How do you build a network of author friends and peers over the long-term? How can you overcome anxiety about online or in-person events in order to network more effectively? Daniel Parsons and I share tips on networking online and also for physical events post-pandemic.
In the intro, new Series management tools from Amazon KDP; Draft2Digital scheduled price changes; Kevin Tumlinson and I talk about the self-publishing future [Self-Publishing Insiders]; thoughts on The Practice: Shipping Creative Work by Seth Godin; Richard O’Brien on The Rocky Horror Show [The Guardian]; why The Queen’s Gambit is a perfect story; Plus, fantastic ebook bundle for writers (includes Audio for Authors: Audiobooks, Podcasting, and Voice Technologies): www.Storybundle.com/nano; and Map of Shadows available in audio.
Today’s show is sponsored by ProWritingAid, writing and editing software that goes way beyond just grammar and typo checking. With its detailed reports on how to improve your writing and integration with Scrivener, ProWritingAid will help you improve your book before you send it to an editor, agent or publisher. Check it out for free or get 25% off the premium edition at www.ProWritingAid.com/joanna
Dan Parsons is a fantasy and horror author who also writes non-fiction. His latest book is Networking for Authors: How to Make Friends, Sell More Books and Grow a Publishing Network from Scratch.
You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript below.
- What the new approach to publishing looks like
- What networking looks like for authors and how it differs from traditional networking
- Mistakes to avoid when networking
- How to present yourself in person to make a positive impression
- Prepping for a live networking event to make it easier in the moment to connect
- Tips and strategies for shy networkers
- Why long term thinking is important for networking
- What the future of networking might look like
You can find Daniel Parsons at DanielParsonsBooks.com and on Twitter @dkparsonswriter
Transcript of Interview with Daniel Parsons
Joanna: Dan Parsons is a fantasy and horror author who also writes non-fiction. His latest book is Networking for Authors: How to Make Friends, Sell More Books and Grow a Publishing Network from Scratch. Welcome, Dan.
Dan: Thanks for having me, Joanna.
Joanna: It’s great to have you on the show.
First up, tell us a bit more about you and how you got into writing and publishing.
Dan: I’m Dan Parsons. I’ve got eight books. Two under the Dan Parsons pen name, which is non-fiction, and I’ve got six under my fiction pen name, which is Daniel Parsons. I wasn’t too creative with that one!
I’ve always been a creative person. I started writing when I was just about a teenager, maybe even before that. I tried to write five novels as a teenager, failed, never got to the end. And then on novel six, I finally finished one. It was never published. I call it my training wheels novel.
I shopped it around some agents while I was doing my English degree in uni, and got some encouraging feedback. I think I sent it to 16 agents, and then 3 wanted full manuscript, which I thought was quite encouraging at the time.
But it just took so long. So, when it came to the final year of uni, I decided just to try and self publish a novella. That was in 2013, and it went fairly well. I made every single mistake I could have possibly made. And it didn’t sell very well, but it was such a good experience that I decided not to go back to traditional publishing unless the deal was good enough, just because I’m the type of person I really enjoy the control of it. And I enjoy most aspects, from the market end to the distribution, and everything else that comes with it.
In terms of day jobs, I’ve been a bookseller for two different companies. I’ve been a manager of a small, independent bookshop, and I’ve also been a supervisor at a national chain, so I’ve had both sides of the coin on that one, and got a bit of a perspective from there.
And I’ve worked for three traditional publishing companies, so they were all fairly small companies, but two specialized in fiction. And then the third one, that I still work at now, is a non-fiction publishing company. But yes, I’ve had a very diverse range of jobs, so, I’ve done editing.
I’ve tried my hand at cover design, where it’s not my talent. And I’ve done production and distribution and everything you could possibly ask someone to do in the industry.
Joanna: And we are talking about other things, but I am fascinated. Because you just said I decided not to do traditional publishing unless it was a really good deal, and you work within the traditional industry. Is this something you talk about with your traditional publishing work colleagues?
How do you reconcile both worlds?
Dan: It became a little bit tense at one point in one of the companies I used to work at, purely because they were fine with me self-publishing, and while I was working in publishing. And in fact, my old boss is now my editor. So, it sort of worked out very well.
But I did get a traditional publishing contract with them while I worked for them, and then pulled out of the contract, which was a little bit tense in the office. But it went well in the long term.
We decided that it was probably for the best because when you’re in the room and you can see other people’s books being scheduled ahead of yours, and you’re chomping at the bit wanting to go onto yours, it was a huge conflict of interest when I knew that I was going to eventually be promoting my own book.
I think the big disagreement I had at the time was that traditional publishers, they typically, in my experience at least, want to sell every book, as in paid units, so they’re not too interested in giving away a lot for exposure in the early days to build an audience.
I was really looking into things like BookBub Featured Deals, free giveaways, and things like that, which I couldn’t really do with a traditional publishing contract because they didn’t want to give any books away. So it was fun. And it’s given me lots of experience.
My cover designer, my proofreader, and my editor all come from traditional publishing because I was in an office with them. But it’s not something I’d go back to unless it was a big enough deal that I could be happy with not looking at things and checking how everything’s done myself.
Joanna: And your day job is in a traditional publisher in a non-fiction house?
Dan: Yes. It’s not quite traditional publishing in the sense that you would think of it though. They’re not doing manuals that authors have written. It’s in-house writers, and they don’t take on any clients and things. The previous two were. I’m sort of jumping between lots of different publishing models, which is interesting.
Joanna: I actually think that you represent more of what the industry looks like now, which is a sort of hybrid approach to publishing, in that I sign publishing deals, foreign rights deals. Authors sign contracts with traditional publishers around different formats, maybe the hardback editions, or maybe the audio editions.
What we’re living in now is not an either-or world. It is, ‘what is best for the project, what is best for the author, the publisher, and the situation’ and things. I really like that you have that career.
Let’s get into your book. We’re really talking about networking for authors. Let’s start with the basics because I really feel like people get networking a bit mixed up in their brain.
What is networking anyway? And why is it so important for an author’s career?
Dan: Networking, in terms of authors that are fairly new to the industry, is a very different concept to anyone in any other industry, apart from making music and places like that.
I think early on, maybe sort of 15, 20 years ago, traditionally published authors or new authors that were trying to get into traditional publishing would have seen networking as trying to be picked up. So you’d be at events, there’d be authors doing readings, they’d have agents and publicists and things with them, and you’d be trying to schmooze in amongst them to try and get yourself picked up.
And I think that’s problematic because when you look at any other industry, or if you talk to the traditional publishers themselves, they would say that networking isn’t so much about being picked up. It’s about becoming the person that can pick others up, so you’re building a business where you have the stability and the power and things like that, which you don’t really get if you’re going from deal to deal to deal, where you’re essentially working with middlemen.
There’s nothing wrong with middlemen if they add lots of value to your business, but when they put you in a very precarious environment, where, if you get dropped on the next deal, you’ve got no connections to carry on with.
Then that’s not always great, especially for the indie model now. In traditional publishing, it’s very much you’re either a best-seller or you’re not going to get republished. I think it was possibly different a few years ago, where publishers would invest in an author’s career, whereas now, not so much.
Realistically, you want to be building your own network, so that even if you want to go in traditional publishing, you’ll still have indie contacts and you’ll know distributors and publishers and if you wanted to go to conferences and meet people at BookBub or PublishDrive or anything like that, it’s still useful to have those people on hand so that you can A, work in collaboration with a publisher, and B, move on to do things yourself if the publisher doesn’t want to be involved. So it just gives you a lot more stability.
Joanna: I think, for me, still, networking is about relationships and more about peer relationships. I think it’s really important to remember that the people you meet along the way can be something completely different in years to come.
You’re a good example there of someone who’s moving and shaking in the industry, but equally has an author career. You can meet someone at an author event, not really knowing what they do in their day job, and dismiss them easily enough. So, I think it’s really about being interested in who people are, and not thinking ‘I must network with the most important person in the room.’ I’ve seen authors do that. That’s one of the mistakes I’ve seen.
What are some of the other mistakes that authors make with networking?
Dan: What you say is absolutely true. I’ve seen the herd mentality when a huge author walks into a room, and initially, the people that spot them will sort of clock them and start shuffling in their direction. And then even the people who don’t know them start walking towards them because they feel like they ‘should’ know them, even if they’re not relevant.
Somebody might be a thriller author and a fantasy author, and their genres don’t cross over, and they might not really have a lot in common in terms of networks and things, and they couldn’t add value to each other. It’s always nice to get the selfie with the massive author, but it’s not always going to be the best networking tactic.
Now, in terms of mistakes that I’ve seen people make, there are lots and lots of practical mistakes. If you wanted to talk about going to physical networking events, then you could talk about not booking a hotel, which I’ve done in the past, where I’ve traveled from 4:00 a.m., Cardiff to London for the London Book Fair, turned up sweaty and befuddled about five hours later. And it’s been horrific, where I’m so tired by the time I get there that I think, ‘Oh, I would have been better off…’
There’s a reason why businesses fly their employees’ business class and get them hotels and things, so they’re fresh and they can work to their optimum capacity. You’re at your most likable when you’re comfortable.
So, if you’re going to be networking, then you don’t want to be sort of panicked and carrying lots of bags that you should have been leaving in a hotel room and things like that.
In terms of more general mistakes, that I’ve done and seen, I suppose, because a lot of these are things that I’ve learned by getting them wrong, are things like touching on subjects that maybe you’d speak to friends or family about, personal friends from outside of publishing, on social media, that you wouldn’t really want to be talking to people in the industry about.
And it’s not even something too controversial that, obviously, you never bring politics and things into it, or if you’re having a bad day, you’d never walk up on stage at a conference and rant about the fact that you’re having a bad day, and yet people do it quite a lot on social media. That’s a way to alienate people who might have wanted to work with you in the past.
They see that if you’re a little bit of a loose cannon, then even if you’ve had a really good first impression at the conference, now that they’ve connected with you on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, if you’re posting things that are potentially going to make them look bad by association, then they sort of distanced themselves from you. So, that’s a classic mistake.
And then there’s the selling. So, this happens in person and on the internet. If you add someone as a friend on Facebook, for example, some new authors who don’t know really what they’re doing, and again, I’ve done this when I first started on Twitter, if they are in a free giveaway or something like that, they will just send direct messages to everyone on their contact list, saying ‘Will you please download my book right now?’ ‘Will you sign up for my mailing list,’ things like that.
It’s weird because it’s like you’re trying to sell books to the people that you should be considering friends and talking to, because they’re not necessarily your readers, they’re your peers, as you mentioned.
There are just so many things that, they’re not offensive, in terms of you’re not going to make enemies this way, but it’s the signs of someone who doesn’t quite know what they’re doing yet, and they haven’t learned the lesson that those tactics, A, don’t work and B, could actually work against them.
Joanna: You mentioned London Book Fair, and obviously, I speak at things. And people will say, ‘Here, take my print book.’ And even if you’re interested in a book, the last thing anybody wants, because books are heavy, right? The last thing that people want is, especially at something like a book fair, is more print books. People definitely do not want that.
What I suggest if people are going to physical events is sure, have a couple of print books in your bag, but don’t be handing them out willy-nilly, because also, being English, and you’re Welsh, but people can be polite and say, ‘Oh, thank you,’ and accept the book, but it’s going to be left in a bin or a hotel room because people can’t travel with it.
I was in America last year, and I had, like, 20 books that people gave me, and even books that I had bought to get author signed. I don’t know if I’ve said this before on the podcast, but basically, if I meet an author that I really love and I get the first page signed, because of flying everywhere, I literally would tear out that page and leave the book and just keep the page. So there’s a dirty little secret of my print books!
What do you think about physical appearance? Because I feel like you have to make some effort to look presentable, but equally, we are creatives in a creative industry. So, we’re not saying wear a suit to a networking event.
Where do you think the line is when it comes to creatives, and authors in particular?
Dan: With authors, in particular, it tends to be more whatever you feel comfortable in. I mentioned the point about if you feel comfortable, you’re more likable and things like that. You can traditionally tell what section of the industry people work in based on how they’re dressed.
If you see traditional publishers, there are a lot of blazers and ties and things like that. And then you go to author areas, and everyone’s more casually dressed. I think if you’re speaking, then you might want to brush up a little bit, just because you’re on stage and you want to look as if you’re someone who has it all together. But other than that, I don’t think it really matters that much. If anything, like I said, you’re trying to build a business.
So, if you walk into the room and you’re thinking like an interviewee and you’re trying to make everyone happy, then you’re not necessarily going to be selling yourself particularly well, even if you’re dressed very well. I don’t want to use the word desperation, but there’s sort of like overtrying.
Joanna: There’s an air of it.
Dan: Yes. Whereas if you go in there and you’re thinking what value can I provide you, but also what value can you provide me, you know that people are equally trying to impress you, so that it sort of takes the pressure off of you a little bit. And you know that everyone can dress as they want, really, because it’s the results that matter, and not physical appearance.
Joanna: I do feel I want to wear certain clothes when I go to events. I think because I’m an introvert and because it’s almost like if you put on a bit of a uniform or something, where you know, right, I’m going into this situation to do my job.
Right now I’m talking to you and I’m wearing a tee-shirt and jeans, and I might wear a tee-shirt and jeans, but as you say, I might wear a blazer or I might wear a tee-shirt with something specific on, or I often wear a dress if I’m speaking or something.
But I do think if people are nervous, which, let’s face it, most of us are nervous and anxious. We’ll come back to that in a minute. But for me, it really helps to sort of put on a persona. It just helps with your confidence.
The other thing that helps, and I was going to ask you about this, is to prepare in advance. Like you mentioned there, don’t just walk in and expect to beg people, but know in advance who you’re going to talk to you.
So, the pre-event preparation I’ll always try and look at the people who are going, if there’s a list, find their Twitter handles, for example, go stalk them.
What are some of the things that people can do in advance of an event to make it most effective?
Dan: There are lots of things, really. Like you said, you touched on it with finding people’s Twitter handles. Often, events will have hashtags associated with them that are set up by the company that is providing the event. And if you look on that hashtag, you’ll find lots of excited messages from people who are going.
You can actually dip into their profiles and see who they are so that you can recognize them on the day. Now, I’m not saying that everyone looks exactly like their profile picture because people have cartoon profile pictures and things like that. People have got pen names, and there’s all this confusing stuff that goes on in our industry. But you can definitely check out what is going to be going on and where people are going to be just by looking at the commentary on things like that.
Another big one is in Facebook groups. Usually, an event will set up a group on Facebook and you can dip in. I know the last time I went to London, which was an event that you spoke at actually, with Mark Dawson’s, one with the boat. I set up a group chat on Facebook with authors that I’ve met in the past because I think that maintaining relationships is just as important as building new ones.
I knew people who had been there a year or two previously, and even if I didn’t know if they were going, because I know it’s an event that’s close to them and that they go to frequently, I just messaged them and said, ‘Are you guys all going to it? Would you like to go for a coffee at this time of day?’ We went to some fancy skyrise restaurant and all that stuff.
There are all these things that you can set up in advance that can work in your favor. It just means that you’re not walking into a room full of strangers because you’ve actually locked in advance and there’s going to be at least one person who recognizes you if you’ve spoken to them.
So, usually, we do that, and I know the SPF community have got a drinks thing that they do. ALLi have got a similar thing that they do. So, it’s good to at least look for the organizer, the person who’s actually in charge of the event, because generally, organizers are very, very approachable. I know when I went to an ALLi event a few years ago, the first person I walked up to was Orna Ross, because I recognized her from things.
And she was also very gracious and able to direct me to people that I was very excited to meet. So, I know I mentioned at the time that Adam Croft was supposed to be at the party I went to, and he’d just hit number one in the universe, above J.K. Rowling. So, I was going, ‘Oh my God, Adam Croft is here.’ And she went, ‘I know him,’ and then just sort of pulled me through the walkway and said, ‘Adam, meet Dan.’
This is one of those things where just knowing the organizer can often break barriers where you would be surreptitiously pretending to read a newspaper in the corner, trying to get closer to the people you want to talk to. They will just punch straight through that wall for you and introduce you.
There’s all these little sort of tricks and tips that can get you into conversations faster. And it just makes it a lot more fun when people know you when you walk into the room because it’s like going into your local bar and you’re running into friends, rather than having to introduce yourself to every single person.
Joanna: It’s a good tip. You mentioned maintaining these relationships, and something that I think is really good is going to the same conference year after year. London Book Fair, I’ve been going to since 2012. 2020, obviously, pandemic, it didn’t happen. And ThrillerFest, in New York, I’ve been to four or five times, and CrimeFest, here in the UK, in Bristol.
If you go to the same conference, which is usually at the same hotel, knowing the place physically is really important, I feel. Often I’ll go to a room before an event starts to kind of see where would be the best place to sit. Where can I see the screen?
If there’s someone I want to meet at that particular session… For example, if you want to meet a speaker at a session, you really need to sit near the front, especially if you want to get up and meet them as they come off the stage or something.
I feel like knowing the layout, but also, if you go to the same event year on year, the same conference, you will get to know people. And the first year you might just feel really shy and terrible. And you’re just like, ‘Oh my goodness, that was just a nightmare.’
What happens is you will meet some people. You will. You absolutely, you’ll meet the shy people in the corner, if nothing else. And then next year, when you go back, people will recognize you. As you said, it’s kind of like, well, you’re not a stranger anymore. And what happens the second year is there are people there for the first time.
Let’s talk about icebreakers and dealing with anxiety.
My thing is, what kind of books do you write? Literally, I will ask that question. Or I might say, if it is the first time, I’ll be like, ‘Oh, it’s my first time at this conference. Do you usually come to the conference?’
And then either they’ll say, ‘Yes, it’s my first time,’ and then you have something in common, or they say, ‘No, I come regularly,’ and then you can ask them for their tips. So that is a good thing. Ask them questions and enable them to help you, I think.
Any other tips for anxious and shy or introvert people, or anything like that on the long-term maintenance side as well?
Dan: At all levels of networking, I think people have got different comfort zones. Some people are extroverts and they could happily go into a room and make friends with everybody. Other people are more confident online, whereas some people are not particularly technically capable, even with social media some people, it’s just not their thing.
You’ve mentioned as well recently that online conferences are just as nerve-wracking as a speaker as ones in the real world. So nerves are normal. Most people I’ve spoken to, where, if they’re speaking, that’s a universal thing that they have the anxiety and the butterflies, pacing, all the rest of it. What you can do is just gradually work out of your comfort zone.
If online networking is the thing that you want to start with, then that’s fine. Start with that. I know a lot of people who call themselves lurkers tend to be in Facebook groups and things, but never really post anything. Well, you can start out that way, just watch, see what other people are doing.
Often, modeling yourself on the type of influencer or the type of author you want to be is the best way to go forward, so you can see what everybody’s doing. You don’t have to always know everything. I know even people at the top of the industry, they still don’t know everything and they’re learning all the time. So, sometimes you can actually start networking by asking questions rather than providing value. And sometimes those questions do provide as much value as giving answers.
So, to give an example, I’ve been in a Facebook group for now where I’ve asked very early on, ‘I’m seeing all of the acronyms. Can anyone put a catalog of acronyms in the comments of this post?’ And then, I think the organizers of the group saw about 90 comments where there’s all these terms, BookBub, and AMS, and all these sorts of different acronyms.
Then they started channeling new arrivals to that post. And it makes the person who put the post there in the first place look like an authority figure because they’ve now got their name attached to this big encyclopedia of knowledge. You can sort of work out that way. And then eventually when you become more established and you know what you’re doing, you can start providing answers and things like that.
And then if you want to move to real-life meetings, then you can do the same again. You don’t have to be volunteering to speak. I think it’s particularly Canadians who are really into the karaoke stuff and all that. You don’t have to be going and doing karaoke.
What I’ve found is that introverts gravitate towards each other on occasions. So, just because you’re not in the sort of the biggest loudest groups, you can still meet people who are just as interesting. And sometimes the quietest person in the room is also the most influential. And they’ve just got different personas where they might be able to run a huge online campaign that makes them seem like a huge celebrity, but then when you actually see them in person, they’re a much quieter person. They’ve just got this persona that they put on when they’re talking to their million YouTube subscribers or something.
I think it’s just a matter of scaling up very slowly, staying within your comfort zone to a degree. And then as you become more comfortable with things, you can keep going. I think it was six months ago, I did my first podcast interview. Now, I’ve been meaning to do podcasts for about two years, but it’s just one of those things where you keep putting it to the back of your to-do list because you’re thinking, ‘Oh, I’ll get rolling today, and I don’t have an issue with it,’ but realistically, you do.
It was only because I was invited to a podcast that I started doing them because once you’ve done one, it becomes much easier. And I think people like that, with going to networking events and sort of putting themselves out there, it’s a comfort zone thing, and you gradually expand it.
Joanna: It’s actually funny you mentioned podcasting. I really started this podcast in order to network, because I was living in Brisbane, Australia back in 2006, 2007, 2008. I didn’t know anyone. I was working in a mining company. I didn’t know any authors.
And in fact, the only authors’ stuff that was around in Brisbane at the time was very traditional publishing focused. I went along to them and I just felt really uncomfortable, because I knew I was going down the indie route before it was trendy.
I started a podcast so I could talk to Americans, because the Americans were the dominant, and still are, really, the dominant voices in the indie movement. And so, and I thought, well, if I can talk to people online for sort of half an hour, 45 minutes, then I’ll get to know them.
Many of those people who I’ve never met in person have become friends because of the podcast. I think many podcasters start because they want to network, and it’s quite good for an introvert.
But also, wanted to ask about the long-term thinking, because I feel like people go, ‘Oh, I’m going to this networking thing. I must achieve something in that meeting,’ or, ‘I must achieve,’ whatever it is. And they rush things and they put an overemphasis on this one event, whereas in my experience, it can sometimes take a long time to feel comfortable.
Why is long-term thinking so important with networking?
Dan: Essentially, it takes a long time to build up a reputation. So, what you might want to do early on is, I think my first goal, the first year I went to London Book Fair, because I’ve been, it would have been seven times, I’ve been six now, was I just wanted to meet one person from any publishing area that I didn’t know before. I ended up meeting two or three.
Now, it might not have been the people that I had set out to meet, but often what you find is when you go to these events, you imagine yourself partying with the rock stars of the industry and immediately being in the inner circle and all this type of stuff. That can happen, but it doesn’t necessarily happen every time, and for most people, it doesn’t.
I think that for that first year I met, like I said, two or three people, and they were people that I may not have even known from online. You just sort of bump into them. You’re buying a breakfast roll or something while you’re waiting for a talk to start, and you just strike up a conversation and then it sort of builds.
What you do notice though is that it compounds over time. So, you start off sort of adding one or two people to your network. And they might be completely new as well, so they don’t really have any contacts, but then eventually someone will meet someone who will be recommended to you, and then people start messaging you saying, ‘Do you have any tips and advice for this?’ or whatever you’ve done in the past.
And then, over time, you get to a position where you turn up in group events and somebody goes, ‘I know you,’ or they call you out from across the room. And it’s someone that you’ve never met. It’s just all of these, it’s one of those things where, I’ve forgotten the saying, the whole is more than the sum of the parts, where it does, it very, very quickly grows.
This is something that I call the seven touches of cross-selling, but for networking. So, a bit like with marketing, people don’t necessarily buy a product the first time they see it. They might see or hear about it seven times, or probably more, because of the internet now, before they actually buy it.
It’s a little bit like that, where you might have to introduce yourself to seven people before you get one contact, like a proper contact that will end up collaborating with you or something like that. And then, those contacts will start talking to each other in some rotary club meeting or something like that. And before you know it, you’re popping up in conversations where you’re not involved.
It becomes this monster where it continuously grows. It’s one of those things where if you think about long-term focus, it helps, both in the short term and the long term, because the motivation… Well, you’ve gotta look at serendipity, so you’re always thinking, ‘I need to be on my A game, because this next event I go to could be the one where I meet someone,’ and it’s sort of like you get a contract or something and it changes your life.
But also, if it doesn’t work, then you’ve learned something from that experience, and you can come to the next event with more knowledge, and you won’t make the same mistakes again. So, you’re giving yourself armor for that particular event, and giving yourself hope for the future to keep yourself going.
I’ve been doing this seven years now. And when I started, I didn’t really know anyone in the industry. And now, like I said, I can quite happily talk to most people when I go to the London Book Fair, because that’s my most frequented event.
And usually, your experience level, your ability, and your sales increase with it. And then every time you hit a new milestone, you catch the eye of more prominent people in the industry, and then it snowballs.
Joanna: I do think long-term thinking, as well, is because either people disappear, and plenty of people have disappeared in the 12 years I’ve been doing this, but the people who’ve stuck around, like the people I met in the beginning, or the people you have long-term relationships with, like Orna Ross, you mentioned, who I met before she started the Alliance, and on Twitter all the years ago. And someone like Mark Lefebvre who I met when he was at Kobo first, and over the years we’ve done karaoke together and we’re good friends. I was actually just talking to him before this.
But it’s interesting how, like you say, the compounding, it’s just human relationships. You don’t get a human relationship from immediately meeting someone and handing them your book. It just doesn’t happen.
Let’s say human relationships are the thing. You mentioned, which was funny, you mentioned touches there, and of course, we’re living in a pandemic as we record this. There’s no touching going on anywhere.
Dan: Poor word choice!
Joanna: I get what you mean in the marketing sense. But this is interesting around networking. And when the pandemic started, I thought, ‘Oh, everything online is completely fine, because I’m an introvert, I can do online. I’m not interested. I think this will replace physical events.’ And I think a lot of people thought that.
Then we all got Zoomed out within about a month. I was seeing my family on Zoom all the time. And I was just like, ‘Do you know what? This is just not going to work…’
I went to a couple of completely online conferences, and then I realized this is not sustainable. It’s not sustainable from the point of view of just your energy, but also these Zoom rooms where you can supposedly network just don’t work, in my opinion.
What have you seen during the pandemic that has worked, has not worked, and what do you think is going to change in terms of networking?
Dan: I think that there’s going to be some sort of fallout with people who don’t want to go back to networking initially, because, obviously, there’s fallout with people not wanting to go back to day jobs and things like that, because of this inherent fear that we will have to sort of phase out over time.
Having said that, when I saw the 20Books guys announce the Madrid holiday that might be coming up soon, lots and lots of people got very excited about that. So, I think, again, it’s one of those things that once you break the barrier of doing something, once lockdown is lifted and all the rest of it, I think that we’ll very quickly get back into the swing of going to conferences and things like that.
What I have noticed though is that as a result of lots and lots of people having to embrace the technology that does things like this, I know you’ve been using this sort of technology for years, and lots of podcasters have. But I was relatively new to it. I was just ahead of the curve because, like I said, I started getting into podcasts, and then lockdown happened, so I’d just got the technology down before it sort of all kicked off.
But I think because it’s become so ever-present now, it’s sort of made this virtual abundance. The idea behind that is that there will be a lot more authors who can network on a more face-to-face basis now who couldn’t have in the past.
There’s the idea of the long tail with publishing and all the rest of it, and I think this is going to be very similar, where, right now, there are a few privileged authors, myself included, who can travel to events because they’re close enough to big events that you can see some of the dominant players in the industry, and you can afford to take a few days off work if you’ve got a day job still, and go, and things like that.
But a lot of authors can’t. They can’t take that time out of their life and go and do this. So, they miss out on these sort of interpersonal relationships. With everyone now using things like Skype and Zoom and all these other video conferencing apps, I think this is going to become a middle ground for the people who can’t afford to go to conferences, but they still want these closer relationships.
I know since lockdown happened, I’ve joined a writer’s circle, which, I never used to go into a writer’s circle because I’d rather just go to conferences, if and when they happen. But now I’ve got a bimonthly writer’s circle that I go into, and we all push each other along.
We’ve got an accountability board in a Facebook group, where everyone’s goals are written down for the next two weeks. And then we all ask how everyone’s goals have gone for the last two weeks when we meet. It’s become a much more community-driven thing that you don’t always get with these huge Facebook groups or on Twitter, where there are so many thousands of people involved that you sort of get lost.
Whereas if you’re in a group of six or eight authors, and you know that you meet every two weeks and you start to learn bits of people’s lives, you can sort of do house tours on camera and all that type of stuff.
I think there’s going to be this middle ground where there are going to be a lot more opportunities for authors who can’t do this. Do I think there’ll be more events in the future online and offline? I think there’ll be both. I just think that A, there’s going to be this middle ground, and B, there are probably going to be a lot more creative outdoor opportunities in the meantime.
Obviously, there are people who trek, and who go out to beaches and things like that. And I think there’s going to be a lot more of that, because people feel safer if you can socially distance and you’re outdoors while networking. So, I think that’s going to be a bit of a craze in the meantime until things go back to normal. Hopefully, if things go back to normal.
Joanna: Well, the new normal. I think you’re right about the hybrid approach. I think a lot of conferences who didn’t have a digital streaming option probably will now add a digital ticket anyway because they’ve seen that they can make money from a digital ticket that perhaps they wouldn’t have done before. So, there are benefits for being there in person.
There are benefits from being able to access recorded material, stuff like that. I think you’re right. I think it’s going to be more of a hybrid type of approach, and which kind of brings us back to the publishing world and your career.
The final question really is having worked in the publishing industry, sitting across authors, publishers, booksellers, and seeing the way things are going, what are your thoughts on the changes that are going on? Like the digital acceleration that’s happened with lockdown and the virus.
What are your thoughts on the changes that are going on? And how can authors continue to empower themselves?
Dan: There are a few things that you can do as an author to empower yourself.
First of all, if you don’t want to necessarily head a big event, you can always do a subsidiary event, that I found a lot of people do, so, when you go to conferences and things like that. And this is something you can do in smaller pockets in your area if you can’t travel and things like that, rather than having these huge conferences.
I know people become influencers off the back of the fact that they organized these huge things and everyone wants to know them. You can just create these small group chats. You can meet up with people and things like that. And I think that’s going to keep your network sort of burning along.
In the meantime, I think as the industry develops, like you said, there’s a lot of turnover in the industry. So, as much as there are people who skyrocket and they do really, really well, sometimes they disappear. And a lot of other people who start off disappear very quickly when they don’t get the results they want.
I think if you want to maintain long-term longevity, then you need to work a bit like a talent scout, because there are people that I’ve spoken to in the last few years where I’ve seen them at events, we’ve had a drink together and things like that. And they said, ‘Oh, I’ve not brought my first book out yet, but I’m doing the rapid release.’ So, they’re building up three or four books. And then straight out the gate, they’re immediately far more successful than a lot of people I know, myself included.
If you want to stay long-term, it’s not always about reaching up. You also need to help people below you, and I think as, obviously, because this is about the development of the industry, then, it’s all about diversity. I think, like you said, there are going to be a lot more people on a similar playing field. Everyone’s got access to the same tools and things like this. So, you really need to diversify in terms of your IP and your contacts.
I got an email just this week from a company that are talking about, because I’ve produced audiobooks of another non-fiction book that I’ve got, they were talking about possibly adapting it as a course, where I would license it out, and they would change it into a course.
There’s all these different things that I think you need to be very aware of as an author if you want to go into these extra spaces, because I wouldn’t have considered potentially creating a course myself, but if somebody else wants to do it for me, and I can get money from the license, then yeah, of course, I can do that. And that can maintain the author dream that everybody wants.
There’s always these different avenues. I think the big thing is that you really need to become a person, and this is sort of, it’s difficult when you spend a lot of time on the internet, and this is why being in-person can be a really strong strategy, because I think it’s Chris Ducker, the guy who wrote ‘Youpreneur.’
Joanna: ‘Youpreneur.’ Yes. [Check out the interview with Chris Ducker on Youpreneur here.]
Dan: Where you essentially want to create a brand that is you, but you are the people’s brand, because you’re a person, so everyone wants to hang around with you because of who you are.
And that just means that even if one series doesn’t do particularly well, or you try to branch out into a different area of business that takes your attention away from something that you were doing really well, there are people that will stick around and be your 1000 true fans, and they will stay there with you to keep maintaining your momentum as an author.
I think as long as you build up a brand, an email list, social media, and all the rest of it, with the idea in mind that it’s gotta be built around you rather than around a particular idea, then it will sort of stick the course, because, like I said, I brought out that one book that I’m going to be looking into licensing.
That was on Twitter. Now, it was sort of my thing, Twitter. So, I almost got to 100,000 Twitter followers at one point. I thought, it was the thing that, at the time, I was in the traditional publishing sphere, and it was the thing that everybody said you should do, so I built a Twitter following and brought a book out on it and all that type of stuff.
And it worked, but it won’t work long term, because things, particularly in the technological space, they very quickly become dated. And you need to keep yourself as the brand rather than the ideas that you represent because then, you can move from project to project without losing people, I think.
Joanna: Fantastic. Really good stuff there. Chris Ducker has been on the show, so people can go back and listen to that episode as well. The ‘Youpreneur.’ So, brilliant.
Where can people find you and your books and everything you do online?
Dan: I’d really like to separate my website into the two pen names, but I haven’t got around to doing that yet. So, everything that I’ve written is on danielparsonsbooks.com/networking. I’m currently giving away an author networking travel guide. It was for all the conferences that were open, but are suddenly not open now that I’ve got the book.
But they will be open again in the future, and I’ll be adding things on productivity and things like that in the future as well, so there’ll be lots of good stuff there. Alternatively, you can find me on Twitter. So, I’m @dkparsonswriter, and my books are on all stores in e-book form. I’m getting there in audiobook, and I’m going to be doing print soon. I’m on Amazon in print, and it will be everywhere else.
Joanna: Fantastic. Thanks so much for your time, Dan. That was great.
Dan: Thank you. I appreciate it, Joanna.
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Author: Joanna Penn