Networking: Not What You Think (Plus, My April Conference Adventures, Part 1)

Networking.

It just sounds like such a cold word, doesn’t it? It sounds impersonal and really business-like, right?

Well, I’m here to help!

One of the biggest parts of being a writer is communicating with other people in the writing community. This includes editors, publishers, agents, and even other writers.

You might not think you need to talk to what you may perceive as your competition, but that’s not really how it is at all.

They aren’t going to pass you up so they can publish this other person instead. They were going to publish that person whether you submitted or not.

Other writers are not your competition. They are your allies.

Like most professions, writing is often about who you know. If you befriend other authors, they can help you out in a lot of ways.

Maybe they can help you edit your work.

Maybe they can recommend a publisher or an editor or an agent to you.

Maybe they’ll tell a publisher that they think your work would be a good fit for them.

The possibilities are limitless!

Writers are, more often than not, very supportive of each other. They’re not out to screw other writers over.

If you make a friend at a writing conference or if you make a decent connection with someone in the writing industry, then you’ve just done some networking.

I went to the SOKY Writers Conference (Friday) and the SOKY Book Fest (Saturday) this past week, and WOW. I was really blown away. I’m lucky enough to live in an area that has these conferences and especially that these conferences are 100% free.

A bunch of writers are invited to come and talk about their books (this also applies to the Children’s Day authors that come the same day as the Writers Conference) and about writing.

The Writers Conference was a series of panels with writing advice, workshops, and Q & A. It felt very personal and supportive.

The Book Fest a different series of panels with a wider variety of authors talking about specific genres and answering questions. They’re bigger and more likely to contain famous people (although a fair deal of famous people had panels at the Writers Conference too), so they’re a bit more like you’d expect a conference to be like.

So I’m going to talk about the Writers Conference a bit in this post so I can emphasize how important networking is. I’ll slowly make my way through the events of the past couple of days. Trust me–if you are a writer, these are things you’ll want to read about. Most of you would be technically considered amateurs, so this will help you get some insight into what it means to be part of the writing community. So just keep an eye on this blog while I type up more posts about the conferences, because there’s just no room for all of it in one place!

In any case, almost every time I spoke to someone new, they asked me what I write, right off the bat. I made four friends just from talking to people I was sitting near–and most of them talked to me first!

I also ran into my thesis director, Dr. Tom C. Hunley–he’s a poet, and you should definitely check out his work. His Poetry Gymnasium will absolutely blow your mind if you want to work on your poetry-writing, as well as another professor at my college (Dr. Molly McCaffrey, who not only held her own panel about the basics of publishing, but so did her husband, another professor at my college (Dr. David J. Bell), about writing in the genre of fantasy. These panels were unfortunately at the same time. 🙁 I went for the publishing one, and I am so glad that I did!

I also was fortunate enough to run into someone I haven’t seen in forever, and we are Facebook friends now!

But here comes my big shout-out about how awesome networking is. Again, networking isn’t just saying hi to someone and getting their business card. It’s about having a conversation, even if it’s a short one, and making some kind of connection with another human being who loves reading and writing just as much as you do.

There were only four time slots for panels at the Writers Conference, so I had to pick and choose very carefully which ones I would attend. The final panel of the day was a critique workshop for the first page of your story. A bunch of people (including me) anonymously gave Courtney C. Stevens and Kristin O’Donnell Tubb their first page so they could read it out loud and then critique it.

First of all, Kristin has an amazing reading voice! Seriously, she should do audio books.

After writing some questions on the white board, they got started pretty quickly. They would read the page out loud and then point out what they liked and what they thought the author should work on. It worked pretty well–tough, but fair.

I was kind of intimidated, but when I went to go get my copy back (they didn’t get to it in the panel since so many had been brought in), I saw that they were going to stick around and talk to people.

I stood in line and wrote down some contact information that Ms. Tubb announced for us to follow her on. And as I got closer to the table, the more nervous I got.

We talked briefly, and then I told her that I would be honored if she would even just look at my first paragraph. She said she would! Yay! But I was still a bit nervous.

She began to read it to herself, and as she went, she stopped a couple of times to re-read a line and say to herself that she liked it. Honestly, even hearing her saying it quietly to herself was just kind of surreal. Published author reading my writing out loud? Definitely was geeking out!!

She gave me some wonderful comments and pointed out this one word that creates some confusion–I’ve been trying to find a good word there for ages, so I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one that thinks it’s not quite right. I’m still working on finding a replacement word, but I’m sure it will come to me.

I was a bit scared because I was showing her my baby, my project that I started working on with my boyfriend in 2010 and have been trying to get published for years.

And she told me more than once that it was “really great.” Holy crap!! She said it was “really smooth” and that she could tell that I had been working on it for a while. We talked for several minutes about it, and I had a hard time not gushing! To make things even more awesome, she asked me for my pitch, which I haven’t polished. D: I managed my way through it, and we talked for a few more minutes about agents and publishing before we returned to social media.

I told her about this blog, and she wrote the name of it down. I followed her as soon as I got home last night, and she followed me back. 🙂 She hasn’t posted much on here yet, but I’m excited to interact with her on here, so follow her (ktubb) and check out her website (which I linked earlier).

As soon as I left to let her talk to other people, I immediately called my boyfriend and geeked out. 😛

Anyway, so I came across her table at the Book Fest yesterday when she was sitting and selling books, and I was pleased to see that she remembered me. 🙂 (I always worry that I’m not that memorable. :S) I introduced her to my boyfriend (my idea guy), and we were able to chit-chat for a bit and she signed a book for me before I moved out of the way to let her sell and sign more books. 🙂

(Sorry if some of the detail here was a bit excessive–I’m still really excited, and I realized after I wrote that part that I technically could cut some stuff out, but I decided to leave it in since I would then be able to look back at it and smile. 😀 Sorry, Ms. Tubb, if you think I’m being creepy, and also sorry because I don’t know how to refer to you because until Friday, I’ve never really felt like much of an adult, so I still don’t know how to refer to other people who are also considered adults. Also, I wrote most of this when I was alert and very awake, but let me just say that it is 3 A.M. as I’m writing this little block of text, and I have been up since 9 A.M., outside of the nap I took from 4-ish to 5-ish.)

Katherine Howe’s table was directly next to Kristin’s, so I was able to talk to her again (you’ll be seeing what I mean by that once I talk about her panel in another post) and get another signed book.

I was really glad to run into these two in particular because we’d had a chance to speak at the Writers Conference, and something for all of you to keep in mind is that it is really great to follow up with people. It’s not only professionally good, but it’s also great for the author/editor/etc. to see that you’re sincere and really interested in their work, and you also get another chance to talk with someone you admire. And being able to say you’ve talked to famous authors is always good for writer cred. 😛

But honestly, it’s important to make friends in the writing community, because you get way more opportunities that way. They can let you know what’s up, and they totally understand what you mean when you’re stuck on that one scene you just don’t know how to write. Having a good support system is so important! Knowing that someone believes in you and wants you to do well? That’s one of the best feelings ever.

Networking isn’t about “Okay, I said hi to this author, so now I’m in the industry.” It’s about making connections with other writers, human to human. You may never see them again. But maybe they’ll remember you and send an agent or editor your way. Making an impression can make a lot of a difference.

I didn’t realize how important networking with people in physical space is until recently, but I feel like I’m getting a better understanding of it now. Online writing communities are great, but being able to talk to published authors about their work and how they got to where they are is just a wonderful experience. I feel like I have learned something from every person that I’ve spoken to these past two days.

Writing does not occur in a void. Publishing does not occur in a void. You are not in a vacuum where everyone understands you. You are not in some happy, perfect world where everyone can instantly see your talent.

You will get rejected by someone at some point in your life. Having people to encourage you and show you the way is one of the best things you can do for yourself.

I really feel like I could say so much more on this topic!! I could talk forever about it–really–but this post is getting quite lengthy. I feel like I’ve covered a lot of the major points that I think are really important, but if I’ve missed something or you have a question or anything you want to talk about, just let me know! I’ll be answering messages and such on here soon, so while all of this is fresh in my mind is a great time to ask about networking and conferences.

I’ll definitely be posting more about all the amazing stuff I learned the past two days, so keep your eye on my blog as I continue to detail the stuff I think you guys should read about.

The writing industry is a big, scary place. Why should you go into it alone?

Other conference adventures you should look forward to reading about on my blog in the future:

Panels:
-Allie Pleiter (productivity)
-Molly McCaffrey (publishing basics)
-Katherine Howe (genre conventions)
-Fantasy and Dystopian panel (Book Fest)

Interactions:
-The big book sale room (with my graduate adviser, panelists, and some authors I hadn’t heard of until recently)
-Making friends at the Writers Conference

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