5 Networking Tips for Writers

I run two businesses – one a public speaker, and the other as the Executive Director of the Chicago Writers Conference. This doesn’t leave me a lot of time to write all the business collateral I need – web copy, press releases, programs, etc. I’m in a position to hire writers, and I see many of them screw it up occasionally. Here are five tips to help you make stronger connections when seeking work.

1. Don’t go to Networking Events. Any time I attended a networking event – you know, pay $15 and get one crappy drink – I never made a useful connection. And that’s probably because these events were open to anyone. The lack of focus meant I probably wasn’t going to meet anyone who needed my services – and I didn’t. At a recent writers conference, I spoke on a Networking Panel. The panelists – myself, a literary journal editor, and a writer – all had the same success stories: attending cocktail parties and literary events (like readings) worked for us. So that’s where I tend to hang out and meet writers.

GIVEAWAY: Mare is excited to give away a free copy of her Kindle e-book to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: rachel613 won.)



Column by Mare Swallow, public speaking coach and the Executive
Director of the Chicago Writers Conference. Her book of public speaking
tips, 21 WAYS TO ENGAGE YOUR AUDIENCE, is available for the Kindle. 



I hired my first program assistant at a cocktail party. He has since gone on to work for The Onion, and has a short story being published in an anthology next year. I’ve found speakers for CWC at parties and readings. The point here is that you never know when you’re going to stumble upon someone who might need your services (more on that later) – so be open to connecting anywhere – parties, workshops, classes – you name it. Just avoid “networking events.”

2. Go to Networking Events.

Let me clarify: I have also had success at (usually free) networking events hosted by writers groups – and I’ve met editors I wanted to hire, writers who attended my workshops, and authors who later spoke at my conference. These events were focused on the literary world in Chicago, so, yes, I had more hits.

If the focus is on the writing/publishing world, that will probably serve you well.

(Which writers’ conference is the BEST to attend?)

3. Always carry business cards.

Even if you’re not self-employed, have a card with your contact information, and links to your website or portfolio. You never know who you might meet.

Once, in a blogging workshop, I met two freelance writers who wrote web copy. What luck! Right then I needed fresh copy for both my websites. I approached each and said, “I need your services. Do you have a card?”

“No,” said each writer.

What???!!! How can you freelance and not have a business card? Neither one offered to contact me. Which was unfortunate – the freelancer I hired made $400.

The business card is a physical reminder of who you are, and a reminder to follow-up. If you text me your phone number, I will never look at it. And avoid the free business cards with ads on the back. As soon as I see that – I toss it. A free business card tells me you are not serious enough (and too cheap) to invest $25 in yourself.

4. Be Vague.

Now, I may be an outlier here, but when I’m approached by a job seeker, I am more open to working with that person when they say, “Do you need help?” versus, “Are you hiring [speakers/editors/etc.]?” An offer of help (and only offer if you are sincere) immediately sets my brain thinking of everything we do need help with: press releases, blogging, editing, contacting media, etc. But when you ask to do only one thing for me, that tells me you aren’t really willing to help – you just want to do something that benefits you. When you approach a potential client or employer, you need to show what you can do for them.

My first program assistant – the guy in #1 – met me at a cocktail party and said, “Do you need any help?”

5. Be specific.

Yes, I’m contradicting myself again. But here’s another annoyance when writers are seeking a job or connections – they really don’t know what they want as a result of working together.

This is what it looks like:

Me: “Why do you want to work for Chicago Writers Conference?”

(When building your writer platform and online media, how much growth is enough?)

Writer: “I don’t know, it sounded cool.”

But if you tell me, “I’m exploring other avenues while I work on my novel, and I love to blog,” that helps me focus on how I can help you – and where we might work best together.

One job applicant said, “I have no idea what your organization does. Can you tell me?” Clearly, she wasn’t serious about working for us.

If you can’t articulate what you want, then I can’t help you, nor can I hire you — or point you to someone else who can.

GIVEAWAY: Mare is excited to give away a free copy of her Kindle e-book to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: rachel613 won.)



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16 thoughts on “5 Networking Tips for Writers

  1. nwaboso

    You are absolutely right about networking events. I have been to some of the networking events and felt so confused and ended up alone. It was more like a party. I think writers understand each other better than networking for profit. You also made a good point about showing up and being ready with cards it does help actually. Good post

  2. marrymeknot

    Thanks, for the helpful advice. I’ve learned my lesson as well about the “networking events”.
    I’ll check out literary events and readings instead. It makes sense.
    I’m always surprised by people who don’t have business cards on them.
    I was a docent on the Chicago River and I had my card tucked away behind my name tag.
    Several times people asked me for my information and I was happy to have the opportunity to provide it.
    It’s like you say, you never know who you will meet.
    My favorite tip, however, is to ask, “How can I help you?”

    Kari Laskowski

  3. Ester Shifren

    This is exceptionally constructive information. Thank you for sharing and helping writers understand how to find their way around the block. I too have found conferences and reading to groups to be productive in many ways, including making new like-minded friends and contacts.

  4. Marie Rogers

    I appreciate your providing some insight into another side of the writing/publishing world. We hear a lot from successful writers, agents, etc, so your advice is helpful. The better we understand all aspects of the business, the more equipped we are to navigate the system. I’ll order my business cards tomorrow.

  5. rachel613

    One last important tip: Have an elevator speech prepared.

    It’s really important to have a quick line or two, that says specifically what you do. Don’t say, “I’m a writer,” because not only doesn’t it tell the person what you can do for them (Are you a copywriter? Technical writer? Do you write case studies?), but it doesn’t leave much of an impression in the other person’s mind.

    But when you say something like, ” I help nonfiction writers create amazing book blurbs, book descriptions on e-book sites, and informative web sites,” then it leads people to think, ” Oh, I need someone to re-write the copy on my web site.”

  6. evwings

    Thank you so much, Ms. Swallow. Your article arrived just when I needed it, as I have started my first non-fiction. My area is very rural and the cocktail parties and literary events are few, if any. Because of that, I need to find creative ways to network. Thank you again for your informative entry.

  7. msrobin

    I have always suspected that “Networking” events never generate viable contacts, thanks for confirming it. Your article offers good advice that applies to various situations.

  8. vrundell

    It seems to me that this all boils down to: be ready and be open.
    As a writer, one should always be prepared, and open to exploring new and different paths. It seems that having those two ideas in mind will allow one to make connections he/she never had in mind at the outset.
    Good call!

  9. Marie-Therese

    Thank you for writing this extremely helpful post. I especially benefited from your suggestion to ask, “Do you need any help?” I’ve been guilty of asking, “Do you have any need of a copywriter?” I figured I was saving the prospect’s time: Either s/he does or s/he doesn’t.

    But your recommendation is so much more gracious. I also understand how it would jog the other person’s memory better than asking a yes or no question. I will definitely try it. Thank you again.

  10. mkelberer

    Great post, and a reminder that simple rules rarely give the right answer, whereas contradictory rules make you think about each situation.


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