Network Smarter, Not Harder
by Tim Waggoner
It's not what you know, it's who you know.
That bit of conventional "wisdom" is often cited
by writers to explain everything from rejection letters to
the lousy state of publishing. It's not my fault, they
think. It's the publishing good-old-boy network keeping
There's no denying that networking is important -- perhaps
even vital these days -- in creating a writing career. But
too many people hold a narrow view of what networking is.
They imagine standing around at a publisher's party at a conference,
free drink in hand, schmoozing with editors and agents, regaling
them with wit and wowing them with a verbal description of
their latest (planned) 300 thousand word opus. But in its
purest sense, networking is simply about making connections,
and you don't have to be a mainstay of the New York publishing
scene to do it effectively.
One of the first ways that writers can start making connections
is by taking classes. Creative writing classes are offered
through colleges and universities, of course, but they are
also sponsored by adult continuing education programs, libraries
and local arts organizations. Taking a creative writing class
can provide an excellent opportunity for feedback from a (hopefully)
skilled instructor, and from other student writers. But it
can also provide the beginnings of a writer's network. Your
instructor will be able to point you toward resources -- reference
books, writing programs and conferences in your area -- which
can, if nothing else, decrease you writing career learning
Your instructor should be able to give you advice on publishing,
perhaps even provide you with some contacts. But the truth
is that many creative writing courses are staffed by instructors
who've published little, if at all. Always try to learn something
about an instructor's credentials if you can before signing
up for a class. Ask to see a bibliography of the instructor's
published works, and try to track down and read some of them.
But even if the instructor is far from a best-selling author,
that doesn't matter much. Because the most important networking
opportunity is the chance to hook up with your fellow students.
From creative writing classes, writers groups are born.
Groups which can continue providing feedback on your work
long after the class ends; groups which also can pool their
knowledge of marketing and submission strategies.
But what if there aren't any creative writing classes offered
in your area? How can you establish a writers group
then? By advertising, naturally. Put up notices in libraries
and bookstores. WANTED: ONE WRITERS GROUP.
Author readings and signings are other excellent networking
opportunities. You might be able to chat with the author for
a bit and ask questions. (Maybe even more than a bit since
signings and readings are notorious for being poorly attended.
You may well have the author all to yourself.) You can also
meet other beginning writers. Take a notebook with you and,
at an appropriate time, announce youd like to form a
writers group and pass the notebook around for interested
parties to write down their addresses and phone numbers. You
can also pass out business cards if you have some (and you
The Internet has been a boon to writers. You can take classes
online and connect with other writers via newsgroups and chat
rooms. You can exchange stories for critique through e-mail
and of course share those all-important marketing tips.
Author web pages are also wonderful resources. Not only do
authors sometimes post articles on how they got started or
offering advice to newcomers, often authors e-mail addresses
are also provided. Got a question or two? Go ahead and e-mail
an author, though don't be surprised if he or she's too busy
to respond. And don't bombard them with "where's my reply"
follow-ups. Annoying people is not an effective networking
Writers organizations are also great networking resources.
Often, you need to have only one pro story sale under your
belt to join as an affiliate member. You won't be able to
vote in officer elections or for awards, but youll be
entitled to receive the organizations publications,
such as handbooks, newsletters, even directories of members
(with those handy e-mail addresses). Even if you haven't made
a pro sale yet and don't qualify for membership, you can still
often purchase and subscribe to an organizations publications.
Conferences and conventions are prime networking opportunities.
Not only can you attend workshops and informative panels on
writing, but you can often speak with program participants
-- authors, editors and agents -- in the hall after a panel
or at other slow times during a conference. Come prepared
with questions and always bring along a manuscript or too.
Never thrust your work upon someone, though. Always wait to
You can also become a program participant yourself with only
a few sales to your credit. I began sitting in on panels at
Science Fiction conventions after only having sold a handful
of stories. All I did was write the conference's director
of programming, introduce myself as a local writer, list my
credits, and relate my desire to be on a few panels.
My first convention as a program participant made all the
difference in my career. Not only did the other writers see
me more as a peer, I was able to hook up with a writers
group which counted several published novelists among its
members. I can't begin to tell you how much I've learned from
them, and far more important, I made some great friends.
And that's what networking is all about, really. Not cold-bloodedly
using other human beings to advance your career. But making
connections, making friends. I began this article with a bit
of writing wisdom. Let me close with another. Good writing
happens when good people get together.
Good careers can happen too.