Author and Publisher Networking Online

The internet has radically changed both the quality and quantity of social networking in the publishing world. There are discussion lists and forums for authors only (a lot of complaining about contracts is common), lists for both authors and publishers (the authors do most of the posting) and lists for publishers only. The traditional publishing organizations tend to be more rigid in their membership, with networking groups for authors only and publishers only. I've been a paying member on both sides of the fence, as both a trade author and a publisher, but I didn't maintain those affiliations for more than a year or two.

I could list the reasons I didn't stick it out with the Authors Guild, despite their politics, or with the Publishers Marketing Association, despite their cheerleading, but the main point is that I didn't feel isolated without them. I hear from more authors every week via e-mail than were present at the two Authors Guild meetings I made it to in Boston, and I get more e-mails from publishers every week than I got in response to an article I authored for the PMA newsletter. I've dropped out of all but one of the publishing discussion lists I used to participate in, including the print-on-demand publishers list which I founded. The sole exception is the Studio B list for computer publishers and authors, a low activity list which I take as a digest and rarely read, primarily because I'm interested in the occasional posts from Tim O'Reilly and other publishers.

I don't mean this as a blanket indictment of publishing industry networking groups. I think they are the ideal way for authors and publishers with limited direct contacts in the industry to keep track of what's going on and to get wonderfully contradictory answers to the simplest questions. However, they can be very time consuming if you participate at a meaningful level, and they can be very frustrating if you take facts seriously. And, there's a simple alternative - direct networking.

Thanks to Google, you can find an e-mail address for anybody in the industry who wants to be found. Once you've found them, e-mail turns out to be the ideal, low key approach to making contact. I rarely have occasion to contact people I don't know, but when I do, the response rate is probably around 90%. I suppose it's gotten to the point that I actually expect to hear back from people. I think the key is that I only write to strangers if they have publicly shown an interest in what I'm writing about, and I'm not writing to pitch them some business scheme. When people share a common interest about some aspect of the publishing industry, a correspondence is likely to be mutually beneficial, unless they are operating on such different levels that their perceptions don't intersect anywhere.

The benefits of networking with authors or publishers who work in your sphere are manifold, but there are some drawbacks as well. I can think of several publishers I corresponded with who brought out titles competing with my own after I discussed the sales numbers with them, so I wouldn't rush into business intimacy at this point. I suppose I've seen my thunder stolen once or twice as well, but to the quick belong the early adopters. The main drawback of direct networking, as with list organizational networking, is the amount of time it can eat. Before I started discouraging people from writing me about some subjects, correspondence was my main daily activity. Even now, there are days and months where rather than working to grow my business, I keep busy with correspondence and blogging and don't get anything done. This summer would be a good example

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