On October 22, 2022 we played a show recorded 10/18/2022 all about jobs and networking and a little side-debate about education. Here are the show notes:
Theme for the day
- What other jobs have you had besides writing?
- How does networking work?
- Your short list to prep for networking opportunities in your writerly life
In my new favorite podcast, Intentionally Blank, sci fi / fantasy writers Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells talk about becoming professional (paid) writers from their humble beginnings as paperboys. Got me thinking about all the jobs I’ve had and though we could probably talk about that for the entire episode, I think that might be boring. So we’ll lead off with that.
Then segue into how those jobs have helped (or hurt) our writing paths and what we’ve learned there that we can apply in the writing world.
Last, we’ll talk about the value of networking through this career and some things you should be prepared to do when networking opportunities come up, like they will for us this weekend.
Let’s get to it.
Rex Hurst was a paperboy and the bookkeeping part was the hardest part and then he just sort of quit. Early mornings, every day, couldn’t go on vacation, carting the inventory around was awful. Then a grocery store bagger. Then a convenience store clerk.
I once read a book called Disrupt Yourself all about career paths and in it, Whitney Johnson compares the career path to the “S” curve of innovation. Are you familiar with this? Basically, the “S” curve is where companies invest in innovation, knowing there will be a dip (the bottom of the “S” while they’re research-and-developing their way to a new product. Then they launch the product and iterate, iterate, iterate, until it really gets traction. The product climbs in popularity and the company gains market share and customers and product expertise. Only to eventually top out and begin the inevitable decline.
Strong companies will innovate in overlapping “S” curves so they’re beginning a new product cycle as the old one peaks, experiencing the trough while the first product is enjoying its top performance, and then, as the first product begins to sag, the second product is launching. Can’t picture it? Here’s a graphic.
Johnson says we should treat our careers the same way. We should be building new skills (the bottom trough of the “S”) while we’re riding our first skill set to success. Then, as we top out or get bored, we’ll be ready to jump to the next career. I thought the design worked. I’ve jumped to a lot of curves in my career.
Being a sportswriter for a small paper taught me how to do layout and design which is how I got my first marketing job as a catalog producer and basically one-person marketing department. Then I finished a masters in English and became a college instructor. Adjuncts make zero money so when I went back to corporate, I was first a marketing copywriter and moonlighted as an English instructor. My classroom skills got better and I became a corporate trainer. I learned the software so well, I became a business analyst focused on process design and understanding how tools (software) is used to accomplish work. Finished my PhD and became a consultant focused on software implementations and job training. Then went back to academia as a full-time instructor. I still love the spectrum of education – from job skills training to higher ed – I like to see people advance their careers through learning new things. And I love telling stories.
Which brings me to my writing career. From sports journalist to marketing copywriter to lesson plans and knowledge transfer to business processes and technical writing. I started blogging and got better at short-form writing. Dove headfirst back into fiction with a novel, retreated to short stories for a while to work on my craft, and now I do a little bit of both. Moving more into horror/fantasy with the vampires and my Neverland story.
I think all careers evolve, grow, expand, contract. I think careers are living things that need nurture and care. When we invest in skills development, we nurture the career.
Jumping from “S” curve to “S” curve isn’t just applying for jobs. It’s having a network that looks out for you. Thinks about you as a right fit for one thing or another.
What was a job you really wanted or thought you’d be great for that you didn’t get?
What was a job you had but hated? Why didn’t you quit it?
What did you learn from that rejection? From that suffering? How have those lessons been useful in your writing life?
Networking is itself a skillset. There are thousands of blogs, courses, articles, and coaches that can teach you how to network. So we’re going to focus on two aspects: 1) the types of events writers can expect to network at and 2) how to prepare yourself for each.
So we’ll build up from the smallest to the biggest commitments. Here they are:
- Chapter meetings
- Digital events (like Zoom Open Mic, Become an Author, other SCWA-sponsored learning sessions)
- Live readings / open mic events
- Awards ceremonies or fundraisers
- One-day intensives or a series of learning sessions (wherein you’re a student or presenter)
- Festivals or fairs that are not literary focused (like craft fairs, farmer’s markets, etc)
- Festivals or fairs that are literary focused
- Conferences that are not writer conferences (like ComiCon)
- Conferences that are writer conferences (like this upcoming weekend at Pawley’s Island)
- Retreats or residences (longer stays away from home focused on writing)
Things you should be prepared to do:
- Recite your pitch: My name is _____ I write _____ My book(s) is ______ It’s earned these accolades and can be bought in these places.
- Ask the other writer about their own craft/genre/product. Listen to them when they speak. Ask a follow-up question that shows interest (it’s unlikely they’ll ask you one, so set a good example).
- Relevant safe topics: How did you publish and why? What have you found most rewarding about being a writer? What would you do differently if you could do it again?
- Many writers are also good readers, so it’s probably safe to ask for their favorite books or authors.
- Some authors have hard-won knowledge about marketing and are probably more than willing to share tips, tricks, dos, and don’ts. If you don’t want to be bogged down with war stories or griping, best to keep to uplifting questions along the lines of “favorites” and “wins”