How (Not) To Network – To Write and Have Written

Networking! You’ve heard before how authors are colleagues, not competitors, and how we need to stick together to get ahead. That’s all true. But there are social conventions and best practices to ask for help, and knowing how to ask is as important as knowing what to ask.

Show Notes

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Video (from Twitch and YouTube):



Hello, everyone, welcome to Tuesday evening, at least it’s my Tuesday evening and ShyRedFox you magnificent rainbow you. Thank you for the subscription. I appreciate it. All right. And I’m going to get — oh, shoot, I don’t have chat up. But you know what, it’s good enough, I can find you if I need you, OK? I’ll be fine. So, hey everybody, it is To Write And Have Written.

I am Laura VanArendonk Baugh and we have a big topic tonight that hopefully will get lots of fun, fun discussion with and it will be, I hope, useful to some people.

Oh, hello. There’s a Rhonda in the chat, so I’m just going to not talk about how much crying I did over that cyberpunk story that I did send in over the weekend, thank God, finally got that out. Yeah, definitely, definitely did not get that in less than two hours before the deadline. That is positively somebody else we are talking about. Hey, guys

while you’re here. If you get the purple screen of death here live on Twitch tonight, just let me know, because I don’t, I won’t be able to see if that happens for you, but we’re trying to track how often that is happening to people.

So, oh, Rhonda says she can’t stay long. So I can talk about the story later. Now all my crying is done. I’ve had my dark chocolate. It’s good. Actually, I want to thank you. It was really good for me. You stretched me. That was a genre, that was not usually my stomping ground and I had a good time going and doing something new. So however that worked out, I learned, I became a better writer.

I cried and ate chocolate, OK? I didn’t cry, I did eat the chocolate. But anyway, so yes, I did get it in on time. Oh, Alena says me too.

OK, yeah. OK. Yeah, yeah. Just we’re just going to if you if you have not seen the purple screen of death, great. But if you if your screen suddenly goes purple and Twitch says, why are you, you’re not allowed to look at the stream, just drop that in the chat so we can find out what’s going on.

So OK. Yeah, stretching limits. Good chocolate. Very good. Yeah. That’s how it worked out. So tonight’s topic is all about networking, which I guess means and thrilled that I have like this lovely little chat going on at the beginning with all of you guys. Thank you so much.

This is a huge thing. And I’m going to skip straight to the chase and I’m just going to assume that if you’re hearing the sound of my voice, you already agree that networking is important. So we’re just going to skip all the reasons why that might be. “Me, too” was with regard to Rhonda’s story, not the purple screen of death. Yes. So you got yours in ahead of deadline, though.

Mine was eeeeeeee slide in under that door. Yeah.

So, OK, so I’m calling this how parentheses not to network because I am going to share some networking gone wrong stories. Everything, by the way is true, but ridiculously sanitized and anonymized. So I don’t think anybody’s going to be trackable or traceable from stories that I am going to share because honestly some of them are funny, but I actually do have a reason for sharing them that’s not just, you know, let’s laugh at people who made mistakes.

That’s not that’s not a great reason to do something. But I do have a reason. But we’ll get to honestly, like I have notes, we’re going to do this in order.

I’m just not getting there. So here’s the thing. We understand that networking is important. We know that authors are colleagues, not competitors. And, you know, the thing that I always try to emphasize is, you know, my ideal reader that I am trying to reach, you know, my dream demographic is not the person who reads one book in a year or in a lifetime. Right. So I am not going for a zero sum situation where either Rhonda can sell a book or I can sell a book.

Actually, today we can both sell a book, because Clockwork, Curses, and Coal is out this day. So there you go. There’s my, there’s my totally shameless plug for Rhonda and myself. But it is not a zero sum game where there only one author going to get to sell a book, so we all are competing for that one book sale. We are — ShyRedFox says, all the books. Yeah, exactly. Like I’m going to pick up more books than I can read anyway, and that’s just me.

So we, the more that we can network and share and do for each other, the better it will be.

So back in the before times when we went to places and sold books occasionally in person, every time I went to an author fair or some sort of, you know, public library book event or something, I would set up my booth set at my table and then I would do a circle around the event to see, you know, sometimes I’d recognize people there. Sometimes I had no clue who these people were. We would meet for the first time and I’d look and say, oh, you write thrillers, OK?

And so then during the day, people would stop by my booth and say, oh, I’m looking for a book for my grandson. Oh, OK. So how old is he? He’s 12. Well, that’s not actually what I write, but is he into dragons, lizards, you know, whatever, you know, something like.

Oh yeah, he likes that stuff. Let me take you to and I’d walk them over to the corner where I had met somebody that day who was writing great about lizards or, you know, whatever the case may be.

And this is just routine, because this is really helpful, for one to the kid who now has a book, two, to this other author that I’ve made friends with, three to the person who was actually buying the book for, I’ve built some goodwill on the planet. OK, so like even if I’m not financially profiting from this, it’s still beneficial. And at some point that’s going to come back around to me. So let me just say that, you know, obviously networking is and just and just cooperating is is key to success in this industry.

That said, there are some conventions and some social best practices that are better ways to approach this than some other practices. And while you would think that this would normally be covered in how to be a civilized adult human, that is not always the case.

So let’s work through some ways that are maybe not the best way to approach it, and then let’s work through what are good ways to network and to get the most value out of this. And I’m just going to preface this with, you know, there’s going to be a fair amount of please don’t do this, especially at the beginning of this. The second half of this talk is how to do this.

And I don’t want this to come across in the least as people don’t want to be bothered. Guys, I am telling you, the creative community is ridiculously over helpful, I would say in some cases. Like you are not going to find a group of people that is not more thrilled to share or to assist or to to help somebody who’s getting started or to boost somebody who’s like almost there but needs a push. And I mean, just in our relatively small community that does this show live as opposed to on replays,

I know, I think at least I’m going to say four people that are in the chat that I have done edits for or blurbs for or something, and just that I know people are trading and, you know, swapping, you know, beta reading for each other, that kind of thing. I mean, this is this is what the community does, OK? But, you know, there’s the classic joke about trapping the agents, the literary agent in the bathroom and then slipping your manuscript under the stall to them, and we all laugh about that because it is the classic joke.

But I will tell you, I have talked to several agents who said, yeah, it’s not a joke, OK? Or they come out of the restroom and there’s a person of the opposite sex poised, waiting to pounce on them. And so let’s talk about ways to approach people and ways to to get asks, because at some point I’m going to ask somebody to blurb my book or I’m going to ask somebody if I can have space on their social platform to reach their demographic.

And so we need better ways of doing this than, you know, attacking people in the restroom.

Let’s not do that.

So I’m going to talk first about some things that I’ve seen that are probably not the best way to do this. Again, the purpose of these stories — Well, you’re welcome to take one reason as, oh, wow. At least I feel better about some of my choices. OK, if that helps you to get through your day, great. Take that. I do have actual reasons why I’m sharing these stories, but first of all, we’ll talk through the things.

So my first example, my first category is people who did not plan their approach and their ask to be in the best possible way. So one that I witnessed very recently, this was not directed to me, but I was in the room where it happened, so to speak, which was online, and a person approached staff for an event, an online event. So I’m watching all this happen, you know, in the chat and “your design is terrible.

I can’t find what I want,” some colorful metaphors that are not allowed in certain brackets on TV, that kind of thing.

And so staff’s like, oh, what do you, what are you looking for?

Let’s help. “Well, actually, I don’t need your help. I just wanted to tell you how awful it was.”

“OK, thanks. Have a nice day.” You know, the con staff is being very professional about this. And then the person who’s posted said, “but you’re more than welcome to follow me on my social media! List list list list list.” Which, OK, that’s an odd sell. I’m not sure that, you know, “hey, I’m angry and cussing you out” is the best way to get me to follow you on social media. But great.

And then the next thing, like an hour passed and then the next thing that he posted was, “would you consider having me as a guest? I would like to be a guest at your event.”

I’m just going to venture that he’s probably not going to get asked in as a guest. He’s not setting the tone of somebody who really is going to be fun to work with. OK, so this person by by presenting his case in this way, not only ensured that he’s not going to be a guest at that event, he also ensured he’s never going to be a guest at any event that I’m in charge of, because I’ve looked at this and I’m like, this is not going to be a person who’s fun to collaborate with.

OK, this is this is you know, this is a temper tantrum waiting to happen. Similarly, did not plan the full — by the way, I totally just caught on that Hamilton was going on the chat. I completely missed that. I’m sorry. Let’s all get our “room where it happens” vibe out and then move on.

But so likewise, I was at an event. I’m at my table. Obviously, this is in the before times, so I’m in public. I’m at my table. I’m actively selling and signing books. And a guy comes up to me and he’s like, Oh, you’re an author. Yes, I am actively selling and signing books, you know? Yeah. And he’s like, Oh, I’m a writer. Let me give you my thing and you can edit it for me here.

And he pulls out his phone and he pulls up his manuscript on his phone and he hands it to me across the table and then just waits expectantly and I’m like.

I can’t first of all, I’m not gonna like, “young man, I don’t know how to explain this to you. I can’t just edit to your manuscript. Over on a cell phone for free, with no background on you or anything, while I am supposed to be having a signing.” You know, it was just it was such blatant opportunism and just made me a commodity.

And I understand, like, probably you don’t understand what you’re asking, but that manuscript edit is an in-depth and not cheap thing, okay?

So, yeah, “at a con while I’m working, doing my job, which is not editing your book.” Exactly. Bridger got that straight up. And so something, that if if he had planned his approach differently, probably we could have had a great conversation. Possibly I could have helped him out either myself or directed him to some other good resources. But once you’ve put me in that position, even if I wanted to help you, I really can’t.

And you’ve not put me in a place where my top priority is getting you what you want, OK?

Because you’ve made me feel kind of like a utility actually at that point.

And likewise and this is just a general general rule. Don’t be a booth barnacle. And if you hang out on the convention circuit, you know what that term means. If it’s not familiar to you: barnacles, of course, being the sea creatures that latch onto things and a booth barnacle will be a person who attaches himself to a table and refuses to leave. There are two kinds of booth barnacles. One is the legitimately clueless

“I like this work and I want to I want to form a relationship. So I’m going to hang out here all day until you love me.” And the other is, “I know you can’t leave and I’m the creeper who’s going to stay here and do creepy things because you can’t leave.” The problem is that people at the table don’t know which category a person is when he starts. It usually becomes obvious pretty quickly.

But either way, there is no good way for that person at the table to, there’s no exit at that point because their job is to be at the table. It’s just like coming in, you know, harassing the barista.

And so. Yeah, sorry.

The Hamilton Hum-Along, it’ll probably come up again. So so just general rule of thumb, don’t be a booth barnacle. If you are, we’ll give you our secret handshake in the world. If you are at a table experiencing or you see somebody trapped by a booth barnacle, there are there are a number of ways you can aid that person. I definitely have slipped in a number of times like, “oh, so-and-so is on the phone.

They really need to talk to you. I’ll hold your table for ten minutes while you go take care of that.”

And so, you know, sometimes you can you can help people that way. And I did it for one poor editor, a publisher who, this guy was bound and determined she was going to take his manuscript over the table.

And so I’m like, “oh, you got to go. I’ll hold the table for you. And then, oh, I’m not the editor, so I can’t accept anything.” And eventually, you know, he got bored and left and she was able to come back.

Guys, you’re not selling your product by being creepy. Don’t, let’s not do that. So with that, we’ve said they’re, like these are the things not to do. What is helping those to go wrong is just a lack of planning, but also a lack of understanding what these people actually wanted out of the situation. You know, do you just want to say, “I’ve been close to so and so” and just, you know, you’re the star collector.

And so you need to stay close enough to get the selfies and and to be like, “oh, I totally know this big shot editor name” or, you know, whatever. Do you want marketing from this person? Do you want them to help you to promote something? If so, what kind do you want? Because just “I want help” is not very specific. It’s not going to help you to plan. So and just knowing, truly, knowing what you actually want out of the situation is going to prevent a lot of disappointment.

So I’ve got one more story of things that went wrong and this, I’m going to tell the story. This is the personal story but just a reminder, I’m in somewhere between two and three dozen writing groups online. It covers a lot of territory. There are literally tens of thousands of people here. And like so I’m telling the story pretty positive that’s going to be anonymous as it goes out here. But in one of my groups, you know, somebody was struggling with her book and it’s her first manuscript and she’s really trying to get this right.

And she thinks it’s ready to go, but she doesn’t have money for an editor. And I’m like, hey, you know what? Like, I’ll be happy to look at that for you. Send it over. Not the whole manuscript. Send me, you know, X number of chapters or whatever. And and — oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to throw anybody under the bus, you know? Yeah, “I’m realizing I have booth barnacled.” Let me back up just briefly.

Generally speaking, you know, if somebody is legitimately enthusiastic, that’s not the problem. The problem is when they’re starting to be enthusiastic into the third and a half hour, maybe that’s an issue.

But I think we’ll talk more later and it will become more clear. But as long as… We’re trying to avoid the creepy vibes, that’s that’s what I’m after.

And that’s something that, I have been backed up with my back against a wall in a row of of booths and tables. That’s not the sales tactic that’s going to work.

OK, that’s, I’m not listening to your pitch. That was somebody trying to sell me a thing. Like, I’m not listening to your pitch. I’m trying to figure out an escape route and how big a social debacle it’s going to be when I push you and run.

So that’s what we’re trying to avoid there.

So, OK, everybody is like, “oh, no, I’ve been the booth barnacle!” But guys like, “hi, I like this. I’m going to hang out and look at your stuff” is not the… Yeah, there’s a line that crosses like. So don’t assume that being at the tables — the tables are there for you to be at. OK? That’s OK!

Just don’t be a creeper at the tables. Yeah. And Alena is pointing out the other big risk of booth barnacles is even with great intentions, if other people can’t get to the merch, you know, then you’re hurting sales. So if I’m at somebody’s booth for more than just I’m picking up your stuff and making a purchase, I try to move to the side so that other people can actively see the displays, pick up the displays, that sort of thing.

Yeah, we can maybe circle around and spend more time on booth etiquette because that’s that’s definitely a topic of itself. But don’t assume that if you were at the table that you were necessarily a problem. That is not at all the impression I meant to leave. So, OK, going back. OK. So this person wants to send out her work. She doesn’t have money for professional editor. I said I’m happy to look at it, you know, send me another eight, 10 chapters, whatever it was.

And it is kind of rough. And so that’s OK, it’s her first manuscript. That’s fine. So I spent hours editing and very, very carefully wording things because I don’t want to, I don’t want to be mean. Like, that’s not my goal here. My goal is to help her.

But I’m like, OK, this is what’s going to need some work. This is pretty good. Lean into this.

But this is where I need some polish over here, that kind of thing.

Rhonda’s got nervous face. Yeah.

So I sent it back with ridiculous amounts of notes in it and then with a note on top saying, OK, don’t be scared by all the notes. A lot of them are good. But I did put some places that you’re going to need some polish before it goes out. Please talk to me if you have questions about this.

I didn’t hear anything, so a few days went by and I just like, I didn’t get anything back at all. So I just sent like, “hey, did, you know, did it fail because of the attachment? I just want to make sure it reached you.

And if you have any questions, send it back.” And I didn’t hear anything. And I started seeing some posts going on online and I was like, oh, OK. She didn’t actually want an edit. What she wanted was somebody to gush about it and say how awesome it was. What she got was feedback. And, you know, even though, again, I swear to you guys, it was not mean.

But it wasn’t what she wanted. It wasn’t what she was expecting, regardless of what she said. Here’s the rest of the story, because that’s not that uncommon. OK, that happens all the time. Here’s the rest of the story and why this is going to play into the next segment. About a month, two months later, you know, whatever in that community, and this happens all the time, it’s very common online that your writing group will have a thread where everybody gets to put their social media up and they can all follow each other, you know, look for people who are doing similar markets or similar brands, genres or whatever.

So that’s pretty common. And this person said, hey, I want to start a Twitter exchange so I can follow people on Twitter. Everybody list your your Twitter handles. So we did.

And I must say, we got three, four dozen people who listed their Twitter has in there and every single one of them. She went down. “Thanks. I followed you. Thanks. I followed you. Thanks. I followed you.” Thirty-some people. She gets to me. “I’m looking for people I can be friends with.”

“Thanks. I followed you. Thanks. I followed you. Thanks. I followed you.” And I just kind of stared at that for a minute.

So first of all, like, if that was supposed to be a sick burn, it didn’t have the effect you wanted because all I’m feeling is a sense of relief. Thank goodness I did not, you know, get involved with — you know, this is not a person who’s going to be a joy to collaborate with. Like, I’m not going to be able to recommend this person to other writers or to editors. And, yeah, Bridger is going, “wow. And publicly.”

That’s the thing. That’s exactly the thing. Like, I understand if I got more critique than I expected, I need a while to process it. That’s fine. But if two months later you’re publicly salty about it, that tells me that I probably don’t want to sign up to work with you professionally. So where — and that’s been like a long while ago. Totally, totally not findable at this point. I’m very comfortable telling that story because I know it’s anonymous — but that’s the reason I’m telling the story is now when we start talking about how to approach people, here’s the thing.

Assume that any person you’re approaching to try to network with has just had a crazy experience with someone who took them for granted and tried to take advantage of them. Rhonda’s looking, that’s great. If, and we’re going to come back to this, but guys, I am a very, very small fish in the publishing ocean, OK, if I can tell you the number of these stories that, I’m only telling you things that are very, very safely anonymous and very, very, very distant, like nothing I’ve told you has happened, none of the personal stories that I’ve told you have happened within the past year, the online event, one that was more recent, but that’s also not connected publicly to me.

And so if I, as a relatively small fish can say, well, here’s a number of examples that I can just whip off very safely, assume that anybody you’re approaching has had multiple such experiences and possibly the day before you’re talking to them.

And — ha, Rhonda’s like, “I know enough people like that, I don’t need to seek them out.” Yeah, absolutely. And so we need to plan our approach in such a manner as to indicate that we are not going to be another one of those bad experiences. So if you can be honest about what it is that you’re trying to get out of it and try to do, trying to get out of this networking relationship, one, it’s more fair to the person you’re networking with, and two, it’s more fair to you.

You know, if she had known what she wanted, neither of us would have been put in that position. And then if you can be honest with the person you’re asking, that’s going to set up a totally different dynamic and a much more user friendly and productive relationship. The other example I’m going to pull out, and this one is not a writing example, this one is in my day job, you know, behavior example. And I got a phone call about a particular case, which is something I specialize in.

So it’s not unusual that I get that call. And it was like, “oh, this is my scenario.

These are the details. What would you do to address this? How do you think you could help?” I’m like, OK, let me start talking about, you know, generalities and things. And I started to catch on, like as we were talking, like, this just doesn’t sound like a typical client interaction, you know, what’s what’s going on. And. It finally came out. I’ll just cut to the chase. It came out that this was not a client with this situation who had called me.

This was another trainer who had called me as if she had a client with a situation and just to feel me out and try to try to get what I would say. And I’m just like, oh, my gosh.

If you had called me and said, “hey, I’d like your professional opinion on this,” we could have had a conversation, OK? But because I feel like you tried to trick me out of my knowledge — Bridger is like she’s seen that happen. Yeah. You know, and what it is, is instead of having a professional collaboration now, I feel like you tried to deceive me. And that’s, again, not setting up a great professional relationship.

OK, so just be honest about what it is that you want. Sometimes that means you have to do some thinking about what it is you actually want.

But, you know, take the time, get details. That also means that if the person says yes, you don’t stand there and go, I have no idea how to how to, how to practically apply this. You’ve got your things ready to go. So and then the other thing is to be realistic, you know, and and I’m talking definitely right now about making asks. Networking is not all just asking for things, OK, but getting that out of the way first.

Because at some point it is going to be a part of it.

But then be realistic about what it is that you want. And one of the things that, again, true example, not lately, but definitely happened with somebody who was very angry. And the quote was, “You retweeted that person’s promotional sale, but you didn’t review my book for me.” And I’m like, OK. First of all, my priority is, will this be valuable to my readers? OK, if I’m going to promote somebody else’s book, it needs to be something that’s connected to my brand, my marketing, or I’m wasting my readers’ time and that’s not good for them or me.

Secondly, the flowchart for, you know, for retweeting: “Oh, so and so’s book is on sale.

Will my readers like this. Yes. Click retweet.” That’s it. Like the entire flowchart is three seconds long to complete. If I review a book, that’s eight to ten hours minimum, and then I’m writing and in all of this and you know… And also, and here’s the thing, this is my very first contact with this person. I have no idea who this person is. G