Whether you’re hoping to work in the writing industry, or you’ve got a manuscript you’re hoping to submit, meeting professionals in the writing industry can really cement your career. It’s easy to forget that the whole industry is made of people—people who adore books and writing and words, and people who could adore you.
It’s always scary to put yourself out there, especially if you’re an introvert, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t. Too many people let the fear of networking stop them, and if you push past it and try, you’re already beating them. Besides, publishers and agents are looking for up-and-comers, and they want to meet you as much as you want to meet them.
Identify Who You Want to Meet
The first step is to identify who it is you’d like to meet, both generally and specifically. The idea here is to give yourself enough knowledge about the industry so that you know what the people in it actually do. You’ll be way better off if you know the difference between an acquisitions editor and a proofreader.
Are you looking for publishers? Big publishers or small publishers, or are you willing to consider both? Do you need an agent? What is your genre? What is your target audience? Who publishes what you write? Who writes what you write? Which books cater to your niche, and who worked on it? Who else might be useful to know?
If you’re not sure where to start, a recent book that has been published for a similar audience to yours, and make a map of all the people you can find who worked on it. Make sure to find a book that was first published in your region, and try reading the acknowledgements and searching for author interviews for clues.
All of these questions are relevant both for people looking to submit a manuscript, and for people hoping to work in the industry. Most professionals work in their own niche, and who might be helpful for one writer may not be helpful for another. Once you’ve figured this stuff out, you can start to think about which specific people you’d most like to meet.
Go to Writing Events
Writing conferences, festivals and events are the easiest way to meet writing professionals face-to-face. Whether they’re speaking or attending for their own professional development, they attend events like this with work in mind, and are totally prepared to meet and network with writers. Plus, the very fact you’re attending an event like this shows that you’re serious about your craft and you’re keen to learn more about the industry.
Events like this are also likely to be filled with people you haven’t even thought of networking with, like other creatives, or people who work for support organisations, or digital publishing experimenters, or publicists, or someone who might know that niche piece of knowledge you need for your manuscript. You’re also likely to meet other writers—both those who are a little further in their careers, and those who are at a similar stage to you.
So take a business card or your 30-second pitch, be polite to everyone you talk to, and listen as much as you speak. Don’t be afraid to go up to other people, because they’re all there for the same reason you are.
Look for Opportunities
If there isn’t a conference near you, there are tons of other ways to meet writing professionals and progress in your career. And don’t forget about the people with great connections who make things tick in the background, like writers centres and booksellers.
Go to writing workshops, online or in person. Follow writing support organisations online and subscribe to their email newsletters. Offer to volunteer for a support organisation or small local press. Go to the Australian Society of Authors’ literary speed dating events. Apply for programs like the ACT Writers Centre’s HARDCOPY program, and the Victorian Award for an Unpublished Manuscript. Submit to magazines with open calls for submissions, in the hopes that you might get to work with an editor. Send an email to a successful local author or a support organisation or someone with your dream internship asking for advice.
The point is do something. Reach out and make your bubble a little wider. You might not get to talk to the senior editor at Penguin Random House right away, but you could get to talk to an intern or someone who works in a small press. There are plenty of people in this industry, which is much wider than just publishers, and most of them are incredibly generous.
Reach Out Online
While nothing beats face-to-face contact, we’re incredibly lucky that we live in a world where everyone is just a click of a button away. Networking on Twitter is totally a thing, and a little online stalking can really result in a conversation or a small piece of advice with an industry professional. And even if you don’t get to talk to them personally, it might give you an insight into the kind of person they are, or what manuscripts they’re looking for.
Don’t be shy! If you’re not sure where to start, take a look at who writing organisations or literary journals are following, and then go on a train where you look at who those people are following. You can find wonderful things this way, or at least have a fun afternoon spiralling through the industry.
A Word of Warning
Remember that the writing industry, especially in Australia, is very small. This is great for many reasons—it means that the industry is accessible, and that making one good contact can open your world to lots of great contacts. But it also means that word travels quickly, and if you act unprofessionally or treat someone rudely, it may seriously affect your career.
So be generous to everyone you meet, and treat everyone politely. Even if your book is somehow guaranteed to be a bestseller, receptionists or interns or emerging writers deserve your respect—and you don’t want them telling their boss or other colleagues that you’d be difficult to work with.