I got tired of waiting for people to respond to me about stuff yesterday, and since it was a nice, warm day before it got cold again today (and then warm again Friday, then cold again over the weekend, ARRGGGHHH), I took I nice, long walk, which was good for thinking and clearing my head. I think I'm starting to get a case of "new car effect" (where once you buy a new car or start thinking of buying a particular kind of car, you suddenly start seeing that kind of car all over the place) because some of the thinking I've been doing keeps being reinforced by stuff I suddenly keep running into all over the place. For instance, on marketing guru Seth Godin's blog this morning, there was this, which I think may be my motto for a while: If you're not happy with what you've got, what radical changes are you willing to make to change what you're getting?
Now I have to figure out what I want and what I'm willing to change about what I'm doing to get it. Piece of cake.
I was asked the other day about networking, but since I don't think what I'm going to say will be particularly useful, I'll address it in a regular blog post instead of in one of the "official" writing posts that also gets e-mailed to a list.
I do connect a lot with other writers, but I'm not sure I'd call it "networking" since that implies that you're doing it for some business benefit. I've been a member of Romance Writers of America since 1991 and have gone to a lot of regional and national conferences, as well as being a member of my local chapter and various national special interest chapters off and on over the years. I used to be fairly active in a number of writing-related e-mail groups (not so much now that the lists have been swamped with "I blogged about this today, come check it out" posts and little else). I go to science fiction/fantasy conventions. I'm a member of SFWA and have been to a few SFWA events. I'm a member of the Fangs, Fur & Fey urban fantasy community and the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit blog group. I've gone to a few non-RWA-related writing conferences.
As a result, I know a lot of people -- agents, editors, authors, artists, etc. But what that mostly means is that I have people to talk to at parties and that I seldom walk into any event even slightly related to books or writing without knowing at least somebody there. I'm not sure that it's had any major impact on my career, though. I suppose you could say that I did get something out of one conference in that an editor I met there ended up buying a book from me, but I don't think it's necessarily directly related. I may have had a slightly faster read, but I don't think the personal connection was the deciding factor because it really is about the book. In spite of knowing pretty much everyone, I found my agent the old-fashioned way, by submitting a query following her guidelines, and the editor who bought the first books in my series was one I hadn't even heard of.
I'm sure that some of my failure to benefit from networking relates to my personality. I'm not the kind of person who goes to an event, collects business cards and then makes a point of following up with people on a regular basis just to maintain the connection. I feel almost intrusive about contacting even my friends unless I have a specific reason for doing so. I certainly won't be dropping a line to near-strangers just in case I might need them for something someday. I also hate asking people for things. I would have to need something very badly to be willing to ask even a fairly close friend for a favor. I'm not going to be asking other writers to refer me to their agents or editors. I have asked for cover blurbs (with very mixed results) but prefer to let the editor or agent handle that. I'm mostly a floater in that I don't belong to any particular cliques of writers, I don't have a critique partner or critique group, I don't have a "posse" I stick with at conferences or a regular conference roomie.
However, I'm not saying that knowing a lot of people is bad. I collect people, in general. I just like meeting and knowing interesting people because that enhances my life. I don't particularly care about using them for any other benefit. I suppose in a sense I'm following one of the guidelines I've seen about networking, which is that you should focus on what you can do for other people rather than on what they can do for you. Supposedly that will make them more likely to want to do stuff for you, but I generally haven't found that to be the case, unless maybe I've been piling up cosmic brownie points that will all pay off when I really need it. But that doesn't mean I feel like I've been wasting my time. The benefits I get are more nebulous. I learn things about writing and about the business from listening to people and talking with people. Book people are fun people, and it's enjoyable to hang around with them. Having a lot of writer friends means I know I'm not the only person in the world who is crazy in this particular way. These are the people who can truly understand exactly what I'm dealing with. It's nice to know there are people I can go to when I'm having a panic attack because my editor just got fired and my agent hasn't responded to me in days and the world is coming to an end, and they'll know how to talk me off the ledge because they've been there, too. There's also some promotional benefit from other authors knowing who I am, since authors do talk about books with people who like books, and then there are times when opportunities come up for things like joining promotional groups or participating in anthologies, and if the people involved know you, you're more likely to be invited.
To sum up, I don't think that networking will make or break your career, but it can make your career more fun and less crazy-making.