Friday, November 8, 2019

Networking? Really?

Bouchercon has just concluded. Networking is a vital component of our business, never more so than at a conference. How do you approach it?

Sitting on the other side of the pond, it’s not easy to make the annual pilgrimage to Bouchercon. In fact my only visit to date was St Petersburg last year. And what an eye-opener it was. Americans always do things bigger, louder, brasher, funner (yes, ‘funner’ is a word,…yes…yes it is. Trust me, Shakespeare used it.).

From the huge venues, to the wonderful readers, to the aircraft hangar of a bookstore to the packed schedules starting at before 9am, (okay, maybe not the early starts, which are, frankly, a touch uncivilised. I didn’t give up a day job I was no good at just to have to get up and attend panels before 9am). But everything else about it shouts BIG AMERICAN STUFF!

And the networking is no exception. Loads of people, all wanting to hear about your work or wanting to tell you about theirs – it’s great, but it can also be exhausting, especially when cultural differences come into the mix. Here in jolly old England, we tend to have a natural reticence to talk too vociferously or too positively about our own work. There’s a tendency towards self-deprecation. When asked about my books, I generally tend to look a bit sheepish and say something like”

‘Well, they’re ok, I suppose. Some people like them. I hope they’re improving (the books, not the people). I can’t actually read the first one without cringing.’ 

But you North Americans aren’t generally hamstrung by our ridiculous old world ways. I wish I were American. Then I could say something like: 

‘My books? Lemme tell you about ‘em! They’re great! So great. They’ve won awards. So many awards. The best awards. More awards than you can fit in your fanny pack. And the words?! Such beautiful words. Words like you’ve never seen…like ‘funner’ for instance. And the plots? You should see my plots! They’re the best plots, believe me. I was talking to my good friend Kim Jong Un. Yeah, he’s a friend of mine, and he said to me, “Abir. Your plots, man. They’re genius. Even that first novel, the one everyone laughs at and you sue people for mentioning, it’s brilliant.”

Okay, I joke, but I think there’s a marked difference in how British and American authors talk about their work, with our Canadian friends somewhere in between. 

All this is my way of telling you that I find networking, especially in America, pretty difficult. It takes me out of my comfort zone and can be draining. I remember being exhausted at the end of each day at Bouchercon last year, just getting to my room and collapsing. That’s not to say I didn’t love it. On the contrary, it was one of the best experiences I’ve had at a festival.

My own views on networking are similar to Dietrich’s. I like to think of events like Bouchercon as a fun trip away from the grind of writing. They’re a chance to connect with like-minded souls from across the world and they remind me of how lucky I am to be able to do what I love for a living. I don’t think of meeting with readers and writers as networking, but rather as a perk of the job. For me, networking is much more meeting with publishers and agents and producers and TV execs and such people whose teeth are remarkably straight and whose smiles can blind you at forty paces. I don’t enjoy them as much, but I regard them as business and I treat them with the professionalism the deserve. I prepare for them – reading up on the person I’ll be meeting. Are they on Linkedin? Have they written anything in the press? What am I going to pitch to them? Should I add star-wipes to my powerpoint presentation to them? Okay maybe not the last one. That to me is networking. Spending time with authors and readers on the other hand, is a pleasure. 

And it’s funner.

1 comment:

Dietrich Kalteis said...

I think you've got it in perspective, Abir. And I'd sure like to pop over for Harrogate or Crimefest sometime.