We all know the importance of networking and community when it comes to the arts. Word-of-Mouth buzz is the most important kind of marketing your book or story can ever receive, which is why so many writers (whether they have a marketing team connected to their publisher, or they’re their own marketing team) spend so much time talking about their books on social media and forums.
One of the ways authors can build some of that buzz is to make connections and friendships with other authors. You can recommend each other’s books on your blogs and social media, write each other reviews, offer manuscript reads and critiques, attend each other’s launch parties, just hang out and complain about the biz together, bounce ideas off one another, and generally just revel in having people in your life who get it.
But how do you find these authorfriends?
When I was starting out there wasn’t much of an online community in public forums (lots in private YahooGroups and Bravenet Chats, but not so much in places where the writers of the internet could just stumble on it.) So I found lots of my authorfriends in writing classes, at book launches I had randomly learned about and attended for funsies, at open mic and coffee slam nights, in those online forums (for both profic and fanfic), at community or library workshops, and at SF/F conventions.
Now there are sites like Wattpad, Radish, and services like Discord and Tumblr where writers can join groups, post on forums, create servers, and speak easily to one another. But with that comes a different kind of ettiquete when it comes to reaching out to specific individuals.
I’ve put together a list of suggestions for approaching and making new authorfriends based on my experiences. Most of it is aimed at the internet side of things but most of this advice crosses over into IRL interactions as well.
Buy and try to read their books.
… or at least read about them on Wiki/GoodReads/their Website before you even reach out to someone online. Obviously you can’t look them up on the spot at an IRL event (but feel free to ask them what they write, they’ll be happy to share), but if you’re reaching our to someone or trying to forge connections over DMs or in a forum, know who you’re talking to and what they do.
If you’re a true-crime mystery writer and I’m an epic-fantasy romance writer, we may hit it off as people, but be aware that we’d be kinda useless to one another as beta readers or as ins to each other’s community. If you’re just looking for friends, cool; but if you’re looking for colleagues, maybe start with writers who work in the same genre as you to start with.
I cannot tell you the number of times total strangers have asked me to help them get published and I’ve had to say “I don’t even work in your sphere. I know none of the major players, I don’t read that genre, why are you contacting me, I’m utterly useless to you, and you’ve wasted both our time.”
And, my god I can’t believe I have to say this, but be honest if they ask your opinion of their book, but not insulting. You can say, “I had a hard time because I really struggle with reading first-person-perspective books, but I liked the story very much!” You should not say: “You ruined a perfectly good story by making it first person.”
It is also okay to not read someone’s book if it’s really, really not your cup of tea or you’re really slammed. Again, just be both honest and kind about it. I have authorfriends who are very successful in genres I simply don’t enjoy reading, and they know it. I still buy their books to support them, as they still buy mine, but we have an understanding that we won’t be reading each other’s books.
Interact organically and openly on social media.
Nobody likes being shouted at, and nobody likes those aggressive sales people who corner you on the sidewalk or by the cosmetics counter that try to bully you into buying their product or donating to their charity. So don’t assume that using the same tactics on Social Media is going to sell your books – or your self.
When someone follows me on Twitter,I pop over to their feed to see if they’re someone I’ll want to follow back. If their feed is nothing but tweets about their book being on sale, or “please buy my book!” I don’t follow them. Social Media is a conversation not a sales floor, and people whose feeds are only about selling and buying are just going to spend the whole time they interact with me trying to get me to spend money instead of cultivating a friendship. No thanks.
When you interact with folks on social media, be genuine, be generous, and engage in community. (Besides, readers love getting a glimpse into the the behind-the-scenes life of a writer – and I’m not just talking curated desk pictures and posed reading selfies – so it’s also a good marketing tactic to share a bit of your genuine self.)
Go through official channels.
If you’re reaching out to authors for authorly things, do it through authorly channels.
Go through their agent to ask for a blurb for your book, and use the “contact me” part of thier webpage to send emails as they’ll be seen immediately. Sliding into DMs can work, but only if you already have an established relationship on social media. Reach out to them on forums or in Q&A sessions, and if you’re meeting IRL, introduce yourself at launches, koffeeklaches, or in room parties where they are clearly ‘on’.
Writing is ‘work’, so approach them in the most professional and work-appropriate way if you’re asking for worky things like blurbs, advice, or mentorship opportunities.
Be polite and aware of the context if you’re meeting in person.
Don’t interrupt. Don’t interrupt dinner, don’t interrupt private conversations, and don’t interrupt Q&A sessions or panels to talk about yourself and your work, if they’re the guest and you’re not.
If you’re joining into group conversations or events, awesome – still be polite, and keep the context in mind. As I said above, no one likes a salesperson who corners you, so if you’re adding yourself to a group conversation at a bar or launch even, don’t immediately start to talk about your books. Let the topic come up organically (most writers are either awkward or blunt anyway, so we’ll usually say, “Hi, nice to meet you? Who are you, what do you do? Oh a writer? tell us about your book” anyway) and wait for the invitation – either verbalized or from context clues – before talking about your book.
Again, the key here is that you’re trying to make friends, not make a sale. You’re trying to build a community and support, not just be a marketing machine.
Join writing groups
Want to meet writers? Go find writers!
These sorts of places – either IRL or online – allow you to both build community and make friends, and talk about your books and get advice or support, so it’s win-win!
And if you’re up for it, attend the IRL public events with NaNoWriMo – I attended on in Japan and met some very good writing buddies. They’re back in England now, and I’m in Canada, and their friendship and support while we all NaNo’ed was awesome.
Volunteer at festivals and conventions
When you’re a volunteer you get more access to the guests and get to spend more time with them, which makes it easier to forge a genuine friendship. However, be aware guests may not be looking for friends, and might just appreciate your help as a support at the con – let them dictate the level of friendship they’re willing to have with you. They meet hundreds of volunteers every year. And don’t pitch your work to them unless it comes up organically in conversation; it’s really obnoxious otherwise.
As a guest of honour at conventions, I can tell you that I absolutely have created friendships with my handlers, and still speak with several of them, and was totally pleased to give one a blurb for their novel a while back.
And if you don’t come out of the event with new guest authorfriends, you might find some among your fellow volunteers. If nothing else, you’ll get a nice rosy-glasses-free look at the hard slog and hustle that authors go through to do the speaking and convention circuit.
Attend workshops, festivals, seminars, classes, etc.
Not only will you meet other authors in the audience and have the opportunity to forge friendships that way, you will meet your instructors too.
My playwriting instructor in university was one of the biggest names in playwriting in Canada, a very kind and shy man, and he always came our for beers with us after class. I don’t have much of a connection to him any more because that was two decades ago, but I know that if I were to reach out to him for something specific, he would remember me and be willing to give my work a look or help me forge a connection if I asked.
Work on your craft – and your attitude regarding it
You can’t sit around with your friends and whine that you’re not having any career success if you’re not putting any work into the book-writing side of it. I pretty quickly stop hanging out with snowflake writers who aren’t willing to put in the work and/or take the critiques of fellow writers and editors. They are frustrating and exhausting.
I’m not saying that you have to slave away and hustle at all times, but if you ask your authorfriends for advice or complain about rejections, be prepared to follow through on what you learn – there’s nothing worse than some jerk at a writers meetup sneering “no you’re wrong” at me, when he asks me a question and I give him an answer that he doesn’t want to hear, even though I’m the published one and he’s not.
We all want to be perfect from the outset, but we aren’t. Let your authorfriends lift you up and help you improve, or don’t bother having any.
Write more than one book / series
Don’t just write one book and spend the rest of your life flogging it. Like potters, bakers, cooks, and visual artists, you as a writer can only improve with practice. You can’t just make one jug, one cake, one meal, one painting, and spend the rest of your life trying to sell that one piece. You have to make something over, and over, and over, and over to get really good at it – to learn how you like to tell stories, and how you tell them best, and what kind of environment you need to be able to write. Finish a book, edit that book, polish that book; then query or selfpub or Wattpad that book. And then move on to the next one.
You will meet more authors if you have more than one book because you will have ideas to discuss, or stories to share, and multiple books can take you to festivals and readings series as a repeat guest.
Offer authorfriends copies of your book for free if they want it
Most will likely say, “No, we support one another, I’ll buy it.” and do just that. But if your friend wants one for the purpose of reviewing it, or sharing it with someone, or giving it to their agent, or doing a giveaway on their blog, then by god, give them one.
Todd McCaffrey asked if he could have a copy of Triptych at the launch party and my editor practically threw it at his head, she was so excited. That’s how I got that incredible blurb from him – it’s actually from an email he sent my publisher after he’d read the book, thanking us for the free copy.
If your authorfriends tweet your book promotion post, you should tweet theirs too. If they come to your launch party, you should go to theirs. This isn’t a one-way-street, we uplift one another. We’re not in competition, we’re a community.
I’m not saying it has to be a perfect one-for-one transaction, but you have to make an effort. Writers who ask favors but never repay them are quickly singled out and left in the dust.
Message them on sites or social media feeds that are inappropriate
For instance: Friend’s, or family member’s social media. If the author you want to connect with doesn’t have social media or isn’t easily acceible, don’t go through the social media of someone close to them. I heard of an incident where someone DM’d an author’s teenaged daughter’s account asking for her father’s contact info. Like. No.
Another example: Dating apps (the number of people who sent me messages on OKCupid that started “Hey, gorgeous girl! You’re a writer? Can you introduce me to your agent?”). It’s insulting and it sure as hell made me feel unwanted, and inclined to give that guy’s name to my agent and tell them to NEVER take that person as a client.
Only message someone over LinkedIn if their profile is specifically geared to writing.
Basically, don’t come at someone for authorly things at functions or sites where the person is not being authorly.
Ask them for something they can’t provide
I can’t introduce you to my agent. Most of us can’t. My agent has a very specific set of things they’re looking for in a new client and if you don’t meet those requirements listed on their website, they won’t take you. I cannot in any way at all influence my agent’s decision to take you on or not. And if I don’t know you personally or have any connection or states in your work, I have no reason to stick my own neck out and champion you. You need to sink or swim on your own merit, just like the rest of us.
If I know you and your work, like as a very good friend and I’ve helped you work on the book as a beta reader, I might send my agent a message saying, “Yo, so-and-so is submitting and I think you should give their package some attention because XYZ.” But that’s a big risk for an author, because they’re putting their own reputation and relationship with their agent on the line.
I can’t get you published. Again, you need to sink or swim on your own merit, just like the rest of us. I can guide you through the very involved process of putting together a pitch package (see my chapter on this, or visit my shop at sidehustle.ca for private one-on-one-sessions), but I can’t make any publisher accept or sign your work.
Know what it is that authors can, and cannot do for you, before you ask for any favours.
Friend every writer possible on every social media/networking app and then chuck a form note in their DMs asking them to buy/read your work.
Firstly, it’s insulting. As I mentioned above, social media is for social connections. It’s a community, not a soapbox on which to stand and hawk your wares.
Secondly, I’m the wrong audience. I’m a writer, not a book reviewer or the merchandiser for a store. You’re literally wasting both your time, and mine, by doing this. And it’s so brazenly tone deaf and insulting that you think my generous willingness to talk to strangers via my DMs/PMs for the sake of answering questions via my Words for Writers series means that you can throw your story at me like a rotten fruit, that you’ve pretty much guaranteed that I will never read it.
Force them into some sort of physical contact
Being friendly does not mean you get access to my physical person, in any way, shape, or form. There is someone in our local community who thinks that he is entitled to a hug from every person he even vaguely knows, and he willfully ignores the very obvious cues (verbal, physical, or in body language) that his hugs are unwelcome and it’s really effing gross. He makes so many of us uncomfortable but won’t stop it, even when he’s been told to directly, because he reasons that because we are vague professional acquaintances, that must mean we’re friends, and friends hug.
What you can do is offer your hand to someone to shake and let them decide whether they’d like to shake it themselves. The same goes for a hug – you can open your arms to offer one, and even better verbalize the request: “May I hug you?” and let the other person decide.
As an extension of this, don’t pinch or pat shoulders, massage people, get behind them and put your hands around their waist or face, etc. unless you have an extremely close relationship and already know that this sort of display of physical closeness is enthusiastically welcome.
Ask them to blurb your book simply because they’re your friend
You should be asking authors whose audience matches yours. Neil Gaiman is an extremely popular author whose endorsement could sell you thousands of copies – if you write the same thing his audience reads. If you write self-help books for small business corporations though, he’s the wrong author to ask. Your audience has no clue who Gaiman is in the context of self-help books.
The same goes for when you’re asking your authorfriends – if they write hardcore SF erotica and you write light fantasy middle grade, it’s not a good fit.
Thanks for reading! Please feel free to drop me a comment or DM if you have questions about this article, or have a question or topic you’d like me to address.