When I talk to some newbie writers about networking, they seem to hear it as butt-kissing or something they shouldn’t have to do in order to get published. They want no part of the politics of writing/publishing. Typically I hear this from the self-published crowd who tend to show little interest in the business aspect of writing. (Ironic since if you are going to go the self-publishing route, you should know the business side of things even better). So this isn’t for them.

One of the reasons we go to conventions is to network. It’s why we spend so much time on message boards, blogs, and social networking sites. While publishing largely boils down to what you write, the business side of things is eased by who you know. Friends make things easier. I know that as my career has slowly blossomed (I figure I’m in year eight on my road to overnight success), friends are there to encourage me, be first readers of my stories, edit me, and blurb me as needed.

This is not a call to be an unrepentant climber. Name-badging people and ignoring them if they “can’t be of use to you” isn’t going to win you any friends (and people know when they have been snubbed). This mercenary way of going through life will be quickly recognized. It’s about the relationship first. I know when someone is using me to raid my connections, hanging around with me just because of who I hang out with, or talking with me in order to talk to who I’m talking to. I know it’s a part of the game, but if you’re going to so transparently use me, at least buy me dinner first. Networking isn’t about using or ass-kissing people, it’s simply about building relationships, for their own sake.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book The Tipping Point: How Little Things can make a Big Difference, described these people as connectors, people who “link us up with the world … people with a special gift for bringing the world together.” Connectors are people in a community who know large numbers of people and who are in the habit of making introductions. A connector is essentially the social equivalent of a computer network hub. Connectors usually know people across an array of social, cultural, professional, and economic circles, and make a habit of introducing people who work or live in different circles.

Some people are natural networkers. Some people have to work at it.

Writers in general aren’t the most socially comfortable people. The bulk of what we do is done in solitude and the business side of art, networking, glad-handing, and nurturing/being with fans doesn’t necessarily come easily. So I offer a few simple tips to proper networking:

-Be genuine. Be true to yourself and your personality. Don’t try to mimic someone else. For example, I can’t do other people’s material. They’re likely funny in ways that I’m not and vice versa. Personality-wise, I can only be me. I’ll never be a Fran Friel, a Kelli Dunlap, a Chesya Burke, a Brian Keene or any of the other budding rock stars of the horror community. Their acts are their own. But that’s the secret: be your own act.

-Be naturally interested in people, for their own sake, without an agenda. You don’t make friends by first asking what they can do for you. You don’t make friends based on who they are or where they are in their careers. If for no other reason that you don’t know what twists fate may have in store for them or you, don’t burn bridges before they’ve formed.

-Be friendly. You are with your peers, people who get what you do and how you do it. You get to cut loose (within reason), and solidify working relationships with fellow writers, editors, agents, and fans. As JA Konrath said, “When we writers go anywhere, we become ambassadors for our writing.”

Sometimes it is difficult getting spouse to see networking as something other than goofing off (I don’t understand my own wife’s confusion on the issue). Regardless, networking is an important part of any industry. Honestly, it’s part of the fun for me since basically I get to build a network of connections through conversation. And I love running my mouth.

If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say “hi”, feel free to stop by my message board. We always welcome new voices to the conversation.