I’ve been negligent. I like to blame it on the fact that I’m a recluse at heart. But that’s not an excuse—or at least, not a very good one. In the writing game, we authors are frequently called upon to step outside our comfort zones.
Well, for me, attending a convention is about as far outside my comfort zone as it’s possible to get. It’s not that I’m afraid of people—or strangers—but I’m not a good socializer, and an even worse self-promoter. As this month’s posts are so far making pretty clear, conventions are largely about socializing and self-promotion!
Three years ago, I stepped out for the first time and bought my ticket to attend the World Fantasy Convention in Toronto. I didn’t know what to expect… and I was intimidated. It helped that a few of my good writing friends were also going to be there.
I turned out to be woefully unprepared. I didn’t have any elevator pitches worked out, nor had I familiarized myself with the list of attendees. I hadn’t scouted out any editors or agents to approach either. This sort of homework is second nature to seasoned convention goers.
Fortunately, I got some much-needed assists from my friends and fellow Fictorians, particularly Ace Jordyn and Nancy DiMauro. Upon arrival, I went out for lunch with Ace, and she quickly set me at ease. As a WFC newbie, it was helpful to have someone to tag along with and make introductions on my behalf.
On the second night of the conference, I found myself wandering the Tor Books party in a suite on the top floor of the hotel. The room was packed to the gills. This is precisely the kind of scene that usually makes me uncomfortable, but Nancy pulled me through the crowd like an expert.
At some point, I found myself at the bar—an awkward place to be, seeing as I barely drink. The bartender made eye contact with me and said hello. Before I had a chance to reply, I glanced at his nametag—and instantly recognized the name. This was no regular bartender, but one of those big-time editors I knew I was supposed to be watching out for.
All things being equal, my most likely impulse would have been to clam up and back away slowly.
I surprised myself. “Hey there, it’s good to meet you. I’m a huge fan of the line of Star Trek books you edited.”
Caught flat-footed? Certainly. But this had the virtue of being honest. I knew this editor had worked on Pocketbook’s line of Star Trek novels for many years. While in high school, I had collected hundreds of those books.
As it turned out, we didn’t get the chance to talk about my own books—or even the fact that I was a writer. He was a big Star Trek fan, I was a big Star Trek fan, and we found all sorts of things to talk about between poured drinks.
Before I knew it, I’d said goodbye and wandered off, pleased with myself and happy to have made a connection.
Nancy intercepted me a short time later and asked all the practical questions I had neglected. Had I given him my pitch? Had I gotten his card? Had I given him mine? Had I asked for an opportunity to submit my completed novel for him to take a look at? No, no, no, and no. Good grief, I hadn’t even thought to bring business cards. As I’ve said, I didn’t know what I was doing.
It turns out that using this fleeting connection to talk about Star Trek was absolutely the savviest thing I could have done. The convention was packed with writers clamoring to get the editors’ attention. Instead I treated the editor like a person and got the chance to casually talk about our shared interests. And I think I made an impression.
Nancy insisted that I go back later in the evening. I did, and I walked away having given my pitch, gotten his card, and been rewarded with the opportunity to submit my completed novel. Not bad for a newbie!
Evan Braun is an author and editor who has been writing books for more than ten years. He is the author of The Watchers Chronicle, whose third volume, The Law of Radiance, was released earlier this year. In addition to specializing in both hard and soft science fiction, he is the managing editor of The Niverville Citizen. He lives in Niverville, Manitoba.