Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Vision@sff.net

Networking For Authors

By Emory Hackman

2002, Emory Hackman


You hold your full-length fiction manuscript in your hand.  There is a blinding flash.  Your job just changed from writing your manuscript to marketing your book.

Me?  You say.  Moi?  Writers are introverts in their private corner huddled over their computer keyboard while they make up people in their head.  True?  But you, as your own employer, just changed your job to marketer, and you have to deal with it.

Dashing to the library shelf you quickly flip through the pages of the book on getting published.  The first rude shock is the requirement to find an agent.  Major fiction manuscripts are no longer sold by direct contact to publishers.  Beads of anxious sweat drip onto the pages.  You can do the suggested research for agents.  You can struggle with the synopsis and the query letter.  Then it tells you to get favorable reviews--but not how.  And they don't say how to distinguish between an average agent in your genre and agent who's right for you.

You will find the right agent for you, and the reviews, and the other contacts you need, through networking.

Take heart, it can be done.  Some folks may even like it.  Networking is a process.  It can take you farther than you ever dreamed.  The only limit is your time and your imagination.  And fiction writers by definition have and develop more imagination than anyone else.

There are two concurrent first steps.  One is to develop the right networking process for you in small incremental steps.  The other is to plan what kinds of people you need to meet.

For instance, how far can you go to get friendly, favorable, and POWERFUL reviews?  To get to the review you should have, you have to realize any lesser review is unacceptable.  How high can you reach?  As a virtual unknown, Tom Clancy faced this question for his first novel, The Hunt For Red October (Navel Institute Press, 1984), set in the dangerous and hostile environment of the Cold War.  Who was the foremost voice of authority for his setting?

Tom Clancy found him.

The lead review on the front inside cover of the 1986 Berkley edition reads: "'THE PERFECT YARN'--President Ronald Reagan."  No one, absolutely no one, is a better authority for a contemporary military thriller then the military commander in chief--the President of the United States.

Expand your search for your reviews beyond authors in your genre.  Authors are excellent, but not the only, nor necessarily the best, resource.  The four other reviews on Clancy's inside front cover next below the president's are from one published author and three newspaper book reviews.  Most aspiring authors have to go to writers' conferences to find authors, who may or may not have the spare time or the inclination to like a new author's work.  But every newspaper has writers, and they need things to write about.  Newspapers thrive on personal struggle stories.  Your struggle to write is a story.  That non-fiction writer could fall in love with your book--the essential ingredient for a winning review.

Your chances of selling your book are measurably improved when you have a well-known authority to write a review.   Don't know any?  The secret to success is networking.

Networking is the process of building relationships.  You have just written a book manuscript in which you crafted a story of conflicts and resolutions in your characters' relationships.  Some things got better and perhaps some issues remained unresolved.  Now your job is to apply the skills you gave your characters in their relationships to finding new relationships for yourself.  And you need to meet people of value to your new job of influencing agents and selling your book.

The watchword for networking is to give something of value.  But not money.  As the song says, "Money can't buy you love."  The first thing you have to give is yourself.  Say who you are, what you are writing, and ask what they need for you to do for them.

People like helping people.  It's in the genes.  You have to be straight about it, not coy, and you have to ask for the kind of help that others can freely give.

And if nobody at the newspaper will help you, then you asked the wrong question, on the wrong day, and of the wrong person.  Wait two days and ask a simpler question.

And if your question doesn't ever work, then ask someone else in the same or similar profession for help in what finding out what that profession needs.  Then you have something to offer to make yourself attractive.

What if nothing works?  Take a step back, ask your friends for the help they can give.  Not the help you initially wanted.

You are an expert in your book.  How long did it take you?--a few years.  They are an expert in who they know.  How long did it take them?--an entire lifetime.  Don't ask them to be an expert in your book, and don't allow them to insist you be an expert in who they know.  Sit down with them over coffee and compare notes on the kinds (not the names) of people you need to meet and the kinds (not the names) of the people they know.  They can introduce you to the best match they have.  And your start the process again.

The worst that can happen as you make a new contact is that they won't speak to you again after your first encounter.  And how bad is that, really?  Before your call, they were not speaking to you anyway.  Learn as you go.

And if your pool of friends is embarrassingly tiny, those few still believe in you.  They will meet with you.  Ask them to serve as your board of advisors.  Your promise to them is to do whatever they tell you to do that is reasonably within your power.  Somewhere between your reading this paragraph and some future meeting of your personal advisory board, you (and they) will think of some new way for you to expand your search.

And an advisory board owns your success as their own.  Once they do, something good will happen.

Back at the office, your perseverance continues.  You wrote your manuscript on perseverance.  Nobody made you write fiction, and nobody paid you.  Keep on building your contacts.

Does this process guarantee that you will find the perfect agent, or the perfect review?  No.  But the process will teach you.  Friends can become hooked on the intrigue of wondering what you wrote.  Of course, let them read it, but with a catch.  They have to mark it up.  Provide the felt tip pen.  The biggest thing you want isn't an editing job.  You want to know where the story slows down too much--becomes uninteresting, maybe even boring.  You can fix it, but you're too deep into it to be able to reliably tell where it becomes boring for others.  What they teach you is where to make revisions, but not how to make them.

Your local networking at home is the only place to practice your networking skills for the big time--the writers' conferences.

For the conference, your briefcase is jammed with the required copies of the synopsis, the first five pages, the first three chapters, the first fifty pages, and gutsy person that you are, at least ONE copy of the whole darn thing--the manuscript!  And all in an acceptable format.  Now your only job at the conference is to ask other folks what they do so they will listen to what you have written and what you are looking for.

Are you are ready?  Have business cards in your pocket?  "NO!" you scream.  Your secret silent voice asks, "What do I say?"

Anything that comes to your mind will be better than never going out at all and never saying anything.  Keep it simple; keep it upbeat.  They don't care about your limitations and inexperience.  Don't say those things as it's too depressing--for them!  They do care about what you have done--nobody else has written your book--and what you are looking for.

Now go forth and be prepared to meet me.  What could a networking coach possibly need of you?  Who have you met at the conference?  Who have I met at the conference?

How do you find me?  You'll know me when I say, "Good morning.  I'm Emory Hackman.  I'm looking for an agent who is interested in the Civil War, or who does thrillers."  (Their personal interest is more important to me than their publishing history.  Anyone with a strong personal interest in my subject is more likely to know an agent with an interest so strong they have to see more.)  "This is my co-author Linda Adams.  What have you written?  What are you looking for?"

Now you can revise my script to make your own truthful statement about who you are, what you have done, and whom you need to meet.

*****

Emory Hackman is the co-author with Linda Adams on a women's Civil War thriller in production.  He is an attorney and Chairman of the McLean Estate Planning Counsel.  Emory hosts business meetings and coaches financial planners on network marketing.