I’m a shy person by nature. There’s a reason why I write—I like to express myself through words/hide behind words. But here’s the thing, if you want to be a working writer, you have to come out of your shell. I’d go to readings, networking events, and conferences and basically psych myself out of talking to anyone. My husband, Brendan Hay, a TV writer, pitches often to a room of strangers, goes to conventions and chats it up with comic book editors, and is never shy about talking to anyone.
What Brendan has taught me is how to approach people, make connections, and never be afraid to tell someone that you like their work. In the beginning, when I would wuss out talking to an editor, let’s say, Brendan would always nudge me forward. And you know what? The more I chatted, the easier it became to do that dreaded thing that made my palms sweat—network. It’s so important as a writer, if you want to get your work out there, to be able to network. So as one reformed shy person, here are my tips for getting out there.
1. Read bios and acknowledgement pages. If you’re at a book festival, read the bio of the author or editor that you’d love to talk to and find something to discuss. If they mention that they went to XYZ college and you did too, talk about that. If I buy a book of an author that I might chat with, I always read their acknowledgements page. Often, we’ll have something in common. You just need talking points. You don’t need to know everyone they know.
2. When attending a networking event, aim to give out your business card and get business cards from people you want to follow up with. At a publishing conference for magazine industry folks, I target certain editors I want to talk to because I like their publication and want to write for them. Even just saying, “I love XYZ magazine and I’d be interested in pitching you.” Yes, I admit some times I’m a little nervous saying this, but it’s a direct way of saying I’d like to contact you.
3. Don’t share every detail of your life. I’ve been at events where inevitably there is one writer who is talking about every personal detail about themselves. And often, pushing everyone to read and buy their book. Don’t be this person. Don’t hold court. And don’t share intimate details with someone you just met.
4. Tell a writer that you admire their work. At the very least, they’ll smile and thank you (and really what a nice compliment). Some times, if you drum up a good conversation, you might even get your favorite writer’s email to contact them.
5. Network online. I follow writers, editors, literary agents, publishing houses, and magazines that I love on Twitter and I engage with them. I’ve even met editors after a good Twitter exchange. It’s so important as a writer that your social media persona is a good reflection of who you are. You’ll never know who you can connect with from an online “meeting.”