Networking Doesn’t Mean Being An A**hole

Jonathan Wood is an Englishman in New York. His debut novel, No Hero was described by Publisher’s Weekly as “a funny, dark, rip-roaring adventure with a lot of heart, highly recommended for urban fantasy and light science fiction readers alike.” listed it has one of the 20 best paranormal fantasies of the past decade, and Charlaine Harris, author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels described it as, “so funny I laughed out loud.” His short fiction has appeared in Weird Tales, Chizine, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, as well as anthologies such as The Book of Cthulhu 2 and The Best of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Year One. He can be found online at

It is slightly embarrassing to admit, but starting out as an author, I didn’t really know what networking was. I knew I had to do it. But the actual “it” of it was never really explained to me.

I’d assume this was just my own failing, except I’ve been on Twitter. So I thought maybe some pointers might be in order.

1) It’s not about followers

You have 1 bajillion followers on Twitter. And an extra bajillion friends on Facebook. Congratulations. Well done. However, if you have also followed a bajillion people on Twitter, if you have friended a bajillion people on Facebook, then this is essentially a meaningless statistic.

I count myself as mildly discerning on Twitter because I take a full 8 nanoseconds to make sure that the person who followed me isn’t a pornbot, spambot, or a self-proclaimed marketing professional before I follow them back. Following someone back is the done thing. It is etiquette. People follow you back because it takes slightly less effort than scratching their arse.

If you have a bajillion followers and have only followed eight, then there is the chance people are following you for a reason. In order to hear what you have to say. Otherwise they’re just being nice. This is the law of social media.

2) It’s not about shouting the loudest

The way I like to think about Twitter and Facebook is to imagine it as if it is one giant crowded room. There are about a billion people in it. Screaming as loud as you can, “This person loved my book! This person gave me a 5 star review! Read my book! Read my book! LOVE ME!!!!” is not going to win you any friends in this room. Just like in a real room.

Imagine it. In a room full of a billion people there are at least billion things to pay attention to. That means there’s an awful lot of stuff to filter out. The first thing that has to go is the annoying, jumping, shouting people. The louder you yell, the less people pay attention.

3) Seriously with the auto-DMs

Sometimes I follow someone back on twitter and, just so I can regret it instantly, they automatically message me.

I assume they want me to think that they really care that I spastically clicked a small blue box to comply with social niceties. But they don’t. They care about appearing to care. A care which is completely undercut by the generic message to visit their facebook page, or webpage, or whatever the crap they want to sell me. It is the electronic equivalent of a used-car salesman’s greasy, desperately insincere handshake, given while he glances over your shoulder to see if anyone more attractive has walked in behind you. It does not work.

4) So what the hell is it?

Networking is a misleading word. It may even be a damaging word. Because what networking really is, is the thing we’d be doing if we weren’t so concerned about networking. It is simply going out and making friends.

Networking shouldn’t have an agenda. It shouldn’t be manipulative. It should just be hanging out in a social space and being a decent person, and enjoying actual genuine human contact. And then, if you need a favor, then you ask. Just like you would with a real friend. And if they need a favor, you help them out too. Just like with a real friend.

That’s all it is. That’s the whole secret. Friendship.

So go on Twitter. Go on Facebook. Go there and network. Go crazy with it. Just make sure you do what Bill and Ted would do. Be excellent to each other.

Giving Back

The holidays often seem like an endless stream of ‘gimme gimme’, but there’s been an excellent trend, lately, of giving back. Some of the obvious ways are to donate to a local foodbank, shelter, or community outreach program, or, for animal lovers, your local rescue. Religious or not, some churches do have programs that are community-focused and beneficial.

But, if you don’t have a favorite local charity, there are some great, lesser-known charities that can use a little extra holiday cheer. The money you give them goes straight to their cause, not their bureaucracy. Some of them are ones I have personal experience with, others were recommended by BooklifeNow staff and Twitter users.

Veterans and Military Families

My personal ones skew a little toward the side of veteran-support, between working on War Stories, and my personal life. Our veterans come back from war to a life that expects them to immediately transform back to civilians, and many of them find that a difficult transition. The organizations below do some extra-special work for our returning soldiers.

Team Rubicon is a veteran owned-and-run relief organization. Volunteers use their skills and knowledge to provide disaster-relief. Due to the history of their volunteers, those areas include war-torn regions not always accessible to relief. They are 14,000 volunteers strong, and have deployed those volunteers on over 50 missions over the course of barely four years. They have provided relief in the wake of Sandy, Haiyan, this year’s Midwestern tornadoes, and the massive flooding in Pakistan. They have also deployed teams to Thailand/Burma, Haiti, Chili, and multiple African countries.

Besides all of that relief, they offer veterans a sense of purpose and community, saving lives and future. This is, without a doubt, one of my favorite groups.

Ways to help: Team Rubicon’s Box of Awesome is available on Amazon, in sizes from small to super-duper huge. It’s tax-deductible, and your money goes straight to helping them do more good. You can also donate money directly, or, if you’re a veteran, consider volunteering directly for them.

Fisher House

A few months ago, the special operations community reeled under the news of a mass-casualty event in the Middle East. A unit of Army Rangers and their support personnel suffered heavy casualties on a routine operation. Usually, when this happens, the government aids the families in getting to the appropriate place to claim the bodies, handle funeral expenses, and more. But the government was in shut-down, and decided that they weren’t going to pay out, leaving the grieving families hanging.

While powerful voices in the veteran community immediately put pressure on the government to change their stance, another group stepped in to make an immediate difference. Fisher House, a charity devoted to making sure that military families have somewhere to stay while soldiers are undergoing medical treatment and care, donated the $500,000 the government wouldn’t, to make sure that the families could attend to their fallen loved ones.

And while the government held an emergency session to get the money out, Fisher House was there and ready to support the people who needed it.

At-Risk People

Child’s Play Charity -Recommendation and writing by BooklifeNow writer Geardrops.

The focus of Child’s Play Charity is to deliver toys and games to children in need. When it was founded in 2003, the charity’s efforts were focused on Seattle Children’s Hospital. In the following years, it would expand to cover hospitals around the world. Now they are expanding their focus to include bringing games to homes for battered women and children, and have ten pilot locations they are hoping to deliver gaming stations to this year. Child’s Play has one of the lowest overheads of any major charity, and as a result the bulk of the money that is donated to Child’s Play does reach those in need. Only a tiny percentage is required to keep the charity itself running; the rest goes directly to children in need.

People already familiar with Child’s Play might also be familiar with some of the drama concerning former founding members who are better-known as the creators of webcomic empire Penny Arcade. Since they are very publicly affiliated with Child’s Play, many assume they directly profit from it, and considering the problematic things they have said this year and in the past, this has caused some people to feel dissuaded from donating. If you are one of those people, worry not: Penny Arcade and Child’s Play are two separate entities, and they do not profit from it (note: Child’s Play is a non-profit organization). When it was founded, they took care to ensure it was its own independent organization. I recall one of the creators saying this was a deliberate move, that if something should happen to Penny Arcade, it should not impact Child’s Play.

It’s really an incredible charity and well worth your notice and, if possible, donation.

Liberty in North Korea -Recommended by Twitter user @scourger.

“Our work begins by rescuing North Korean refugees hiding in China, who are vulnerable to abuse and capture. It takes $2,500 to fund an individual’s rescue through a 3,000 mile underground railroad through China and Southeast Asia.

Every year, thousands of North Koreans risk their lives to escape political persecution and economic hardship. If caught trying to escape or caught in China and sent back, they are at risk of extremely harsh punishments, including brutal beatings, forced labor, forced abortions, torture, and internment in a political prison camp. To make matters worse, while hiding in China their illegal status forces them to work in invisible industries and leaves them vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous employers and sex traffickers, as they have no recourse to any authorities. Although many refugees try to escape, many do not have the resources or connections to get themselves out of China. That’s where we come in.”

The Gathering Place -Recommended by Twitter user @ECthetwit

Every year, the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative conducts a point-in-time study to determine the number of homeless individuals living in Denver. In January 2013, they counted 11,167 people. Of this number, 43.4% were women and 62% were adults living in households with children. Additionally, 25.4% of the individuals surveyed were newly homeless, meaning they have been homeless less than a year and this is their first time to experience homelessness.
As Denver’s only daytime drop-in center for women, their children, and transgender individuals experiencing homelessness and poverty, The Gathering Place provides a variety of programs and services those who enter our doors.

Girls, Inc -Recommended by Twitter user @rakdaddy.

Girls Inc.® of Orange County has been a respected member of the non-profit community for almost 60 years. The mission of Girls Inc. is to inspire all girls to be strong, smart, and bold. We put our mission into practice through the Girls Inc. experience that equips girls to navigate gender, economic, and social barriers and grow into healthy, educated and independent adults.

Girls Inc. of Orange County positively changes the lives of 4,500 girls, ages 4 1/2 to 18, each year, by providing year-round holistic, compensatory, and intentional programming focusing on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math), financial literacy, sound body image, healthy relationships, and college and career readiness.

Extra Life

“On an Autumn Saturday each year since 2008, tens of thousands of gamers have joined together to save the lives of local kids in a celebration of gaming culture that we call Extra Life.  From console games to tabletop RPG’s to even lawn sports, Extra Life gives people that love to play a chance to do what they love to save lives and make a difference.

Originally designed as a 24-hour marathon of gaming, Extra Life has evolved to mean different things to different people (though most of our participants still attempt the marathon).

To participate you need only sign up (free) and gather the support of your friends and family through tax-deductible donations to your local CMN Hospital.  Then on Saturday, November 2nd (or any day that works for you!) play any game(s) you want on any platform(s) that you want with anyone you want for as long as you want.
The proceeds from Extra Life stay where they’re raised to support children’s hospitals. Since 2008, our incredible players have raised more than 4 million dollars.”

Extra Life is a once-yearly event, so you can’t donate now (I don’t think), but I, and many other gamers, will be playing again next year, so mark your calendars!

American Red Cross

This one seems like an obvious choice, but I am including them for a different reason. The Red Cross offers a lot more hands-on opportunities than most places. CPR certification, blood donation, and community-outreach, there’s something for almost everyone.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg, culled from my personal experience and a few recommendations. So what’s your favorite place to give back?

Space Unicorn Zombie, or “How to build a good industry/community”

If I listened to the advice* of my Facebook ‘friends’, the beginning of this post would read:

“The Space Unicorn Zombie Erotica Anthology beginning is a very delicately timed story of an editrix living in a hole in the ground…”

Of course, those were all separate suggestions—and some of them led to threats about the perpetrators getting their hands duct-taped to chairs—but they all added up to a preposterous, if entertaining, premise for a blog post.

Taking random suggestions from the internet for a blog post topic sounds silly, doesn’t it? But it’s something most beginning writers do every day. There are hundreds, if not thousands of writing advice blogs, books, and programs out there, written by everyone from best-selling authors to the kid down the street who published the first short story he ever wrote on his blog yesterday.

I remember when I was a newbie writer. If someone had actually published something, I considered them something like a minor god: they’d done something incredible. I read all those things, went to panels, listened and soaked everything in. If you’d told me that sacrificing blue chickens gave me a higher chance of publishing, I’d probably have done it.

And then I learned that not everyone who said ‘this is how it’s done’ actually knew what they were talking about.

Now I’m the one writing blog posts, sitting on panels, running workshops, and I’ve realized just how much bad advice is out there, and how many people don’t know how to tell the good from the bad.

There’s no way to root out all the bad advice. Writer Beware, Preditors and Editors, and other watchdog organizations do their best to keep an eye on the business and keep the worst sharks out of the water, but that still leaves a lot of self-help gurus, get-rich-quick schemers, and just over-eager amateurs out there.

We talk a lot about keeping ourselves safe from predators and bad advice, and about keeping the industry safe. We don’t talk enough about nurturing the newbies, bringing up the next generation of writers. Clarion, Shared Worlds, and other workshops set the foundation of a professional career, but there needs to be support for the writers around the structured programs, too.

I firmly believe that anyone who wants to break into a business needs to set themselves up as well as they can. Do the research, read the trade magazines, attend the right panels and shows.

I also believe that we should make an effort to support, mentor, and encourage the writers around us. This isn’t a competition. As small and connected as the writing community is, the person you’re mentoring today might be acquiring your book for a publisher tomorrow, or writing the book that changes your life.

As professional writers, we have responsibilities:
Support our colleagues.
Look out for each other.
Educate ourselves.
Commit to spreading good, solid advice and calling out the bad.
Remember we aren’t in a competition here.

*I am either coming down with a cold, or suffering from nasty allergies, so I make no promises about the coherence of the above, as evidenced by the fact that I have the phrase ‘Space Unicorn Zombie Erotica Anthology’ in a professional post.

Don’t Listen to Your Peers

This is, of course, a hyperbolic statement. Perhaps a better title would be Don’t Always Listen to Your Peers, or rather Sometimes Listen, Sometimes Really Listen, and Occasionally Stop Listening Completely.

There are a number of good reasons why you should listen to your fellow writers—you can learn from their experiences, many know what they’re talking about when it comes to writing skills and the publishing world, and if you like their work you’ll know where to find more of it. Those are all valid, direct benefits from listening to your peers.

But that’s not what this article is about.

No, sometimes, you really should not listen to your peers.

First, writers love to tell other writers how to write. Overall, this is a good thing, but it’s hard to sort fact (or accepted style guides) from opinion. If you read a lot of writing advice you’ll discover that there’s often contradictory information out there, and some that’s outright bad (I’m not naming names, and please don’t go to my blog…). Beginning writers are often the worst offenders, probably because of the you must blog! attitude, and what better topic than writing about writing?

But there’s reasons to be skeptical. Just because something works for one writer—even a very successful one—doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Find the sources that ring true to you and listen to them. Develop your own skills and practices that keep you producing. Occasionally listen to dissenting views, see if there’s something to it, and forget it quickly when it doesn’t pan out.

The bigger point of this article is envy.

In certain ways, writers are like gamblers—when a gambler wins, everyone hears about their big payday. Likewise, writers toot their own horns when it comes to their publishing successes. Some writers are prolific, and good, and publish frequently—and they often announce new sales. We all tweet out a congrats, and cheer them on, and do it again for the next writer friend a few hours later. Everyone is selling something, somewhere, and we’re all happy for all of them.

But some of us have other thoughts, too. Dark thoughts, maybe even hateful thoughts. That should have been me, these thoughts whisper. Or they’re not that great, I could do that. Sometimes these thoughts take aim at your own abilities. I’m crap, they say, or worse—give up now.

The first kinds of thoughts are competitive, though in a negative way. Sure, when you get down to it, writing is competitive—there are only so many spaces in a magazine or anthology, and each publisher will only publish so many books in a given year. But the real competition is not with each other, but with ourselves—to do better, you need to write better than you have in the past.

The second kinds of thoughts are defeatist—self-doubt will keep you from doing things. Too much of these, and you’re done. Hang up your writer’s hat, and start asking people if they like fries with that.

I could go on about how to work through this—you will need to, it only benefits you—because there will always be someone better than you. Someone will always sell more, earn more, produce more—except for one person, and this article isn’t for them anyway. This is how the word “better” works.

But there’s another easy option that brings me back to my overall point—don’t listen to your peers. You don’t have to know what hundreds of writers have done in a given day. Ignore the “new sale!” announcements or the #amwriting wordcount updates. Limit the amount of time you spend on social media outlets.

Writers write—a lot. They tweet, they post, they blog. All. The. Time. You don’t have to read everything, and in fact you don’t have to read anything. Sometimes it’s just good for your own productivity to tune it all out. Focus on your own efforts first. Take whole days—or weeks—away. Really, you won’t miss much.

(Also remember that those who do sell a lot still get a lot of rejections—just like gamblers who never talk about all of the money they’ve lost, writers rarely talk about how often a story is rejected, how many times they’ve submitted to a particular magazine, or their sale-to-rejection ratio. But that’s a different article…)

So there you have it—don’t listen to your peers. At least, don’t listen to them all of time, and maybe even most of the time. Of course, this applies to me, too—hell, you probably shouldn’t listen to the advice in this article. Really, stop reading now.

That’s better.