Oct 25

Yet another follow-up to the post on networking

Well, I’m still reeling a bit from the incredible response to my discourse on networking. I’m not accustomed to having a large number of visitors to this site, and suddenly my traffic has jumped from piddling to respectable! Thanks to everyone who stopped by, and also to all of you who linked to the posts. Also, Nancy Fulda has blogged about the other side of the issue, i.e. the response of pros/semi-pros in the industry to struggling newbies. It’s a great post and definitely worth reading.

So, delightfully enough, the networking post and the getting over shyness post have generated a nice amount of discussion, with suggestions and additions, both here and on the Codex forum.

From comments on this site–

Mark Evans wrote:

Speaking as a con organizer, a good way to meet folks is to offer to be on the program. Sitting on a panel with established writers is a good starting point for conversations. Don’t try to dominate a program item, listen more than you talk, and don’t insist on free con admission or special consideration. Just see if there are any openings you can be slotted into. Contact the concom in advance if you can. And try to stick to topics you know something about.

Dave Klecha wrote:

Oh, and business cards are also a nice touch. Gives people something easy and handy to take with them that has your name, e-mail, and URL on it. They’re obviously not something to hand out like candy at a parade, but when you’re in that position to leave before they get tired of you, it’s a good way of saying, “Hey, let’s talk more on your terms. Here’s my info.”

Sandra Taylor wrote:

One thing that has really helped me a lot is practicing. I practice my conversational skills every time I come into contact with someone. Several months of chatting in grocery store lines, school hallways, or anywhere else you happen to be, ingrains the “making friends” skills so that when you’re finally faced with that editor or agent or author, you can let the skills take over. This is an extension of #7. No one is unimportant, even away from conventions. I’ve had the most fascinating conversations in unexpected places.

Nayad Monroe wrote:

The easiest thing to do when being friendly at conventions is to be prepared with some not-too-invasive questions to ask people, if you’re ever stuck in a conversational pause. Asking about a person’s favorite author, or what they’re working on now (and *not* as an excuse to talk about your own work, btw), is a nice way to show interest in the people around you. Then the way they respond will show you whether they want to talk for a while, or not, and you can go from there.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden wrote:

SF conventions are full of interesting people, most of whom fall on the “fan” side of the (vastly overrated) “fan/pro” divide.
The one thing I would add is: if you live in an area with an annual local con, consider volunteering to help with some of the scutwork. Large karma points are to be had for being a Local Pro who’s happy to stuff envelopes or help set up the art show. And you’ll meet much more interesting people than you’ll encounter in the SFWA suite.

Kent Brewster wrote:

In line with #7: if you happen to be standing in a small circle talking to a person-of-importance and you see someone outside the circle who’s clearly too shy to approach, be the one who opens up the circle and makes the introduction for the new guy.

You will simultaneously win the undying admiration of the guy on the outside and come off to the people already on the inside–including the person-of-importance–as someone who is confident, professional, and generally aware of how social situations like these should go.

And from the Codex forum–

Laurel Amberdine wrote:

My best success at networking was almost accidental. I never mentioned my writing (until asked). I simply read all the GOH’s books and had some compliments and questions.

Tom Pendergrass wrote:

Probably the single greatest key to being a good conversationalist is being a good listener. Remember, for most people, their favorite topic of conversation is themselves.

Nora Fleischer wrote:

One thing that helps me, as a shy person, is to have some set parties that I’m going to attend. For example, I did a podcast for Podiobooks.com, so now I know the people over there. If some organization you’re attached to is giving a party, that’s a great place to go. Now you have something to talk about, when you’re there.

It also helps to try to meet extroverts who will introduce me to their friends. I may not be outgoing, but like Tom says, I try to be a good listener– and I always come home with a good story or two. If you go in with the attitude that you’re there to hear about the interesting stuff that other people are doing, you’ll have fun. (For example, I recently heard about how you bribe librarians in Cuba to bring you your research materials.) And, like Diana says, also know when to say bye-bye to these nice people and find some new ones.

The other thing to remember is that being introverted is not a sin. It doesn’t even mean that you are a misanthrope. All it means is that it takes much more energy for you to engage in social events than it does for extroverts. Go ahead and recharge your batteries after a particularly social period– hang out in the dealer’s room, or in your room, or in a panel until you feel better. It’s not a waste of time, it’s what you need.

Spencimus Prime wrote:

Let me add: don’t ask an agent to look at your new query after you’ve already had a pitch session with them. It’s no fun saying no to people’s faces, and I really hate saying it twice.

Again, thanks to everyone who commented, linked, or just stopped by to read. And if you’re going to World Fantasy Con next week and you see me, please say Hi!

Oct 23

A morgue cooler is not a stasis chamber

Nor is it a freezer. Sorry, but I’ve seen or read this a few too many times and it’s starting to bug me.

When a body is stored in a morgue, it is placed in a cooler that is approximately 34 degrees F. It is NOT frozen. (Think about how hard it would be to perform an autopsy on a frozen slab of meat!) This means that the body will still decompose, albeit more slowly. A “fresh” body that is left in a cooler for 4-5 days will definitely display the beginnings of decomposition, with “marbling” on the abdomen and the very beginnings of bloat or skin slippage.

So, if you have a story/novel/script that has a body stored for months, and one day someone decides to pull the body out to take a look at it, just know that after a couple of months the body will be goo.

(In fact, a body will still decompose even if in a freezer–just at a far far slower rate. This is why food storage guidelines tell you to not keep food indefinitely in your freezer.)

Oct 23

Revenge. It’s just darn sweet.

This morning:

J: “I don’t believe it. What are the chances that I would get a zit today?” (Note: Today is the first day of a big murder trial that he’s the lead prosecutor on.)
Me: “Didn’t you hear the phone ring?”
J: “Huh?”
Me: “Yeah, it was god calling to say he hates you!”

Oct 22

Getting past shyness

Due to popular demand, I have composed a follow-up post to my Convention Networking article:

How to get the most out of a convention when you are painfully shy.

Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes or magic bullets or secret codes that can take you from quaking introvert to gregarious socialite in three easy steps. However, I think I can supply some quick hints and tips, plus some long term solutions that really can help ease social anxieties. Having been a shy introvert (who sometimes still has attacks of OH MY GOD I’M SUCH A FAKE AND EVERYONE’S GOING TO FIND OUT!) I think I can give some pointers on how to make the whole con experience bearable, fun, and worthwhile.

Suggestions for coping with being ALL BY YOURSELF at a con:

1) Use the internet before you go. There are quite a few writer’s forums and writer’s blogs online, and becoming somewhat active in a few of them can give you a “preset” supply of people with whom you are comfortable. You don’t have to spend hours and hours online, but if you can set aside even 15 minutes a day or so to get to know people in an online setting, that will go a long way toward breaking the ice when the time comes to meet them in the real world. In writer’s communities that are mostly sf/f, there will often be some sort of conversation concerning who is planning to attend such-and-such convention. Speak up, and then try to make some sort of arrangement to meet.

2) If you arrive at the con and still know no one and have no pre-set arrangement to meet anyone, go through the dealer’s room and the art show, attend some panels, and go to the con suite. While you are doing this, make an effort to look around at other people in your vicinity. Look for people who are also roaming on their own. Smile. Be friendly. You’ll be surprised at how many people will smile and ‘be friendly’ right back atcha, especially since they are probably feeling just as lost as you are. If you manage to work up the nerve to actually speak, you could even say something like, “This is my first WorldCon. It’s a bit overwhelming, isn’t it!” Or, “As many times as I’ve been to cons, I still get overwhelmed by all of the people!” Conversation will most likely ensue.

3) Most pros/semi-pros/regular con-goers are actually pretty darn nice. If you see a name on a badge that you recognize because you read something they wrote, muster up as much courage as you can to say this one sentence:

“I liked your story/book/blog.”

At this point you will have passed the bronze level of the initiation, and the person will then whisper in your ear the clue to get to the silver level…

Okay, not quite. But, the person will likely respond with a smile and a thank you. If they then engage you in conversation, then respond appropriately, keeping in mind the suggestions laid out in the “How to make friends” section of my previous article. If they merely smile and thank you and do not engage you in conversation, then move on. But don’t assume that it was a wasted effort, because this person–and any people who were with them–will now have your face and name in their consciousness. Do this often enough and pretty soon there will be a fairly decent number of people who have a clue who you are, with little conversational effort involved.

4) Smile. Be friendly. If you look like you’re miserably lonely, very few people are going to want to hang out with you for fear of catching your misery. Even if you really are miserably lonely, don’t let it show! Pretend that you’re having the time of your life. Fake it! If you have to, tell yourself the whole thing is a big game. (This ties in to my advice of, “If you want to be liked, you need to be likeable.”)

So now, let’s assume you’ve managed to find someone to talk to. At this point the hardest thing for you to do will be to NOT cling desperately to this benevolent person who has displayed friendliness to you. There is no better way to turn friendliness into, “Oh dear god help me shed this leech!” than to permanently attach yourself to this person. Go read #4 of my networking article. Really, you have to leave. Even if it’s only for an hour or so, you still need to send the message that you have the ability to not be a stalker/clinger.

In summary:

Try to create hookups before you go.
Realize that there will be others who are just as lost as you, and look for them.
Sincere compliments are darn near always appreciated.
Don’t stick like glue to someone who has allowed you into their fold.

Now, here are some possible long term solutions to crippling shyness:

1) Use the internet some more. Join absolutewrite.com. Read makinglight, or Whatever, or any of the many dozens of excellent blogs that have rich comment sections. Make comments when appropriate. (i.e. join the party.)

2) Take an acting class. No, really! It’s a great way to break through a fear of speaking up in front of others. It also can give you the tools to “fake” being outgoing. (Which is basically what I did for ages, then one day I realized that I wasn’t faking it anymore…for the most part.)

3) Take a martial art. I can’t say enough how much this will do for your self-esteem, self-confidence, and overall fitness. Plus, it’s a great way to meet people!

A final note: Just accept that at some point you will be absolutely convinced that you have made an utter ass of yourself. You may even be right. First off, never underestimate the power of a sincere apology: “I think I just made an ass of myself, and I apologize.” Or: “I truly did not mean that the way it came out. I’m so sorry.” Or something in that general vein. If an apology is not possible/appropriate, extricate yourself from the situation and go somewhere else for a while, then take a deep breath, shake it off, and get over it. It’s not the end of the world. I promise. Now go back to having fun.

Oct 22

Breaking the laws of physics

M: “I don’t get it. I just don’t get it. I ran 5 frickin’ miles yesterday, I ate really well all day–”
J: “And you gained five pounds?”
M: “TWO! I ran five miles! And I didn’t cheat on my diet at all!”
J: “You didn’t hear your phone ring while you were in the shower?”
M: “Um… no?”
J: “Oh, yeah, it was God calling to tell you he hates you.”

Oct 20

Election Day

Conversation with my husband this morning:

J: “What are your plans for this morning?”

Me: “I figure Anna and I will leave around 10, go vote, and then head to my sister’s house.”

J: “Who is Anna voting for?”

Me: “Whoever will give her the most stuff.”

J: “Oh, so she’s a typical Louisiana voter then!”

Yeah, that pretty much sums up politics in Louisiana, where most voters cast their vote with the mentality of a three year old.

Oct 19

How to network at conventions

As I warned earlier, here is my article on how to network at a con without being a total goob. I’m not going to make any claim to being a networking goddess, and I’m sure I’ve made some boneheaded goofs in my time, but I feel fairly confident in my ability to make a reasonably good impression. I felt the need to write this after seeing more than a few writers make utterly horrible gaffes at conventions, often blissfully unaware that they had even done so. (There was a particularly painful one at a con I attended last year.) (Coincidentally, John Scalzi recently posted something about blog readership that ties in perfectly with what I’m going to say here. Different medium, but same basic concept. Be sure to check it out.)

How to network at a convention

So here it is. You’re a fairly “new” writer, or at least new to the convention scene, and you desperately want to make some industry contacts in the hopes that it will make it easier to get an agent/sell your work/quit your day job and hire a cabana boy/any of the above. You decide to go to a convention, perhaps picking one of the “big” ones such as WorldCon, or World Fantasy, because you’ve heard that editors and agents are absolutely spilling out the doors.

Here are some guidelines/rules/suggestions to go by:

#1 ) Don’t go to a convention for the sole purpose of networking. It shows, and you will have the unpleasant reek of desperation clinging to you. Go to a convention because they’re fun and there are a lot of really really cool people to meet, only a small fraction of whom are actually agents and editors. Go to the panels. Listen to what is said. Form your opinions, and keep an open mind. Wander through the dealer’s room and talk to the vendors. Smile and be polite and nice.

#2) Have fun and make friends.† Making friends is the absolute best way you can possibly network, because these will be the people who will remember your name, might be willing to trade critiques, and who might later on kindly offer to introduce you to their agent/editor. Emphasis on offer to. Do not ask for the introduction. If you have progressed to a “friendly” status with someone, they will probably be well aware that you are at a stage in your career where you are looking for an agent/editor. DO NOT ask this person to give his/her agent chapters of your novel. If they want to read it, great. If they offer to show it to their agent, fantastic.

#3) Don’t bug the crap out of the pro or semi-pro who has been kind enough to take you under his/her wing for the con to introduce you to agents/editors at the con. Really now, these agents/editors probably meet several hundred shiny-eyed newbies at every con they go to, and dutifully and kindly pass along their business cards, and as soon as they’ve extracted themselves from the encounter will likely forget your name. Yes, even if you’ve pressed your business card into their hand.

#4) Again, if you’ve been fortunate enough to have a pro/semi-pro take you in hand, don’t stick with that person for the entire con. Dare to break away, especially if you find yourself waiting for them outside the bathroom. Trust me, they don’t really need to pee that much. They just need a break from you. Take the hint. Go to some panels. Go to the dealers room. Go wander around the con suite.

#5) Leave a person/group, before they get sick of you. Ideally you would leave the person/group at a point when they are sorry to see you leave. You definitely don’t want to leave at a point when they are relieved/glad/thanking the gods that you are leaving. This is not to say you can’t hook up with said person/group later on, but you need to give people breathing room.

#6) If you are invited to eat with a group of people, make SURE that you have contributed your share of the bill, INCLUDING a worthy tip. Play it safe and factor in a 20% tip at minimum. (You’ll never make a bad impression by overtipping slightly.) You definitely don’t want others to resent you because they had to pay more so that the server wasn’t stiffed.

#7) Never assume that someone is a nobody, so be nice to everyone.

#8) DO NOT PITCH YOUR WORK AT THE CON UNLESS ASKED TO DO SO. If an agent/editor does ask what your work is about, be ready with a one or two line teaser description, e.g. “My book is about a homicide detective who can summon demons, and she’s after a serial killer who can also summon demons.” If it interests them, they’ll ask for more details which you can then provide.

#9) DO NOT HAND ANYONE YOUR MANUSCRIPT UNLESS THEY ARE ABSOLUTELY BEGGING FOR IT. Everyone has heard the editor/agent nightmare of having the manuscript shoved under the stall door in the bathroom, right? Don’t come anywhere close to being that person. In fact, I really can’t think of any reason to bring your manuscript to the con at all, unless you were asked to bring it.

#10) Have fun. Make friends†. Go to the parties.

#11) Don’t get drunk. It’s okay to have a drink or three, but know your own limitations! And, there are enough non-drinkers at cons that no one is going to sneer at you for ordering the diet coke sans rum.

#12) Keep track of who you meet and who introduced you. Yes, keep notes if necessary. If you later query an agent that you met or were introduced to at a con, you can then mention, “I enjoyed meeting you last year at World Fantasy, and found the conversation about desiccated corpses quite interesting.” Or, “Jay Pond was kind enough to introduce me to you at last year’s convention.” That sort of thing.

#13) If you were fortunate enough to have a particularly nice conversation/meeting/drinking game with an industry professional, don’t be afraid to send a thank-you note as a follow-up after the con is over. Personally, I think that such missives should be handwritten on nice stationary and sent via snail mail.

#14) Have fun. Make friends†. Stay in touch with those friends after the con is over.

This should probably go at the beginning and be #0.5) Wardrobe and appearance: Mileage definitely varies on this, but my personal opinion is that if you’re trying to be taken seriously, don’t dress like a grunge ball. After you’ve sold a few books/stories and have made a name for yourself with your writing you can pretty much dress however you want, but until that time comes, dress in an industry-appropriate professional manner and style. (I don’t want to go into detail on this since opinions vary wildly, but I think a default of “Friday business casual” is probably a safe bet for most.) Use proper hygiene. Brush your teeth. If you have any doubt about your breath, utilize mints.

† How to make friends: Yes, it seems silly to have to include a section on this, but I think it’s needed. Many writers are introverts, and are a little shaky on the dynamics of social interaction. I won’t claim to be an expert at it by any stretch, and god knows I’ve made an ass out of myself before, but I think I can at least touch on the basics.

1) To be liked, you need to be likeable. Seriously. Be friendly. Smile at people.
2) Don’t monopolize conversation.
2a) Until you get to know someone a bit, limit talking about yourself except in brief introductory generalities unless asked or unless it would really add to the current conversation.
3) Ask the other person all of the questions you wish they would ask you. Don’t try to “top” what they say.
4) Smile, be polite, be nice.

I welcome comments on this, and also give blanket permission to link.

Oct 17

From the land of Neurotica

Have you ever had one of those experiences where you send an email (usually to someone you admire/look up to/want to like you)that you meant to be light and funny, but then after re-reading it (after it’s been sent, of course) you start to think that maybe it’s not funny after all, and it could certainly be read in such a way that the recipient would come away from it with the strong impression that you’re rather strange/clueless/annoying/pathetic/all of the above?

Yep, going through that right now in my own personal corner of Neurotics R Us. Sheesh.

Oct 17

A big clue that I really need coffee

Tried to put the grounds into the machine without putting a filter in first.

Nice mess. Ugh.

Oct 16

Your basic weekly update

Even though my stomachy-thing didn’t involve nausea or the other, it still took me a bit over a week to get over it. At one point I was actually starting to wonder if it was something other than a virus, such as an ulcer, or my gall bladder, or acute pancreatitis, or stomach cancer, or an alien being growing in my abdomen. (I googled the symptoms on all but the last one. I didn’t think that WebMD would have much about aliens in one’s tummy, though I guess I could have gone with “intestinal parasites” or something like that.)

However, it all seems to be over now, though my stomach now seems to be about 1000% more sensitive to NSAIDS and the like. I have come to the unpleasant discovery that any OTC drug that is effective against a garden-variety headache has the side-effect of ripping your stomach lining out. (If anyone knows of an OTC that does not rip stomach lining out, please educate me!) So maybe it was some sort of virus-induced mini-ulcer. [shrug]

Anyway, World Fantasy Con is approaching quickly. Yay! I looked at the membership list and about fell over at the size of it this year. Apparently absolutely everyone in the known universe who is even remotely associated with writing/publishing/agenting/editing SF/F is going to be there.

I hope the con hotel has a big bar area.

In writing-ish news, the rewrites on Book2 continue at a nice pace, though I ended up ripping out a plot thread and having to rewrite about 30K words. I’ve also been making some notes on the side for another book I want to write at some point. When that point would be I guess would depend on how well my Demon series does or does not do, but I wanted to at least get my thoughts on it jotted down.

Hoo boy, this it turning into one of those “yeah, whatever” blog entries.

Okay, in closing I’ll give a boring update on my eternal quest for improved fitness. I’ve increased my running distance to about five miles, though it takes me so long to run those five miles that I have to reserve runs of that length for the weekends, otherwise I would have to get up at 4am. (And I already get up at 4:30!) And the weather down here is finally in the Frickin’ Gorgeous phase, which makes the running a whole lot easier.

All right, y’all have suffered enough so I’ll end this. In the next week or so I’ll be posting an article on “How To Network at Conventions Without Coming Across as a Pathetic Loser,” so stay tuned.

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