(Before I start this week's blog, I'd like to say thank you to everyone who wished me well in my new job. I've been working at OUP for 4 and a half days, and they still haven't sacked me – so I must be doing something right!)
Networking is one of the most useful skills a writer can develop. I'm not talking about social networking here, but the ability to walk into a room full of people and not run out five seconds later, screaming. And I say "develop" because the ability to network isn't something that writers are often born with. We can be quiet, mousy people who seek out our own company for hours on end and frequently find ourselves in the kitchen at parties. Being the centre of attention can be deeply uncomfortable.
It's also tempting to see networking as a glib exercise in one-upmanship, putting ourselves ahead of the competition simply by knowing the right people. And there will always be those who glide around a room, apparently warm and welcoming to everyone but without a shred of genuine interest. However, I think we sense this kind of superficiality pretty quickly and steer away from those people, even if they aren't self-aware enough to realise we're doing it.
The other thing to say is that networking probably won't get you published before your work is ready. Look at Candy Gourlay, who must be the best networked person in children's publishing – she still had to write the right book. You only have to look at those poor souls with a thousand Facebook friends and a shonky self-published book they are trying to promote. "This is great!!! You should defenitly get published!" comments Luann from Arkansas, but sadly, the gatekeepers of publishing remain unconvinced.
So, are there any joys to networking? Or is it simply something we must put up with, a necessary evil in promoting ourselves and our work? I think networking can actually bring pleasure – the delight at seeing an old friend or the relief as you realise there are people at a party who you actually know. One of the best networking experiences I've had was at a launch party where I knew only Candy Gourlay (yes, her again) and one other person. Not only did Candy insist on introducing me as "The future bestselling author, Nick Cross," but I also wound up chatting to the lady who runs the Children's Laureate scheme. My campaign to be Children's Laureate in 2025 starts here!
There is something quite embarrassing about idling up to an agent or editor at a party and launching into your pitch. I still find myself apologising before I start, which is probably not a good opening gambit. But the irony is that, by the end, they almost always ask me to send something to them. This may be because I am so mind-blowing at pitching (yeah, right), but I think it's more the fact that they are always scouting for talent and open to new ideas. It's worth remembering that, more often than not, they want to hear your pitch – their livelihood depends on finding and developing new talent. So, perhaps you are the one with the power and they are the ones who must bow to your every wish (pause for evil laughter).
I believe that networking is genuinely about making friends and finding your place in a community - if it gets you ahead, then that's a bonus. I can barely describe the rush of emotion I experienced this week when walking into a room full of publishing people and suddenly feeling that I belonged. So often, I've felt like someone on the outside looking in, banging on the glass of publishing and hoping for their attention. That experience of no longer feeling like a fake was a real vindication of my choices – now I could feel comfortable among writers and editors. For someone with often fragile self-confidence, that was quite a victory.