Wednesday, March 7, 2012

How Do I Network Without Being Obnoxious?

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
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.


Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Are there really people running around ACFW conference waving One Sheets? lol...that's pretty funny!

Networking is tricky. I was glad that Pages came into play on FB, because it helped separate the "marketing" and the personal stuff.

I am sad that Pinterest is starting to become a place of marketing, because people do abuse it and it does become annoying.

There is a balance and, like you, I love Jenny B Jones and Jody Hedlund and Katie Ganshert and KRISTA and so many more!

Peaches Ledwidge said...

Thanks for the post, interesting and informative. We must follow the golden rule - treat others as you would have them treat you.

Lindsay Harrel said...

Love these thoughts. I think right now, "networking" is easy because I don't think of it that way. I don't have pressure to sell a book because I don't have one yet. So I truly am just getting to know other writers without an ulterior motive. I just want to be part of something, and getting to know other people in the industry helps me to feel that way. I've loved the support I've already received from various people I've met along the way. I can't wait to connect further with people at ACFW this year.

Patty Wysong said...

Sometimes it feels like walking along the edge of a ravine--one step too far and you're over the edge and sliding down. Building relationships is so very key! Great post!

Jeanne T said...

So appreciate your post, Ashley. It makes sense. Keeping relationship first seems to be a good practice in many aspects of this writing journey. One person I've heard has a knack for networking is Liz Curtis Higgs. She really focuses on people and on encouraging them.

The step you mentioned that I need to work on is not trying to connect with everyone. That is my downfall. :) Thanks for your suggestions!

Angie Dicken said...

It might be hard to believe...but I am pretty shy. At least, when it comes to talking with strangers who I know could possibly assist me in my dream! So ACFW conference, while fun and exciting for me, was also really out of my comfort zone! It's so much easier to network behind a screen than in person...however, I know it's more impressionable in person!
I will never forget meeting Laura Frantz at the conference, she was the sweetest most genuine person and actually acted like she cared that I read her novel. If I ever become published, I will remember how she was, and hope to network with her attitude!

Keli Gwyn said...

Thanks for the helpful post, Ashley. With a book coming out this summer and the pressure to promote, it's so hard to know when to say something about my book and when to keep my yap shut. I like shining the spotlight on others and don't want to be guilty of aiming it at myself. Learning how to promote without coming across as pushy is my goal. I'm only one writer. There are many others out there doing and saying and writing great things. I want to continue to celebrate with them, but I do want to sell books and make my publisher happy. Ah, the dilemma. I'll keep your pointers in mind.

Unknown said...

Ashley, thanks for this concise list. Your second and third ones really hit home. If I sense someone not being themselves or honest, the relationship stalls - that's true in real life and social media. It's a fine line to walk with writers. I agree with Keli's response 100%.

Heather Hart said...

Great tips! But I think one more would be to spread out your posts. I can't stand it when my entire feed is filled up with one person's posts. Using a system such as hootsuit or tweet deck just to space yourself out will make you more visible and less annoying at the same time. ;)

Ashley Clark said...

Great thoughts, everyone!
Heather, I completely agree with your advice! Just yesterday, one person's feed was literally filling up my entire Twitter, and I thought about unfollowing her because it was so annoying.
And Kelli, I agree! It's so hard to find that line between personal and business. I think the biggest thing is just being sensitive to what each individual conversation dictates, but don't be afraid to shine the spotlight on yourself! I really believe there's a big difference between pride and confidence.

What do you all think? How do we establish that difference between the evil "pride" word and confidently presenting our book as something others might like to read?

Ashley Clark said...

Oh and I meant to say, Sherrinda, I totally agree about Pinterest! It's sort of like what happened to Facebook after they opened it up from just college kids. And I may have exaggerated the conference one sheet thing just a little for laughs. ;) But it does get pretty bad! It's not uncommon for people to follow editors and agents around, sometimes interrupting their conversations, etc.

Amy Jane (Untangling Tales) said...

What's so hard for me is the investment of energy and detail-tracking that inevitably seems involved.

Sure, I'm on twitter, and I enjoy chatting about something useful/interesting as it comes up, but with "real life" to manage it feels like too much (a lot) to make my appearances around the web too: Yes, I care enough about you to spend time on that thoughtful comment, yes I care enough about you to initiate a conversation, etc.

I find that I care-- but not that much. It's the *give* (margin/leeway) I have in my life: networking feels like the only place that doesn't "miss me" if I don't show/get involved.

And honestly I don't miss it. I'm glad to have a ball I can set down without it breaking.

All I can conclude from this reality and all the networking talk is that I'm basically doomed.

Ashley Clark said...

Ha! Amy, I don't think that's true. I think it's a good sign that you have your priorities in check and know where networking falls on that list, because if it was taking up all your writing time, that would be a big problem!

In my opinion, networking looks different for different people, so don't think that just because you aren't blogging four times a week and posting on Facebook every hour according to a timed schedule, that means you aren't good at networking.

Maybe you're invested in other ways that require less of a time commitment. For instance, maybe you're a "people person" and make friends easily in person rather than having having a large blog presence. Or maybe you invest deeply into a select few relationships rather than creating shallow relationships with many. If those "select few" are mentors, critique partners, etc., then those relationships are still networking and are still very profitable.

Even what we're doing now is networking, really. So in light of what you just said, I'll consider it a compliment you commented. ;)

Mary Vee Writer said...

Great post Ashley.
After reading the weekend edition, I couldn't wait to read what you had to say today.
Sure was worth the wait.

Ashley Clark said...

You're such an encourager, Mary! Thanks for the kind words. :)

Casey said...

I'm with Mary, I was excited for this post too, and it delivered!

Genuine. You have to be genuine on social networking. One of the things I love about where I'm at right now, with no pressure to do publicity for ANYTHING, is that I can make friends without feeling like I'm trying to cram my book down their throat.

I can help share in the joy of other friends' accomplishments and be the person I most want to be: me!

I've learned a lot just by watching other authors approach to marketing and how they approach ME as a blogger who can help them and what I want to do and how I want to be treated, and how in return I will treat others when I'm in the position to ask for publicity, reviews, bloggers, share my books news, etc. It's been a great time to figure out what *I* want to do. :)

Ashley Clark said...

That's such a good point, Casey! I bet you have a unique perspective of what works and what doesn't because you know how *you* feel when authors approach you. I agree--being genuine is so key! People will see right through it otherwise and will resent that feeling of artificiality. Thanks for sharing!

Beth K. Vogt said...

I do not like marketing.
I love relationships.
But sometimes I struggle to find time even for relationships.
So it's that precarious balancing act -- lean one way, than the other -- and giving myself (and others) grace because I'll never get it down perfectly.

Ashley Clark said...

Well said, Beth!

Dave Delaney said...

This is terrific advice Ashley. I am a strong believer in professional networking. I actually just launched a blog dedicated to the topic recently.

We can use social networking sites to connect with people before and after events, but it takes attending an event to really meet people.

I believe we need to learn to come out of our shells (and our homes) to attend events and meet new people. It's the best way to grow our networks.

Remember that it is a two-way street. Be sure you're helping others before ever asking for help yourself.