Most writers I know, defy the stereotype of the loner, Salinger-like author that never goes out and has no friends. In fact, writers are some of the most sociable people I know. Maybe it's because we know how to tell a story, maybe it's because we can all bond over our love for books, but whatever it is, we can drink and chat until the wee hours of the morning.
Over the years, I have acquired numerous writing buddies: people in my critique group, people I went to college with, people I met at conferences, on Backspace, through the blogosphere. The act of writing is such a solitary experience, that it feels nice to walk away from the computer and have a drink with people that know exactly how it feels.
When I've mentioned the authors or reviewers I know to people outside the community, I have gotten the same response: "That must really help your career!" In the beginning, I never really thought about it like that. When I'm talking to people at writers conferences, I never think about how they can help me. And I think we've all been in that situation. Someone introduces themselves and immediately, you get the vibe of "I hope your someone important because otherwise I won't waste my time talking to you." It's awkward, the conversation is strained, and connections aren't made.
That being said, I attribute many, if not most, of my successes and opportunites to people I have met. I began reviewing books for Crimespree because I met Jon at Love is Murder. Reviewers like Sarah Weinman and David Montgomery have recommended me to their editors. Ken Bruen, bless his heart, not only read but blurbed my yet-to-be-published novel. When I met these generous people, I wasn't thinking about what they could do for me. And it's because of that, because I had no hidden agenda, that they have done so much.
When it comes to publishing a novel or getting freelance gigs, your work is what's important. It doesn't matter who your friends are if you have a bad product. Honing your skills, perfecting your craft, and writing the best book you possibly can should be priority number one. Networking comes later. Knowing people in high places may get your foot in the door, but it's not going to close the deal.
The world of publishing is a tough one and I'll do anything I can to help another writer out. Fortunately, other members of the community feel the same way. We look out for each other, push each other's books, listen to the experiences of others and dole out advice when we can. The act of writing may be solitary but the act of publishing certainly isn't. It goes back to the old saying: it takes a village to raise a child. And man, we've got quite a village.