10 Tips to Building Relationships
What do relationships have to do with writing? Plenty. In your writing career you will have relationships with other writers, book editors, magazine editors, agents, booksellers and a bunch more. What all these entities have in common is that they’re people, and as such they have finely-tuned social skills, emotional reactions, and cultural reflexes. They respond immediately and strongly to other people, even when they look like they aren’t paying attention. They are. They can’t help it.
If you’re making a good impression (versus a painfully convoluted or negative one) they’ll tend to ask you for stories, agree to represent you, hand sell your book, and retweet your most interesting comments. Of course, it helps to have written great stories, too. But we’re already working on that, right?
So, if relationships help us in our careers, we introverts need to think carefully about building social skills and practicing polite, fun, generous and subtle interactions.
A Few Tidbits I’ve Learned the Hard Way
In no particular order and mixing up the Big the Little and the Ridiculous:
1. Don’t attend conferences with your spouse. They take too much of your social energy; you spend way too much time talking to them; you get lazy about meeting other people.
2. Read books by people you often see at cons. Don’t just read important books, or favorite authors. You will make a huge impression on first or second-time authors. I’ll never forget how thirteen years ago S.M. Stirling told me at a Nebula weekend that he’d read my first book The Seeds of Time and liked it. I was blown away.
3. Spread the love, part 1. Read an obscure book that knocks you out? Tell your friends. Blog it, chat it up, review it, bring it up in bars at conventions. If you need a conversation starter, bragging about someone else’s book is rather gracious.
4. Spread the love, part 2. Make a list of a few people whose blogs you regularly read, and a few more whose blogs you sometimes do. On Facebook or your blog, link to the best posts that other people have written. Email them saying you have done so.
5. Ask people for guest blogs. (This presumes you have a blog. See An Introvert’s Guide to Writing #1.) It is flattering to be asked, you look like a player, and it’s always gracious to help others extend their readership.
6. Use a light hand when promoting within the industry.
- Hand a new writing acquaintance your bookmark with your cover on it? No, it’s pushy.
- Show a color copy of your newest book cover because you just received it? OK, but only when brand-new.
- Email someone asking for an award nomination? Please don’t.
- On a panel give an example from your own writing? Nope. (Give an example from another person on the panel. Makes you look like a champ.)
- Give out buttons with your book title on it? Yeah, it’s OK. At least you’re giving something.
You get the point. A light hand. We’re all secretly on the make. We need a little relief when we’re around each other.
7. Don’t ask authors you meet to read your manuscript. They feel bad to turn you down, but they honestly don’t have time. They get asked to do this a lot. And when they do acquiesce, the aspiring writer sometimes turns defensive and sour. We remember those people a long time, and not fondly!
8. Don’t fawn on your favorites. “I just loved that book.” If they are well-known, your accolades won’t mean much to them. It looks a little desperate, plus undignified. If getting a signature, mention something very specific that you keenly remember about the book.
9. Leave the party when you’re about to gag. That is, you know when you’ve had enough: when you can’t give people your close attention; when you start feeling like telling people to hush. Leave before your face takes on that thousand-yard stare. You did your duty: you showed up. Now look at the time on your iPhone, (oh, that next appointment!) and hustle from the room, saying “I’ll be right back.” But don’t come back.
10. I couldn’t think of a tenth thing. I’m an introvert.
Fellow introverts, please help me add to this list. (Many of the pointers apply to extroverts as well. It’s just that they already know all this stuff, and if they don’t, they wouldn’t understand it.)
In the opening installment of my ongoing series on An Introvert’s Guide to Writing, I explained what introversion is and is not, and why we don’t need to be ashamed of being a tad more inner directed than people for whom a room full of people holding cocktails is nirvana. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.