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Surfing the Network – Part One

Bring to mind any fantasy journey and consider what made it successful. Many a traveller sets off believing that he will do it alone with no need to call upon others. But for most the journey becomes something entirely different as our hero meets new friends, learns more about himself (or, of course, herself!) and calls upon the support of others to avoid and conquer the pitfalls along the way.

And so it is with writing.

It could be a lonely life, shutting ourselves away for hours with our notebook of choice, whether paper or electronic. We could while away the days telling our tales to no-one, trusting our own judgment as we finally produce the epic we’ve carefully extracted from our heads. But what then?

No-one has heard of us, no-one has heard our work and worst of all, we may have run the risk of losing friends and annoying families all at once. To cap it all, our precious epic is landing on the desk of our chosen agent and they have nothing to go on. To them it’s just another manuscript, another author that has no track record and another brick to add the ever growing slush-pile. If you haven’t heard the term slush-pile, make a note of it. It is your nemesis and is a huge part of the climb up Mount Publication.

Imagine you are an agent. You request that authors submit a synopsis, a letter introducing themselves and the first three chapters of their novel. You are a well respected and well known agent so you receive a deluge of work every day. All of these must be read, considered and responded to. Meanwhile, you have a list of clients you have agreed to represent with work to be presented to publishers, deals to be negotiated, publicity to be managed. It’s a tough job which leads to the creation of a slush-pile.

As a writer, your book is your baby and you want to give it the best chance in the big wide world. Like any loving parent you must plan, prepare and do your best to predict what you can do to pave the way. Just one of the tools you can use is networking.

Don’t panic!

This isn’t a scary task, in fact these days it’s great fun and like our traveller you will make new friends, learn new things, develop your skills, and along the way you’ll be setting the ropes to help you climb that mountain.

The first thing to remember is that networking is a skill to be learnt, some find it easier than others but most, like me, have to learn how to do it. At this point, I must tell you that I am still learning but with 30,000 visitors to my website last year, I know that I am doing something right. Of course, I have also done several things wrong!

So where do we begin?

Well, on a small scale, keeping it local, a great place to start is with a writers’ circle. You may find there are several you could get to, in which case visit them all and see which fits. Some are full of wonderful people, all good writers, but all they do is listen and tell you your work is lovely. Others may be too harsh and leave you feeling de-motivated and bruised. There are even some that require you to pass tests to see if you are acceptable to them. None of these are the right way, because there isn’t one. What matters is whether it works for you. Your epic may need work but you won’t develop without some external feedback and a writers’ circle will help you do just that, long before you send it off to an agent. This means that you potentially reduce the risk of rejection at the outset.

If you can’t find one you can actually get to, there are a couple of options. You could team up with some other local writers and set up a new circle. This means that you can agree the rules between you and find your own way. Alternatively, you could join a forum online. In fact I’ve heard there’s a pretty good one somewhere near here! 😉

Actually, there are many online forums, some general, some specifically for fantasy writers. By joining one you instantly widen your circle of contacts. As a result you have tapped in to a massive resource for advice and information and trust me, you’ll make friends too because you all have common interests.

Once you have found a forum you are comfortable with, the networking automatically begins, in fact you won’t even realise you’re doing it. The next thing to consider is social networking. You could say that this is networking on a plate but it is a tool and it is well worth thinking carefully about how you use it.

There are several sites around, including MySpace, YouTube, and Flickr but the main ones are Facebook and Twitter. If you’re careful you can use them all to good effect but first, let’s look at some risks.

Everything you put on these sites is there for the duration. If you post something, be sure you are comfortable with that. People can, and will use what you say. Also, bear in mind that people will take what you post in the context of their own experiences. This is something over which you have no control. What you can control is how you respond. If you have inadvertently upset someone don’t post more than one attempt to put things right. If they haven’t then seen your point, leave it. Twitter is regularly full of examples of online rows that got out of hand and mud sticks. You don’t want to be featured on Rude Tube!

If you get it right though, social networking sites can pay dividends. Author Jonathan Pinnock is a very good example. He is about to be published by Proxima Books, a new imprint from Salt Publishing. He didn’t submit a manuscript to an agent, in fact he’s currently unagented. He didn’t even really submit a manuscript to a publisher in the usual way.

So how did he do it? Well, his route was unorthodox and wouldn’t necessarily work for all but there are definitely lessons we can learn. Jonathan started his path to publication by writing short stories and entering lots of competitions. Later he began writing Mrs Darcy and The Aliens, a mash up novel with a twisted sense of humour. Instead of completing the book and then submitting it, Jon wrote it as a serial, publishing it in twice weekly instalments on his blog and publicising it on social networks. The publisher was impressed with his attitude to his own promotion and asked for the full manuscript. The final published version will be different than the serialised one having undergone a full edit, but there is no doubt that good networking was a key factor in the deal. I’ll be interviewing Jonathan soon for the full story.

Next month, in part two we’ll take a look at connecting between networking sites to develop an effective, dynamic web presence.

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6 Comments

  1. Avatar Overlord says:

    Brilliant article Sandra, in today’s world – one of the most important aspects of any kind of marketing is networking. For writers, getting your name out there by facebook, twitter, livejournal, etc, etc can help you get that following, get people interested in your work and get that general buzz going before you even get your first book out there.

    Seanan Mcguire (Mira Grant) is a good person to look at – Seanan Mcguire – she spent a long time doing fan-fictions and short stories and things in communities… when you look at her recent work you can really see that her style has been shaped around comprehension and easy to read style… I’d bet that comes from a great deal of time in a community based setting.

    Her interview is here:

    http://fantasy-faction.com/2011/interview-with-seanan-mcguire

    Communities of writers will definitely make you better because as well as people pointing out mistakes in your own work, you will be able to read other peoples work and see what they are doing right / wrong – then apply that to your writing.

    Look forward to part 2! 🙂

  2. Avatar sandra says:

    Thanks Overlord, glad you liked it!

    I agree, Seanan laid great foundations with all her earlier work and it just shows that this pays dividends, there is so much to learn and by sharing with others it doesn’t seem so much like hard work. I’ve met some lovely people, especially on Fantasy Faction and I know others that have really developed as writers through networking.

    By the way, love the pic, now trying to work out which one is me!

  3. Wow, what a small world. I just met Seanan at LepreCon over the weekend! Great article, Sandra. I would love to get 30,000 hits a year on my website.

  4. […] are my chum Sandra Norval’s excellent recent posts on cyber-networking in Fantasy Faction (here and […]

  5. […] If you missed Part One of this article you can read it here. […]

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