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Networking: Stumbling Block #2–Communication

Monday, August 7, 2006

On a blog about writing, it may seem odd that I would list communication as a stumbling block. But it’s the way in which we communicate that may prove to be our own undoing.

I’ve already written at length about learning how to “chat-up” the person you’re networking with. My only addition to that would be to recommend you do a Google search for ACTIVE LISTENING SKILLS and read up on how to become a better listener—from facial expressions and body language to eye contact.

Before moving on with other forms of communication, I would like to make a couple of comments on EYE CONTACT. When in a face-to-face conversation with someone, if you do not make eye contact, it not only betrays your nervousness, but it also gives the impression that you have something to hide or that you are not being honest. Eye contact creates a sense that you are confident—in yourself and in your writing. It’s definitely hard to do (you may have to learn how to do it by looking at the rim of someone’s glasses, or at their eyelashes or something like that (but don’t make them feel like you’re examining them!). Again, practice, practice, practice.

WRITTEN COMMUNICATION in Networking
When did the art of the hand-written thank you note disappear? Okay, I’ll admit, I’m terrible at remembering to write thank you notes or birthday cards. But to become a more effective networker, I’m trying to do these things more often to make them habits and to build my network just a bit stronger.

The first thing you need to do when it comes to becoming a more effective networker is find a way to get organized. Are you good at keeping up with a journal or a hand-written address book? Then invest in a good day planner complete with calendar, address book, notes pages, and sleeves for keeping business cards you collect. Are you better at keeping up with information electronically (like me)? If you don’t already know, learn how to use the software on your computer to keep up with your contacts and all of their vital information. The Contacts portion of Microsoft Outlook has multiple fields for information such as spouse/children’s names, hobbies, birthday, and other vital statistics in addition to the contact info.

That said, no I don’t recommend sending birthday cards to editors and agents, unless you have actually signed a contract to work with them. With published authors, if it is someone you have established an acquaintanceship with, then yes, birthday cards would be appropriate.

THANK YOU NOTES
If you have the opportunity to meet with an editor or agent at a conference for a pitch session and they ask you to submit, then include a line in the query letter thanking them for their time. If you are not asked to submit, you can still send them a thank you note, but be sure to keep it brief and professional. Be sure to show off your listening skills by mentioning specific topics/subjects/suggestions that were discussed in the meeting. For example:

      Dear Mr/Ms Editor:
      Thank you for meeting with me at the 2006 ACFW conference in Dallas, TX, to discuss my manuscript, _____________. I appreciate your time and the insights you gave me, and will put your suggestions about creating more emotional conflict into practice as I move forward with my writing.
      Sincerely,
      My Name

If you have the opportunity to meet with a published author and speak with him or her at some length, a thank you note is very appropriate:

      Dear Mr./Ms. Author:
      Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy day to meet with me last Thursday evening after your book signing. I enjoyed learning more about your writing process and have already started researching XXX for my manuscript (or whatever you spoke with the author about—to jog his/her memory about your conversation). I wish you all success and blessings with your writing career.
      Sincerely,
      My Name

Hand writing this note (and if you have atrocious handwriting, you may consider seeing if someone you know who has nice handwriting is willing to write it out for you) is preferable. It shows that you have made an effort. So, invest in some nice writing stationery. You can get some at any card store, or even at office supply chains such as Office Depot or Staples (or you can order online at their sites, but I’m a hands-on girl—I want to see it before I buy it). Remember, this is a piece of business correspondence. I recommend against “thank you” greeting cards with preprinted messages, as you are trying to show off the strength of your writing in any way possible. And cutsey is definitely a no-no. No cartoon characters. If you do not already have your own letterhead, you can create it yourself on your word processor, but still handwrite the note. If you are not using letterhead, write your contact information below your signature.

If the only contact information you have for the person is an e-mail address, it is okay to send a thank you note through e-mail. But write as above, with the “Dear so-and-so” salutation and the “Sincerely, My name” closing, followed by your snail-mail and e-mail contact information (and website address if you have one).

Things to keep in mind when writing follow-up notes:

  • Proofread for grammar and spelling. Remember—best foot forward. You’re trying to be taken seriously as a professional writer.
  • Reiterate the important part of the conversation to bring the encounter top of mind for the addressee.
  • Keep it PROFESSIONAL. No matter how laid-back your conversation was with this contact, this is still business correspondence. Do not use slang or shorthand abbreviations, and do not tell your life story.

Keeping it professional and showing your grasp of business etiquette (even if you’ve never worked in a business environment) is of vital importance when networking through correspondence. As a copy editor at a small publishing house, one of my tasks is reading submissions of poetry and short prose for our seasonal collections. I process about 100-150 submissions about once a month, and one of the issues I run into most often is people who cannot write an appropriate business letter. Keep it brief and keep it on point: this is business, not personal.

MAINTAINING CONTACT
So you’ve met with that editor and she did not ask for you to submit your manuscript. You’ve sent the thank you note and now it’s a few months down the road. You want to keep your name fresh in the editor’s mind, but you haven’t finished revising your manuscript to fit what the editor told you she’s looking for. What to do? Try sending an e-mail, once again thanking her for meeting with you to discuss your manuscript (mention by name) and then ask if she will recommend a few books her house has published in the genre/line you’re targeting so that you can study them to get a better idea of how to revise your manuscript.

Read trade publications such as Publishers Weekly (subscribe to the PW Daily newsletters), your writing association’s monthly/quarterly magazine or newsletter, and industry magazines such as Writer’s Digest and The Writer. When you see something about a networking contact—such as a promotion or move to a new agency/publishing house, a new book contract, a book tour announcement, a great review (not the bad ones), or an article published, clip it (or print it if it’s online) then write a brief congratulatory note to the person and send it along with the clip.

Then, the next time you see that contact, be sure to walk up to them and re-introduce yourself. And don’t be surprised if they remember you!

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