Have you ever worn headphones in public just so strangers don’t talk to you? Have you ever hoped to get hit by a bus the morning before a big presentation? And does the thought of having to make a phone call make you feel physically sick?
I’ve never been outgoing. I’m what you’d call an introvert and while I’ve learned to accept myself for what I am, my lack of gregariousness often feels like a curse, especially as a publishing student.
You can imagine my horror when a lecturer dropped the N word in class.
Admittedly I was uneasy.
Then suddenly everyone was saying it. I couldn’t escape it; the N word was everywhere – even on social media. I couldn’t scroll through my Twitter feed without that same word popping up – Networking.
Yes by the N word I am of course talking about networking – ‘a system of trying to meet and talk to other people who may be useful to you in your work’. That is the definition the Oxford Dictionary will give you. Ask an introvert however and I’m certain you’ll hear that networking is a unique form of torture. Indeed for those of us who aren’t blessed with unshakable confidence, the N word is a daunting word to keep hearing.
But it doesn’t have to be torture.
The first week of my degree I learned I was doing myself a disservice by not using Twitter. When I logged into my old abandoned account I had less than 10 followers (and one of them was my Dad). It was clear I needed to make some changes. After revamping my profile I followed as many industry professionals as I could and to my surprise many of them followed me back. Every time I bought an interesting book, enjoyed a class or was inspired by a talk I made sure to tweet about it. I was stunned by how quickly I gained followers. Within a week I had hit 100. A small achievement, but progress nonetheless.
However not all networking can be done from the comfort of bed and here in Edinburgh there is never a shortage of opportunities to engage with the literary community. My first experience of networking in person took place at the September Social hosted by The Society of Young Publishers (SYP). I was nervous but I knew how much I would regret it if I didn’t go. The events were only going to get bigger and the people more “important” and intimidating.
For the first hour I didn’t leave the protective bubble of classmates but it was reassuring to know that I wasn’t alone in being afraid to network. It dawned on me that this was the first time I’d had a conversation with many of the people around me. I was finally putting names to the faces I saw in lectures, bonding over mutual interests and getting to know my classmates (potentially my future colleagues). Wasn’t that exactly what networking was?
I would be lying if I claimed my sudden boost in confidence had nothing to do with the Swedish cider I’d been drinking but as classmates began to drift away to talk to others I felt the pressure to network rising. It was easier in groups so three of us plucked up the courage to introduce ourselves to two students from another university.
When a networking exchange ended many of us would gravitate back towards the circle of familiar faces for moral support. Every now and then someone would take a deep breath, leave the circle and approach a stranger while the rest of us looked on in awe. Eventually I found myself in an engaging conversation with two young publishers – the founders of an online magazine. They told me about their work, I told them about my degree but we also spoke about our mutual interest in creative writing. It began to feel less like networking and more just like human beings conversing over a drink.
When they gave me a business card I had to resist the urge to strut back to my classmates.
I had done it! I had networked!
And here was the physical evidence.
Ok so I hadn’t walked out of that event with a guaranteed job or a placement or an internship but what I did accomplish was conquering a personal barrier and I knew next time networking would not seem so terrifying.
Everybody is human, even the people at the top of the industry were once awkward twenty something year olds hoping somebody would notice them. People aren’t out to get you.
Fear is temporary, regret is forever so I advise all aspiring publishers – do go to these events, to boost your own confidence if nothing else. Attending smaller informal events helps hone your networking skills, even if you’re just practising on classmates. Don’t be afraid of the N word, feeling nervous is normal, and what would networking be without adrenaline. When you are trying to muster up the courage to send an email, pick up the phone or approach someone to enquire about work experience, always remember the worst they can say is no.
The publishing industry is built on connections and collaboration – something that wouldn’t be possible without networking. Be yourself, be authentic and confide in your fellow young publishers because you definitely won’t be the only one feeling uncertain.
Oh and a little alcohol helps (a lot) but do drink responsibly in front of your future employers.
Image Credit: @SYPScotland (Taken 27/09/17)