Making Friends Without Making Them Feel Used

We hear a lot these days about the need to build a team (or tribe) that can help us in our quest for publication. As I recently said in this post How To Drive Yourself Crazy as a Writer, writing a book might be a solitary endeavor, but the road beyond that is not.

In the changing publication climate, we need each other now more than ever for things like editing, marketing, encouragement, instruction, advice, etc.

Now, with two published books out there, I’ve come to realize just how important a role my connections have played in achieving success. Influencers, reviewers, online friends, and blog readers, have been some of my biggest supporters.

For example, Lydia Sharp said this in an email: "A co-worker of mine just finished reading The Preacher's Bride (on my recommendation) and said she loved it! I also gave my copy of The Doctor's Lady to a different co-worker/friend . . . These ladies are not writers, just readers, and I was talking about your books (at different times to each of them) . . . neither one of them had heard of you before I mentioned your books. So it looks like you got some new fans!"

I could list example after example of other online friends who have done the same thing as Lydia—passed along the word about my book to the people in their circle of influence whether online or off. I’m absolutely thrilled and incredibly grateful for the outpouring of support and the friendships that I’ve been able to make.

But how does a writer gain those kinds of connections? Like me, you’ve probably run into people online that you thought held out the hand of friendship. But it didn’t take long before their spam and requests made you feel used, as if you were just another pawn in their effort to play the publishing game.

As we strive to build a wider online presence, how can we make friends without making them feel used? Here are some principles I’ve tried to live by in my online interactions:

1. Form connections early in your publishing journey. I always encourage beginning writers to spend the majority of their time learning and growing as writers. But I also don’t advocate waiting until right before publication before jumping into social media and attempting to make connections.

2. Show genuine interest in other people. Yes, numbers matter (to a degree). But let’s never lose sight of the fact that every name and face we come across belongs to another human being with real joys and sorrows just like ours. They have dreams and aspirations, families and pets, and health issues and stressors the same as we do. They are more than just another number to help us rise higher and instead deserve our respect and basic consideration.

3. Ask for little. I rarely ask any of my friends for favors. For example, I don’t ask for guest blog posts, book reviews, retweets, or any other help promoting my books. On a couple of occasions, I’ve put out the word that I’d needed volunteers. And in those cases, online friends could email me if they wanted to participate in a blog tour or influencing for a book.

However, the large majority of support I receive from friends is freely given without any cajoling, spamming, or pleading on my part. In fact, I’m honored that people come to me on a regular basis and ask for interviews or guest posts.

But, you may be asking, how do you get to the point where people ask how THEY can help YOU and not the other way around? (See the next point.)

4. Give a lot. Become known as a giver in the writing community. But also make sure to give without strings attached. A surefire way to lose friends is to do something nice but then turn around and ask for a favor in return.

There are countless ways to give: encouragement, blog advice, retweets, reviews, etc. I’m continually amazed by the many generous writers I meet on the internet. They’re the kind of people that I want to rally behind and see succeed, not because they’ve asked me to, but because I’ve grown to respect and admire them.

Summary: The bottom line is this: To have friends, you have to be a friend--especially the kind of friend worth having. That’s the way it works in real life. And that’s the way it works on the internet too.

What about you? Have you ever made an online friend only to later feel used by that person? What are some ways you've had success making online friends?

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