When I was at one writers’ conference, each faculty member was asked to give conferees advice on how to succeed. Dr. Dennis Hensley, the king of Christian freelancing, said: networking. I’ve also found that networking is vital for success.
What exactly is networking? In a nutshell, it’s making contact with people. Sometimes that contact is purposeful, like attending writers conferences and professional meetings for encouragement, instruction, and support. Other times, networking is casual—networking occurs, but it’s not something you set out to do. Contacts can happen through casual conversations. And sometimes networking is specific, such as when you want to talk to an editor about a certain idea.
There’s a place and time for specific networking. For 20 years I’ve been a member of the Evangelical Press Association and have attended their annual conventions. An EPA convention looks like a writer’s dream, because it’s a convention for Christian magazine editors. A place for contacts galore, right? Not necessarily! I’ve seen a few writers come to EPA and make specific sales contacts successfully. However, I’ve also watched editors literally hide from freelancers who have the “I want to sell you something” gleam in their eyes. They’re at the conference to learn, relax, and network with each other, not buy materials. The place for writers to sell specific ideas is at writers’ conferences, when editors are there for that purpose.
When making contacts, always be professional. Be sensitive to right times and places. Don’t just network to pursue your specific agenda. When we enter networking with a “me” focus—”I want to make a sale” or “I want to meet people who will further my career”—we might get what we’re looking for; however, it often ends up being a barren quest. Rather, some of the best networking occurs when we have a “you” focus—”How can I help you?” “Who are you? Tell me about your passions, your goals.”
As we focus on the other person, our worlds are broadened, our lives are enriched, we learn. We make contact with another person on a deeper level. We end up with a new friend, rather than just another name on the contacts list.
Several years ago a wanna-be writer complained, “You get freelance work because you know so many people. I don’t.”
Are contacts really the magic formula to sales? No. I may know a lot of editors, but that doesn’t mean they’ll automatically buy my work. I’ve been on both sides of the fence on this one! As an editor, I may really like a writer, but if his or her work doesn’t fit my publication needs, I won’t buy it. However, as we get to know editors personally, we get a closer look at them, the way they think, and we understand their editorial needs better. We can then take the focus off what we can sell them to contemplate their needs and how we can meet them.
That’s when sales happen—when we focus on meeting needs rather than having our desires met.
Networking isn’t just for getting to know clients. It’s broader than that. When we go to a conference, a writers meeting, or any other event, we get to know people’s expertise, and that makes for great contacts for professional quotes. Or perhaps you’ll discover someone who had an experience that would make a wonderful story for Guideposts or another market. Maybe the conversation will start an idea that develops into a new article or book to pursue.
Writers are communicators. Networking helps us become better, communicators. And what’s the goal of communication? Not just to spread whatever message, and to fulfill our own agendas. Communicating means meeting others’ needs.
I encourage you: Look at your life and see where you can do some more networking to meet needs.