Aspiring authors face an age old paradox: Everyone knows that writing can only be done in quiet, dark corners hidden from others until it is absolutely perfect. And yet, every publishing professional knows that the best authors know all the right people. Connections are what get you noticed and prove that your writing is worthy. This leaves many a new author (and no few experienced authors) wondering: How does one make these connections, and what do you even do with them once you have them?
Well, there’s a lot of misunderstandings around writer networking. Let’s take a look at some common misconceptions, as well as some ways to build your writer network.
- Some of you read my opening sentence and thought “That’s not how I write!” Yeah, I know. Actually, many writers do their best work in coffee shops, IHOPs or Village Inns, or in regular group writing sessions with fellow writers. From my very unscientific personal experience, I’d estimate about half of all writers do their best work in more social settings. Even those who need quiet, dedicated writing spaces often listen to music or have relatively upbeat, cheery desks where they plot the demise of all their most beloved characters. Despite this, the stereotype of the lonely, tortured writer who crafts masterpieces in hidden genius persists. Probably because the drama is more interesting. I grab a couple hours a week in my bedroom with a notebook and a classic rock station and make up stories–Hardly Sylvia Plath level drama going on there.
- Publishing doesn’t require as much clique-chasing as it sometimes sounds. Yes, some amount of your success as a writer does come from the help and support of other people. However, I’ve heard people say everything from “You’ll never get an agent if you don’t go to conferences and mingle/network” to “The only way to be successful as a self-published author is if you spend years building your audience before you release any books.” Neither of these statements are entirely accurate. After all, if you spend five years building an audience of fellow writers by releasing carefully researched commentary on the current state of the publishing business and then self-publish your middle grade novel about a unicorn foal getting lost in someone’s back yard, how much of your pre-built network is in your target audience?
- Finding a group of like-minded writers is actually pretty tough. This is surprising to some people, but it makes sense when you think about it. Writers are like any type of person. You’ll like some of them and you’ll be driven to avoid others for any number of reasons. As a result, a lot of writers find themselves in writing groups that don’t support their needs and leave them feeling more insecure about their work.
- You do need to find a network. I know it’s hard, and I know many of us are pretty self-conscious about sharing our work. But until you’ve shared with others, received honest feedback and considered it as objectively as you can, and really evaluated how your work reads to others you’re doomed to plateau.
- The writing community is pretty close-knit (considering its size), and acting poorly will tend to bite you later. Despite many rumors to the contrary, there isn’t a real agent blacklist shared throughout the community so that one mistake with one agent will ensure you never work in the industry, but… getting a reputation for entitled, rude, or other poor behavior is pretty easy. Good news, so is getting a reputation for being a positive influence. So long as you actually do something.
There is no way to give all the advice needed to lead every writer to a strong network of other writers and beta readers to polish their work. That said, there are a few strategies that have worked for others you may want to try. Here’s some of my favorite places to find new members of my writer network.
- Scribophile–This was one of the first places I started to gain confidence in my writing. While I don’t use Scribophile much any longer, I keep it in my back pocket as a resource if I ever need to get a fresh perspective. The trick to Scribophile is to walk in prepared for some people to be jerks. There are always jerks. But there’s also a lot of people really trying to help others on that web site and that’s a great place to start.
- Twitter–I know, I know. I didn’t believe it either. But my best community right now came from answering a tweet asking if anyone wanted to share beta read drafts to help prep for a query contest. Since Twitter can be a bit of a mine field, this can also be a bit of a struggle but if you use it right (by which I mean, respond to tweets with actual replies and don’t just spend all your time plugging your own comments trying to get followers) you can get some real value here.
- Reddit–I came to Reddit after having a pretty solid group already and there are some notable issues (mainly that there’s about five questions that show up on my feed every couple weeks despite having just been asked a couple weeks before), but I can definitely see the potential here. There’s a fantasy subreddit, a writing subreddit, a beta readers subreddit. Whatever portion of the process you’re in, you can probably find some support here. I haven’t walked away with any specific people in my network that I didn’t know beforehand, but that’s more a matter of me than anything about the platform.
- Real Life Groups–This is the one everyone knows about, at least in theory. Just find a group of writers holding meetings in your area and join them. No problem, right? Well, there’s a dozen issues with that, starting with “not every area has a writer’s group” and ranging all the way to “not every in-person writer’s group is any good.” However, this is another place to start if you can, and there can be a lot of valuable connections to be made in these settings.
- Discord Servers–I consider this one of the most under-rated ways of networking in the writing community. When I attended a writing conference in April, I approached two different presenters giving speeches about gaining visibility as an author and I asked about Discord servers as a means of building networks. Both of them dismissed the idea as ineffective in terms of building a network, all while also touting the importance of genuine interaction and meaningful connections. But that is exactly what Discord servers are good at. You can’t pop into a discord server, post a random comment saying “buy my book”, and expect anyone to care. So if you’re building a genuine network of feedback and possibly extending into people who buy your books, discord is a great way to build those connections. Personally, I’m a fan of finding a YouTuber who makes videos about books in my genre or other books I like to read and joining their server. The people there are likely to have things in common with me. Other options include finding groups through the Nanowrimo forums and creating/joining discord servers, or even finding public discord servers about writing or your book genre. My Twitter group transitioned to Discord and now most of our new members never knew us on Twitter.
This list is far from exhaustive. After all, in my point about discord I mentioned yet another potential resource: Nanowrimo! But I hope it gives people a starting point for where to begin creating the resources needed to grow your stories into something you can be genuinely proud of… in between all the crippling insecurity that so many of us face the instant someone says anything vaguely uncertain about our books.
Seriously, I just saw a Reddit thread where someone said “I have a bunch of readers who love my book, but one person just said they thought it was under-developed. How do writers handle negative feedback?” It sounds silly, but I had a similar experience. I was feeling unsure, I recruited independent beta readers, and the first positive comments I got back I thought “crap, the new beta readers are lying to me…” Wherever you find your group, trust the good comments as much as the bad ones, and if there aren’t any good comments, keep looking. You haven’t found your network yet.