Sarah Vincent hasn't always been a natural networker, but now she loves the opportunity to meet interesting people in the writing and publishing world. Ahead of How to... Network, a free workshop for Writers Victoria members, Sarah talks about her experiences (good and bad), proving that even wallflowers can learn to (net)work it, baby!
According to the dictionary, "networking" means the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business purposes. The term sends a shudder up the spine of most emerging writers. We're told you have to "network" as an up-and-coming writer to get ahead but how do you do it? How do you meet people in the industry? What do you say to them? Where do you even find them?
When I was a very young playwright, back in the 90s, networking was the new buzz word... and I was useless at it. I was shy and awkward, I wanted to put on my slippers and watch TV in the evenings, not go to opening nights and cocktail parties and shmooze. But in the theatre world no jobs are advertised. All commissions and writing opportunites are through word-of-mouth. They usually come from the artistic director of a theatre company tapping a writer they know on the shoulder and saying, 'Hey, what are you working on?' or 'We're putting in a grant for a new show, are you interested in coming onboard as the writer?' Your "network" of people, who know you and your writing, was how you got work.
This was me networking in the 90s... I would hear about an event and think, 'I should go to that.' Nine times out of ten I would chicken out, but on the few times I would go I would arrive and immediately scan the room for someone I knew. If I didn't know anyone I would have a drink, check out the paintings on the wall, then leave. If I did know someone I would make an immediate beeline for them and stick by their side the whole night. Sometimes this would work. Sometimes a key person in the theatre world would come and chat to my friend and I would then get to meet them. Most times I would just have a drink with my friend before they went off to do their own "networking" then I would leave. I would have been better off staying at home on the couch.
In my forties, when I changed from writing plays to writing prose, I brought the same dread of networking to the publishing world. My very first instance of networking was at The Ballarat Children's Writing Conference. I'd gone to the conference with a few other students from my RMIT writing course. There was a drinks event on the Friday night before the conference and we all planned to go to it to "network". I walked in to a room full of writers and publishers, all strangers, all laughing and chating. I shrunk back, scanned the room, saw one other student from my course and ran to her side. We chatted for a bit then she announced that she was going to the book sale table, was going to buy some books by her favourite authors, then find the authors and ask them to sign their book for her. What a brilliant networking plan. 'Did I want to come too?' she asked. I shook my head vigourously and turned to check out the interesting paintings on the wall. I stayed for a few more minutes then slunk back to my hotel room. Another epic networking fail on my part.
I've since graduated from my RMIT course, I work in the industry and I love love love networking. It didn't happen overnight, but now I relish going to industry events and meeting people in the book world. So what happened? I completely changed my philosophy to networking and I started with baby steps. Am I always brilliant at it? No. Recently I sat next to a children's editor from Penguin Random House at a dinner. It was at a writing award's night, we were both there to support a mutual friend. 'Did you tell her about your children's manuscript?' my friend asked at the end of the night. 'No,' I replied, 'we talked about living in the western suburbs'. My friend rolled her eyes. I wasn't fussed. Editors get pitched manuscripts all the time, sometimes they just want to talk about the best place to get Vietnamese food, which is what we did.
Next Monday 20 November, Writers Victoria will host a free event for members all about networking - and I'll be running it. In this session, we will talk about why you should network, whether and when you need to do it, how to do it well and some of the pitfalls that up-and-coming writers should avoid. If I can learn to love networking, you can too.
About Sarah Vincent
Sarah Vincent works at Writers Victoria as their Membership Officer. She is a graduate of the scriptwriting course at The Victorian College of the Arts and of The Professional Writing and Editing program at RMIT. Her memoir, 'Death By Dim Sim' was published by Penguin Random House in March 2017.