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Tips for Networking as an Author

SPS Live 2023 is coming up – here are some tips on networking!

Picture yourself attending an event for authors: standing in the same room as writers whose work you admire, you’re excited to make friends and meet new people with the same passion as you.

You spot people you want to meet, but they always seem to be talking to someone else, and you don’t want to interrupt them. While you’re staring at them longingly, someone approaches you and introduces themselves, asking about your books. You freak out, shrug, blush, and say something like, “They aren’t that good, really!” Your new acquaintance departs without a sense of who you are or what you write. You go home deflated and frustrated, sorry to have made poor use of your precious chance to bond.

If you’re shy like me, social events like these can be overwhelming, bringing on a chaotic sense of worry only to leave you feeling disappointed afterwards. But this is a worst case scenario, and since SPS Live 2023 is coming up soon, consider this your reminder to do a little bit of mental and practical preparation before you turn up to a writing conference.

What’s at stake? Aside from your sense of pride, showing up prepared can help you relax a bit and make the most of the event, hopefully meeting other writers whose camaraderie and counsel can prove invaluable down the road. To avoid worst-case scenarios, let’s look at some ways to make the most of your networking and feel more in control.

1. Make the most of online groups

I asked Reedsy co-founder Ricardo Fayet (author of How to Market a Book and Amazon Ads for Authors) for advice based on the many conferences he’s attended so far, and he emphasised the importance of familiarising yourself with online groups before showing up to an event: ‘Most writing conferences or events will have a dedicated Facebook group (or similar online community) where attendees can interact prior to, during, and after the event. If you’re completely new to the community, a simple thing you can do is say “hi” in the group and present yourself: what you write, what you’re looking to get out of the event, etc.

‘You’ll probably be surprised by the amount of other attendees who’ll answer you or comment, which is a great way to get to know some other attendees, or at least “break the ice” even before the event starts.’

Let me give you an example — at last year’s SPS Live, I spoke to a mystery author standing near the Reedsy table who said he was in a group chat with fellow mystery writers, and they had agreed that our table would be their meeting place, in case they couldn’t find or recognize each other otherwise. Personally, the idea of turning up alone to an event is often enough to keep me from going, so when I know that I can show up together with someone or at least join a safe group once I’m there, that hurdle becomes a little bit easier to overcome, and usually makes the remainder of the event smoother sailing too. So, if you’re already part of a community, you can copy these proactive mystery authors’ idea and establish where you’re going to gather ahead of time — and do come say hi to the Reedsy team while you’re at it!

There’s already a group for SPS Live 2023 you can join, though Facebook is not the only place you can find out who’s planning to turn up. Twitter hashtags function similarly — during the London Book Fair, for example, many people used the hashtag #LBF23 to say they’d be attending/taking part in specific events, letting people know where they could be found.

You don’t have to go crazy online, but knowing who’s likely to attend an event can help you look out for writers in your genre, plus introducing yourself means others can look out for you in return, paving the way for meeting people in person.

2. Know how to introduce yourself and what questions to ask

Some authors are naturally confident or extroverted. Others, not so much. If you fall in the latter category and get flustered speaking to strangers, do yourself a favour and prepare how you’re going to introduce yourself ahead of time. Stick to the facts: ‘I’m X, I write in this genre, I’ve published/written Y number of books’ is a nice and simple way to open. Don’t recite your author bio, listing awards and accolades — you don’t have to prove yourself to anyone.

Think ahead of time about what you may want to share about yourself and how to best do that simply and concisely — ‘I published a nonfiction book traditionally but switched to self-publishing for the romance series I’m currently writing’ is much easier to grasp in a noisy environment than ‘Well, I had an idea for a romance series, but my publisher didn’t think it was a good idea to switch genres after writing nonfiction, so I decided to self-publish, and realised I’m temperamentally more suited to self-publishing’.

The latter is interesting, and a story absolutely worth sharing with people asking about your journey, but it’s best to have a concise version ready for quick introductions, so you can opt for the chatty option if you find yourself speaking to someone you feel comfortable with for longer.

If socialising makes you anxious, it never hurts to have some friendly questions up your sleeve so you don’t stress about freezing when approached by strangers:

  • What kind of books do you write?
  • How are you finding the conference?
  • Have you been to this conference before?
  • What did you think of the last presentation?

Note that we’re reprising last year’s Reedsy genre badges in this year’s conference, so if you grab one from our stall, you’ll be able to quickly identify people writing in your genre, and break the ice.

If you’re speaking to someone with far more experience than yourself, you can be prepared to ask for their advice on specific topics you’re having trouble with — but keep it short, and read the room. Don’t bombard someone with super-specific questions relating to your own problems when you’re standing in a big group and other people won’t benefit. Examples of useful questions for anyone could be:

  • Do you have any book writing software recommendations?
  • Do you have any tips for getting started with Facebook ads?
  • Are there any books or resources you’d recommend for learning about Y?

If you’re speaking to someone whose career you know well, you can also ask them for advice they’ll have gained from experience. Watch your tone, though — most writers are generous with sharing advice, but naturally won’t appreciate indiscreet questions. “Congrats on the BookBub Featured Deal, did you learn anything from the process?” is a perfectly legitimate question while “Is it true Featured Deals lead to insane profits?” is somewhat more delicate, and not something everyone will feel comfortable discussing in a group.

If you do find yourself in the lucky position of speaking to someone able to give you advice, don’t corner them. In most cases, a conference will be where you first get a sense of each other’s personalities, not so much a place to glean tips from other authors. Keep in touch with your new friends, and you can approach them with questions or exchange tips down the line. Conferences are great for meeting new people, but you don’t need to cement friendship right there and then.

3. Prepare a way to stay in contact

Business cards can feel old-fashioned, but they still work if you hand them to someone you’ve had an actual conversation with, guaranteeing that the person you’re speaking to will have a way to contact you if they need to. Make sure yours states your email or social media accounts, not just your address and phone number.

For those who consider business cards wasteful, some alternatives might be to ask people their full names and connect with them on social media on the spot, or ask people you talk to for their email addresses, and write to them after the event is over.

Even if you do none of these things, if you manage to chat to people genuinely and in a friendly way and give them your name (which, by the way, should also be clearly visible on a lanyard), you’ll probably find that they’ll search you up and get in touch on their own. Still, it’s worth trying to make that as easy for them as possible, without forgetting that making meaningful connections is more important than leaving with a list of 50 email addresses.

4. Don’t overdo the marketing

Last year, someone approached me at the Reedsy stall and handed me a leaflet advertising their books without saying a single word, then quickly left. Their work seemed interesting, and there was nothing wrong with the leaflet itself, but I couldn’t help but feel like there was a misunderstanding there.

To put it simply: at a writers’ conference, your primary goal should be to meet other writers you can learn from or who can be your buddies in the publishing realm. It should not be to advertise or sell your book — sure, writers are also readers, but unless you get to know them a bit better, a leaflet from a stranger will be as effective in a conference as it would be on a random street.

Everyone there will have books to sell, so it’s best to approach a conference as a gathering of your peers, and not a pool of potential customers. In conversation, by all means discuss your work, but keep it chill — don’t offer to sell them a copy right there and then. Networking literally helps people make mutually beneficial connections, but going for a hard sell the first time you meet someone will probably come across as a bit too calculating. Remember: friends, not clients!

Promising anything from the gift of friendship and support, to the possibility of business partnerships and shared strategies and advice, a strong network of authors around you can benefit your mental health as well as your writing career. What’s more, it can just be super fun to talk to other writers, so if you get the chance to attend a networking event, try to step out of your comfort zone!

Kleopatra Olympiou

Kleopatra Olympiou

Kleopatra Olympiou is a writer with Reedsy, a digital marketplace that helps authors publish their books by connecting them with the world’s best publishing professionals. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from Durham University, and lives in London.