A little less than two weeks ago, MAJOR HOTSAUCE and I returned from a semi-impromptu trip to Torino, Italy.
We went to visit my friend Michelle, her husband, and their three-week old son (ie the cutest baby EVAR!). We had a wonderful time...we ended up staying with Michelle's parents outside of the city and driving into town each day. It was a unique experience for us in Italy (which is where we spent our honeymoon) ...rather than being tourists (or a student studying abroad - in my experience, I didn't experience much of the "real" Italy), we got an authentic Italian experience, with the music, the food, the language, the markets, the walking along the river in Turin...(in MAJOR HOTSAUCE'S case, the grappa distillery tour and visit to the salami maker with Michelle's Dad...)
It was fantastic. Absolutely wonderful.
It's funny to think how things work out in life. Michelle and I met in grad school, in Oxford. She's bilingual (English/Italian) and we formed a bond over a love of publishing...and our type-A personalities. :-) Every week we'd meet at a little cafe in Oxford on Cowley Road and drink coffee and eat these little, personal pizzas (the only good pizza I had the entire time I was in England) and we'd talk about school and books and traveling and the differences between the States and Europe, and, okay, boys. ;-)
After we finished school, we went our separate ways...Michelle back to Turin, and me to D.C. But we kept in touch. And a few years later, Michelle emailed me about a job. She was working as an editor for an English-language hairstyling magazine, and they were looking for someone to write an article or two per issue. I jumped at the chance, and ended up writing articles for the magazine for two years.
I guess you could say I got my first paid writing job as a result of networking.
In college, people like to throw that word around. Networking. The whole "it's not what you know but who you know" thing. But I've always found that networking doesn't work as well for networking's sake. I've been to "networking" cocktail parties in DC...and they felt more like meat markets or job interviews than real opportunities to make connections. Not to mention I've never gotten a job from an experience like that, and certainly never a lasting friendship.
But, years later, Debbie, a friend I'd made on the job while in D.C., hooked me up with her friend Mandy, also a writer, and we've been email friends and crit partners ever since...all this happening long after Debbie and I had both left DC. It just goes to show that the best networking isn't about having an agenda. Strike up a conversation with someone who shares your interests...or ask someone where they're from and what they like...you never know what kind of connections you'll make. My mom has tons of stories of meeting people on airplanes and on trips...even in restaurants. And some of the craziest things have happened as a result. (Simon Carrington of The King's Singers directing a concert for her, for one.)
In my experience, the kind of networking that yields the highest rewards is the kind that doesn't FEEL like networking. It's just a couple of people talking about what they love, with no alterior motives or agendas.
Michelle and I were students together, and then coworkers (well, technically she was my boss ;-)). And now we're the kind of friends who take transatlantic flights to visit one another. You never know what will come from making a connection, from starting a conversation.
In the publishing industry, people like to tell you it's not who you know, that it's all about writing an awesome freaking book. And that's true, for the most part. If your manuscript isn't ready, it doesn't matter how many connections you have to agents and editors or other authors. BUT...it IS a subjective business. And even if you DO write an awesome freaking book, you still need to get it into the right hands. Going to conferences, chatting with people, joining Twitter...not to network but to make friends, share your love of books or knitting or fire-breathing dragons or whatever...putting yourself out there, you're bound to make connections. Those connections might not sell your book or get you an agent, but they could. Or they might lead to you making an awesome friend, or finding a an amazing critique group, or meeting the love of your life.
You just never know, and therein lies the fun. :-)
PS. Feeling so nostalgic for grad school and all my grad school friends now. Just a warning...if you go to school overseas, chances are you'll make friends who also live overseas...and who are therefore who are very far away!! ::waves to Michelle, Heloise, Helen, and all the folks from Brookes.:: Miss you guys!