Decades ago when I lived in D.C., I read a cartoon in the Washington City Paper (if anyone can remember the artist, please let me know) that had a bunch of people at a typical cocktail party. This was soon after the release of the first Rambo movie. Everyone at this event — men and women alike –dressed in power suits and had one sleeve ripped from their clothing. Their exposed arms were muscle-bound (think Sylvester Stallone) and in their hand each one carried an uzi.
These D.C. insiders would approach an unsuspecting person and say, "Hi. Who are you? Whaddya do?" Depending on the answer, the interviewer would either shove the respondent in a pocket saying, "I can use you!" or throw that person over a shoulder with "I can’t use you!"
This, I think, sums up how many people regard networking.
Common wisdom holds that the more people you know and the more powerful they are, the further you go.
I’m not sure I buy that anymore.
In my public relations workshops for writers, I stress the importance of networking and I still believe, if done right, it’ll serve them well in their professional careers.
But something has changed in my perspective. I’ve become a quality rather than quantity kind of gal. And quality isn’t necessarily what you might think . . .
Before I earned my first book contract, I went to every writers conference with a specific game plan. My quarry: agents and editors. I didn’t bother with anyone else because I couldn’t use them — they wouldn’t get me published.
Something changed when I actually signed that first contract. I remember the exact moment. It was at Left Coast Crime in Pasadena (my book wouldn’t be in stores for another year). I was sitting in the bar with Suzanne Proulx, Sinclair Browning and Steve Brewer (who’d taken a naive fellow New Mexican under his wing). The three of them were talking about their experiences with agents and editors; they gave me a crash course in the realities of being a writer and the writing life.
I went back to my hotel room and realized I’d been a fool. I’d spent so much time trying to find the "players," that I’d ignored the true gems, the people who had the time and inclination to teach me the ropes. A few months later, I went to my first Bouchercon and realized there was another group I’d never considered: potential readers. Sheesh. How could I have been so myopic before?
Something else has changed during the last few years, too. I’ve stopped trying to meet everyone in the room. Now I just want to meet a few people, to connect in meaningful ways — to learn and share and not worry about trying to impress or persuade.
It doesn’t matter to me anymore if I meet the famous folks. Most of them are off at their parties, special dinners and power meetings at these conventions anyway. And you know what? I find myself enjoying the ride with the people right there.
This hasn’t been a business decision; it’s been a life one. My time is important. I don’t want to spend it pandering or figuring out ways to use others. I want to enjoy myself and to be sincere with those around me.
Don’t get me wrong; I hope to meet new folks at every venue. Quantity can still benefit my career; the more people who read, buy and talk about my books, the more I’ll succeed.
And even though I no longer try to cozy up to the biggies, I end up meeting a great cross-section of people anyway.
At Wrangling with Writing, I had the wonderful opportunity to share time with many aspiring writers, the con’s incredible organizers and volunteers, and people like: Corey Blake and David Cohen of Writers of the RoundTable, agents Cherry Weiner and Loretta Barrett, and Victoria Lucas. None of these meetings were planned. All of the connections were real.
At Bouchercon, I got to pal around with the international guest of honor John Harvey and others such as J. Kingston Pierce, Linda Richards, Ann Cleeves, Martin Edwards, Ali Karim, Thalia Proctor (it was a very international con for me this year) and so many more.
What wonderful experiences. And I had absolutely NO agenda at either one.
People can sense that.
They can feel that I’m not calculating what they can "do" for me — whether I want them to give me a blurb or a bigger book deal, if they’ll turn my work into a movie or decide to promote me in their magazines. They understand that I’m more concerned with having a good time, being real, engaging in the true conversations that bring new perspectives and enrich life.
If, along the way, some of these relationships fruit benefically for my career — all the better.
If not — at least the journey was damn fun.
What about you?
What’s your attitude about networking? Has it changed over the years?
Do you go to conventions or conferences with a list of must-meets?