In almost any aspect of life, I can think of times when I’ve advanced in or achieved something or had an opportunity based on knowing someone else who helped me get there.
I spent the last seven months working at our local independent bookstore, a job I got offered because I’m a big fan and customer at the store and the owners know me. Reminds me of the first job I had as a prep cook at a restaurant, which my dad helped me get because he knew the owner.
Last year, I had the amazing opportunity to write the lyrics for a song sung at the rededication ceremony of the Idaho Statehouse. The composer is a friend of mine and he was told he could pick any Idaho poet to work with. I am honored that he chose me, and I think our piece was amazing. (I know, I just used “amazing” twice in the same paragraph.)
The same holds true as writers. Sure, we like to think that our work stands on its own merits and will find the right publisher or agent when the time comes. And that’s true up to a point. You still won’t get anywhere without having the good writing, no matter who you know. (Mostly.) But sometimes, even with a masterful novel manuscript, publication is elusive. That’s why I think it’s important for writers to network, just as if we were business executives in need of clients or sales people searching for unsuspecting customers. (Nothing personal against sales people. They gotta eat the same as the rest of us.)
I know some fellow authors who, once published, felt there was nothing to be gained by attending conferences, classes, or workshops. Their attitude was that they had an agent, an editor, etc. and didn’t need that kind of help anymore. But I say, who you know can make all the difference.
Here’s an example. A friend of mine has had two agents so far in her career. They’ve both turned out to be wrong for her. So now she is agentless again. However, she knows a ton of agents, because she attends as well as speaks at all kinds of conferences, so she has the connections she needs to find the right one.
The Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference I attended last month in Utah gave me several new connections. One asked me to an invitation-only event to meet with major editors and pitch our manuscripts. This may or may not pan out, but it’s better than waiting in a slush pile.
There is always something more to learn, someone else to meet. Most authors, I think, want to help each other achieve their goals. I know I do. That is why, by the time this year is over, I will have attended no fewer than six conferences, workshops, retreats, or other writing related events. Not only has it helped me become a much more accomplished writer, but it has also provided numerous contacts that I’m sure will serve me well in my career. If nothing else, I have lots of friends in “the biz.” And that alone is worth it.