A few years ago, at a gathering for college instructors to kick off the new semester, I found myself pouring a bubbly drink alongside a colleague I hadn’t seen in a few years. “Where’ve you been?” fell from my lips.
“Oh, I’ve been traveling throughout the Mediterranean with my husband,” she replied. “We were visiting all the major goddess centers . . . until he died and I returned to the States.”
After offering my condolences, I asked, “Have you ever thought of writing a book about your adventures?”
Then, I got that look – the one that silently asks, How did you know? The truth is, I didn’t. I just wanted to read about her fascinating journey, and it felt natural to mention it.
The next week, we started working on a manuscript she’d been poking at for some time, and a few years later, I was at Svetlana Meritt’s book signing for Meet Me in the Underworld: How 77 Sacred Sites, 770 Cappuccinos, and 26,000 Miles Led Me to My Soul.
This is just one of many times I’ve found clients by chatting with strangers and acquaintances. Here’s a clip from a Facebook Live about my approach.
Don’t Book Editors Need to Network Online?
If you want to get work as a freelance book editor, they say, you better learn to play the game of social media. But is that true?
If you’re like me, you find social media challenging. Maybe you have the same complaint that keeps you from entering the world of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram: It can be confusing, time-consuming, and, well, confusing.
Instead of virtual networking, I play in the real world—you know, the one where you get to meet people in three dimensions, in the same time zone, face to face. I’ve grown my own career, from side hustle to full-time career, through gigs that came from personal connections and referrals.
I’ve learned that the best way to broach the topic is just to dive right in with this “magic” question: “Have you ever thought of writing a book about that?” As with my teaching colleague, the answer is often a mystified, “Actually, yes!”
Ideas for Where to Network
Opportunities for nonvirtual networking abound. It can be anywhere you have the leisure to talk to people (yes, I do talk to strangers; thank you, Malcolm Gladwell!) and sustain a conversation. Like at a party. A conference. A work meeting. Even a kid’s birthday party. Anywhere there’s a table spread with food and you find yourself filling your plate along with others, you can strike up a conversation about books, writing, or other assorted adventures. It isn’t that hard in such situations, especially when there’s food and conviviality.
For those more seriously on the hunt, try writers’ conferences, book-signing events, writers’ groups—wherever book writers gather. (If you’re in Southern California, the annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is an excellent hunting ground! Authors, agents, and publishers all flock to this fun-filled, inexpensive event.)
Practice an Elevator Speech
If you’re an introvert, you might feel more comfortable on social media, and that can get you far. But if the world of tweets and posts just isn’t inviting, be assured that in-person networking provides many rich opportunities to make connections.
Practice with an elevator speech, a short summary of what you do, your niche, and what value you can bring to the author. Write it out and deliver it to the mirror until you feel comfortable with it.
Here’s one I practiced that helped me:
“Hi, I’m Nancy, and I’m a freelance book editor. I help nonfiction writers achieve their book-writing dreams. I frequently work with women who want to share their stories of growth and courage. I’m honored that quite a few of my books have been on the best-seller list.”
Although I never seem able to deliver it exactly right when the time comes, just having rehearsed it helps me to not stumble too badly when talking to a prospective client.
The Art of the Follow-Up
Once the big secret is out that yes, they are writing book, you want to have a business card close at hand to make your invitation. On it is your contact information, of course, but also your website, where they can get more detail than a casual conversation allows.
Don’t be afraid to ask for their card in return (you’ll find they will often offer it without prompting). If they don’t have one, ask for their email address and whether it would be okay if you followed up with them.
You might mention that you do free consultations or provide sample edits. If you’re just getting started as a freelance book editor, you can offer them a discounted price, telling them you’re looking to build experience.
6 Tips for Connecting in Real Life with Potential Authors
Here are six tips to enhance your ability to network and get more jobs:
1. Find where people gather. Go to events in your profession or areas of interest. Seek out writers at releveant events, like book expos, literary festivals, and writers’ groups.
2. Care, genuinely. Only try my “have you ever considered writing a book” advice if you are truly interested in what they’re saying. Don’t fake it; they’ll know, and you also might end up with a project that’s just plain hard to get through.
3. When a conversation topic catches your imagination, use these magic words: Have you ever thought of writing a book about that? This not only opens the door to discussing the book idea, it’s also flattering!
5. Give them your card and ask for theirs, or just their email address. Follow up within the next couple of days by sending a note and include a resource, like a link to an article or book they might find relevant to their topic or storyline. Keep the note warm, friendly, and helpful. Don’t be pushy, but don’t forget point 6 below….
6. Be proud. To someone who’s carrying a hidden book inside them, wondering if they’re going to write it and how they could ever get it published, you are more valuable than you think you are. You are the missing link they’ve been dreaming of!
And if you’re nervous about trying my favorite line – “Have you ever thought of writing a book about that?” – remember that the worst they can say is no!