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The Business of Writing: Networking = Name Recognition = Marketing | #amwriting #writingbiz

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Introducing a new weekly feature! I post a lot about the craft of writing fiction and the emotion – inspiration – creativity of writing/being a writer, but not a lot about the business side of the profession. So every Tuesday, I’ll be tackling a topic that focuses on the Writing Biz—what it means to be a professional writer beyond just putting words on a page. I’m going to start out gently—for both you and me—by writing about something I already know a bit about: Networking.

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In talking to a friend about the concept of “networking,” she mentioned that one of the things she is doing is participating in a genre-specific group blog where she is gaining name recognition, but that she isn’t sure that it is networking.

I’m building name recognition, but is it networking?

Building name recognition is a major part of both networking and marketing! Because the three work hand-in-hand. This is why we write blogs, why we participate in local writers’ groups (aside from the fellowship, knowledge, and support of other writers), why we volunteer to help out with contests and “group management” type tasks with our writing groups, and why we walk up and introduce ourselves to published authors, editors, or agents at conferences. We want name recognition.

How can networking and building name recognition be the same thing?

Many years ago, I used to joke that I was one of the best known unpublished authors in Christian-fiction publishing circles—I was heavily involved in the American Christian Fiction Writers national organization, first as an active member, then as an officer for several years. This was helped along by several things, some of my doing, others because I actively networked, both as a writing-group member and a writing-group officer. I participated in the email loop and forums (this was pre-Facebook days, but now I participate in several writing-related Facebook groups), and thus the other members knew my name, and many considered me a mentor, even before I was published. As an officer, I worked with the most prominent editors and agents in Christian publishing through several of the projects I was involved with, not the least of which were the contest for unpublished authors and the annual national conference. This meant that I not only had contact with them through email/phone calls before conference, but also had every reason to walk up and start talking to them at conferences or book shows (like ICRS) because I was building a professional relationship with them. By the national conference the year that I was VP of ACFW, I actually had editors and agents ask me when I would be pitching something to them!

But something I couldn’t have planned, but which also gave me name recognition—not necessarily writing related, but still name recognition—happened because I was networking with other authors. At the first ACFW national conference in 2002, I got to know Brandilyn Collins, one of the preeminent CBA authors at the time, and just a fun person to be around. It just so happened on our last night there, as a bunch of us were hanging out in the restaurant/bar at the hotel, another patron decided he wanted to have a bit of fun and walked over to our table and kissed someone on the cheek—ME! It was fun and funny and we joked that I would go down in the lore of the stories that are told about ACFW conferences.

What I didn’t know is that for a couple of years after this, Brandilyn was still telling this story about me. When she came to Nashville with the Zondervan book signing tour a couple of years later, almost as soon as I walked into the bookstore, I was practically mugged by this tall man I’d never seen before in my life who wrapped me in a huge bear-hug and kissed me on the cheek. Well, he turned out to be James Scott Bell who’d been told the “kissing bandit” story at lunch by Brandilyn, who knew I would be there. (And is JSB’s name one that you recognize? It should be.)

What can networking/name-recognition do for me, really?

Through networking (and because he already knew my name before we met face to face—through my work with the writing organization), I knew my agent for years before he became my agent. Same with the acquiring editors at the two publishing houses my first two series were published by.

Networking builds name recognition and name recognition translates into marketing—because a recognized name is a brand. Think about it. John Grisham. Tom Clancy. J. K. Rowling. Nora Roberts. Amazon.com has a feature on their website where you can “follow” your favorite authors to receive notifications of their upcoming releases so you can preorder their books. If these authors didn’t have name recognition (to you), you wouldn’t know to follow them, would you? And remember, at one point in time, all of the authors I mentioned above were unpublished writers trying to break into print. Now people buy books simply because their name is on the cover as the author.

Granted, their name recognition has come through selling millions of books; but for those of us trying to break into an over-saturated publishing market, building a following by networking ahead of time, getting our names out there, marketing ourselves pre-publication is vitally important when it comes to first convincing a publisher if they buy our novel it will sell, and then parlaying that into sales and royalties after the book hits the streets. And not only will you have built-in readers eager for your book to come out, but you will have influencers—readers willing to read your book ahead of time and market it through reviews and word of mouth; and endorsers—published authors willing to put their “seal of approval” on your book with a quote about what a wonderful author you are and how fabulous your story is.

Caveat: Networking—like social media—is not something that should impinge upon the time that you need to be writing. Remember the formula: 90% of your time writing, 10% of your time doing everything else related to the Writing Business. But these are the kinds of things to be thinking about now to start learning about and trying out slowly before you’re suddenly thrust into it once you complete your manuscript and are ready to start pitching it at conferences.

Think about everything you do and all the ways in which you are involved communities where you are building your name as a writer working toward publication. How are you networking and building name recognition?

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