The Secret to Networking

Yes. That’s right. I’m going to share a big fat secret with you today.

Are you ready? You’re going to want to pin, tweet, and post this nugget of wisdom. In fact, you’ll probably feel *compelled to scrawl these words on a bathroom stall. Because this is a game changer.

The secret to networking is…


Wait, what? The secret to networking is not trying to network.

Yep. That’s it.

Well, then. If you’re not supposed to try to network, what do you DO to make real connections with people at writing conferences and events? 

#1: Sit by new people and talk to them. 

Kelly R. Fineman said, “I went to the New England SCBWI conference years ago, not really knowing anyone in person. I sat down in a humor-writing workshop next to Linda Urban, whom I figured out was “lurban” from the Blue Boards, so I introduced myself (I used to be on the boards back then). Then we snickered our way through the workshop, as it turned out we had a similar sense of humor. 

After the conference, she emailed me to ask me to read her ms, which was A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT, for feedback and to help her tighten her funny bits. We’ve been friends ever since.”

If you’re wondering what the Blue Boards are, check them out here.

#2: Be interested in others.

Shelly Brown shared, “My first conference I sat next to a girl who spied the Charles in Charge novel poking out of my bag. (Yes, somebody made one of those and yes, I read it.) Instant friends. If there is any way I can help her career or writing, I will and I’m sure she would say the same. Was that some sort of pact we made? No. It’s just human nature. We talked about what we wrote and our dreams but it was out of natural interest in one another”

On the flip side, Shelly said, “I also sat next to a girl who wrote a book out on Amazon that she thought I might like (but she didn’t actually ask me what I liked, so I’m not sure why she assumed that.) She gave me her card and name dropped like crazy. Truthfully, that was years ago. I can’t tell you the name of the girl or the book. I have no intentions of helping her spread the word and no desire to beta read for her.”

#3: Be real.
“I think the best story is how I met Larry Correia.” said Jayrod Garrett.  “Larry and I are both role players and one night at Conduit (back in 2013) Paul Genesse had a game running for a new anthology he had coming out.
Both Larry and I attended the game.
I started out on the outside just watching, but I participated with things as much as I could. Larry played a giant by the name of Lorch and I eventually ended up playing a giant I believe was named Shaman. (Giants aren’t very inventive.)
During the game Lorch was nearly killed by a dragon. And Shaman came across him and healed him by smearing his body with leaves, dragonpoo, and other such things.
This is because as a player I rolled a natural 20 which means in most roleplaying games the Game Master awards you automatic success.
So I ended up saving Lorch’s life and it led to a friendship between Larry and I. Since then we’ve been to lunch a few times and I’ve come to look to him as a mentor for getting into the business of writing.
If I had been looking to network, it wouldn’t have worked nearly as well as it did with us just sharing a nerdy interest and developing a friendship as a result.”

#4: Be chatty. Ask questions. Share about yourself. Have conversations!
 Kelly Milner Halls said, “She was remarkable — bright red hair, passionate conversation, political determination I’d never seen at an SCBWI National Convention in LA before. But then I’d never before met Kathleen Duey. For half an hour, we discussed love and loss and recovery. And I thought, “How I wish that we were actual friends.”

She’d written dozens and dozens of books, and I only had two. How COULD we really be friends?
The answer came when we met again in Wisconsin at a librarians’ conference. And once again, we shared engaging conversation, this time with Chris Crutcher and Bruce Coville, and later on our own over iced tea.
Through the magic of children’s literature, the wonders of connections unseen, we had actually become friends. And when I wrote my first novel about horses — a genre Kathleen Duey practically created — I gathered up my courage and asked, “Would you mind looking it over?”
Imagine my surprise when she said yes, and shared careful, thoughtful, helpful notes the very next day?”

That may not sound like much. After all, I have 40 books under my belt now. It’s been ten years since that first conference meeting. But let me bring it into focus.
I just finished my first NOVEL about a girl and her horse…my first stab at middle grade fiction. And Kathleen, with her exhaustive body of more than 200 novels, still found time to give me help.
If anybody ever tells you chance meetings at conferences mean nothing, just smile. Because you and me — we certainly know better.”

#5: Take your time. 

Shelly Brown also shared this brilliant advice. “I love the friends I have made at writing conferences. But it’s important that they don’t get the impression that you are making ‘business connections.’ People who walk around only ‘talking shop’ and bragging about themselves are difficult to relate to. I feel it’s important to connect to people first as people. If you get someone talking about a book you both like, what classes they have enjoyed, their families, and their favorite foods, then conversation many times will turn to shop talk and ‘business connections’ are made. BUT sometimes the conversation ends before any of that happens. Guess what? That’s OK. Thank goodness for social media and the next conference. If you came off as a friendly nice person they will welcome further conversation. If you came off pushy and awkward then they will run from you (if at all socially possible.) No need to act desperate. You are in one of the slowest businesses out there. You have plenty of time.”

So, there you have it. Don’t network. Do strive to make real connections. 

*Ok. That would be pretty lame, right? I mean, if you’re going to go and vandalize something with graffiti you should be classy about it. Write a joke. And make it a good one. Like, say,…What’s red and bad for your teeth? A brick. 

What about you? Do you find it easy or hard to connect with other writers? 


Erin Shakespear writes middle grade fantasy full of quirky creatures, magic, and strange adventures. With six kids, her days are full of quirky creatures, magic, strange adventures, and…loads of diapers. She also likes to dabble at photography, sewing, jewelry-making, and pretending she’s a grand artist. She is the southern Utah coordinator for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

2 thoughts on “The Secret to Networking

  1. Erin : Just read this via Kelly and am so glad you are bringing reality and actual “connections” into the mix. All of my best writer friends have come from conversations at writer events .


  2. I'm really glad I could help with this, Erin. This is a great blog post. I learned a lot from reading other people's experiences. Realistically the friendships I've developed at conferences are the main reason I go now. It feels like I'm part of a big family. And that's an awesome feeling.


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