We hear about networking all the time as writers. It’s become the holy grail, the answer to everything. Want a job? Network. Want to promote your book? Network. Want friends? Network. We have social network accounts on everything from Goodreads to Pinterest.
But how do we know how far is too far? And do you ever feel like you’re being manipulative, starting new friendships with the hope of later selling those people a book?
I think it’s important to remember that networking really boils down to relationship. And all of our relationships should be God-honoring, even if they are purposeful. Is it okay to reach out to someone with the hope they will become a future reader? Sure! Think of book signings, for example. You wouldn’t invite a random person from a book signing to your house for dinner afterwards. There’s an appropriate boundary there. The key is that you don’t use (or abuse) that relationship out of its appropriate boundary.
When I think I networking, I can’t help but think of Colleen Coble because she’s such a superstar at it. In fact, most of you have probably been touched by Colleen in some way yourselves. I know I have. In addition to being so involved in helping others through ACFW, Colleen absolutely loves the folks at her publishing house. She sends them birthday cards and goes to visit them, creating a partnership. Is she being sneaky by being an easy person to work with? Of course not. She’s simply building a relationship with them, and she’s very good at that.
So how do you build relationships without coming across as pushy?
1) Show respect. We’ve all seen that person chasing agents around a conference, waving around a stack of one sheets and yelling, "You'll call me, right?" Don’t be that person. But this also applies to other relationships as well. Treat others as you would want them to treat you. Show genuine concern and investment in their lives, even if your paths only intersect for a moment.
2) Be yourself. This is very scary to do, but you can’t successfully network if you don’t put yourself out there. Some people aren’t going to like the vibe you give off. That's okay. But keep being yourself because when you do connect with people who are a good fit for you, it’ll be a more dynamic relationship.
3) Be honest. Think about the people on Facebook and Twitter who you enjoy following. What kinds of things do they post? With me, I enjoy reading updates from people like Jenny B. Jones because she always makes me laugh. What Idon't like is when people use social networking as a constant opportunity to promote their book. We want to get to know you. Otherwise we'd just read a book jacket. It's okay to say you haven't dusted the ceiling fans in eight months or that you just accidentally ate an entire bag of Peppermint Patties. These things are endearing, really.
4) Go the extra mile, whether it’s literally—to a conference; or figuratively—by putting forth effort to appreciate the other person. Again, you don't want to do this for ill reasons, but you do want to take time to appreciate those you are in relationship with, whether it be readers, mentors, editors, or friends. A relationship that is strictly "take" isn't really a relationship at all, because true relationship necessitates give and take.
5) Be available. If you're at a conference, walk around the hallways where the people are. If you're in your living room, reach out to others on Twitter and Facebook, and comment on blogs. Never burn bridges, so to speak. You can't network if you don't make yourself available and friendly to begin with.
6) Realize you don't have to connect with everyone. So often, people avoid networking because it overwhelms them. They think, "You want to me to connect with how many people? Do you have any idea how shy I am?" But the thing is, that's the beauty of networking as relationship. You just have to be yourself. Yes, you might have to step out of your comfort zone a little if you're shy, but you can adapt your methods of networking according to your personality, so that maybe you focus more on internet relationships rather than face-to-face or phone-based relationships. Customize your approach to what works best for you.
What do you think? Have you ever cringed at the idea of networking? Can you think of anyone who networks well? What have they done to make you feel that way about them?
*Image from http://mrazz.deviantart.com/art/Social-Cup-anyone-153448985?q=1&qo=1
Ashley Clark writes romantic comedy with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story time. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blog and herTumblr. She's also on Facebook and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.