Sounds of the lunch rush washed over me as my heart sank. I fell back into the crinkly leather of my booth seat as the woman across from me reached into her bag and pulled out three full pages of elevator pitches. As for myself, I had travelled halfway across the country with nothing but a few changes of clothes and a mustard stain on my lapel. This is what it felt like to be grossly unprepared.
This was a mere two months ago, hours before the start of World Fantasy Convention 2012. I had arrived early in the morning before the Thursday sessions and was now eagerly catching lunch with a good friend of mine I hadn’t seen in over a year. To my surprise, my friend was more interested in talking shop than catching up on our personal lives. The only reason this surprised me is because we were on different pages. She had come to Toronto to make valuable connections and further her writing career. If I’m being completely honest, I had mostly come to socialize. Like I said: different pages.
And it was me who had to now make a series of furious, last-minute adjustments.
My friend, who’s been writing for many years, has an impressive body of work and a long list of ideas for future works in progress. She’s a big-idea, high-concept thinker… and she had come all this way with books to sell. That wasn’t her mentality; she was as much there to “buy” an agent or editor as anything, and I think that’s a healthy perspective. But however you look at it, WFC is a book market, and she had come with the correct mindset.
WFC is the only major con I’ve attended in the two and a half years since I decided to pursue my writing professionally, but I know for a fact that it’s not unique. Writers go to cons for many reasons, but primary among them is the great white hope of networking: to make that one perfect connection with someone who has the ability to make your wildest publishing dreams come true. WFC 2012 was crawling with those kinds of people. Best-selling authors, agents, and editors from all the major genre publishers were on the premises, and the hardest of hard-nosed genre writers were hunting them like Bugs Bunny at the height of rabbit season.
This wasn’t the fun, laidback reunion with friends I had hoped it would be. In retrospect, it was a hundred times better.
Let me get personal for a minute and explain that I hate networking—or maybe I just hate the word. The idea of walking up to perfect strangers and making small talk, all with the agenda of finding out whether or not they’re useful to me or not… well, it’s fair to say that rubs strongly against my grain. Of course, ardent professional networkers probably wouldn’t describe their skillset quite that way, but it’s the way I have always perceived it. You would therefore expect that a con like WFC was a cesspool of human ugliness from which I would instinctively want to run screaming.
But fortunately, it was too late to do that by the time I sat across from my friend over a burger and fries and that long list of elevator pitches. Thank goodness for that, because WFC was a game-changer for me. And my fervent hope is that one of 2013’s many excellent conventions will be a game-changer for you, too.
In the month of January, you will hear stories from many con- and workshop-goers, our hope being that these experiences and tips will prepare you to take the leap and jump into the professional pool, perhaps for the first time. You’ll learn many things. Like, what’s an elevator pitch? Why is the hotel bar the most important location at a convention? How do you meet other professionals without coming across as desperate and needy? I learned all this and more. Oh, and guess what? I changed my mind about networking. It’s not the dirty word I thought it was.
Welcome to 2013, the year to take big steps. Bold steps. Game-changing steps.