over the page. No, then the precious writer must write query letters, market, and, now, this humiliation of "networking."

So, what's the poor, introverted writer to do? After all, most writers are trained to spy on networks, not to participate in them. For writers, "networking" can be a tricky, peculiar problem.

A writer would network for several distinct reasons. One would be if she were shopping a manuscript around. Or if she wanted to increase exposure of a book she had just published. And, naturally, a writer wants to get known to editors and have a chance at writing assignments. It's all very difficult to do without networking.

A writer's network can be made up of editors, agents, fellow writers, experts in areas the writer writes about, people who have interesting tales to tell, people who are inside sources, and so on.

The art is to make the network a part of the seamless web you are living. There are techniques to do this.

P o i n t s   O f   C o n t a c t 

Author L. Michelle Tullier identifies six categories where networking takes place: One-to-one meetings, professional groups, the Net, education and training, social/ recreational/community settings and, lastly, what she refers to as serendipity.

Serendipity is when you are riding on an airplane and start conversing with the passenger next to you. "And what do you do for a living?" "I"m a writer." "Oh, isn't that interesting because I'm an editor..." So, a chance for a new relation is struck 36,000 feet in the sky. Serendipity. And the air is only one of many places these encounters can take place. Try the golf course, cafe, grocery store, train, and the neighborhood. I was in a line at the grocery store last month and these two women started chatting in front of me. Before we got to the checkout one had fished around in her purse and pulled out a business card.

Ask yourself some simple questions: Where am I, where am I going, where do I want to end up? And then apply the art of research to discover the layers of structure that exist between where you are and where you want to get to.

Read any biography of a leader in a democratic society and you'll find an excellent networker. Most successful people work the networks for years, over and over again. And they don't change their personality or act out of character. They simply learn to apply a few techniques.

F i r s t   T h i n g s   F i r s t

Set the goal: "I am networking because..." Answer that and then plan a series of actions that will connect you with people who can help you. And always keep in mind that it's a two-way street. You will be helped as much as you help in turn. So, whenever you think about a network, always think in terms of the interest of the person you are going to have a professional relation with.

Again and again I come across anecdotal evidence that editors like to work with a small group of writers who they've come to trust because they have established reliable relations with them. The reason you cultivate networks is to establish this and keep it in place.

* * * * * * * *

Chances are you will network at different times for different reasons. And there will be periods of time when one network is hot and the rest of them are cool.

* * * * * * * *

More questions to ask:

Who will give me support for my efforts?

Who can help move my material in the direction I want it to go?

Who can move the material in wider networks?

* * * * * * * *

Anytime you publish something it should get into the hands of your network. When it's time to write the book you'll be promoting it a good deal. You will use whatever network you have set-up and go about creating new one's. The internet is invaluable since the book has at least one subject that can be researched through Google or associations. What you locate are a variety of people organized around that subject. They are there. Make them part of your network.

Here are some general tips:

  1. Focus on key people. Try to map out who can help you the most.
  2. Always look for new people to connect with.
  3. Schedule your networking into your day; experts say spend at least one hour a day in networking activities.
  4. Make a portfolio

This last tip should be elaborated. I get questions from writers and copywriters about the construction of a portfolio. Just get a three-ring binder and some plastic sleeves. You can put a lot of stuff in a portfolio or customize it for a particular conference you are attending. Put in any press clippings you've received, a resume, writing samples, lists of projects you've done, any awards you've won, diplomas, and anything else you can think of.

There's no reason to be stupid about it. Don't go against your own nature to network. If you are introverted make it a game. Challenge yourself. Try to understand the motives of other people and make them equal to your own.

Why is networking important? Any busy person will tell you that a face, a smile, a voice, a set of gestures in real- time, in a place where all the people want to be is far more memorable than pieces of paper or email. By establishing even a modicum of contact you are ahead of all those who should but haven't. Those, in other words, who have no context in the minds of people who could help them.

W r i t e r   O r g a n i z a t i o n s

One reason I list writer organizations is that they present a great way to get involved in networks. Make sure you look at the resource box below and check out a few. Also look at the links to writer conferences.

Look for the best local writer's groups as well as national groups like American Society of Journalists and Authors or The Writer's Guild. Go and participate in as many functions as you can. I regret having to decline a chance to be on a panel discussion a few years ago at the ASJA Conference in New York. In other conferences I've gone to people meet, mingle, sell, mix, and exchange cards. Prepare the infamous elevator speech of twenty seconds or less that says, succinctly, who you are and how you can help this person.

The elevator speech is what you would say to a person to explain who you are and what you do in the time it takes to get into an elevator to the time you step out of it. This is a technique that can be practiced but like a speech it shouldn't be done mechanically. Know the contents very well, eliminate unnecessary words, say it into a tape recorder, and say it with a smile in the voice.

I saw this in hospitals I worked in. Salespeople, coming to visit sick relatives or friends, would stop in the nurse's station and give their elevator speech while handing out business cards.

The shameless ones usually win out.

I'm not a great veteran of writer conferences but I have been to conferences where a lot of networking has taken place. Get a mental picture of what the conference is going to be, who is going to be there, and how you can benefit from it. Talk to people. Anyone. Carry a business card with you and copy down any names or email addresses that you can get. Use the elevator speech with panache and confidence. So much of this is a quick evaluation of large numbers of people; who can be trusted, who is confident, and who is full of himself?

It's especially important to get involved at the local level where you can be a physical presense and do some things to show you are a good and trustworthy sort of person.

What you need to remember is that a lot, if not all, the other people at a conference are doing the same thing you are; that is, they are networking their self-interest. If you meet an editor or an agent and then write them a brief note after the event make sure to reference what you talked about because the editor or agent probably talked to dozens of people during the conference.

T h e   N e t   I n   N e t w o r k i n g

Of course the Net has cut through a lot of things. It's not called a "communications revolution," for nothing. And the impact can be dramatic. Since the Net cuts through the kinds of judgements that face-to-face encounters have, "shy" or introverted types can reach out more thoroughly than before to take advantage of the greatest network in the world.

It's a raw, imprecise network at times and you always need to go into it with a bit of due diligence.

In the old days networks were primarily local. The greengrocer or the sheriff knew everyone and connected people together. There were always local clubs and organizations where networking took place. If people got out beyond that it was only because they had money, could travel, and had a strong reason to do so.

What the Net does is expand the possibilities of discourse and the amount of resource that can be exchanged between people. This expansion is real and hopefully will have a telling effect on the culture in the future.

Editors troll this Net and in certain cases sites are set up, like MediaBistro.com, to bring editors and writers together. This can be effective and I recommend at least looking at it, especially if you write for magazines.

The added plus to the Net is that the writer moves through many networks not having to do with writing or publishing. For instance, if you are preparing a piece on aviation you have lots of associations, forums, discussion boards, and mailing lists to find experts, pilots, mechanics, designers and all people associated with aviation. For every job title, every industry, every profession there are networks on the Net. Leaping into some of these can be very stimulating.

* * * * * * * *

When you start networking will you get an assignment right off the bat? No. If you go to a writer's conference and meet with important editors will they buy your material? Not necessarily. But if you meet an editor and she has the least bit of interest in what you are writing you can go back to your office, type up a short, informative email about meeting her, put in some contact information and start the ball rolling in your favor. This tactic works because the editor can associate the note with a face, a voice and the fact you shared an experience in a community you both belong to.

In these short notes on networking I hope the reader comes away with these thoughts:

  1. Your network needs continuity so remember to drop little notes or phone calls to your network to catch up, exchange information and so forth. Do it periodically.
  2. Always deliver the goods. Networking is a process of establishing trust and credibility. And that is done by doing what you said you were going to do and doing it better than expected. That is the buzz that will hum through whatever network you've established and light up the brains of all the network passes through.
  3. Make the network more than a party of peers. Reach out beyond what you already know and have experienced.
  4. Remember that every person has their own motive for doing what they are doing. They are looking for their own particular result. Respect that and find out how you can help them to their desired result.


American Copy Editors Society
American Society of Magazine Editors
The Association for Women in Communications
Association of American Publishers
Directory of Writing Conferences
National Newspaper Association
National Writers Union
The Newspaper Guild
Society for Technical Communications
Writers Guild of America-East

Acknowledgements for this article go to:

Networking for Job Search and Career Success by L. Michelle Tulllier, Ph.D, published by JIST Works, 2004

Self-Promotion for the Creative Person by Lee Silber, published by Three Rivers Press, 2001

If you have any questions about careers in freelance writing don't hesitate to ask!

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David Eide
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David Eide
copyright 2000-2016