Cristina Deptula serves as executive director of the green social enterprise Authors, Large and SmallShe enjoys a wide variety of fiction and nonfiction, from Bill Bryson to Toni Morrison to Abraham Verghese, and believes there is a place and an audience for every book.
This isn't going to be another screed about losing personal connections because we're all online. It's totally possible to make valuable friendships and work relationships in both arenas, and most of us do that. This column will be one of two pieces that focuses on how and where to go to find people in person who might be interested in your book and how to make the most of those relationships.
You should interact with at least two groups of people in person: people you're working with about your book (reviewers, editors, cover and graphic artists, reporters and magazine people who may wish to interview you, etc) and your potential audience, the people in your area who read and might take an interest in your book.
Try to meet the people you are already interacting with frequently online regarding your book in person at least once a month. These might be the other authors with whom you trade reviews and endorsements, people from your local paper who do human interest stories, people in reading groups, or those who organize art and literary events in your community.
Taking the time to go meet someone in person makes you more memorable to them. Also, there's a lot more spontaneity that comes out in person that you don't get over email or even always over Facebook. Conversation goes in all sorts of different directions when people talk in person and notice and comment on things about each other. We recently invited our new client, playwright Lynn Snyder, creator of the collection Blackmail which satirizes powerful elements of American society, to coffee at a small place in Berkeley. As we talked, we realized we had things in common that we wouldn't have known about otherwise (relatives with health issues who needed care, skepticism about certain aspects of life, etc). Finding these sorts of things out can help to build rapport and make working with someone new come more naturally.
If people far out of town, schedule a call with them. However, in-person meetings are best if at all possible since there's less pressure to have to talk continually to fill awkward silences. When things get quiet, you can make small talk or just drink your coffee or look over the menu. Also, talking with a publicist, editor or literary colleague in person allows you to just stop and brainstorm, as we did with Lynn Snyder and several other clients. It's always okay to ask questions such as 'what else can I do for you? How else can we pursue this project?' and then get quiet and let the other person talk, and let yourself come up with new ideas.
You also learn things about people in person that you might not notice otherwise. For example, we invited Ryan Hodge, author of the sci-fi novel Wounded Worlds, which explores the psychological effects of war and the tough choices characters may have to make after an alien invasion, to read aloud at a party we threw for the magazine Synchronized Chaos. We realized that he was a compelling public speaker with a strong voice, which we might not otherwise have known. So, it's worth it to go meet the owner of a bookstore where you'd like to read, or the people who put on reading series or open mics, to give them a better sense of what you're like in person.
You can find new people to network with in person on Meetup.com, where there are groups dedicated to certain special interests and usually open to the public. Try something related to the subject of your book, rather than an authors' group, where people will likely be trying to promote their own work. For example, if your main character windsurfs, try a water sports Meetup. There are also literary events listed in many local papers, usually held at bookstores and libraries. These are good if you can find ones that include many readers, as well as other local authors.
Another idea is to contact people you already know from school, work etc and set up a mindshare discussion circle. Mindshares are informal chat groups where everyone gets together for coffee or drinks, introduces themselves and takes turns sharing successes and challenges and asks for and receives advice. Nonprofits are hosting these, and I see no reason why a group of friends or coworkers or authors couldn't start one on their own! We all have different social circles, and someone may have advice for you about locating readers. For example, someone might suggest your book to their running club, or send it out to their political action mailing list.
And going to conferences, events etc can be worth it because of the people you meet, as much as for what you learn there. One of our clients, life coach Lauretta Zucchetti, whose memoir Painted Red deals with her impoverished childhood in Italy and her eventual move to California, met me when she offered me a ride to a wedding I was also attending the weekend of a writing conference. We got to talking in her car, and I learned about her project and background.
Many conferences are expensive, so to save cash you can visit the coffee shops and bars around the venue during the event and talk with people. Always ask them about themselves, take the focus off yourself. Think of how you can help them by suggesting connections for them. Don't just listen to give yourself time to mentally rehearse your pitch about yourself, let the introductions flow naturally as part of conversation.
And, finally, an essential ingredient for networking, in person or online, is developing a general interest in others and in their work. If the topic of their book or project isn't interesting to you, determine to figure out how and why it interests someone else. Part of being a writer is staying curious, observing the world around you, how people think and behave, and learning from all sorts of others around you is part of that.
In an upcoming column, I will go into more detail about how to network, and how to cultivate and maintain relationships with people.