Like many writers and bloggers, I’m an introvert. It’s not that I don’t like people, or have a fear of public speaking. Quite the opposite. I’ve worked in customer service and as a university tutor, delivered countless lectures and conference papers, hosted my fair share of parties and (waaaay back in the day) had lead roles in school plays and spent years as third speaker on the debating team (my rebuttal game was strong, yo.) Put me in front of a crowd of thousands and I will talk their ears off. It’s the small, personal interactions I find terrifying. As in, psyching myself up to make a phone call can take hours (and I usually end up sounding like an inarticulate dolt when I do work up the courage), the sight of unread mail in my inbox makes me want to hide, and I’d rather cut out my tongue than make small talk.
Part of the appeal of writing and blogging is that you get to switch your phone to silent and cosy up in worlds of your own creation. At least, that’s the theory. In reality, you have to network your butt off, both online and off. Otherwise, how will anyone hear about your work?
But how are you supposed to hustle when you’re too shy to return a text?
It’s a problem I’ve struggled with for years, and continue to struggle with. But I’m getting better, largely thanks to a palm card I keep propped up on the windowsill above my desk:
I made it after listening to the ‘Good Guys’ episode of This American Life (which I’m unhealthily obsessed with). In the prologue, producer Ben Calhoun tells host Ira Glass about a friend who regularly wrangles himself a discount by playing the ‘good guy’ card (basically just being charming and having the gumption to ask). Calhoun is kind of shocked by this. His take? ‘You’re asking them to break the rules for you for absolutely no reason. And I hate making other people feel uncomfortable.’ I’m with Ben. The mere thought of asking for a discount ‘just because’ is enough to make me break out in a sweat. But Ira—my nerd hero who’s such a stickler that he didn’t even like pirate stories as a kid because pirates break the rules—is all for it. He says: ‘I have a different take on it than you do.’ And then, in this cheeky, almost sly kind of way: ‘I think it shows moxie.’
Hearing that was a lightbulb moment for me. I’ll probably never be the kind of person who asks for random discounts, but I wrote down what Ira said and used it to devise my own shy-girl approach to networking. It’s a three-prong strategy:
Don’t stress about what other people think (because it’s probably not that bad)
I’d never ask for the good guy discount because I’d worry about what the other person would think of me. Surely they’d be annoyed? Maybe even angry? Like: ‘who does this girl think she is?’ But if it were someone asking me for the discount, I’d probably think: ‘good on them for having the guts’. As Ira says, it shows moxie, and I like that. I wouldn’t necessarily give them the discount, but I’d remember them. Maybe even find some other small way to reward their boldness.
But when it comes to networking, I feel like the person asking for a discount, and I worry A LOT about annoying people. I feel shy about publicising my blog posts and writing projects because I don’t want to bother people. Which is silly because when I see other bloggers and authors doing the same thing, my response is more along the lines of ‘Ooh, I could learn something from that post! How awesome and generous of them to take the time to share their insight.’ Or ‘Wow, that author I like has a new book coming out! How exciting for them! I should add it to my Goodreads so I remember to buy a copy when it comes out.’ And if I’m not interested in what someone has to say, I just keep scrolling. No biggie.
I have the same concerns about reaching out to people to collaborate on blog content. I feel bad for asking them to give up their time and answer my interview questions or whatever I’m approaching them about, but really, I’m giving them a platform to share and talk about their work with my readers. No apologies necessary.
Honestly, now that I’m writing this down, it feels a little ridiculous. But it’s something I see a lot of women (in particular) struggle with. We’re told to be humble, make ourselves small and keep quiet. It’s unladylike to flaunt your awesome. So, horrible as it sounds, it makes sense that so many of us feel awkward about championing our work. And it’s really difficult to overcome that kind of conditioning. All I can say to that is the thing I keep telling myself: keep going. The people who follow you do so because they want to hear from you, and people will be flattered when you reach out to them with an opportunity.
Ask yourself: what’s the worst thing that could happen (and do you really stand to lose anything)?
Whether it’s sending a pitch, reaching out to a new contact, entering a writing competition or asking for a favour, the worst thing that’s likely to happen is that you’ll be told ‘no’.
And that sucks. Sometimes it really hurts. But it’s not so bad.
In fact, unless you’ve made a royal arse of yourself, it’s probably a good thing. A ‘no’ means you’ve at least been heard. You’ve made a connection. And maybe that person will remember you for another project in the future, or they’ll pass on your details to someone who is interested in your work or can help. For example, I presented at a conference a few years back, and completely tanked. It was one of my first academic conferences. I had no idea what I was doing and my paper sucked. Thinking about that presentation now makes me want to crawl into a cupboard. BUT I still met a bunch of amazing people who gave me plenty of pointers. Better still, several months later I got a call from the University of Tasmania. They were hosting a public debate about banned books in YA and one of the conference delegates had put my name forward. So I got to visit Tasmania (which is beautiful) and take part in this debate which was right up my alley, AND Jo Walker, editor of Frankie (and one of my idols), was on my team. It was *awesome*.
I’ve lost count of the number of rejection letters I’ve received over the years, and in all that time, I’ve only ever had one that was really horrible. But lots have led to other opportunities.
When you look at the risk vs reward, putting yourself out there and falling flat on your face is still almost always better than not trying at all.
Show a little moxie every day
Given most people probably won’t blacklist you for all eternity and encourage their friends to do likewise when you reach out to them, and you’re likely getting ahead just by putting your name out there, the next step is to do just that.
And this is the bit where I still struggle. As a writer and blogger, there’s SO MUCH I can and should be doing to make opportunities for myself. It’s overwhelming. Where do I even start? And if I spend all my time networking, when am I supposed to get any writing done? And what about the days when not even the greatest pep talk can drown out that horrible voice in my head telling me to give up?
My solution is to do one thing every day to get my name and work out there. It can be something really small. Sending an email about a possible collaboration. Promoting a blog post in my Instagram stories. Scheduling a few tweets. Letting an author or publisher know I’ve reviewed one of their books. Telling someone that my debut YA novel, NEVERLAND, is coming out next April.
Most days, this then gives me the confidence and motivation to do something more. But if not, I’ve still got at least one action I can point to. And those little actions add up quicker than you might think.
So there you have it: my shy-girl, baby-steps approach to networking!
Over to you:
How do you feel about putting your name and your work out there?
Do you have any sure-fire networking hacks to share?
Are you interested in writing YA? I’ve teamed up with Kill Your Darlings to produce ‘Introduction to Writing Young Adult Fiction’, an online writing workshop designed to equip aspiring YA writers with the skills and support to hone their craft and get to work.