How to network in book publishing

Apr 2, 2014

If the concept of ‘networking’ fills you with horror, here is our survival guide…

When you’re next at a publishing event or conference imagine that, if you put your hand on the shoulder of the person next to you, you would have a connection to all the people they know; and likewise they would have access to all your connections. If everyone put their hand on the shoulder of the person next to them, the chances are you’d have most of the publishing industry covered.

What does it mean – this networking business? It simply means that if someone in the room has a question or problem there will most likely be someone in the room who will either be able to answer it or they will know someone who can. It is a bit like ‘phone a friend’ on ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ Imagine having that kind of network or support system at your fingertips and being able to call on it? That is why people say it isn’t what you know, but who you know that is important.

If you are thinking this is all a bit like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, then you are right.  But as social networks have evolved, more emphasis is being placed on the power of face to face networks – particularly as so many people I know on Facebook are either leaving or de-friending people they don’t really know in real life.

Book publishing relies on connections and networking, from the beginning to the other end of the spectrum where directors are socializing and sharing information with the directors of other publishing companies.  Unlike almost any other industry, publishing is one where we find ourselves regularly talking to, socializing or sharing information with our competitors. Now these connections weren’t made when someone became a director, they were probably made very early on in respective careers.  For example, the majority of editorial, sales, rights and managing directors I know now, I knew when they’d just joined publishing and were assistant level or very junior. Obviously, during that time I have nurtured friendships and professional relationships, and during that time I have asked favours of them, and they have asked favours of me. Now all of this didn’t happen by accident – you have to work at it.

How do you introduce yourself to a complete stranger?  Do you pitch in with your ‘Elevator Speech’ (i.e. what you might say if you got in the elevator on the ground floor with the managing director and you were both going to the 15th, and he or she asked you what you did. What would you say?) Far better to introduce yourself and latch on to something that you may have already seen or heard today.

Here are my top ten tips to get you started:

  1. Don’t pitch. When you introduce yourself don’t go straight into your elevator pitch, ask a question about something related to the event. E.g. what did you think of that last presentation? Isn’t this a lovely venue, I haven’t been here before, have you? Hello, have you been to one of these events before? I don’t think we’ve met before, I’m (insert your name) and offer your hand to shake.
  2. Stay focused. Engage yourself fully in the conversation; don’t keep looking over the person’s shoulder for the next interesting person who comes in the room.
  3. Make eye contact and smile. Everyone is nervous when first making contact, but making eye contact and smiling will help calm your nerves as well as theirs.
  4. Be memorable. When asked about yourself, aim to say something they will remember about you. For example, if you are an author’s conference and everyone is an author, how will they remember you? What are you an author of? What genres do you specialise in?
  5. Listen. Talk but don’t talk too much. When you’re talking, you are only hearing things you already know; when you’re listening, you are hearing things you may not already know.
  6. Choose your moment. Exchange business cards at the appropriate moment. This is unlikely to be when you first say hello.
  7. Circulate. Give yourself a target to meet and talk to at least six new people at every event. If you stand in a huddle with the people you already know, you are unlikely to make any new contacts.
  8. Follow up!  Email the person within the next three days and say how good it was to meet them. If appropriate, add them to your LinkedIn network and follow them on Twitter.
  9. Make it personal  – nothing is worse than sending ‘round robin’ or template emails, where it is obvious that you have sent the email to everyone but changed their name. This particularly applies to LinkedIn- make sure you are personalising your connection requests, not sending the standard ‘I would like to add you to my network’.
  10. Stay in touch. Don’t lose people from your network, keep in touch with maybe an occasional email when you hear they have had good or bad news (been published, promoted, or made redundant) or if you are going to the same event again – ask if they are going too. Make sure you are in contact aside from when you need their support, advice or connections – please don’t be one of these people who only gets in touch with others when they need something.