I found 10 Minute Novelists as I was finishing my first book. Well, I thought I was close to done, then I started sharing my work with friends from 10 Min and realized it could be so much better. In four months my story went from I’d be embarrassed now if I’d published it, to a good first book (although I’ve learned so much since then).
Why do I share this when I’m talking about networking?
Because as the old adage says, “Iron sharpens iron.” You cannot be a good author if you don’t take time to learn from those who’ve been in the field. You can start the process by reading craft books and blogs, but eventually, your self-taught knowledge will plateau. Not only that, but there is so much more to having a career as an author-publishing, marketing, building platform, speaking engagements, etc. All of these are significantly easier to learn and navigate when you have a network of other people in the industry to ask for advice and help.
Who to network with?
When you’re starting out, it is easy to fall into the everyone-can-be-a-published-writer crowd. And yes anyone can throw something up on Amazon nowadays, but if you’re serious about writing more than one book or making writing a career, then it is important to start with a professional mindset. Who do you want your book next to on the shelf? Anne Rice? Steven King? Francine Rivers?
Every author has some kind of platform usually a website. If you go there often they have a list of events they’ll be at. See if they are going to be speaking at any colleges or writing conferences.
Online Writing Groups
As I said, when I started out, I happened across 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook. I lurked, asked questions, attended chats, and learned from the success and failure of my fellow struggling writers. What’s great about groups like ours, is that the knowledge is free and because of the social environment, you can connect with people and make lifelong friendships.
Online writing groups also give you a chance to focus on meeting people in your geographic area or genre. However, there are limitations. Often industry professionals don’t have time to spend on social media. They use it strictly for platform building. So in most groups, you tend to find mostly newbie or intermediate writers who haven’t quite broken into the publishing world.
That being said, connecting with writers who are just a step or two ahead of you, often teaches you how to avoid costly (in time or money) mistakes. And as I said earlier, you make those connections with friends who will help you promote your work later on. However, you need to be selective about where you invest your time.
#1 Pick groups that don’t allow self-promotion or allow it only on a certain post each week. Writers are not your target market unless you write craft books. Groups that allow self-promo will end up being 80% buy-my-book and 20% bragging.
#2 Look for groups where the questions are being answered professionally and positively. If the tone devolves into negativity and criticism, and the admins don’t care, then that negativity is only going to wear you down. You don’t want to work with negative people or people who think their way is the only right way.
#3 Find groups who offer more than just a place to ask questions. Some do critique circles. Some hold chats/events to help writers grow. 10 Minute Novelists also hosts a 365 day challenge to help build the habit of writing and has Buddy Tuesday where you can find beta readers, critique partners, editors, and other professional opinions and help. Those kinds of perks are where relationships get built.
Local Writing Groups
While online is easy, the distance often means you don’t really get to know the people personally. The best place to build relationships is to plug in on a local level, in person. I’ll admit this isn’t easy and requires you to step out of your comfort zone to meet new people. Writing groups tend to be elusive creatures set up by mutual friends and shared by word of mouth. However, the ones worth joining are out there if you’re willing to invest time to look. Good places to start are Meetup.com and local libraries and colleges. Almost all writing groups have to have a place to meet and libraries and colleges often have cheap space to rent.
Expect to pay a little to participate after a visit or two to see if it is a good fit. Usually, this money goes toward space rental or speaker fees. There are really two types of groups. Critique groups, which are a great way to hone your craft, and writing groups who meet to learn and usually have speakers or specific topics that they focus on at each meeting. I’ll admit, as much as I love 10 Minute Novelists, the best thing I’ve done for my writing was joining a local writing group. Why? Because each month I get to sit with multi-published authors and talk shop. I get to hear what they are struggling with and they offer me advice on my struggles.
Like online groups, you want to avoid ones that are all about ego and criticism. Honest feedback is one thing. “Show the emotions in this scene.” But criticism, “This is boring,” doesn’t offer you a way to improve. The same goes for writing advice. If it is all about pay to learn or buy my book to get the rest of what I’ve just introduced, then that isn’t a writing group that is going to support your growth.
WARNING: Even more than online groups where you can click to leave, walking away from a local group feels like ripping duct tape off a wound when you’ve invested time and relationship into them. However, it is important to walk away if you find yourself leaving with less enthusiasm for your passion. Leave with grace. Bow out and walk away. Don’t ruin your own professionalism by stooping to criticizing them on social media or in other groups.
If you’re serious about having a career, the best thing you can do as a new writer is to join an association. They are usually $50-100 a year, but they give you access to all kinds of resources and benefits. For example American Christian Fiction Writers has local chapters, an email loop where multi-published authors teach a month-long course on all kinds of things (this month is creating book trailers), another email loop for critiques (which can lead to you finding your writing partner or a critique group that specializes in your genre), you also get access to promoting work in their Fiction Finders app, and you get a discounted rate on the conference where there are fellow authors, editors, agents, and publishers. All those benefits are opportunities to network, make friends, and grow as a writer and worth the small annual fee.
Most of the time new writers join to attend the conference at a discount. Conferences are a great place to network. Don’t be afraid to say hello to a published author and tell them you admire their work and if there is time ask a professional question. While there is seniority in the industry most professionals don’t mind sharing advice with a newbie as long as it is direct. Don’t ask “Can you read my one page and tell me what you think?” but you can ask something specific. “Do you think this works as a tagline?”, “I’m just starting out, does this bio grab your attention?”
But more than asking for professional advice you should use your time in writing associations getting to know the people personally. People want to work with people who they can consider friends. Once you connect with someone, ask if you can email them or connect with them on Facebook. I’m four years into my career and I have about thirty professional friends that are multi-published authors, editors, and marketing experts. I invest in sharing their work and recommending their professional skills, but I also take time to get to know them and interact with them.
Those are the relationships you never know when they are going to pay off. In fact, I can directly attribute getting my agent to one of these connections and to calling in a few favors to look over my one page and proposal before I pitched and submitted them.
Business Cards/Social Media
Finally, I cannot stress enough the importance of a professional and yet personal attitude. No matter how good your work is, if all you do is brag and self-promote, no one is going to want to work with you. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by being unwilling to listen, learn, take advice and criticism. Humility and graciousness will get you further than bulldozing your way through. Most publishers are looking for long-term relationships. They don’t want to work with difficult authors who are going to go their own way and ignore the advice of people who are on the front lines of the industry.
Also, multi-published authors want to see other great authors come alongside them. There’s competition, but there is also an understanding that if all publishers can get on the shelves is mediocre quality stories, readers stop investing in books. So be gracious. Promote the books you love. Write reviews. Connect with those authors on a personal level. You never know if one day you’ll be at the same publishing house and doing a promotion together.
Where else have you met industry professionals that have become part of your network?