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Being There
by Audrey Henderson

Return to Starting Your Writing Career · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version

I have a friend whom I'll call Simeon (which isn't his real name) who is hard working, well educated and good at what he does. He's also in his upper 50s, and was unceremoniously kicked out of his high-paying job about 3 years ago. Fortunately, Simeon is also frugal and has a solid financial situation, including severance pay, so he had a soft landing, at least where money is concerned.

Finding new work? Not so much. Age discrimination may very well be at play. But Simeon's fortunes may be changing. He's been engaged in what Richard Bolles calls "information interviewing" for the past few months. Recently, Simeon made a connection through an event he attended related to his interest in architecture. The contact subsequently referred Simeon to a company that seems to be a good fit -- and which recently called Simeon in for a second interview for really good job opening. By the time you read this, Simeon may have rejoined the professional workforce.

I recently snagged my own lucrative contract simply as a result of having attended a networking function related to my interest in sustainable development some months earlier. I had chatted briefly with the director of the company at the end of the program and we exchanged business cards. I'd followed up via email but never heard back. I soon got caught up in my day-to-day routine and dropped the ball on further follow up.

One morning at the end of July I received an email message from a familiar-looking address. The company whose director I had met earlier in the year had been contracted to revise a report addressing resiliency and climate change and was seeking someone with my research and writing expertise to contribute chapters. Would I be interested?

Well, yes I would. I dialed the number and spoke with a very pleasant but professional associate for the firm, hashing out a verbal agreement. Within a few hours, I had a contract in my in-box, ready for my signature. I printed out the contract and dispatched a signed, scanned copy via email. I'm presently working on Phase Two of the project.

These two anecdotes share a common theme: initial connections made in person. As far as I know, the company for which I'm contracting never considered another researcher. I have the strong impression that's also the case for Simeon. And why not? We were both known quantities, saving our potential employer and client the hassle of sorting through stacks of resumes, scheduling interviews, etc.

As writers, we may find it easier to communicate through our computers, Smartphones or tablets (or if you're a die-hard Luddite, your typewriter) than verbally. And there's nothing wrong with that. I have established relationships with editors that have endured for years (hello Moira!) strictly via e-mail and other online venues. At the same time, whenever I find myself in the same city with any of my online contacts, I extend invitations for coffee, which more often than not are eagerly accepted.

If you're already in the same city with one or more of your editors or other publishing contacts, what's keeping you from setting up an in-person appointment? Sure, editors are busy people and you're busy too. In many ways it's much easier to tweet, post Facebook updates and tend to profiles on Pinterest, Google+, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc. And in today's hyper-connected world, maintaining a presence in cyberspace is a must.

But there's a reason that conferences, symposia and seminars continue to draw hundreds or even thousands of attendees. Even with the omnipresence of the Internet and social media, people still like to connect face-to-face, and that includes introverts, which many writers are (including me). Attending relevant events and making other face-to-face contacts remain among the very best means of making valuable contacts for nearly every profession, including writing.

Back in the heyday of mass online content producers, hundreds if not thousands of writers relied on these outlets as their sole or primary source of income. Google Panda and other recent developments have largely wiped out that publishing space. Online publishers still exist, of course, but upper-tier editors will expect you to have real-world experience on the subjects you write about, or at the very least, to flesh out your research with quotes and insights from authoritative figures.

The Internet is a marvelous invention that has fundamentally changed our world. But relying solely on cyberspace for professional development means you're potentially missing out on real opportunities. Even if you work primarily on a remote basis, you'll still need to get out of the house occasionally, if only for sanity's sake.

You don't want to find yourself in a situation like that of Sandra Bullock's character in the mid-90's Internet thriller The Net, where no one could vouch for her because they had never met her in person. OK, the technology for that movie is way outdated, and the hazard is (probably) exaggerated. But the basic premise of the movie is as valid today as it was in 1995 when the movie first appeared in theaters. So the next time you're contemplating skipping that networking event or even a get-together with other colleagues, don't. You may very well meet your next client there.

Copyright © 2014 Audrey Faye Henderson
This article is not available for reprint without the author's written permission.

Audrey Faye Henderson is a writer, researcher, data analyst and policy analyst based in the Chicago area. Her company, http://www.knowledge-empowerment.net/, specializes in social policy analysis concerning fair housing, affordable housing, higher education for nontraditional students, community development with an asset-based approach and sustainable development in the built environment.


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