Networking is not a dirty word

Networking is not a dirty word

I loved the trailer my publishers created for my new thriller. Over the course of a month it accumulated around 20,000 impressions on Twitter. It hadn’t occurred to me to look at the stats, until a ‘book drop’ video I posted exceeded 100,000 impressions in the first 24 hours. The difference? The second film had authors in it. Thirteen funny, generous authors who gave up their time to support Hostage; to use their own platforms to amplify mine.

I’ve been astounded by the generosity of authors, and can track back many of the opportunities I’ve had to individual conversations. People often complain that publishing is about ‘who you know’ and it’s a valid concern, but networks are far more than lists of public school alumni. Networks are friends, neighbours and colleagues. They’re your postal worker, your builder’s partner, the dog walkers you meet. Networking is nothing more than talking, being interested (and interesting) and making an effort to remember people. It can start with a single connection.

In 2008 I wrote to the editor of "Cotswold Life" magazine in an attempt to secure some exposure for the blog I wrote. He gave me a column. The author Jill Mansell tweeted me to say she loved reading them, and when I started Chipping Norton Literary Festival, in 2011, she was the first person I invited. Jill brought her friends: Katie Fforde and Jane Wenham Jones. Jane introduced me to Peter James, who also attended the festival. Mark Billingham had a house in the area, and was quick to support us. A local business sponsor offered to introduce me to a friend, who "knew a lot about books". The friend was Vivienne Wordley – former commercial director at Foyles – who asked if I was a writer myself. She read an early draft of I Let You Go, and sent it to her friend, Sheila Crowley, at Curtis Brown, who became my agent. When the proofs came out I sent copies to Peter James and Mark Billingham, and their early support was more valuable than they could possibly know.

If this all sounds annoyingly easy, I promise you it wasn’t. It was slow, and sometimes uncomfortable, and at no point did it feel like a cohesive journey with a clear end goal. In fact, it’s only looking back at it, that I can follow the chain.

Six years on from I Let You Go, and my author network spans continents. I lean on it when I have a problem, want a sense check, or need to let off steam in a safe space. Within the confines of private Facebook groups or WhatsApp threads I find advice on tax forms, warnings of wandering hands at festivals, intel on which editors are good to work with. I respect confidences, and I try to give more than I take. Early in my career I received an apologetic note from an author, in response to a request to read my new book. They received so many requests, the email explained, they had a policy of never giving quotes. I currently have an advance copy of their latest in my own reading pile – it seems the policy doesn’t extend to asking for quotes.

A network which feels strong from the inside can, from the outside, look like a clique. We owe it to other authors to open doors wherever possible. Some of the best author networks are readily accessible (Tracy Buchanen’s Savvy Writers’ Snug on Facebook is one of my favourites) but it doesn’t have to be a structured forum. Chairing panels with debut authors is a wonderful way to amplify new voices (Val McDermid does this in spectacular fashion with her New Blood panel at Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival); making introductions on social media or at events can provide pivotal moments in someone’s career.

Networks aren’t always plain sailing. Like most things, success comes from hard work, and although it gives me the warm and fuzzies to send Christmas cards to people I’ve worked with, it all eats into writing time. When I’m inundated with proofs and know I have to prioritise, I set aside the guaranteed hits and look for where I can be more useful. I try to read proofs from under-represented voices or small presses without splashy marketing budgets. Regardless of network connections, I quote only when I love a book, and when it fits with what my readers might expect me to recommend. Most authors I know operate the same way. We follow the unspoken rule of never asking ‘have you read it yet?’ or ‘what did you think?’ and only occasionally is this broken. I was made to feel deeply uncomfortable by one author’s emotional blackmail, insisting their entire career rested on a cover quote. Another writer sent their book with a promise of a champagne magnum if you say something nice! That’s bribery, not networking.

For networks to truly work, they have to be authentic. You have to build relationships because you like people and are interested in what they say. If, ten years ago, my ambition had been to become a bestselling author on the back of others’ endorsements, I suspect I would have failed. But one conversation led to another, and another, and now here I am: with a network of author friends willing to film themselves vomiting into paper bags for my new book. I hope they know I’d do the same for them.

Clare Mackintosh is the multi-award winning author of four Sunday Times bestselling novels and her latest novel, Hostage, was published this week. Translated into forty languages, her books have sold more than two million copies worldwide, have been New York Times and international bestsellers and have spent a combined total of 60 weeks in the Sunday Times bestseller chart. Clare lives in North Wales with her husband and their three children.