In about two weeks time, I’ll be hopping in a rental car and driving out to Saratoga Springs, NY, to attend the World Fantasy Convention. I will be going alone. I barely know anybody who will be there (I think). I have no idea what to expect. Well, that’s not entirely true – I imagine there’s going to be a lot of sitting in Samsonite chairs in convention halls. Beyond that, though, I’m stumped.
I’ve done this before. Some years ago, I attended Readercon (a scifi convention local to the Boston scene). I went in, I sat through a few panels, I bought a couple books, ate dinner, and went home. Afterwards, I wondered what I had spent my ticket money on, exactly. I hadn’t learned anything worthwhile, per se, and I didn’t meet anyone (hard to do that when you don’t talk to anybody), and I had no idea what to do. The whole experience put me off conventions for a good long while.
Here I am, though, doing it again. This time, though, I can’t just hop in my car and drive home for dinner. I’m there from Friday to Sunday, folks, and there’s no turning back. I plan on making this convention experience count. My advantages?
- I am a published author with a major publishing house (albeit the least well known author in that imprint). As my editor stressed to me when I met her, I have something to talk about.
- I know some people who will be there (my editor, and by “know” I mean “met exactly once and have corresponded via e-mail,” as well as some other Harper Voyager folks) and I will, therefore, not drift through the crowds entirely aloof and alone. I have been promised a “seat at the table,” though what table and who, exactly, I’ll be sitting next to is unknown.
- I have an actual goal. I’m looking for an agent who might be willing to take me on when I get around to pitching parts 3 and 4 (or 4 and 5, depending on how you count) of the Saga of the Redeemed. In order to achieve this goal, I will have to be social.
- Scott Lynch will be doing a reading there. As he is my Spirit Animal, I will try and get him to sign one of his books for me. That will be awesome.
Thusly armed, I shall journey forth in the snowy wilds of northern New York State and see if I can, through wit or will, advance my craft and my career in some way.
Either that or I’ll spend a significant portion of my time grading papers in my hotel room.
Assuming that isn’t the case, then maybe I’ll see you there! Drop me a note here if you plan to attend the WFC and, if so, what you hope to do or accomplish.
Got a nice piece of professional advice from a very successful, very popular author once. It was about professionalism, and the advice went like this:
Don’t be a jerk.
Sounds pretty easy, right? “Sure,” you say to yourself, “I’m a nice person. I’m able to converse with other human beings without making them cringe. NO PROBLEM!”
Well, turns out it’s probably harder than that. At least for me. As a traditionally published but not-altogether-well-known author who is doing his best to make connections and suss out the social contours of this new industry into which he has thrust himself, I find myself in the following situation of late:
I go out of my way to attend a social event at which there will be people with whom I ought to make professional connections. In my pocket, I have a small stack of business cards, so people won’t forget my name. I come armed with amusing anecdotes and dress professionally, but not so professionally I am mistaken for a butler or a valet. I am not attending this event to sell books directly or cultivate Machiavellian relationships with people who seem to be of use to me. I am going to make a good impression, seem like a good guy, and become a person People Know and Like and (maybe) Respect. Seems simple enough.
But then you find yourself in front of a person you admire professionally a great deal. As a large number of people in the room want to talk to this person, you realize that you have perhaps thirty seconds to a minute to make a positive impression upon them to the point where they would not object to acknowledging your existence at a future date. My question to you, oh readers, is what do you say?
The Bieber/Cera Scale
Here’s the thing: as an author, you spend equal parts of your time thinking you are the Greatest Human Intellect on Earth and also the Greatest Waste of Flesh in Human History. It goes with the territory. Therefore, when given the opportunity to make an impression on somebody you respect, you kinda have two extremes from which to draw. I choose to display these extremes as a scale of behaviors oriented between two poles: Justin Bieber and Micheal Cera.
Justin Bieber rating (or positive number on the scale) means you, sir or madam, are behaving like a self-aggrandizing ass-face. Biebers are the jerks who toss their manuscript at editors at cons and inform them they are “about to have their mind blown!” They are the people who stalk other authors on Twitter and keep insisting that they collaborate with them and to do otherwise would result in them missing a “major opportunity.” They are the people who trash other authors mercilessly online and leave one-star reviews that attempt to re-direct readers to their own work. They’re awful.
Of course, they do have self-confidence, and self-confidence is important when trying to connect with other people. I mean, you should love your own work, right? You should be able to sell it to strangers because, if you can’t, what the hell are you doing in this business?
See, because a negative rating on the scale – a Michael Cera – is to present yourself as a meek, self-doubting nobody (and by the way, I’m referring to the dramatic portrayals Cera has done – I have no idea what Michael Cera or, for that matter, Justin Bieber is like in real life). Ceras are the guys who stand in the corner, quietly sipping their cranberry juice while they watch Joss Whedon sit in a hotel lobby and never bother to introduce themselves. They are the guys who self-deprecate their own work to the point where nobody in their right mind would want to read it. They self-sabotage, they self-reject their work without ever sending it anywhere, and they cringe at the prospect of selling themselves to strangers. If possible, you could argue that being a Cera is even more destructive to a writing career than being a Beiber. I’d say, though, that in the end they are pretty much equal.
There is a delicate balance to be struck here, of course. And, in the aforementioned situation, you have under a minute in which to strike it. You shake the admired author’s hand, make eye contact, tell them you appreciate their work. They ask you what you write, and you respond. Select one of the following options:
- “I’m the next Pat Rothfuss and George RR Martin combined. I break all the rules, man, and my novel is about Vampire Sock Rabbits and how they tear down civilization and you probably have read it already unless you’re hopelessly out of touch, old man.”
- “You probably haven’t heard of my work. I write, you know, fantasy and stuff. About dwarves in space. It’s not selling well.”
- “I write fantasy novels, and have published in the following venues (etc.). My novel is about (polished elevator pitch).”
So, duh – you want to pick #3. Good luck pulling it off, though. I think, in my real-life interaction with the aforementioned admired writer, I managed to hit all three of those responses somehow. Well, no, probably not #1. I was so paranoid about coming off as #1 that I erred solidly into Michael Cera territory. I’m trying not to think about how stupid I sounded.
You’re probably wondering what a score of 0 on the scale is. Who, my friends, do you think is the person who best exemplifies the balance between Justin Bieber-esque arrogance and Michael Cera-esque self-deprecation. Well, I’ll tell you. It is Paul Rudd.
You think it’s easy coming off as the authorial equivalent of Paul Rudd? I assure you it is not. Still, I shall continue to practice being charming without being arrogant and being humble without being pathetic. Next time, hopefully, I will do better.
Or, hell, I could just be Michael Cera-ing the hell out of all of this and it went fine.
There’s more press about me and my book out there, but this isn’t my full purpose for writing today. That said, here are a few links:
- THE IRON RING is featured on Confessions of a Reader and New Reads!
- An Interview with myself by The Examiner.
More upcoming, of course.
However, let’s pause for the topic of the day: the writer and his community. Writing, it has been said, is a solitary profession. This is, of course, literally true – when you write, you do so alone. That’s just the writing part of writing, though. Being an author, as I am fast discovering, involves a lot more than just writing. You need to talk and associate with people.
The reason for this is that, once you actually get a novel out there, you also need people to want to read that novel. To do this, you need other people to do things for you – things like review your book on Amazon, feature your book on their blog, interview you for their paper, help you edit the damned thing, help you sell the next one, and on and on and on. That means, ultimately, you need to make friends in the industry and keep healthy connections with others within your corner of the reading and writing world.
Now, I happen to suck at this – I fully admit it. Honestly, one of the primary reasons I focused on getting a traditional publishing deal (as opposed to self-publishing) is that I wanted some kind of framework and guidance and legwork taken on by somebody who knows what they’re doing. So far it seems to be going okay, but I know I can’t just stop there.
This is why I am so very fortunate to have won the Writers of the Future contest for this year. In April, I will be heading out to LA to rub elbows with not only established professionals in my genre, but also to make friends with and learn from other writers just starting out. This is a monumental opportunity to expand my tiny little writing world and to invite others into my little Fortress of Writing Solitude. These are talented individuals, too, and here I will pause to plug some of them, rather than just plug myself.
C Stuart Hardwick, a former WoTF winner and himself a talented writer, had taken it upon himself to interview this year’s winners and put them up on his blog. I, myself, will be featuring there soon, but I wanted to entreat you all to visit there and read up on my friends, Martin Shoemaker and Scott Parkin. They are two major up-and-comers in the scifi world. Scott’s ideas are just devastatingly clever and his insight into writing as a craft is extremely sophisticated. Martin, meanwhile, has a list of publishing credits as long as his arm in places like Analog (he would have been ineligible for the contest had he not won the quarter he did!) and his work has already been featured in The Year’s Best Science Fiction 31st Annual Edition (!).
Clearly, I travel to LA in mighty company. Also, I am very glad to no longer be walking this road alone.