Miss Write's Advice: Networking

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Category: Writing

Our resident Agony Aunt is back with some advice on networking. If you've got a writing dilemma, don’t suffer in silence! Send your problems over to Miss Write.

The Question

I’d like to go along to more events and salons for writers, but the idea of walking into a room full of strangers and promoting myself is terrifying. Do you have any advice to make networking easier? James.

The Answer

Networking is a horrible, evil thing invented by someone who clearly loves making other people feel vastly inferior. The mere mention of the word can bring me out in hives.

That said, networking is a necessary evil for writers. At some point you’ll be forced out into the world, a cheap warm glass of wine shoved into your hand as you do the whole putting words together into a coherent sentence thing. And you have to sell yourself a bit too. Oh goody.

But it doesn't have to be the most excruciating experience of your life. Here are my top tips for networking:

1.    Remember that you’re not alone

No-one likes networking. Not really. If someone claims they do then frankly I would stay away from that very weird person. Networking requires you to step into a room full of people trying to do exactly the same thing as you while subtly checking their name badge is stuck on the right way. The most important thing to remember is this: you’re stepping into that room for a reason; you’re not there purely to socialise. If the idea of walking up to a complete stranger and initiating conversation terrifies you, take a minute to soak up the atmosphere. Politely eavesdrop on conversations you could join or say hi to a friendly face. Once you make that initial contact, the rest will seem much easier.

2.    Have some work to promote

Networking without anything to talk about will just make the whole thing a thousand times more awkward than it needs to be. Be prepared to discuss what you’re working on (even just in general terms). Try and avoid sounding like it’s the millionth time you’ve shared the synopsis of your novel, even if it is the billionth time. And never be tempted to bring print outs or a handy USB stick with your novel saved on it. I shouldn’t have to say why.

3.    Be prepared

Doing some brief preparation before an event could help calm your nerves. If you know there will be speakers, take a look at their work to learn a little bit more about them. If the event is themed (eg. short fiction), do some reading around the subject. Have a think about some interesting questions you can fall back on if the conversation lulls, but don’t be a robot. Remember to be actually in the room too.

4.    Use social media as a tool

Social media can also be a great tool to help combat any nerves or shyness. Explore the writing community online and make some connections before you go along. That way, your first ‘real world’ contact will be much easier and you’ll have already covered the awkward introductions part. You can also develop any connections made at the event by swapping twitter handles etc.

5.    Don’t be horrible

There will always be someone who finds the whole thing even more excruciating than you, I promise

Once you’re in the thick of a networking event, be yourself but also be mindful of those around you. No-one will want to listen to you let alone work with you if you’re being bitchy or self-aggrandising. People will soon start swerving towards the bar to avoid you. Be kind, as your mother would probably say. If you don’t, you could be losing out on potential support or creative links.

6.    Listen to other writers

Don’t just prattle on about yourself. Ask questions of those around you, giving particular encouragement to anyone who looks shy (there will always be someone who finds the whole thing even more excruciating than you, I promise). Maintain eye contact and show a genuine interest in what people have to say. Don’t just fling your business card at the nearest person- respect the boundaries and enjoy the conversation for what it is.

7.    Take every opportunity

Finally, take every opportunity you can to network. Writing is a lonely pursuit and events will keep you connected with the wider writing community. The more you do it, the less terrified you’ll be. And hey, you may even end up enjoying it eventually. 

Have you got a question for Miss Write? Add it as a comment at the bottom of this blog or ask away on our Facebook page or @ScottishBkTrust on Twitter, using the hashtag #askmisswrite.

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Miss Write

Miss Write is Scottish Book Trust's resident writing Agony Aunt. When she's not busy drinking tea, making to-do lists or alphabetising her book collection, she likes to get some writing done.