Sunday, April 25, 2010

Pull up a chair. It's time to talk.

by: Joelle Charbonneau

As writers we talk and think a lot about how to create the best story possible. We work on making our sentences punchy, our plot fast and fascinating and our characters real and interesting. We write. It’s what we do.

Well, not exactly. I mean, yes, we write. We have to. (Trust me, if we didn’t enjoy the writing process we wouldn’t be doing it. The money ain’t that great.) But there is more to the writing business than just writing. (Insert shocked and horrified gasp here.)

Yeah. I’m talking about networking - talking about writing, learning about other writers and, of course, learning about and chatting up publishing professionals better known as editors and agents. No squealing like a girl over this. (I am a girl, so I can say that without it sounding condescending and macho, right?) If you are serious about making writing your career, it is necessary to talk to other writers and industry professionals in order to find out what is going on in the business now. You can’t just read what's on the shelves. That's the stuff that was happening 18 months ago. Trust me on that one. My book was sold almost a year ago and won’t hit shelves for another 5 months. You need to stay current and networking is the only way to do this.

Don’t fret. There are lots of easy ways to network. Twitter is one of my favorite places to make writer hook-ups. I’ll admit that I was intimidated by Twitter a year ago, but that was before I really started having conversations with the other folks out there. It's a great place to see how other writers spend their days, market their work and think about the business. And lots of industry professionals are out there in Twitterverse - many of whom are giving tips to authors. I know a couple of authors who made contact with an agent on twitter and eventually signed with them. This might not happen for you, but it is a great way to hear the agent/editor perspective of what's going on in the biz without leaving the comfort and relative safety of your home.

Facebook is another great place to find and chat with writers as are the myriad of blogs, like this one, that are haunting the world wide web. But while these virtual methods are great, nothing can take the place of personal contact.

Yes, I am telling you to brave the wonderful world of interpersonal relationships. Conferences are a great way to make these connections. I just got home from speaking at one this weekend. You can meet editors and agents and other writers at a variety of conferences. There are panels and workshops on a wide range of subjects and numerous industry tidbits to be picked up at these events. In my experience the bar is the place where the most interesting conversations take place. (I know – big shocker.) I’ve met a lot of great friends and industry professionals with a glass of wine, or more likely a diet soda, in hand. In fact, a bar conversation with an agent was the inspiration for writing Skating Around the Law.

Conversations about the writing business can be important for writers at all stages of their career. New writers can learn how best to craft their story or approach the querying process. More experienced writers can meet and perhaps even get a submission request from an agent or editor. And published authors, debut to best-selling, can share their successes and their mistakes with people who understand the writing process. Networking will help a writer get a better perspective of all things publishing. And heck - you never know where you will find a great idea or get a request for submission. Take a chance and remember that whether the person is your favorite author or an important editor or agent – he or she is a person who is interested in having conversations about the business. Buy that person a drink and have fun talking about a subject you have in common – writing.

And if any of you have great conference bar stories, please feel free to share. I know there are lots of them out there.


WriterMarie said...

Great post, Joelle. In this day and age (man, I sound OLD, don't I?) it's important to network in all of these ways. There is nothing like meeting colleagues face to face and actually speaking...but if you can't meet in person, phone calls and social networking work wonders. As long as you make sure that you are adding real professionals and people who are serious about writing, you will be sucessful at networking.

Russel said...

Before anyone else brings it up, my first Bouchercon was where I made a lot of connections, but the most memorable one for me was meeting Sean Chercover. This was before his deal, but I was introduced to him at the bar and promptly vommitted over him (and quite possibly an editor who was caught in the crossfire). This was NOT to do with drink but a rather unfortunate allergy to musrhooms which had been served on the plane coming in (hidden in a sauce, I hadn't realised until it was too late). I would not reccomend vomitting on people as a way of networking. But Sean and I are still on speaking terms and its been great to watch him go from strength to strength.

In other disasters I have also squirted the head of a publishing house in the eye with a lemon. And stabbed a betselling author with my fork while gesturing wildly in the middle of telling a story.

(beware, now comes a rant)
But networking is good thing to do. When done right.

I fear some of the s/n sites are open to abuse. Certain FB writers go so far in promotion it becomes intrusive. Particularly when they carpet bomb friend requests to people who just happen to know other people. A few of my "home" friends have been rather disturbed to get friend requests from some of these people as they have no interest in writing or publishing or becoming a "fan" of writers they have never read. That last part of facebook really annoys me, in fact, and while I may "friend" someone looking for writing contacts, I do get very annoyed with the carpet bombers and the constant promoters, same as I do at conferences where I think the best approach is laid back and genuine. Networking is a more subtle thing, I think, than many people believe. Its a skill. An artform. And I think many people confuse being loud and getting in people's faces with the kind of lower-level networking that really gets folks on your side.

Steve Weddle said...

I like to think that the Twitters and Facebooks and online stuff just helps the face-to-face conferencing.

I've read that Twitter is killing conferences. Not sure about that. Guess I'll find out at the bar once NoirCon rolls around.

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Hi Marie - nope, you don't sound old...just pragmatic. This day and age in the publishing world is more competative than it has ever been. It is really important to make connections and keep learning about what is new in the business.

Russel - okay, yours is probably the best (and perhaps strangest) bar story I've ever heard. And yes, I think that because social media doesn't happen face to face, there is more chance of promotional abuse. I like knowing what is going on in the lives of other writers, but I don't like being inundated with promotion. I think a good rule of thumb is to consider what you would say to someone face to face before posting the same thing on line. You probably wouldn't scream - here is my book, here is my book - BUY MY BOOK. If you wouldn't do it face to face, don't do it in a social media setting. (Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule.)

Steve - funny enough, this was only the second conference I've been to since being on twitter. I actually had more conversations than ever before because I 'knew' more people. I had lots of twitter and facebook friends come and find me so we could meet and chat face to face. I don't think twitter is killing conferences. I think those connections can actually enhance them. Let me know what you think when you go to Noircon.

Barbara Monajem said...

I find the combination of local chapter, conferences, and internet loops to be perfect for networking. Over the years I've made quite a few friends and lots of acquaintances. Not at bars, though, because usually it's so loud people can't hear each other speak. Plus, I'm more of a morning person, and people congregate in the bars at night.

As for Twitter and FB, I'm trying. Time is the issue, and I know it's annoying to people when authors do nothing but promo, but to tell the truth I find it really hard to think up something random to say just for the sake of being sociable... so I'm still not sure how to handle the social networking sites. Any advice would be welcome.

Kathleen A. Ryan said...

Thanks for another great post, Joelle. I've been attending conferences for four years now, and I always learn so much, meet great folks and form wonderful friendships in the writing industry. I enjoy Twitter & Facebook, and I think the best part of it is the sharing of information and of course the social aspect.
Most recently, at Sleuthfest in Florida, I was sitting in the bar/restaurant alone, when another lady walked in; she looked at me, I looked at her, we both had conference tote bags, and she came over and joined me. It turned out to be Barbara Vey from Publishers Weekly. We enjoyed our lunch and each other's company. She took my photo and included it in her post the following day!
I'm reeling over Russel's comments! Whew!

Russel said...

Joelle - That Chercover encounter has legs of its own. I have actually been approached at cons by people who didn't recognise me cos of the books, but said, "Are you the guy who vommed on Chercover?" I can laugh about it, though. I am fairly accident prone, so these kinds of things follow me about as a matter of course (remind me one time to tell you how I broke my nose playing golf before ten years later properly resetting it by falling on my then girlfriend's hoover).

And there *are* some authors who scream "buy my book" but thankfully they are few and far between and most folks I've met at cons and fests - both as a reader and latterly as a writer - have been bloody lovely.

Kathleen - I do hope you've recovered from me comment :-) I reccomend a lie down and a glass of water. Or something stronger.

Russel said...

And, yes, just realised I made a writer's mistake doing Hoover with the lower case. I should have said vacuum.

(Just doing me part for trademarks everywhere)

Kieran Shea said...

Face time. Virtual networking? Good to a point. But face to face is better. Like seeing a concert film, wouldn't you rather been in the front row?

And if it were not for conferences I'd have never met Russel who (for the record) did not throw up on me.

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Hey Barbara - the one piece of advice I have about social networking is think of it as having a conversation. I find twitter is a great place to get to know people. I can be shy by nature (yeah, most people don't believe this since I'm the acting type, but it is true!) and have trouble inserting myself into conversations other people are having. But I find that on twitter people expect and enjoy when you jump in and comment on something they have said. You don't necessarily need to post a status update about you to be social. You can comment on other people's posts, links and just get to know people that way. Social networking always works best for me when I'm talking about someone else. Then I feel like I get to know them.

Kieran - yep, I prefer face to face, too. However, I have found that while social networking doesn't take the place of face to face, it can create great friendships with people you might never have known. I consider many folks that I met on twitter and facebook to be great friends. I hope someday I get to meet them in person.

And Russel - you continue to make me laugh. Thanks:) I'm dying to hear more of your networking stories. I know you must have loads of them!

B. A. Binns said...

I like your post and love the advice. Just need to start acting on it. I just don't know how to smooze, have always hated walking up to people cold or hanging around the bar hoping to be a part of conversations, and, while I'm not intimidated by Twitter or Facebook, I'm not really at home with them. But I know you are right. Its why I hang around people like you, I so want to be you when I finally get a chance to grow up.

Mary Marvella said...

You want a story? Well, here's one. I have to force myself to get out and meet folks and talk. (Did you buy that?)

I enjoy the networking part of conferences. There a a lot of agents and editors I enjoy and visit at conferences as old friends. At least I think they are.

Who knows when one will become my agent or editor? I've pitched to some of them.

Josie said...

Thanks, Joelle, for another thought-provoking post. I have to force myself to attend writer conferences, but have always asked myself "why" afterwards, because I've always enjoyed them.

Unknown said...

Just got back from the Pikes Peak Writers conference and though I didn't make it to the bar, I had two great networking lunches. I find one of the best ways to network is to volunteer as well!

Autumn Jordon said...

Great post, Joelle. I love going to conferences. I think my husband and I go drive across country and back and never need a hotel because of all the freinds I've made over the years. I've met agents and editors too and had some very interesting conversations with them. Not all industry releated either. LOL.

I'm a Facebooker, but Twitter not so much. Can I freind you and learn the ropes there?

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Hey Autumn - yes...come find me on twitter. It's a fun place to chat:)

Mary - yep, I have trouble believing the shy thing, but since I have the same problem I'll cut you some slack:)

Joanne - I find that I, too, often have to talk myself into attending conferences. And I'm always glad that I did.

Robin - how was the Pike's Peak conference? Did you hear any cool industry news? And yes, volunteering is always a great way to meet folks at conferences, especially if you have a hard time walking up to people and saying hello. It gives you an automatic reason to introduce yourself.

Mona Risk said...

Joelle, I love conferences. I consider a conference productive if I link with three useful people. Loops and chapters are good too. I am on Facebook, my Space and Goodreads although not very active. I won't add Twitter. Enough is enough. Blogs are great and sucking up my writing time but I enjoy them.

Mary Ricksen said...

Hi Joelle, great post! I have never had the privilege of attending a conference. Wish I could.
But I do everything else you talked about.