You often hear, "It's who you know that matters." We may not like it, but there's a bit of truth in that statement. The key is making "who you know" work for you.
Recently, I decided to self publish a novella trilogy. It's a bit of an experiment, but so many are taking the plunge and doing it successfully that I want to give it a try. I decided to try my hand at making the covers. Though I'm not a graphic artist, I wanted to see what I could do on my own. I had a blast at designing the three covers for this series and I'm pretty happy with them. You see, I have a good friend who is a photographer, so I contacted him about using some photos. I also have a friend who is an IT expert and has a degree in graphic design. I'll get her to do a final go over my covers. Once the books are complete, I need an editor. I happen to have a friend who is an English teacher interested in freelancing as an editor. So, right there, just amongst my acquaintances, I've put together a team to take my novella from concept to publication.
Years ago, I wanted to break into Silhouette (still do for that matter) and contacted author Caridad Pineiro with some questions. She was great about answering and has become both a pal and mentor. She was giving a workshop to Latina writers and invited me. Her Silhouette editor, Stacy Boyd, attended as well. I sat next to Stacy and turned that opportunity into a request for a full on the manuscript I was working on. That story was rejected and so were others, but I've developed a relationship with Stacy. In fact, she did a Q&A on my blog last March for my March Madness event. The last time I sent her a manuscript, I had about a two-week turnaround. Okay, it was another rejection, but she clearly stuck me at the top of her queue. How cool is that?
When I was a kid, I read voraciously and I thought authors had to be the most magical people on earth. I mean they wrote these fantastic wonderful stories that transported you to different times and places. In my world, they all lived on pedestals. Then the digital revolution happened, bringing authors close to their fans. They turned out to be normal people with bigger than normal imaginations and a generosity that astounded me. Through simple conversations on the eHarlequin site, I had a well-known, award-winning author offer me out of the blue to read my first chapter and critique it. I had only begun to write, had received a couple of rejections and lived with my confidence in the toilet at that point. That author's offer and her subsequent critique kept me writing and determined.
So, how do you make these connections? In the world of the Internet, email, online forums, and even Twitter and Facebook are your friends. The easiest way to start is to drop an author an email that you liked their book. I have done that a number of times and still do. If I read an author's book and put some kind of review up on my website, I drop them a line and let them know it's there. They always run over to check and I always receive a thank you note later. Frankly, it's a lot easier to go ask an author a question when you've already established some kind of contact beforehand. You're not a nameless email amongst the many they get; you're someone they've connected to.
I'm still feeling my way around Twitter, but what I often see are authors talking to other authors and it's the same ones. Jump in the conversation with a tweet and keep on tweeting. Do it enough times and when that moment comes to contact that author, that agent or that editor, and you mention your Twitter name, you can bet they'll know who you are.
One of the reasons to attend a local RWA chapter or go to a conference is the chance to network in person. Conferences can be daunting and crowded with crazy schedules and they're a significant investment in time and money, which not everyone has. If you have the opportunity to attend, though, then meet as many people as you can. Make the most of it. But, on a smaller scale and particularly for those that are shy, chapters are a comfortable place to get to know published authors and yet-to-be-published authors over time. Remember, too, it's not always about the published authors. That person next to you may not be published, but she may have fifteen years experience with law enforcement and you're writing a mystery, and she's quite happy to answer your questions. You never know the depth and richness in experience of the people around you unless you talk to them and forge a connection.
Networking isn't easy, but if you look at it as the first day of school and a matter of putting faces to names and letting relationships develop naturally, it isn't quite as scary. And as long as you keep at it--meeting new people online and in person--you'll be surprised one day to see how many people "you know" and how many are willing to give you some advice or assistance if you need it. Don't forget to be generous with your own time and experience because you will be repaid for it down the road.