Minnow in the Shark Pool

I absolutely, positively, completely suck at networking.  Even the word makes me shudder.  I’m just not that good with people.  Never have been.  When I’m thrust in a networking situation, I freeze.  I don’t know what to talk about, what the appropriate responses are, or how to gracefully exit a conversation.

Law (if you haven’t read my “About Me”, I’m a lawyer) is all about networking.  It’s one of the attributes of the profession I despise.  I don’t have a “lawyer” personality.  If you’ve ever been around a group of lawyers you know what I mean.  It’s all about  connecting with people, working a room, talking and interacting with a lot of different people…i.e. all of the things I’m terrible at.  Sure I’m great in a courtroom and can rock an appellate brief, but stick me in a room full of other attorneys and tell me to schmooze and I’ll be cowered in the corner with an eye on my watch waiting for an appropriate time to leave.  I used to take my husband with me to any events like that because he’s my complete opposite in this regard.  He’s a talker.  He’ll talk to anyone about anything and can keep a conversation going well past the point I’m comfortable with.  Plus, he’s a good launching pad for conversation.  “How are you doing?  Oh, have you met my husband yet?”

Fortunately, my current job requires very little networking.  In fact, the job itself doesn’t require any.  It’s wonderful.  I sit in my office all day working.  If I want to talk to someone, I venture down the hall and interact.  If I don’t, I stay in my office and keep busy.  Every year I have to accumulate twelve hours of Continuing Legal Education credit, which requires me to jump into the shark pool (pun intended) try not to get eaten for a few days, but a book, laptop, and internet connect get me through those long hours swimmingly (also intended).

Unfortunately, I want to be a published author, and I’m discovering more and more that networking plays a large part.  I can’t tell you how many “how I got published” stories I’ve read that cite networking as the ultimate turning point.  It’s a lot of “I had a friend/student/co-worker who knew XYZ agent/editor/publisher so and so and handed them my manuscript.  It didn’t work for them but they passed it along to such and such and we clicked.”  Sure, there are authors who just queried the right agent with the right project and it worked out, but I’m finding that more often than not it comes down to who you know.

I can’t tell you what a tremendous let down this was to find out.  I thought I’d moved away from networking.  I left it standing on the pier as my ship sailed off to bluer waters, waving goodbye like a crazy person with a giant relieved smile on my face…only to find out the earth is round and my ship just circled the globe to find networking still waiting for me, wearing an even bigger “you can’t escape me” grin.  It reminds me of that song “The Cat Came Back”.   “The cat came back, the very next day.  The cat came back.  They thought he was a goner but the cat came back.  He just couldn’t stay awaaayyy.”  (Watch the video if you’ve never heard the song, it’s a classic). Networking came back.

Not only do I suck at it, but I’m not exactly in a great geographical position to network.  I don’t live in a big city, or near a big city with publishing connections.  I don’t know anyone who knows anyone. I stumbled onto a networking opportunity this past weekend at a bookstore.  I went in to look around, because that’s what I do in my free time, and literally walked smack into a crowd of people surrounding a table covered in books, with two authors seated behind it talking and signing.  When we realized what it was, my husband told me I should go talk to them.  Cue spasms of fear and a waterfall of excuses why I couldn’t possibly do that.  (Which coincidentally led to the coffee shop where I figured I might as well get a peppermint mocha, convenient, no?)  One of these excuses, to be honest, was that I didn’t know the authors and hadn’t heard of their book.  Always the man with the comebacks, my husband suggested I google it (stupid smart phones!).  So I looked up the book, read about the authors, swigged my mocha, and full of pepperminty courage, stepped up to the table, grabbed a book, and hopped in line.  Of course then I realized I just drank coffee, not some sort of magic courage-inducing elixir and tried to wimp out again.  Hubby took the coffee and disappeared into the crowd, leaving me standing there alone and, gulp, next in line.

Taking a deep breath, I crept forward and handed the author my book.  He asked who to sign it to, I said with some measure of embarrassment:  “well, um, me I guess.”  Then I almost chickened out again and just walked away, but instead, I steeled myself and began talking to him about writing.  I was one of the last people in line, so we chatted for a few minutes and ultimately ended with him giving me his email address and an offer to come speak to my writing group.  His book sounds interesting and I enjoyed talking with him, so it would be cool to sit down with him again and go more in depth.  The only thing I’m not certain of is if it would work because he writes adult literature and my group is for children’s authors.  Nevertheless, I did it and I’m proud of myself for that (and grateful to my hubby for pushing me out of my box, but don’t tell him that).

Afterwards, I was discussing this networking dilemma with my husband and he had the novel idea (yep, that pun’s intended too) that I start going to writer’s conferences to meet other people in the publishing world, which sounded like a great idea, but induced images of me cowering in the corner again.  Then I remembered…I’m not alone in this regard.  Other writers are…kind of like me!  The majority of writers are introverted (me too!), shy (yay!), book nerds (whoop!).  They might be scared of talking to people too!  This might just work.  Of course, I’ve never been to a conference, so what do I know?  It could just be a different variety of shark pool, but I have hope.

So, dear readers, I’m curious: have you ever gone to a writer’s conference?  What have been your experiences?  I’d love to hear about them!

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