NB If you read my posts for publishing titbits then please forgive the personal nature of a lot of this. Sorry. It is a long one but the tips are down there. Also, my views on my past have changed a fair bit since posting this, but what is here is what I felt at the time and don’t think I should change it.
I started writing this post a while ago with the simple premise of outlining ways to go about undertaking that infamous publishing buzz word: networking. It started because people kept saying I was good at it so I thought I could maybe help others when it came to how to go about it. It started because I wished I’d known how much this part of the industry truly is beneficial to getting noticed and I wanted to share that with everyone. It started because I wished I’d known how to go about doing this scary, intimidating beast of a thing when I started looking for jobs in the industry. It grew when I reached out to offer help/support to a few people I had previously engaged with and was blanked (story of my life!). It grew when I read a Twitter thread from the Publishing Interns team saying how they had recently had the same experience I had regarding engagement.
It grew exponentially when I realised – and I say “realised” very loosely as it was burning a hole in my brain/soul/heart/etc for a long time – that it was coming up to a certain anniversary for me. This anniversary made me reflect more strongly on what has happened over the past year, the missteps I’d taken in both my professional and personal life and how I could (though not 100% would) have improved my standing via networking. Now what is that anniversary?
- One year ago today my world began to collapse.
- One year ago today I began spinning a web of deceit my family are still caught up in. (They know nothing of what I will outline here and the offshoots of it – it’s complicated…)
- One year ago today, just like Dorian Gray’s portrait, my soul/being began to decay while I stayed looking the same. (My personality changed from one I recognised to an inconsistent mess I hate.)
- One year ago today I started my descent down a slippery slope to hurting those I cared about and losing touch with everyone I knew. (I am entirely alienated from those I knew back then for one reason or another.)
- One year ago today I was made redundant from my project management role in publishing.
After I lost my job I was made to feel like an outsider everywhere I turned. I couldn’t get senior roles as I was told I didn’t have enough experience, and yet was turned away from entry- or mid-level ones because I had too much. Then my personal life turned upside down. I was told by someone I’d called a “friend” for nearly three years that I didn’t fit in with our social group and everyone thought it. This person went further and said they felt I didn’t want to go out and find those with the same interests I had – books, museums, galleries – because people like that are all “over fifty and you (that’s me) just want to be around women in their twenties”. That someone I considered a friend could think and say that about me, and that the group had clearly discussed it between themselves and stopped inviting me to their get-togethers, upset me considerably. I then took that out on someone I cared a great deal for.
The person I took this out on was someone I considered a good “friend”, someone I’d worked closely with for eight months, someone I’d shown unflinching support and care for, someone who had the exact same interests as me and was the only person who’d said “I care” at a difficult time in my life. I took it out on them because it began to feel like that “I care” was a hollow statement (I bought them some birthday gifts, and they knew I was unwell, yet they wouldn’t suggest meeting up in person). I certainly didn’t make things easy for this person amid my decent into depression or when I tried to explain my feelings in person. Unfortunately, much like the recent case of Sinead O’Connor shows, someone breaking down in front of your eyes during an attempted cry for help can make you feel incredibly uncomfortable – especially when that is focused entirely on you – and I said some things I shouldn’t and I didn’t believe when trying to explain why I was hurt by their inaction. That I channelled it the way I did was uncalled for on my part and I upset them. But when their response was to tell me they thought they’d “been a good friend” to me during this period, then went on to say they had never really seen us as friends or had wanted to spend any of their spare time with me – and therefore they could not offer any of the support I needed – it hurt so much and sent me spiralling further into the abyss.
Nearly one year on from our last meeting in person, and more the message I received saying how they felt, still haunts me nearly every day; it makes me feel worthless as my support wasn’t good enough for their friendship; it makes me feel as if I was manipulated and used; and it makes me question the motives of everyone I know around me. I didn’t handle this personal rejection very well, especially when coupled with the professional one I was experiencing. Shortly after that, I verbally lashed out at them and I am ashamed of some of the things I said. No-one deserved to receive the level of vitriol I spewed, and I haven’t heard from them since and I don’t know how they are now. ARGGHHHH! (I hope one day they will let me know they are healthy and well, and why they saw me as they did… or maybe more appropriately didn’t.)
Though to me it genuinely seemed these people never did care for me and they just used me – and therefore it is probably better we are no longer in each others’ lives – it is a shame things ended as they did. Again, I do hope one day they’ll choose to acknowledge my existence and talk to me about things so I can apologise in person for my part and hear their side of the stories. I continued on like this for a while longer. Unsure of everything I had done in my life, everyone within my life, and where my career was heading. ARGGHHHH!
But my near crippling anxiety aside, what I’m getting at is that I was alone and yet I didn’t need to be. There was a community out there I didn’t know existed that could (though again not necessarily would) have helped with both my personal and professional issues. I realised this during London Book Fair and because I met two people in particular (I hope they know how much meeting them in passing meant to me). It was only then that I did begin to get my life back together.
“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”
Blanche DuBois, A Streetcar Named Desire
I don’t want to delve into a literary critique of that quote and exactly what it means in the context of the play (if we ever meet we can do that), but for me it represents how I – and the aforementioned Sinead O’Connor – have felt personally the past year and how I think everyone should approach networking professionally.
The publishing community is a great one
For me, networking starts with knowing that the publishing community is a great one.
Since I became more active within it via this blog, Twitter, attending regular Society of Young Publishers (SYP) events and going to other talks and socials, I’ve possibly had more engaged and empathetic interactions than I had the previous three years combined. While that is upsetting in that I clearly didn’t know anyone who really wanted me around them, the fact that strangers and new acquaintances have shown that level of kindness is uplifting. (If you ever speak to me in person, listen out for how I purposefully avoid saying the word “friend” as I’m unsure if I’ve ever been considered one – I’ve become entirely neurotic. Again… ARGGHHHH!)
When I started looking for a publishing job when I finished my MA all those years ago, I wish I’d known how supportive the community is; when I started my first job within it almost exactly four years ago I wish I’d known that (that’s right, I was made redundant one week before I would have celebrated three years at my previous company!); and more importantly, when I lost my job, I wish I’d have known that. I’m not saying those I knew before are bad, selfish people and I’m a good boy – far from it, they are all good people and I’m annoying – as the fact is we just had different attitudes toward friendships and those around us, and that is fine. I didn’t understand that then and, if I’m honest, I still don’t, but they aren’t bad people – I’ll reiterate, they just wanted something different to me. The vast majority of people active on Twitter, or who go to various publishing events, do so because they want to engage with others like themselves. They are that engaged, that empathetic and that welcoming and that for me makes networking easier within this industry over any other. (By the way, that’s just what I think and I have no scientific data to substantiate that thought.)
Of course, I’m not saying those people within the community will become your BFFs, want to hang out and watch sing-a-long Dirty Dancing with you (though if anyone wants to do that, do let me know!), that they will be able to unequivocally help you, that they can give you all of their free time or even that they can respond to you every time you do reach out to them… but they do try just as the Publishing Interns team said in the thread highlighted above.
Therefore, if you want to be active within the publishing community then knowing how welcoming people can be is a monumental thing you need to know when it comes to networking. I said right at the start how networking is very much seen as a “buzz word”, and it is. Whenever I speak to anyone about the events I go to or networking in general the same questions and points come up each time, which that knowledge fundamentally covers. Yet networking is seen by many in a negative light and I can understand why, especially as these are the basic points everyone considers:
- Does it even make a difference to a job search/career?
- Where do I find networking events to go to?
- I don’t know anyone to go with, therefore I am scared to go…
- If I am naturally quiet or shy, how do I go about it?
- Will I be ignored if I don’t know anyone at an event I want to go to? (Mean Girls Plastics alert!)
- What if I don’t know what to say to make a good impression?
- Carl, stop talking… (Yes, that’s the first time I’ve used my name on this site.)
This is what you are here for, not an exploration of my personal demons, so let me explore these points.
Does networking make a difference?
When it comes to that first point, and despite what this post is about, of course you can succeed in this industry without networking. If you can’t make it to networking events that does not mean you can’t get a great job and go far – I got my first job in the industry without networking and progressed due to my work ability, not my ability to schmooze. Saying that, this article on the Forbes website while based on the US internship and job landscape, is unfortunately also relevant in the UK and likely anywhere else in the world. Contacts don’t guarantee you that job or placement you so desperately crave, yet they certainly can help you get your foot in the door and networking can help with that.
As proof of what networking can do, I got an interview with a major publisher when I met one of their movers and shakers at an event: we spoke for five minutes, I tweeted about the event, they happened to read my tweets and blog then got in touch saying they’d like me to apply for a role because they liked my writing. I applied, interviewed and (not unsurprisingly) didn’t get it. Yet it shows how successful you can be via networking if you approach it in the right way.
Also, my personal view is that if given the chance to undertake a placement, even if you have done a few before, do it. They should be paid and the Publishing Interns team are fighting a great fight to make sure you know of those worthwhile. So if one comes up that you can do, do it. It may sound strange to some, but a few of those I’ve undertaken don’t even make it onto my CV for certain job applications because they could make it look like I have no focus on where I want to be:
Yet doing them gives you the chance that they could lead to more. I am working now because I did a placement with a company. When they needed someone to fill a spot that came up, they called me. No interview (thankfully) because I’d proven what I was capable of in that short-term placement. This could happen to you.
In that current role, unfortunately I don’t have carte blanche for bringing in people do to work placements, but the couple of people I have brought in have been contacts I’ve made through networking. There are a few others I’ve engaged with whom I’d like to help if I could, it is just a case of having to bide my time to do so (bloody departmental budgets, eh?). While I got my foot in the door of the two companies I’ve mentioned via one-on-one contact, this isn’t the only way to go about things and those two who’ve come into my current company are proof of the various ways to go about networking. Which brings us onto…
Where do I find networking events to go to?
You don’t have to. One of my placements was filled by someone I met at an event (one of Sam Missingham’s Borough Book Bashes), while one came about via Twitter engagement. Twitter is a great resource for networking. One of the other people I want to bring in to help with their job prospects is also down to Twitter engagement. In fact, I bet the Publishing Interns conversation mentioned above, where they arranged a placement for someone, was instigated on Twitter. If you engage on Twitter with people within the industry they will remember you and could want to, and be able to, help should the opportunity arise.
That is why I was so shocked by my reaching out to a few people I’d engaged with previously only to be ignored when I messaged them (they didn’t even read the DMs I sent). I wanted to help them and was willing to offer my own time to do so, yet that wasn’t appreciated. If someone in the industry reaches out to you, I would suggest you make the most of it. By all means, if you think you are better off without the help then that is fine, just at least convey that to the person offering support (someone recently said “thanks but no thanks just now” when I offered help and I respect them all the more for that). Unfortunately, if I came across those I’d been blanked by previously when hiring or looking to offer new placements, they would be put to the back of the queue. That isn’t out of spite, it’s because I want to know that if a client/author got in touch they would receive the best possible care… even if it is a “sorry, I can’t help with this” type response. I attended a joint Unite and Book Machine talk recently and one of the speakers, John Pettigrew, discussed how small a world publishing is. He essentially said you can end up working with others you come into contact with again, so don’t ignore people or mistreat them as it could come back and bite you. (Sorry, little rant there to add to the personal drama.)
Anyway… as well as Twitter, look out for blogs by those in the industry and engage that way. If you want something more in person, then there are a number of events to look at. Every Waterstones in the country (that I know of anyway) run events, as do so many independent book stores. Simply pop on in and ask what events they run and they will gladly provide you with a lot of information to dig your teeth into. At such shindigs you can meet authors and a lot of PR people – seriously, if you like PR these events are a hive of activity. What’s not to like about that? Book Machine also run events so follow them and, again, if the opportunity arises, go to their offerings. The aforementioned SYP are a great source of fantastic events around the country – I go to pretty much all of those they run in London.
Away from the obvious, both Book Brunch and The Publishers Association provide details of upcoming events (some very fancy and expensive, mind). Also, each month I go to a debut author event (@riffraff_ldn) where writers discuss their work, read extracts, answer questions and mingle with those there. Just being around these writers and the superb hosts (Amy and Rosy) is such an inspiring experience. Both these women are debut writers themselves so know the ins and outs of the publishing world. I couldn’t recommend this event highly enough. (I don’t get commission for getting people to go here, by the way – I just genuinely love going.)
I don’t know anyone to go with, therefore I am scared to go…
Yes, often finding these events to go to can be the easy part. I know how hard it can be if you are shy to take the risk and drag yourself to these events. In fact, not only that, if like me you were/are in a bad place emotionally it is tricky to build up the energy and motivation to be surrounded by so many people. But believe me it is ultimately worth it. I haven’t met many at these events who wouldn’t welcome you in and try to make you feel comfortable. If I am at any event you went to and you came over to talk, then I would certainly make the effort to talk to you and introduce you to those I know.
Also, bear in mind that it is also likely others at the event are in the exact same boat you are. I would wager that if you went to an event – be that on your own or with a friend – there will be at least one other person doing the same… probably more. If that situation arises, then you can bond and encourage each other over that similarity – strong bonds can be formed that way. Also, know that…
Networking successfully, being outgoing and making friends are not mutually exclusive
Sorry, I’m going to cheat and address the next two points I outlined in one fell swoop with the above statement.
When it comes to networking, I feel this is a major point that needs to be stated and addressed. Many say I’m pretty good at networking, yet I am naturally pretty shy and quiet therefore going up to people I don’t know does scare me – especially nowadays given all of the above – while I have pretty serious issues making meaningful friendships. If you need urging to go to an actual event, then drag that friend along who will help you relax and integrate you into conversations – hopefully they would encourage you to take a chance on talking to someone you may not otherwise have the nerve to. At first there were so many times I wanted to turn back and not attend the events I had lined up, but ultimately I knew it was good for me personally and possibly professionally so I urged myself to go. I never regretted it.
If you are shy or have anxiety, then I can only reiterate how kind everyone is at the events I go to. No one would willingly make you feel uncomfortable or neglect you. Again, know that I have faced similar issues you may face, but it is possible to overcome them (though I don’t like phrasing it like it is a simple tangible obstacle to climb over when it isn’t). But if you do think you can’t attend events because of such circumstances, know that you can engage via Twitter in just as effective a way. If you have spoken to people over Twitter, shown your interest in them and their company, they may remember you should a position or placement come up and you apply for it.
What if I don’t know what to say to make a good impression?
Here is a biggy. Everyone wants to make a good impression, get that key contact info and leave an event/Twitter chat thinking they are going to get a call the very next day.
Leave those thoughts at the door.
Much like my important notice above, I feel it is important to not go into a networking environment with the sole expectation and purpose of connecting successfully with everyone there or making those BFFs. You might be able to do it, though you are more likely to spread yourself too thin and not leave a positive impression on those you meet. There’s also the issue of putting too much pressure onto yourself that you then become overly nervous, self-critical and essentially try too hard. It is best to try and be natural. (I know, I’m trotting out the “be yourself” line.)
You need to let things happen organically. When I got my aforementioned interview via an event, I didn’t ask that person to look at my CV or consider me for any roles, pass them my business card or ask for theirs, I simply asked them about their company and what their views were on their novel submission process. From there, I did organically ask about what they looked for in employees, but I didn’t want to speak to them solely for that purpose. My advice is attempt to do the same. If the opportunity arises, try to take it; if it doesn’t, then move on and be polite and encouraging.
If you meet someone at an event who happens to work for a company you admire, just be engaged with what they say. Don’t try and sell yourself by listing all the books of theirs you’ve read, or even worse how you spotted a typo on page three of their latest offering and you could do a better proofing job so they should give you a call. Just ask them what the atmosphere is like there, or jokingly ask if they get free books all the time. A more relaxed engagement is better than a pushy one. For me it is more memorable.
If you went to any SYP or Riff Raff event I would likely be there, and that relaxed engagement is what would impress me. If you show you are engaged and more interested in the people around you over what they can do for you, that would get my attention and make me want to help you more than you simply asking me to do so. I am sure that is the way with others, too.
So those key points in summary:
- Don’t expect people you engage with to become your BFFs
- Don’t go to networking events with expectations of making that one significant connection
- If nervous of going to an event, know people are welcoming and won’t ignore you
- Be courteous at all times as it is a small industry, especially if offered help
- If you don’t live in London, try those local bookshops for events or the SYP offerings around Oxford, Scotland or elsewhere
- If you feel you can’t go to an event for whatever reason, firstly know I empathise but also know that Twitter truly is great for engaging
Speaking of which, I do recommend following these people and engaging with them:
- Publishing interns (obviously!)
- SYP (all of them or the ones most relevant to your area)
- Riff Raff
- Byte the Book
- Book Machine
- Stephanie Cox
- Sam Missingham
- Debut careers
- Inspired Selection (and possibly the lovely staff there, if you so wish)
Carl, stop talking…
You’re right, I did go on a lot longer than I intended so my apologies…
- One year ago today I lost my job.
- One year ago today I lost everyone around me.
- One year ago today I lost myself.
- One day I will find a permanent role I can make my own.
- One day I will find people who want to be around me and willingly offer support when needed.
- One day I will find a consistent version of myself.
- One day will hopefully be soon…
PS Mental health is a serious issue and a huge thanks should go to the likes of Stephanie Cox (and her team at Trigger Press) who petitioned so strongly for it to be compulsory teaching within schools, Sam Missingham, Matt Haig and many others within publishing who are willing to discuss it so openly. If it is something you suffer from then you should not need to be ashamed about it and face it alone in silence. You are not alone. Your voice matters. You matter.