On Networking

Networking is one of those things that everyone tells you to do, but that few people do well.  Not just for writing, but for business.  They tell you to “develop your connections” and “maintain your network”, whatever that means.

I will confess right now.  I’m not a good networker.  Not in the way all those people who talk about networking mean it.  Some of the most powerful people I know or ones who could provide me the greatest access to powerful people are people I quite frankly don’t like and therefore refuse to use even when they’re offering their “services.”

I visited a friend recently and we were talking about my writing and my friend first told me that it’s ALL about who you know in publishing.  This person then offered to introduce me to their contact who was going to, obviously, make my career.

Now, this is a friend of mine and I appreciated the gesture.  But I don’t agree that it’s ALL about who you know (I’ll provide an amendment to that statement a little bit later) and I don’t think that being introduced to someone who isn’t involved in my genre by someone who hasn’t even read my novel is useful.

Here’s how I think this should really work:  You know people that you like.  They like you.  You talk because you like to talk to one another.  Something comes up where you think they could help and you ask for their help.  Or you mention a scenario that you’re in and they realize they can help and they offer their assistance.  No one is working the other person.  No one is trying to show how important they are by flashing their connections.  It’s just…friendship.

Someone I greatly admire who I’d worked with in the past and who I’ve stayed in touch with for over a decade lost their job late last year.  They let me know because we’re friends and happened to get together for drinks right when it happened.  I thought the company I work for might be able to use them and made an inquiry, but nothing really happened on my company’s end because the timing wasn’t right.

As time went on, this person became more “networky” (so not a word).  I helped with their resume and we kept in touch, but at some point after we’d met for lunch I got one of those very formal “It was nice to have lunch with you today and that business opportunity you mentioned sounded quite intriguing…” e-mails.  Now, I was fully in this person’s corner, but that e-mail is one I didn’t act on.  It was too choreographed.  Reminded me too much of those über networker types I don’t like.  So, I didn’t forward the resume to the person I’d thought about forwarding it to.

But, a month later when I heard about a project that was perfect for this person, I didn’t hesitate to suggest them and to forward their resume.  And they got the job.

Trying to force things doesn’t work well.  At least not with me.  There are certain types of people who live by the “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch your back” motto, but I find those people painful to be around.

It feels very forced and plastic and somewhat creepy to be in a room full of those types.  Like everyone is assessing you for your value to them.  (That’s when I like to discuss how I’ve spent the last couple of years bumming around foreign countries and hiking.  Alone.  In the wilderness.  With no one around for miles and miles.)

Not to mention some of them can be downright stupid about it.  I once had someone come up to me and say, “I heard you’re involved in VC?”  “No, I’m not sure where you heard that.”  “So you have nothing to do with VC?”  “Nope.”  “Oh.”  And they walked away.  Nice to meet you, too.

Here’s the thing.  You never know who will or will not be valuable to you.  And you’re only going to figure that out by forming genuine connections with people.  More than once I’ve had someone try to work me for a contact and not helped them out because I value my connections more than I value the cachet I might get from knowing people.

Now, here’s where I admit that it does matter who you know.  But it’s not a matter of having a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend put you in touch with someone else.  It’s about forming genuine connections with people.  Organically.  Naturally.  Real ones.

Books & Such had an interesting post this week: Backdoor to Literary Representation

At first, you might think that the post proves that it really is ALL about who you know, because only 4% of Ms. Lawton’s clients came from cold queries.  But look closer at the other sources: 42% from writer’s conferences, 16% through writing groups/online forums/blog followers, and 8% from her actively seeking them out.  Of course, there were the potentially “who you know” clients as well:  20% via client referral and 8% from editors.

That 58% that came from writer’s conferences and writing groups/forums/blogs is where what I consider networking happens.  You attend a conference, you meet someone you like, you form a connection, maybe that connection leads to a business relationship.  You don’t walk up to every single “Important Person” and beg them for representation or referrals or contacts.  You just get to know them.  As people.  And what develops organically is of benefit to both of you.

So, if I had to summarize my advice on this: Deal with people genuinely.  See value in everyone.  (I have to say I have received more benefit from being on friendly terms with the admin staff than with SVPs.)  Be authentic in your interactions with others.  Don’t use who you know as the yardstick for measuring your self-worth.


About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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