Monday, November 13, 2017

Networking For Introverts

Gail's Perception Of Networking

Conventional Wisdom tells us that writers tend to be introverts, drained by lots of interaction with large numbers of people, at their best with small groups or even working by themselves. Presumably that's one of the reasons we're attracted to writing in the first place.

And, yet, in the 21st Century, so much of nonwriting writer work is done in large groups--conferences, book fairs, speaking engagements, etc. I've written here before about introverts attending professional gatherings. The structured workshops, panel discussions, critiques, and even one-on-ones aren't a problem. Those are the reasons introverts go to these things. The meandering around before and after events is another thing. Lunch. Coffee breaks. Grin and bear it time, folks. You sometimes hear about how these excruciating moments are the most important part of a professional gathering. So important, that they have their own name...networking.

Networking is like going to singles bars, but for professionals. In publishing, it's when people hope to meet the agents and editors who will change their professional lives. Maybe even in an elevator, which is where the expression "elevator pitch" comes from. Personally, I don't believe that story that was going around years ago about a woman shoving her manuscript under a toilet stall to an agent at a conference. Urban legend, in my humble opinion. But it makes a point about expectations for networking.

I will be honest and admit that I don't even try to network anymore. Though I've been to enough writing events over the years that I usually see people I'm at least acquainted with when I attend them, I can't say that I've made any career changing connections at any program I've ever attended. I've taken in some great content from presenters, but meeting someone who boosted me up the publishing ladder? No. When I see on meeting instructions that there will be a half-hour of networking before the program that is my real goal for the day, I figure I can sleep in thirty minutes and get there late.

NESCBWI's Agent And Editor Model

Which brings us back to last week's Third Annual  New England SCBWI Agent/Editor Day. This Agent/Editor day was organized so that participants would meet in small groups with with an agent or editor in the morning and then with another agent or editor in the afternoon. What you're essentially doing is creating a writers' group, then creating another one a few hours later.

The materials we received asked us to be sure to arrive by 8:45, though the first group didn't begin until 9:30. I looked at it and thought, Yeah, sure.

Then I thought again. What if that 8:45 thing was a test? Hmm?

Of course, it wasn't a test. Nonetheless, I ended up leaving the house under a full moon that morning to get to New Hampshire for 8:45. I pulled into the parking lot after 8:30, knowing nothing would be happening for 45 minutes. I wasn't miserable, by any means, but I definitely wasn't enthusiastic.

Then I get inside and see tables set up in a ballroom...with a dance floor, not that that matters. And each table has the name of the agent or editor assigned to it. And everybody just went immediately to their assigned tables, because evidently introverts follow instructions really well. What followed was forty-five minutes of pretty meaningless chit-chat, but, hey, painless!

After two hours of very good literary criticism, it's time for lunch. Remember how much fun the high school was the first day of a new school year? Yeah, that's what lunch is like at conferences. But last week, instead of drifting off to some other spot and forcing ourselves on other people, we picked up our food from the buffet and came back to our table. Our very same spots next to people we'd been with for hours. Well, just under three hours. But that's hours. It was as if we knew each other, in that way you can know people whose name you can't remember, even though everyone's wearing name tags.

Then we got up and all separated and headed to other tables for our second session of the day where there was another sign, and we were good to go for another couple of hours. During that second session, by the way, someone brought around plates of cookies, which was kind of hygge-like. (Yes, I am reading The Little Book of Hygge.) Hygge--comfort, contentment, coziness. Not that I ate any of the things, but the hygge was still there.

Crunching Some Numbers

Number of people at last week's event: Between 100 and 114

Number of people participants had to interact with: Seven or 8 at a time, 14 or 16 altogether

One hundred to 114 people, not that manageable. Seven or 8 people? Totally manageable. Seriously, I barely knew anyone was there besides my two groups. This thing was an introvert's dream.

Now, I can't say at this point that I made any career-changing connections at this thing, though I may very well change the way I write as a result of my time there. But for me this set-up will remain the gold standard for a professional gathering for quite some time to come.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: Place Holders

Situation One: You're working away on your National Novel Writing Month manuscript and you get to this bit where you need information you don't have. Do you:

  1. Drop everything and spend enormous amounts of time researching the subject?
  2. Spend a few minutes making a couple of notes about what you want to do in this spot, leave it for December, and use your precious NaNo hours to continue writing from that point?

Situation Two: You're struggling with a spot in your NaNoWriMo manuscript. It is brutal. Do you:

  1. Sit there most of the morning until something comes to you?
  2. Make a couple of notes about what you want to do in this spot, leave it for December, and use your precious NaNo hours to continue writing from that point?

Yes! Yes! The answer is 2!

The place holder is the rushed, rapid writer's friend. The best thing to happen to work time since the 8-hour shift. At least, I think it is. I've never been good at using place holders. Researching obsessively is much more my thing. And then I end up not using the information, anyway, or deleting whatever I managed to come up with. But today I used a place holder twice. The idea came to me before I'd wasted too much time. So all good.

And How Is NaNo Going For Gail?

Even though today is Day 7 of National Novel Writing Month, and in order to meet the monthly goal of  50,000 words a writer has to have written a bazillion by now while I have only written 3,641, I am feeling good about my NaNo experience to date. See, I've only had two and a half real days (more or less) for writing, during which time I wrote an entire chapter and started another, which is a lot of work for me.

And it's very early days for me to have latched on to that place holder thing. If I can keep that up the rest of the month, I'll be on fire.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

The Weekend Writer: Direct From The Editors' Mouths

Yesterday I attended The Third Annual New England SCBWI Agent/Editor Day, and now, Weekend Writers, you will get the benefit of my experience there.

Holly & Julie are there somewhere
These events are set up so that participants select two of the agents or editors in attendance and become part of small groups meeting with them. The writers have around fifteen minutes to do a short reading and receive feedback from the agent/editor and sometimes other group members. It's actually beneficial to hear critiquing of other writers' work, as well as your own. All knowledge has value, as my father-in-law once said.

What To Do With Your First Pages

You could sense a theme in Holly West's (Feiwel & Friends and Swoon Reads, both imprints of Macmillan) comments. While you often hear about "hooks" being needed in first pages, Holly talked about something different.
  • Readers need to get a sense of what a book is about right away.
  • The main character's goal should be clear up front. 
  • Character first in early pages. Add backstory later. 
  • The first words and lines of a story are a contract with readers, through which the writer explains what kind of book is about to read and who the main character is so readers know what they are getting.
An interesting bit I learned about Holly last night on-line--She edited These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, which I described as Georgette Heyer Meets Agents of SHIELD. And having talked with Holly West, I can see her working on that book.

How To Move A Story Along And A Great Definition Of Voice

I took away two thought-provoking points from Julie Bliven from Charlesbridge.
  1. Embed description and narration within dialogue and action, because dialogue and action are what move stories forward. Description, not so much. I'm thinking of a well known adult novel from years ago in which a character is making his way through Paris. Over and over again the action stopped so the author could describe a building. Evidently I don't care that much about Paris.
  2. Voice is the narrator's attitude toward what is going on around him or her. This is huge. Voice, I think is like art. People can't define it but know when they see it. Julie can define it, and it's a definition that is functional. This is a definition that should help help authors create voice. I think this definition also explains why I find writing so much easier once I have a voice for my main character. Once I have a voice, I know how characters will feel about what's happening. What's more, once I know their voice and attitude, I can also often determine what they'll do, not just how they'll feel about what others are doing.

Why Editors Matter

Both Holly West and Julie Bliven were very impressive yesterday. They were presented with fourteen to sixteen readings of four to five pages they'd never seen or heard before and had to respond to them on the spot. They functioned in classic critique mode, beginning with something positive and then moving on to analysis of where the manuscript needed work. They were able to do both those things for every single manuscript. If you haven't been part of a writers' group, you may not recognize how difficult that is. In which case, take my word for it.

Both women illustrated what editors do. It's not unusual for me to read about prepublished writers thinking that editing is just correcting grammar and usage. I've also read about self-published authors thinking they can take care of editing with their writers' group or with alpha readers. What the editors yesterday were doing was far more than that. They were pointing out things like:
  • humor should not just be relatable, it should illustrate character
  • characters' efforts should be focused 
  • what you tell about characters must be illustrated by what you show about them; telling and showing can't contradict one another 
What I'm trying to say, Weekend Writers, is that whether you end up working with a traditional publishing house or publish yourself, you need an editor. A real one.