Artwork donated by Pati Nagle.
The Freelancer’s Survival Guide: Online Networking 4
(Networking Part Ten)
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Unless I missed a major part of the topic, this is the final networking post. I’m sure those of you who are excellent networkers are relieved. I, for one, learned a lot, and I thought I was pretty darn good at networking.
Even though all ten (!) of the posts are linked, the most important ones for the purpose of this post are the previous three. If you haven’t read them, start with online networking part one. That should get you ready to read this post.
At the end of last week’s post, I promised that I’d answer the all-important question: Is online networking worthwhile for the freelancer? And, I also stated, that the answer wasn’t as easy as it seemed.
You’d think, since I devoted so much space to it, that online networking is important. And it is. You should understand what it is and how it functions before making the decision for your business. But the decision as to whether or not to use online networking should be yours, and not anyone else’s.
One of the questions I asked my panel of online networking experts (hand-picked by me, of course) was this:
1. How has online networking helped/hurt your business?
Because I asked it as a binary question, most everyone answered it that way. The most succinct answer to this question came from writer and Pyr editor, Lou Anders.
He wrote, “I’d say the internet is more than essential. Since I’m located in Alabama and my employers are in upstate New York, there is no business without the net. Beyond that, my writers are all over the country and the world. But really, if you’re asking about networking, it’s the same. The internet allows for close relationships with contacts in other countries that never would have been possible ten years ago. I’m pretty (in)famous at work for doing most of my job via an iPhone. Not sure I’m answering this except to say—internet, positive.”
I’ve had similar experiences. As someone who started her freelance writing career thirty years ago, I find the internet and the quick access invaluable. Let me give you a few examples. The first is this post. In the 1980s when I wrote nonfiction full time, I spent much of my time on the telephone. My long distance bills were ugly. The only communication I had with my out-of-town editors was by snail mail, unless they picked up the phone to call me. The interviews I did for this post would simply not have been possible thirty years ago—especially not on a project that might or might not pay me this week.
Secondly, I made my first international sales twenty years ago. All of my communication with my foreign editors was via fax and snail mail. There was no talk of having me promote my British books because I would have had to go to England to do so.
In June, the British edition of my novel, Hitler’s Angel, will appear from John Blake Publishers in their Max Crime line. It’ll also be the first paperback appearance of the novel in English. I’ll be talking to British bloggers and doing quite a bit of promotion on my site—something inconceivable at the start of my fiction career.
Will it get me more sales? Absolutely. In Great Britain? I don’t know. But here in the States, I know of many readers who have asked about the book and are happy to hear that a new edition is coming out.
Newbery Award winning writer, Neil Gaiman uses the internet like I do (only more effectively). He writes, “I think having an online presence is great for an author, mostly because you can tell people when you have something new coming out. You aren’t at the mercy of advertising or luck. You can tell millions of people yourself.”
But he adds a warning.
“Like anything that happens online,” he writes, “it can be a time sink.”
It can be and is. And that’s part of the analysis that you, the freelancer, have to make. You’ll need to do a cost-benefit analysis about your time. (See the Time post earlier)
Freelancer writer Dave Creek, who supplements his fiction writing by working as a web producer for a TV station in Louisville, Kentucky, e-mailed me with some great advice for promoting my blog. Since I was familiar with his writing from Analog, I asked him what he did to promote his own writing.
He answered, “I’m afraid my experience in online networking isn’t much help. I have a website, a professional Facebook site, I’m on Twitter, and I have a blog. But nothing much comes of them.”
The reason? Time.
He writes, “A problem as a part-timer is that I spend 40+ hours, plus commute, at a ‘real’ job every week. I have maybe an hour or so a day to write. A day spent writing a blog posting or tweeting or anything else is often a day I don’t spend on a new story. I’d rather write the story.”
This is precisely the kind of cost-benefit analysis that I mentioned above. Given Dave’s limited time, he’s better off doing the work, instead of networking. It seems like good old common sense, but not everyone understands this. (See the networking post on personality types; it also applies [in a limited way] to people on the net.)
Still, Dave isn’t about to give up his blog.
“All the same,” he writes, “I’m glad I have those presences in place, and I have to take it on faith that continuing to reach out may let me ‘make my own luck’ sometime.”
Exactly. As mentioned so many times in the networking posts—not just by me, but by others as well—you never know which casual contact will turn into a profitable business relationship.
Everyone who networks does some form of the time cost-benefit analysis—or should. What works for one individual might not work for another.
Different businesses have different needs as well. I think writers can survive without much of a web presence. What matters is the story itself. Retail stores who cater locally might benefit from a web presence, but it’s not necessary. And too much information from an attorney online would be counterproductive to a business that has confidentiality at its core.
Glenn Hauman of Comicmix.com admitted in one of the earlier posts that his time is limited. However, he writes, “The Internet is my business. We publish electronically at www.comicmix.com, so we have to be here.”
So being online is part of his job. But that’s not all that factors into his online networking calculations.
“More to the point,” he adds, “[the Internet] is where the readers are heading. Wishing for newsstand sales to come back—well, first you have to wish for newsstands to come back. The good news is the barrier to entry is lower, so you can get out there. The bad news is the barrier to entry is lower, so you’re competing with everyone else on the Internet for attention.”
While his second point might—and has—discouraged some people, it doesn’t discourage Glenn.
“You don’t need the world’s attention,” he writes. “Heck, having the attention of 5,000 dedicated people can be far, far more than enough.”
I’ve noticed that with the Freelancer’s Guide. My readership has grown steadily and it’s more constant than a readership I would get from a nonfiction title, thrown into the mix of thousands of other nonfiction titles, with a month of shelf life. Many of you have shown up every week to read the next installment, and for that I thank you. Another positive? A large number of you have picked up my fiction for the first time, which is an unexpected perk. And finally, I’ve made a lot of contacts and revived the part of my nonfiction career that I enjoyed. I’m doing more articles than I was, about topics that I love. All unexpected, and all quite fun.
Online networking has benefited Carolyn at BookChickCity as well. She writes, “I think both Twitter and Facebook has helped my blog in so much as it lets others know I have a new post up, etc. It’s also a great way to let my readers and followers know if I have any author guests. I don’t think as a fairly new blogger (only nine months) that my blog would have been as successful as quickly if it wasn’t for the use of these other online mediums.”
John DeNardo, also a professional blogger at SF Signal, says that online networking helps bloggers.
“Professional bloggers will tell you that Networking is essential to building a successful blog—and they’re right,” he writes. “That’s a big part of the story, immediately on the heels of the even-more-important Providing Valuable Content. Blog networking consists of visiting similarly themed sites, leaving comments, making yourself known, etc. It also means joining social networks like Facebook and Twitter.
“Is there a negative to networking? Only if you are disrespectful or otherwise troublesome to those you interface with. Because then instead of making contacts, you’re making enemies. And who wants to do that?”
Politeness has been a theme throughout the networking posts. In fact, I think it might be the Golden Rule of networking, based on all the comments I’ve gotten from others. It’s very easy to get the reputation as an unreasonable hothead online, primarily because things you can say with a smile in person often sound nasty online. (That was my biggest worry when I increased my online presence; I’m blunt and sarcastic by nature, and I was afraid of alienating my readers simply by being myself. I don’t know if it’s happened, but I’ve strived to avoid it as much as I can.)
For example, on a private listserve that I share with other professionals in the business, I mentioned a positive comment another professional had received from an editor of an online publication. I wanted to point out the compliment to my friend. She responded with shock, and said that the online editor had never said a kind word about her before and had, in fact, been actively nasty to her (something I hadn’t known). Others responded as well with the same experience. I’d had a similar experience with the online editor—he’d made a comment on one of my articles elsewhere online that dripped with venom, and I had wondered what I had done to offend him. Turned out that was his main online persona—one that alienated instead of helped him grow his online business.
If I were advising him, I’d tell him to ease back on the networking, since it was having the opposite effect than desired. But I’m not advising him (and am actually not sure I want to meet him in person).
So you should also be aware in online networking, as in personal interactions, how you come across to others, and whether or not you’re going to be an effective networker.
Because I asked people I thought were effective at networking to help me with this topic, I received a lot of positive comments about online networking. Some of the benefits people listed were a bit of a surprise, but made sense after I thought about them.
Writer and futurist Brenda Cooper writes that online networking gives her three general and ongoing benefits:
“1. I meet new people.
“2. I stay in touch with my friends—for example, I like to hear what you and Dean are up to—it makes me feel like we’re still friends even though we don’t have much face-to-face interaction at all.
“3. I learn stuff. Other people are out there adding value, too, and I benefit from that. I find new markets, I get pointed to interesting new articles, and I’ve even sold a few stories because of interactions started on Twitter. My monthly column at Futurismic started because I was introduced to Jeremiah Tolbert who introduced me to Paul Graham Raven—all online. I’ve not ever met either of them. I love Starship Sofa, and I’ve been a guest on the associated podcast Sofanauts for the same reason—through an introduction from Jeremy and ongoing Twitter interactions with Tony C. Smith.
“4. I also follow people who I think are good at this and try to learn from them. I follow Neil Gaiman, and Jay Lake, and Tobias Bucknell and others. Most of these people are also my friends (I don’t know Neil), but they’re good at this in their own ways and have more followers than I do.”
She concludes with, “I don’t think it has ever hurt me.”
So far as I can tell, she’s right.
Like Brenda, technology journalist and internet marketing consultant Mitch Wagner has had some tangible benefits from online networking.
“When I was laid off in December,” he writes, “I announced it on Twitter and my blog (making sure it was OK with my soon-to-be former employers, whom I expected would soon be clients). Within a day or so of announcing my availability, I had several offers of work, and within a month I had lined up two really sweet jobs, blogging at Computerworld where I write the Tool Talk blog as well as occasional features, and as Internet marketing director at Palisade Systems which makes an Internet security solution for business. I believe both of those clients find out about my availability over social networks. One of them contacted me; I think the other one is someone I called first, but he’d already been planning to reach me because he heard I was available.”
That’s how we all dream online networking should work. We make our presence known and we get a positive response, one that will help our business in good ways. Often, however, we have no idea whether or not the networking helped at all.
As writer Patrick Alan writes, “That’s the thing about networking. Sometimes you use it, but have no idea if it does anything. It’s like pressing the sidewalk button. You press it, but then wait. And you don’t know if it’s still on the same cycle and would have turned to ‘walk’ anyway or if pushing the button sped anything up.”
“Freelancer Writer’s Survival Guide: Online Networking 4 (Networking Part Ten)” copyright 2010 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
Here’s how you link to these great folks on social networking sites: