You hear a lot these days about platform building. Also social networking. And the big question is how.
I haven’t figured out the answers for online social networking, but I have found that in-person networking works. I thought I’d share a few stories to show how it can happen.
For a ghostwriting project, I met a Simon & Schuster editor at a conference, and then visited her when I was in New York. She gave me a tour of the office and mentioned some of the series work they were doing, including one series that used ghostwriters and their Childhood of Famous Americans (COFA) series. Over lunch, I asked how they found writers for that. She gestured across the table and said, "Like this."
I followed up and she put me in touch with the proper editors. For the ghostwriting project, I pitched five ideas, they chose one they liked, and I wrote up an outline and sample chapter. They accepted it but said it would be a year before we went to contract, because they were booked up. I checked back in a year and they'd forgotten all about me, but I resent the material and got the contract. I learned a lot from working with those two editors (one left partway through), and it was fun and good money for the amount of time. It didn't turn into additional work, though. I guess they have a stable of four or five regular authors for that series. One hadn't been working out, so they tried a few of us as replacements, and I didn't get the regular job.
For the COFA, they said my writing sample wasn't suitable, so I asked to do a sample chapter specifically for them. They assigned me George Washington Carver and loved the sample, but again, there was a year wait. Then marketing killed the Carver book. They asked if I wanted to do Jesse Owens or Elvis, and I wound up doing Jesse Owens. After I turned it in, they asked if I could do Milton Hershey, with a very tight deadline – I'm guessing somebody dropped out or didn't do a good job. Interesting aside, Hershey is my best-selling book, according to the sales data now available to authors through Amazon's Author Central (this is the bookstore sales data publishers use, not just Amazon sales).
I did two science picture books for Picture Window Books through a book packager, Bender Richardson White. I met the packager at an SCBWI event and followed up with resume and writing samples.
For my Haunted series, I sent the first manuscript and series proposal to an editor I knew through SCBWI conferences. I’d chatted with him at several conferences over the course of about five years and we’d always had a nice rapport, so I imagine seeing my name got the manuscript to the top of his stack. He called me in less than a month!
So does that mean it’s impossible to get jobs unless you meet the right people? No. The first work-for-hire job I got, for the book Modern Nations of the World: Turkey, came based on a resume and writing sample. (At that point, I had one novel published and maybe a couple of articles, so it wasn’t a stellar resume either). It was a couple of years before they contacted me. I had moved and my address had changed, but fortunately my e-mail was the same. I did three books with that publisher.
Most recently, I did three ESL picture books for a company out of Korea. That came about through a tip on a listserv. I followed up with a resume and writing samples and got the first job within a couple of weeks.
So the long answer is, networking can help your career. But so can strong writing and standard submissions, even if you don’t have connections.
How about you? Do you struggle with making connections? Have you had any good or bad experiences?