|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
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
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:
- Focus on key people. Try to map out who can help you
- Always look for new people to connect with.
- Schedule your networking into your day; experts say spend
at least one hour a day in networking activities.
- 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
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
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
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Make the network more than a party of peers. Reach out
beyond what you already know and have experienced.
- 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,
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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