The more I turn and work towards a full-time career in writing, the more I’m aware of the importance of networking.
It’s not the sort of thing I’d have done when I was younger. I rather looked down on such things then. It was all about the work, the talent, the integrity. Etcetera.
Well it is about those things of course, but the sad, or at any rate realistic, fact is that you’ll never get anything published unless you get out there in some way or other.
It might be a Masters programme that attracts the notice of agents, it might be a writers’ group that runs its own events and brings out its own anthology, it might a charismatic leader who sacrifices his own interests for the good of his followers (a rare breed indeed), but something has to make the introverted writer turn to the outside world and try to make contact with it.
I don’t quite know why novelists are like this, but they’re notorious for it. It’s not true of playwrights or screenwriters, in fact it’s untrue of everyone else who works in any of the creative industries, where everything operates in teams. If people in these lines aren’t prepared to work with others, they don’t work at all.
I’ve been networking ever since I was published, and looking back I can see that I was slowly working towards it, getting a bit better at it all the time, a bit less inward, a bit less intense and a bit more aware of people other than myself for a long time before it.
It started with running an event called the Tchai Ovna teahouse readings, where, for a long time, I didn’t read my own stuff despite having the perfect opportunity to do so. Refusing to sell out, you know. Above it all. Hanging onto integrity like grim death.
Now I network deliberately at meetings, conferences, societies and groups, and I’ve seen for myself the successful results of it. It really is, fairly or not, about who you know.
Years ago on my Creative Writing masters I met Carol McKay, an excellent writer of short stories. Some years later through a networking event called Weegie Wednesday I met her husband Keith. Not being a writer himself but always one of the crowd at all the writing events he was beginning to hatch an idea. The digital revolution was happening and everyone was wondering if, how and when they should jump into it.
About six months ago Keith launched Pothole Press, a new e-publishing company. First out was Carol’s book Ordinary Domestic, a collection of stories she’d written down the years that had won prizes and been published in various anthologies. It’s a startlingly original first book by a really gifted writer.
At around the same time I realised I had a problem. I’d written one novel that had made a bit of a splash but I had nothing to follow it up with. I needed to buy time to write the next one.
What to do? What to do?
The answer was to gather three stories I’d published before and give them over to Pothole to publish in a new volume. The result was a publication I’m really proud of, Best Man. It came out just before Christmas and did very well. It’s still doing so.
What was fascinating was seeing that the act of putting them together didn’t just give them new life. It made them into something new, something bigger and deeper because of their juxtaposition with each other. Something that made me understand the common themes between them more clearly than I had before. It made them from three separate short pieces into one longer work.
And about this book, some good news the other day. Two glowing reviews appeared suddenly that keep me feeling I’m getting the books out there, keeping the energy and the drive going while I get on with the second novel. If you click the links, you can see them.
Pothole are a new kind of publisher because they can do this. Using all the advantages of digital publication, working across Kindle, iApple, Kobo and Nook and willing to extend after that towards print-on-demand, they give writers like me the chance to use the full range of publishing forms to best effect.
They open the door for a new writer to develop current and existing work in ways that allow him always to move forward.
Carol has gone on to publish more of her work, including a groundbreaking work on Addison’s Disease and a creative writing textbook.
And another excellent new writer (well, she’s now on her third novel so I’m not sure if she still counts as new, to be honest), Leela Soma, has brought out an anthology of her own, Boxed In, also on Pothole. Which adds up (all modesty aside) to a portfolio of some of the best new writing there is around at the moment.
So best wishes to Keith, Carol, Leela and all at Pothole. Lang may their lums reek, as we say in Scotland. (It means, long may they keep warm and healthy, sort of.) I know in my bones that Pothole Press is going to be around for a long time to come, and as proof of it there will a special Pothole Press reading at the Tchai Ovna teahouse in September, and lots of other Pothole author events.
You might not be able to make it, but anyone who reads this is very welcome.