How to Network Effectively During Lockdown
by Daniel Parsons
Covid-19 initiated a domino effect of event closures in February that affected practically every organisation and country across the globe. For many publishing professionals, that move marked the start of a hiatus in their networking efforts. This happened because of how they view networking. They see it as a series of face-to-face conversations. They imagine huge venues with sprawling crowds. They picture bustling hallways, queues for speakers, business cards changing hands and glamorous afterparties.
Networking, however, isn’t limited to physical gatherings. There are plenty of ways you can talk to existing contacts and even meet new ones without having to be in the same room. You might think that relationships founded on the internet or via other means will be shallow, but that’s not always true. Creating depth is a challenge without face-to-face interactions, but it is possible to establish familiarity and even blossom real friendships.
Indeed, if you do it right, you can form a web of powerful connections without ever leaving home. From your sofa, bed or kitchen table, you can negotiate six-figure contracts with publishers, talk to distributors on a first-name basis, consult with mentors and even assemble a friendly writers’ group so close that an outsider might believe you regularly meet at your local coffee shop. To help you explore this rapidly growing world of virtual networking, today’s blog post will outline a number of strategies you can use to get started.
JOIN SOCIAL MEDIA COMMUNITIES
Online communities exist for writers, publishers, artists and practically every other type of expert you can imagine. You can find writers on Twitter or Instagram by searching the following popular hashtags which they often include in their posts:
Alternatively, you can search for them on Facebook by looking for groups like The Self-Publishing Community, 20BooksTo50K or ALLi Author Member Forum. Communities are sometimes small and tight-knit, consisting of maybe a dozen members who vote to allow access to new members. Some are hidden behind a paywall, and others have looser entry requirements and contain thousands of contributors.
Whatever ones you decide to join, it’s best to start on the right foot by reading any group guidelines available. These won’t exist on Twitter and Instagram because anyone can tag their post with a community hashtag. On Facebook, however, group guidelines are usually pinned at the top of the group’s page. The rules typically promote community spirit, encouraging conversations and warning against sales pitches. If you can stay on topic and find a way to add inspiration, entertainment or knowledge then this is usually a positive way to make quick friends and be seen as a valuable community member.
Another positive method for starting a dialogue and fast-tracking rapport with new contacts is to ask great questions, which can be done in a number of ways. Don’t worry about looking uneducated. Nobody will judge you. At the very least, it will show them that you want to learn and improve, both of which are admirable qualities. On top of that, more advanced questions that demonstrate a nuanced understanding of the industry will actually present you as a savvy contact in your own right. In some cases, asking a good question that incites an encyclopaedia of knowledgeable responses in a public community feed will even provide the group with a valuable repository of information. If the organisers start directing new starters to your post then you know you’ve given them an asset.
If you prefer a less public approach, you can also hone your networking skills by asking people questions directly. For example, you can reach out to bloggers by emailing them questions about a blog topic. This tactic demonstrates that you follow their commentary and works as valuable groundwork if you ever decide to pitch them a guest blog post in the future.
In the same vein, did you know you can call the offices of some book printers and distributors and talk to someone over the phone? A phone! Crazy, right? These days it seems like every company is a corporation with an automated customer service chat bot, but some still have analogue options. By calling them, not only can you find out more about their working practices but you can also put a voice to a name, and they can do the same for you. This move will make you more familiar to the staff and more likely to get preferential treatment.
Decades ago, it would have taken a coordinated effort for two or more writers to collaborate on a project, especially if they didn’t live in the same area. After one finished their contribution, they would have to mail it to their partner. Cue a game of paper tennis, fraught with postal delays and miscommunication. Nowadays, the process is easier. Routinely, indie authors buddy up to create anthologies or co-write whole novels in a matter of weeks, despite living in different time zones.
Collaboration still provides challenges – as is expected when artistic egos are forced to compromise – but it certainly kindles good working friendships, too. Think Pratchett and Gaiman, Patterson and Paetro, Penn and Thorn. If you’re looking to network with other writers in your genre, you might want to try finding someone who produces similar books and who has comparable sales figures to you and then pitch them a collaboration idea. There is no guarantee they will accept your offer but it will, at least, start a friendly conversation.
CONDUCT PODCAST INTERVIEWS
Podcasts have gone mainstream, garnering massive weekly audiences and hurling their hosts into the limelight. As their platforms have grown, so have hosts’ incomes, influence and ability to entice higher-profile guests. However, many of them started for one purpose, and that wasn’t to make money: they wanted an excuse to talk to their peers and ask questions. Many – even the biggest – still approach their shows with that same attitude, interviewing new authors as often as they do bestsellers to ask them about the challenges they face launching a debut novel or series in the current market. That means there are lots of options for writers at all levels to get involved.
Podcasts guests enjoy a multitude of benefits. Yes, they might sell books to the show’s audience but the experience doesn’t stop at the end of the recording. Guests and hosts talk in private before and after the show, often building rapport and straying into deeper topics they would never mention in public. The whole scenario can put you on a first-name basis with the influencer as well as making you recognisable to past and future guests, some of whom will listen to your interview and work in similar social circles. By hearing you, they will absorb your human ticks as people are biologically designed to do. As a result, they will be more inclined to feel like they know you even if you’ve never met, an effect that will fast-track your bonding experience should you ever meet in the future.
JOIN WRITERS’ GROUPS
Writers’ groups, or writing circles as they are sometimes called, were once considered the grassroots of author networking options. A typical group contains four to ten writers who meet up at regular intervals to discuss their projects. Some critique each other’s work whereas others share marketing tips and offer reciprocal encouragement. Traditionally, they meet at libraries, bars, cafés or a member’s house, but it doesn’t have to work that way.
In recent months, video-conferencing services like Skype, Zoom and WhatsApp have been adopted by businesses as well as mainstream users looking to “meet up” with friends and family. Some chat over tea and cake. Others take their guests on home tours with their phone at arm’s length, showing off the renovations they’ve managed to get done in lockdown. Naturally, the opportunity has also spawned a resurgence of writers’ groups. Only instead of being limited by geography, writers now get to join groups assembled from all over the world. They’re easy to find. Often, all you have to do is enquire about them in Facebook groups to get an invitation. And if that fails, you can start one yourself.
These are just some of the ways you can network effectively during lockdown. But with apps and services launching all the time, publishing and business in general is becoming more connected than ever. No doubt this trend will continue. Soon we will emerge from lockdown with a packed inventory of new ways to connect with our peers, so much so that our idea of networking will be changed for the better forever.
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