You’ve all heard the old adage before: “It’s not what you know but who you know.” I never put too much stock into that expression. First, the fact that it uses “who” and not “whom” has always bothered the grammar zealot in me. Then there’s the whole idea that no matter how much talent or knowledge you possess, if you don’t have an “in,” you’re not going anywhere. I am a big believer in the value of hard work and I doubt too many people would argue that having talent – whether it’s in writing or throwing fastballs – won’t hurt. That said, I’ve personally scored several writing assignments through the power of networking.
Last summer I was flipping through a mainstream women’s magazine when I noticed a photo of someone I knew from college. Her name was also on the masthead. Although it had been nearly a decade since I went on a study abroad trip for journalism and theatre with her, I decided to send a pitch her way.
A few weeks later I received a personal email from my old colleague. Although my snail mail pitch wasn’t right for the publication, she encouraged me to submit other ideas and even included some tips on how to break into the market. (She also caught me up to speed on her life and some of our other friends we’d traveled with and I did the same.)
A few days later I emailed some more pitches. She took the time to give me feedback on each and clearly went above and beyond the call of duty of an editor. I re-worked some of my ideas and… Viola! I ended up landing two assignments with a national glossy that reaches millions of women every month. Now she’s moved to another national publication and recently sent me tips on how to craft a successful query for this mag, so I’d say that “whom I know” in this case really helped. (Note: When I first sent my pitch, I followed the magazine’s writers’ guidelines and then attached a more personal and less formal note addressed to my friend).
Now I make it a habit to scan mastheads and search blogs and websites to see if I recognize anyone. Although I never want to take advantage of a colleague or friend, there’s nothing wrong with asking for advice or sending a query to someone you know rather than some faceless editor.
Likewise, you can and should network with strangers, too. Just last week I sent an email to a writer and senior editor I admire. While I assumed I might hear back from her in a few days, I never expected a personal phone call the same day I clicked “send.” During the conversation, she not only asked me to send pitches directly to her (rather than to an assistant editor), but after seeing some of my clips and speaking with me, she has added me to her publication’s list of regular writers in case she stumbles across an editorial need I might be able to fulfill.
These are just two recent examples of how networking has helped me in my writing life. Of course, networking only gets you so far. Once your foot is in the door, it’s up to you to prove yourself as a writer and a professional. But if you see a one-time college chum listed on a masthead or meet an editor at a writer’s conference, don’t be afraid to use your connections to catch assignments or in the very least, to build a community of fellow writers who can share with you the joys and challenges of the freelance life.
Kate Wicker has written for a wide variety of regional and national publications, including Pregnancy magazine, Woman’s Day, Atlanta Parent, Medical Dealer Magazine and Canticle magazine. She lives in Atlanta with her husband, daughter Madeline and a little bun in the oven who’s scheduled to make her big debut in June. Get to know her better at http://Momopoly.blogspot.com or http://KateWicker.blogspot.com.