Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Networking on the Net
Networking on the Net
By Jeanne Lyet Gassman
The Internet has opened up opportunities for writers that never existed even ten years ago. Today, a writer can do research, read published works, find jobs and markets, learn about the writing business, and search for critique groups—all online. However, something many writers overlook is the value of networking, the simple process of meeting people who can help you in your writing career.
My participation in writing forums has resulted in requests to write articles (for pay), teach creative writing classes, and speak at writer’s conferences. I’ve also made some wonderful friends online. How do you network successfully? A few important points to consider:
Be Present. It is probably a good idea to lurk (read but not post) for a short while when you first join a forum so you can develop a feeling for the overall tone of the group. But if you want to be viewed as an active member, you need to post. Always introduce yourself. Mention the genre you write, the topics you’re interested in, and how you hope to contribute to the forum. Try to offer help before you ask for it. And don’t overwhelm forum members with repeated requests for critiques or marketing advice. If the forum allows you to post material for feedback, keep those excerpts short, usually less than 1000 words.
Be Professional. Do not engage in troll behavior. A “troll” is someone who makes provocative posts in an attempt to stir up trouble. Some trolls also pose as “sock puppets,” posting responses to their own posts under different names. Professionals do not call people names or make threats. Step away from a discussion if it turns nasty. The last thing you want is an agent or a publisher Googling your name to find a forum thread where you participated in a vicious argument.
Be Prudent. I see people posting query letter samples on public forums that have their full name, address, email, and phone number. Never give out too much personal information on the Internet. People are not always who they say they are. MRfamouswriter may indeed have published the sixteen novels he claims, or he could be a bored thirteen-year-old boy who is playing games. I use one email address for my business, one email address for personal correspondence, and a separate email account for all of my forum memberships. My service provider also allows me to block any unwanted emails. Cyber stalking—harassing someone with threatening emails—is a federal crime. For more information on Internet safety and cyber stalking, visit this site:
Be Helpful. If you’re new to writing, you may think you have nothing to offer on a writing forum, but everyone has some sort of expertise. That expertise can come from your hobbies, your job, your travels, your reading, your background, etc. Don’t be afraid to share your knowledge. Sometimes your help may be no more than a kind word to someone who is discouraged, but that could be enough. If you help others, people will be more willing to help you.
Be Grateful. Too many times I see this scenario in forums on the Net: A newbie posts an urgent request for feedback or advice. Regular forum members jump in to help. The original poster is never heard from again. Also, if you don’t like the feedback you’ve been given, don’t argue. Remember, the advice you’ve received is free. People have sacrificed their time to help you. It is good manners to politely thank everyone who responded.
Be Selective. Your first priority should be your writing. Don’t let your participation in writing forums eat up the time you need to work on your craft. Choose forums that are best suited to your needs and background. Some forums specialize in poetry, literary fiction, and creative nonfiction; others may be more focused on freelance writing. You will receive the most benefit if you limit your participation to forums that match your interests.
A short list of good writing forums:
(The Speakeasy Forum. Many of the members write poetry, creative nonfiction, or fiction. This is also a good place to learn about studying for an MFA in Writing. The forum is closely moderated, and unpleasant behavior isn’t tolerated.)
(Discussion Forum. Topics range from how to find an agent to how to self-publish. The forum is largely unmoderated, though, so you should be on guard for trolls.)
(The Water Cooler. An excellent resource for information about writing scams. The discussions are closely moderated.)
(FreelanceWriting. As the name implies, this is a forum devoted mostly to freelance writing, but there are some very kind and knowledgeable regulars who are always ready to help a newbie.)
(Ranked by Writer’s Digest as one of the top 101 Writing Sites on the Net. Membership by invitation only.)
Newsletter contributing columnist Jeanne Lyet Gassman is an award-winning author whose fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry have been published in magazines, newspapers (including The Arizona Republic and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette), and anthologies. In 2002, Ms. Gassman was the recipient of an Encouragement Award in Creative Writing from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, and in the 2005 Preditors & Editors Reader’s poll her story, '”Healing Arts,'” was ranked among the Top 10 in the nonfiction category. She also teaches writing classes and conducts workshops in the Phoenix metropolitan area. Please visit her Web site at: