Occasionally I'm asked to speak on writing or entertainment industry issues and during the course of those events, especially with young writers, I get asked certain questions with some regularity. This past week, the question was, "how do you develop your network?" The answer to that question has many components, too many to cover in a brief blog post, but subsequent events in the week highlighted one particular thing not to do when developing or maintaining your human network.
Don't waste people's time.
When you ask a fellow writer to read your material, you're asking for a commitment of their time, their experience, and their critical acumen. You're also asking them to devote their own limited creative energies on your behalf. Before you decide to call in that favor, ask yourself: why do I want this person's opinion? If you're looking for a rubber-stamp, "hey, this is wonderful," send the work to your mom. I assume if you send it to me, you want an actual, critical evaluation and that you're somehow looking to improve your work. I treat those requests with a professional's eye and try to be as honest as I can. That type of professional evaluation bundles together my decades of experience, my attention to detail, and a significant amount of mental effort. If, when you make the request, you have absolutely no intention of listening to anyone's opinion other than your own, then you have wasted my time.
In that case, you have self-selected yourself out of my network. You will not be on my go-to e-mail list for job opportunities or future connections. Your name will not come up in cocktail chit-chat as "someone worth knowing". Your e-mails will no longer be acknowledged.
Networks are fragile. Respect the value of a professional's time.