This is the last in my 10 commandments for aspiring writers series. Whcih means I now have to think of a new column theme :-)
Networking is about looking for ways to do something FOR people, not get something FROM them.
This is my favourite commandment of all, and I’m delighted to save it till last in this series. We’re always reading about networking. Anyone who’s part of a writers’ site like Authonomy knows that success has so much to do with spreading your social tentacles, and we’re always being urged to use social media to increase our contacts and improve our chances of success – these days we even have sites like Ning that we can use to create our very own virtual social networks.
So why “network”? To get to know more people so there’s more of a chance of getting things done for us. Isn’t that right? Well, to the extent that’s most people’s motivation, it’s right, yes.
But it’s hardly the best way to go about it.
I’m not quite sure how the structure of this post will proceed. For me the truth of the “commandment” is self-evident, which makes it hard to write about. So apologies for structural vagaries.
I spent the first 30-something years of my life thinking not only was I the world’s worst networker, but that I hated the very idea of networking – it was inimical to me and to everything I, as a sensitive, shy aesthete thought the world should stand for. I associated it with men in suits with slick haircuts and shiny shoes; and I thought it meant the kind of self-aggrandising, pushy arrogance said men in suits seemed to indulge in as they boasted over their lagers about the size and speed of their silver BMWs.
Then I got a job as manager of a carpet shop, and fund myself spending at least half my time drinking coffee with company reps whilst we talked about colourways and product specs and interior design, and I very soon realised that the people who spent most time explaining the trade to me – all about jacquards and chlydema squares, and the acoustic properties of different underlays – were not only the ones I looked forward to seeing, but the ones whose products I sold more of. I’d start calling them up and ask if we could take more of their ranges, maybe put in a window display. They’d start calling me out of the blue and inviting me to go to nice places with them, and they’d start offering me lower prices for the products I was already selling plenty of at the higher price.
When I moved, after a couple of years, to one manage of the swankiest showrooms in the south of England, I was told one of the reasons I’d been headhunted was because I was a good networker, a statement I met totally blankly, until it was explained that was what I’d been doing all this time.
In my next set of columns, I’ll write about marketing and promotion. And one of the golden rules I’ll give you is this: never ask someone to do something for you, or tempt them with your amazing book, if you’re not prepared first to do something for them. So I’m not going to go into detail here about it. It also feels disingenuous as I think about it – because what you get out of helping other writers and people in the trade really is nothing to do with why you help them in the first place.
It’s hard to say much more without sounding either mercenary or a total hippy, so to conclude I’ll go back to anecdotes.
I’m a member of two “competitive” (to the extent that they hold out “prizes” of having your work read by people in the trade) writing sites, www.Authonomy.com and www.youwriteon.com Both these sites attract – from a vociferous, but smaller than their loud voices would lead you to believe minority – criticism for the way some people use the competitive elements of the site to get an advantage. Squabbles erupt about how writers “score” each others’ work, and about the mean-spiritedness of writers who fail to appreciate members’ masterpieces.
It never fails to amaze me what an uncollaborative bunch we writers are (see my previous post). If we go onto these sites to get “discovered” we will almost certainly fail. If we join in order both to learn, and to share what we’ve learned with as many people as possible, to help other writers through our comments, and to add to the educational and emotional value of the site, we will always succeed.
And I’ll close with an ambiguous anecdote. The editors at Harper Collins recently very generously answered a whole swathe of questions about the industry from Authonomy’s site members. Amongst the more illuminating answers was a reinforcement of what I’ve heard said and what I’ve seen done many, many times. When looking at a proposal, one of the things an editor asks themselves before deciding to proceed is what it’s going to be like working with this author.
What would it be like working with you? Does the way you conduct yourself with your fellow writers reflect that reality? Interesting questions. I wonder if we ask ourselves often enough.