Last week, after the release of my memoir about fashion modeling, I was asked to participate in a reading this Tuesday. I eagerly accepted and then went out of town for the long weekend. When I returned, I had a message from the coordinator. "See you tonight! Please send me your bio and photo and share the Facebook invitation. And bring copies of your book to sell." Crap! I had forgotten all about the reading. I updated and emailed my bio. I shared the Facebook invitation. I posted the reading to all of my social networks. I chose a chapter to read and did a quick run-through. I debated what to wear. My book was a Shebook, so I had no hard copies to sell. What to do? I spent two hours creating and formatting postcards and took them to FedEx Office to print (slowest FedEx in the world. I almost didn't make it on time to the reading.) $20 for 20 postcards. What a rip-off. I organized child care to watch the kids until my husband returned home from work. At 6 p.m. I raced to BART to catch the train from Berkeley to San Francisco.
The reading was poorly attended. I felt partially responsible because I'd sent out the invitation so late and because, now that 90% of my friends have small children, it's impossible to get them to trek to the city for a reading on a weeknight. I started to wish I hadn't come. I'd spent half the day preparing, time that I could have spent writing or editing or decluttering my basement. I'd paid a babysitter to watch my kids—money down the drain.
Then I thought, "Let's make lemonade out of these lemons." I ordered a glass of wine (the reading was at a wine bar) and introduced myself to one of the other readers. We sat and talked for a while. I learned all about her small press publisher and the graphic designer who designed her bookmarks, which were 100x better looking than my FedEx postcards. Another writer joined us. She said she'd be at AWP next week, like I will be. We exchanged emails. When I listened to the readings, I paid close attention, as if the readers were my friends not strangers in a bar. I laughed. I ordered their books. I felt a bond that with them that I hadn't felt at other readings. On my way out, I ran into one of the other readers on the sidewalk. We were both headed back to the East Bay on BART. We talked about publishing, about how things have changed, about new possibilities for generating revenue through small presses and ebook publishing. We talked about plot and our favorite TV shows. I discovered that he's a fan of Sherlock, Walking Dead, and Game of Thrones like I am. He suggested I try Justified. I made a note. When I returned home, I followed the readers I met at the reading on Twitter and friended them on Facebook. Since then we have exchanged several messages. I now have three new writer friends, two of whom are published and active on social media.
This is what networking is all about. Not the number of followers you have, but the quality of your relationships with those followers. Not the quantity, but the quality. I made three friends, got out of the house on a weeknight (a feat for any mom), and discovered some wonderful new literature—all for the cost of half a day of child care. I wanted more than anything to stay home that night. I'm so glad I didn't.