An answer for youandwhosearmy

Posted by Jeff Markowitz on Wednesday, March 31, 2010

In response to my last post, youandwhosearmy asked,
"how do you 'network' specifically, are you blunt with them? Do you explain what you are planning on doing while making small talk? Are they essentially cold calls?"

Writing is a solitary activity.  It takes me approximately five months to write a first draft (well, it did for the first three books, the next one, that's another tale for another day).  During that five month period, I pretty much live inside my head, in a fictional world, known only to me and a few others.

Writing is a solitary activity, but becoming a published writer, becoming a successful writer (whatever that means) is anything but solitary.  So networking with writers and with other professionals in the book industry is an essential part of the process.

And I'm not referring here to the internet, to social networks.  I'm referring to actual contact with real human beings.  I know that's an old-fashioned concept, and, perhaps there's a generational shift here, but, in my experience, effective networking happens face-to-face.  Sometimes at a conference, sometimes at a coctail party, in a book store, a library, (and one very lucky time) on jury duty.  As a result, networking is the most expensive, most time-consuming, most important, and least quantifiable part of building my identity as a mystery writer.

When I was getting started, I joined the Mystery Writers of America.  Actually, when I first applied I wasn't yet eligible for full, Active, Membership, but I applied and was accepted as an Affiliate Member.  (Later I became an Active Member).  As I mentioned in my last post, as a member of the Mystery Writers of America, I have access to information and events, to people and to resources, that I would not be able to marshal on my own.  I have taken advantage of some of those opportunities and have allowed other opportunities, at times, to slip by.  But I always knew that, within the framework of MWA, I would have opportunities to meet authors, and agents, editors, and booksellers, and that, more often than not, they would be willing to share the benefit of their experience.  So, perhaps my first piece of advice for any aspiring writer who is serious about writing, is to identify the professional organization of people who write whatever it is that you write (whether that's mystery, or sci-fi, poetry, or literary criticism, graphic novels or YA fiction).  Find that organization and become a member.

Early in my writing career, I was debating whether I could afford to fly to Chicago for a particular conference of mystery writers.  A wise friend told me, if you want to be a writer, you need to go to the places where the writers go.  It turned out to be a wonderful conference, for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is I found my current publisher there.  You see, the acquisitions editor for Five Star Mystery was a panelist at the conference.  After I heard him speak, I knew that Five Star was a good fit for what I was writing.  I could have pitched him at the conference, but, in truth, I wasn't ready.  But when I got home, I crafted a query, pointing out that I had heard him speak in Chicago, making reference to some of the reasons why I believed it would be a good fit.  And it has been.  Five Star has published my last two books.  It's entirely possible that I could have done my research without every flying to Chicago.  I might have read about Five Star online, might have come to the same conclusion, might have sent them a query and might have been offered a contract.  It's entirely possible.  But you won't convince me of that.  So my second piece of advice is to go to the places where the other writers go.  And when you get there, it's always a good idea to offer to buy a round of drinks.

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