For those you make a point to speak to, is it because you’re wanting to catch up with them or find out about something that’s going on in their lives? Or is it because you want them to know you better? If we’re really honest with ourselves, many times the people we seek out to speak to are those we would like to know better and, through making a point of speaking with them about their concerns and activities, we are hoping to get them interested enough in us to ask our concerns and activities. Right?
This is networking. You never know whom you might run into who might have an opportunity or a connection to share with you. That’s not saying we want to exploit every relationship or contact we make for our own gain—by no means. I’m just saying that by cultivating relationships with others, we never know what might come our way—whether it’s an opportunity to serve or help that other person, or an opportunity that might be in some way beneficial to us.
Granted, in a social setting, networking is quite different than it is in a business setting. So what’s the best way to go about making “networking contacts” in a business environment—such as at a writing conference?
As I mentioned before, one of the best ways I found of doing it was to be actively involved in the leadership of the organization. Granted, not everyone can do this, as not everyone is comfortable in or skilled for leadership positions. At a conference such as ACFW, there is the built-in method of the Editor/Agent appointments where those who sign up for them get 15 minutes one-on-one with the editor/agent (hopefully) of their choice. Then there are the hosted tables at meal times. While these can be nerve-wracking for those of us introverts who have a really hard time meeting others, it is important to learn how to put yourself forward, hold out your hand, and introduce yourself. It is important to be polite and let others have their equal share of the attention, but if you do not put yourself forward, you will be overshadowed by the more outgoing people at the table.
Do not be afraid to approach someone—be it a published author you admire or an editor/agent with whom you would like to work—and ask a question about something they may have said in the panel discussion or in a class or over a meal. (Just don’t follow them into the bathroom to do so!)
Outside of a structured business environment like a conference, always be on the lookout for opportunities to make contacts with people in your chosen field. Writers: go to book signings to mingle in the crowd and potentially meet the author and/or representatives from publishing houses. When the Zondervan parade—book signing tour, I mean—came to Nashville a couple of years ago with Brandilyn Collins, Terri Blackstock, James Scott Bell, and Bill Myers, I had the opportunity to speak with an editor who was there from Thomas Nelson. I had sat at her table at the ACFW conference several months before and she’d asked me if I would review a manuscript for her. I had given her my card at the conference, but then never heard back from her. When I saw her at the book signing, I approached her and re-introduced myself (she recognized me but I didn’t want to put her on the spot if she didn’t remember my name) and gave her another card. Within a week, I had a copy of the manuscript. While that did not parlay into a freelance opportunity, it was still an important contact, because it got my name in front of two or three editors whom I subsequently had contact with over the manuscript. (And I got to read Laura Jensen Walker’s Dreaming in Black and White about six months before street date!)
I guess the three most important things I can say about networking are:
1. Don’t be shy. Practice speaking to strangers—the cashier or other customers in line at the grocery store, people sitting near you in the airport or doctor’s waiting room, others working out at the gym, your neighbors, other parents at your kid’s soccer game, people outside of your “comfort zone” at church, and so on. And don’t let others push you out of the spotlight when it’s your turn to shine. Speak up!
2. It’s not all about you. Learn to be an active listener. This may mean asking a published author how he or she first started writing or what inspires him/her. It may mean asking an editor/agent what the best book they’ve read in the last six months is. Editors and agents especially constantly hear, “I, me, my, mine,” from the people they talk to—and that can start to blend into one monotonous drone. But if they have a unique conversation to connect with the memory of your name/face, you are more likely to be remembered when your manuscript crosses their desks.
3. Don’t be an attention hog. While you don’t want anyone to steal your limelight, you don’t want to infringe upon someone else’s time. Don’t monopolize the editor/agent at the dinner table. Give the other eight people at the table time to talk. Don’t stalk them whenever you see them and hound them with attempts at unique conversations to make them remember you. They’ll remember you, all right, and not in a good way! At a book signing, be aware of the people in line behind you—they all want their time, too. Limit your conversation to no more than 60-seconds if anyone is standing in line behind you. If you really want to have a more in-depth conversation with them, ask them if they have a few moments after the signing to speak with you, that you have some questions you’d like to ask.
Now, go out this week and find at least one opportunity to at least practice networking. And leave me a comment when you do—I’d like to know how it goes!