I will return to reminiscing about the trip to Florida in my next post. For the moment, I wanted to get into two topics that are becoming increasingly important to me as I step nearer to achieving publication: working with professionals; and attending conferences. Pro’s and Cons, get it? Get it?
I had the opportunity yesterday to take a conference call with Cat Rambo, the current president of the Science Fiction Writers of America, or SFWA for short (pronounced Sifwa, which is actually a cool science fiction sound all by itself… seriously, say it out loud and try NOT to envision spaceships flying by… sifwa!). I came by way of this call through the Kickstarter for “If This Goes On,” an anthology of resistance stories being put out by Parvus Press, and which Cat helped curate. I decided to shell out more than I normally would for a Kickstarter program so I could have this opportunity.
The conversation was, as I hoped, really helpful. The main benefit for me was simply being reassured I’m doing the things I need to be doing to achieve the goals I’ve set. It’s hard moving from twenty years of one kind of career and into another field, particularly an artistic ones where careers don’t have set paths that you step through that help you know where you are. Trainee; employee; manager; etc. Artistic careers are often solo shots where you don’t always know if what you’re doing today will payoff down the road.
Much of what we discussed were things already on my radar that can help, both with the writing and with the networking. Becoming a slush reader was something I’d been talking about recently, so when she called it out as a great way to get a better feel for what works in stories I felt good that I’d picked up on something (I also thought it would be another good way of casually networking with folks in the industry). She also mentioned volunteering, particularly in relation to SFWA once I have a membership. Of course, I can’t get that until I’ve had a pro sale, but that’s definitely the goal of all this.
Many of us are introverts. Networking is hard for us, especially with professionals who have been doing this type of work for a long time. It’s natural to feel a bit intimidated by their experience and knowledge. But I strongly urge you to find ways to overcome those fears, as hard as that is, and to make the time for it. Yes, there’s often a high dollar cost to doing these things and I’m very lucky I can afford them without having to make major sacrifices in my life. But talking to professionals who can help you understand where you are as a developing writer and what things you can do to improve both your prose AND your odds of getting published is priceless. It helps give you the confidence you deserve to have as you put yourself out there and submit your stories and queries, and equips you with a thicker skin to handle rejections.
Plus Cat is easy as hell to talk to, you can’t go wrong having a conversation with her. 🙂
Part of networking is going to Conferences as well and meeting people there. Again, not something a lot of us are natural at, but very helpful if you can manage it. So far I’ve only been to one “open” writing conference, and two “closed” conferences. By closed I mean the kind where you submit samples of your work and only a limited number of participants are selected to attend. Those, however, are often the prestigious conferences that you can add to your biographical information and will get noted when you’re still struggling to get published.
What I need to do now is attend more open conferences. I really wanted to go to Readercon this year, but the timing didn’t work out. My wife’s family has a reunion each summer and it was the same weekend, plus halfway across the country in the opposite direction. I do plan to go next year, though. We’re also planning to attend Worldcon next summer in Dublin, and am WAY excited about that. I even applied to participate on panels, though I’m not normally comfortable doing those sorts of things. There’s also World Fantasy Con in Baltimore this November, and that’s a tentative possibility, too.
Taking part in Cons gives you a chance to meet folks you admire, or friends you’ve met online. For those in my VP class, it’s a chance to get together and reconnect, help keep each other motivated to succeed. And hey, this is your tribe! These people are going to get you, you can be yourself! The panels can be interesting with some great info on improving your writing skills, or topics you might not know about that can help you build better worlds and more rounded characters. Plus hell… they’re just fun! I admit, I knew no one when I went to Gatewaycon other than my wife, but we had a blast, and I got to fanboy hard when Anne Leckie signed my copies of the Ancillary books. She’s awesome on panels, too, smart, savvy, and just incredibly interesting to listen to.
Pro’s and cons are going to help you immensely. Don’t shy away from them. Don’t worry if you’re just starting out, either. Because there’s one truth I know from my current career: most people LOVE to help others! It makes us feel good, makes us feel wanted and needed. I’ve loved spending twenty years helping those with no computer skills solve their problems, and though they often apologize profusely and talk about how incompetent they are, they don’t need to. Because that was why I loved doing it so much. It’s the same for many writers and folks in the industry. They love helping people at all stages in their career and are happy to lend advice if asked. But maybe buy them a drink or lunch or something while you’re digging for information (another piece of advice I got from Cat, this time from her website).
Networking is going to help you, folks. If only to reassure you that you’re doing the right things to achieve your goals. So go on, network. And then go home, write, and be alone for as long as you need in between those networking events.