If I had to give one piece of networking advice to give to writers, it would be this: slow down. Networking is not a race. The faster you rush, the more fleeting your success is going to be, and what folks are going to remember is how desperate you seemed in the process.
Of course, I still make plenty of mistakes on a regular basis, and I’m sure you will too. A certain number of mistakes are required for career growth. Fortunately, most people can tell the difference between the-ends-justify-the-means networking and “Oops, sorry about that. It won’t happen again.”
Here are common mistakes that many writers make—and I’ve made some of these, too.
1. Withholding information to get what you want, especially if full disclosure may change the outcome.
When you legitimately need a favor (whether of an old friend or a new one), ask for it in a humble, straightforward manner. That’s the best way to ask anyone for anything, anyway. For example, if you approach a known author to write a foreword for your forthcoming book, and you intend to have more than one person write a foreword, then this should be disclosed in advance. It might not affect either decision, but then again it might. Therefore the appropriate thing is to share your intention.
When you partner with people, and certainly when you ask for a favor, it pays to be forthcoming. Also, never assume that friendship is a shortcut to bypass your best effort, either when asking for help or offering help. I’m sure the last thing you want to do is put your friend in an awkward position or make her feel that you take her for granted.
2. Getting aggressive with your lunch or coffee invite.
Don’t decide someone you admire had better have lunch or coffee with you—or else.
Here’s the worst situation I’ve experienced: I’m on Twitter and receive a DM from a Portland, Oregon, woman whom I have never met and do not know. She invites me to coffee to chat and “pick my brain.” When I politely decline, she curses at me and blocks me on Twitter.
Like anyone else, I have to keep the commitments I’ve already made, and respect the needs of my family and myself. My advice to you, my dear writer friends, is to never behave like this person.
Or consider this: A speaker at a medium-to-large writers conference is typically kept on a break-neck schedule throughout the weekend so the organization can maximize his visit. Often the speaker has traveled from another time zone and is making the appearance on top of a busy work week, which will swiftly be followed by another. Sleep is typically lost, friends and family are put on hold, and travel does not always go as planned.
If the speaker is a personal hero of yours, should you expect him to make exclusive time for you based on your enthusiasm and past devotion?
No. Temper your enthusiasm and adjust your expectations. There is a very good chance that conference administrators have worked overtime to make speakers as available to attendees as possible. If you want to show your support for someone you admire, attend his talks, sign up for and even pay extra for a closed audience, like in a pitch or in a group pitch.
Of course, if you have an opportunity to stick out your hand, introduce yourself, and express your appreciation, without taking too much time, do so. Experts love to meet people who genuinely admire their work. He might even have a few moments to chat, but don’t be offended if he is running off to catch a plane or needs to call home to check on a loved one
3. Being sneaky with your pitch or ask.
Don’t sign up for e-newsletters or follow folks on social media so you can reverse pitch. When I get long sales pitches from folks who have just joined my e-mail list, I feel spammed.
It’s okay, of course, to make gentle offers to people who follow or friend you, but don’t pitch them more than you serve, or they will quickly tune out. Never send auto-pitches to people or post your announcement on their Facebook page. And if I follow you on Twitter and I get an auto-pitch back, that’s not connecting, that’s blind selling.
Build trust first, and don’t use social media to put others on the spot. That’s bullying. If you are concerned that your request could be taken the wrong way, add the line, “No pressure, of course”—and mean it.
4. Helping yourself to other people’s resources.
You wouldn’t leave with the silver if someone invited you to dinner. You wouldn’t pick all the fruit off someone else’s tree. The same courtesy applies to all online networking situations. So if you are friending and following people just so you can pinch their friends and followers, you should stop.
Also, never assume that your participation in a group or event is a leadership or marketing opportunity for you. You may be guilty of this if you habitually add people to your e-mail lists or social media groups en masse after events or group gatherings (online or off), rather than treating each person you meet as an individual.
Finally, watch out for the “fair game” mentality. This is the idea that someone else’s shared information is yours for the taking, just because the other person was naïve enough to share it. True networking is connecting with a person here and a person there, based on mutual respect that all adds up to a bigger group over time. Other people’s networks are not your networks. If you discretely pilfer other people’s resources, they may never know, but you will.
5. Being unable to say no or hear no.
If someone asks for something you can’t or don’t wish to give, you have the right to say, “No, thanks.” You also have the right to say, “Hey, thanks for your consideration,” if you ask and are turned down.
I once said no to a testimonial requested on a self-published book by a friend I hugely admire. I still respect the person, but I was not comfortable with my name on this particular project. And I have learned that saying yes when my gut tells me no never pays. Kindness to the point of caretaking other adults’ feelings will taint your relationships if you let it, and leave you miserably overcommitted.
As you keep the communication respectful and kind, no harm will be done. But if there is harm, at least you know you were true to yourself.
On a final note
Business is personal. In the long-run game, anyone who treats business as though it is not personal is going to end up stepping on toes and leaving a trail of poor impressions. In relationships where one person is more known than the other, never assume anything, and always ask respectfully for what you need, to avoid stepping on toes.
Maybe it’s time for us to realize as a social collective that relationship building is not guerilla marketing. Your success is not a done deal, and it’s presumptuous to treat other people like they are standing in your way or not doing enough for you. Success is a journey and the path is paved with the support of others.
There are two types of people others can easily recall: those who were exceptionally conscientious and professional, and those who were thoughtless and self-absorbed. Be the first kind and you will be remembered for all the best reasons.