Essays, Misc

Red Wine and a Side Order of Confidence, Please

There’s nothing quite like setting foot in a social function for triggering every insecurity I have in a span of 2 seconds flat. Last night, I got a taste of how far I had come in regards to self-confidence as well as a view of how far I still have to go.

Let me explain.

Last week, Deanna Radford from my writing group (a wonderful poet who’s into some really interesting edgy music) mentioned a cocktail party that was taking place on Feb. 16 at a local hotel. It was part of an event where sales reps from book publishers meet with local bookstores to do business, but a new feature—the cocktail—was added to allow writers the chance to mingle with these publishing superpowers. Though I’m not a fan of social gatherings of this kind, I am trying to figure out the Montreal writing scene and thought this would be a great chance to get a lay of the land, so to speak, and agreed to go. Honestly, I had no idea what I was walking into. I figured the event would be held conference-style in a hall where I could sip wine in a dark corner and recon the room. If things got too crazy, then I could slip out ninja-style and no one would be the wiser. But right from the start, I was confounded. The event was held in a penthouse and it was a small group, maybe 30-40 people. This meant I would be in close proximity to people. And OMG, people would see me and I would have to talk.

And then it happened: a very nice, talkative sales rep entered my bubble and asked the question I was not prepared for: ‘So what’s your book about?’

Now, I write all the time about characters sweating bullets when under stress, but this was the first time in a while that I can remember actually feeling sweat ‘trickling down my back’ and ‘pricking at my brow’. Note that it is a horrible, horrible…horrible…feeling. I literally stood there thinking: Do I give her a log line? Tag line? Short or long pitch? Or talk from the heart? The traffic jam in my brain led to nonsensical stuttering until something—I have no idea what–came out. Luckily, she was very understanding, and seeing that I was a genre writer and independent, she very kindly hooked me up with the manager of a popular local bookstore.

From www.beyondanxietyanddepression.com
From http://www.beyondanxietyanddepression.com

By then, I was more than thankful for the counter stocked with wine. Lots and lots of wonderful, red, nerve-soothing, brain-numbing wine. I made sure my cup was full. The fuller it was, the less I had to talk. Oh, and the food table also came in handy for that.

The evening trucked on. The wine kicked in. My brain settled down. I met some lovely writers, two of which I gave my business card to once they showed interest in what I was doing (writing and this blog). I chatted with reps from some of the big publishing companies, sat across an ottoman from the Harper Collins rep, and chatted with the rep from Penguin-Random House from across the dinning room table about the power of social media and how it has become an essential too to writers and publishers. I smiled and nodded, happy to learn that, in this regard, I seem to be on the right track. I walked away going, ‘I just talked to the rep from one of the biggest publishing houses in the country. Say what?!’

Talking about myself is the hardest thing to do, as I can’t imagine anything more boring to a listener than hearing about me. And being introduced as ‘a writer’ with ‘one published book and another on the way’ was hard to get used to, especially being independent amidst people working under the traditional model. I mean, I write and have published, but I don’t have a label backing me. Who can vouch for my legitimacy as a ‘writer’? But, I was lucky. I had two wonderful friends flanking me (Cora Siré, a fantastic writer and poet and one of the most intelligent women I know, and Deanna already mentioned above). They introduced me to publishers and other people deeply involved in the Montreal writing scene that they already knew, and their lead-ins made for smooth introductions. Not only that, they talked me up. Listening to them made me realize that I had done some interesting things–stuff I was proud of–that were worth talking about. This realization enabled me to smile wider, shake hands with more gusto, and greet people with greater ease (dare I say confidence?).

I left the evening with my head swirling. What did I really get out of the experience? How can I apply it to what’s happening in my writing life now? Here are two thoughts:

1) As in independent author, the evening itself wasn’t that useful. None of my books are published by any of the companies present nor will they appear in bookstores because of it (I’ve learned that many bookstores don’t accept independently published books unless they are backed by a label of some sort). However, Deanna noted that it’s important to put faces to names. One day, if I manage to successfully publish with a traditional company, or try to set up a reading or a book-launch or other event, these contacts just might come in handy.  

2) I learned that independent/self-published authors are making strides and are earning respect. Most of the time, when I stated that I had self-published, I detected what I thought were looks bordering on respect and interest. One seemed to appreciate that ‘going it alone’ gave me the chance to learn the ropes. Another rep admitted that indie publishing has its place and that it was a good thing that writers have more options than before. I hadn’t expected these responses but they were definitely welcome.

I think my point is this: being a lone writer and staying behind the desk might be comfortable, but we’ve known for a long time that the market is changing. Writers are expected to ‘get out there’ more than ever before. We are being called to understand and to participate in the business side of things, including marketing, promotion, and networking, things that don’t have anything to do with writing itself. It’s not comfortable, but it seems to be becoming a must. Did everything go smoothly last night? Nope. But I survived. It was scary and challenging, but the experience was invaluable. My suggestion? Try to get out there, see what you can learn from other writers, about the relationships between the movers and the shakers. Start with small events and go with good friends who have experience with this sort of thing who can help you out when you need it. And then feel good about stepping out of your comfort zone.

What are your thoughts? Do you find it hard to talk about yourself and your work? What do you do to get over it? Do you like these kinds of social functions? What do you think about writers being called to step into the forefront more and more often?

Essays

Yes, I Attended a Schmoozer!

Two days ago, I got to attend something called a SCHMOOZER, a networking get-together hosted by the Quebec Writer’s Federation at a pier-side bistro in the gorgeous Old Port of Montreal.

Now, I’m not big on showing up to these things on my own, you know, sauntering through the doors and not giving two flying forks that no one knows me from Eve. So, in order to go, I had to latch myself to another writer. Luckily, new friend and fellow writer, Su Sokol, was happy to oblige. Thanks, Su!

We strolled up to the gathering of writers, editors, budding lit agents, translators, QWF staff, etc. in the sweltering heat and humidity (Montreal has lovely summers but I swear its humidity was concocted by demons in the deepest, darkest pit in hell and consequently unleashed on our poor, unsuspecting island) and promptly had a swell time. Everyone was nice and chatty and, because it was a networking activity, it wasn’t weird to talk about myself or my book or my blog, and even less so when I whipped out my new business card–Wham!–and tucked it into the hand of whoever I was speaking with. It was invigorating!

Thanks to my husband who did a fab job!

Thanks to my husband who did a fab job!

 

I’ve written a lot about my writing experiences and projects on this blog and in guest blogs, messaged and emailed friends on the subject, and participated in interviews and blog hops and author features, all of which are great. Doing this kind of stuff is a great way to connect with a broad audience. Also, thinking about writing and then organizing those thoughts in order to compose an article, for example, are great ways to improve. In fact, I believe doing these things have gone a long way in terms of helping me produce pieces that are easy to read and, hopefully, well-thought out. If nothing else, it’s given me the confidence to believe I can write other things besides stories—something I wasn’t sure about when I started blogging.  

That said, having to look someone in the face and talk about my book was tough. Not because I didn’t know what I was talking about but because knowing how to do it in a way that avoided causing my listener’s eyes from glazing over stressed me out.

Case in point: The first person who asked about my book…well, it didn’t go so good. In fact, it was one big fat, FAIL. I felt so much pressure to present my book in a unique and interesting way, in other words different from the 6 billion other books on the market, that I could barely string a sentence together, let alone anything that sounded convincing. Did I mention that I was surrounded by people who had published with well-known publishing houses and others who had won awards or had some amount of recognition for their books?

from godtalkvermont.blogspot.com
from godtalkvermont.blogspot.com

Yeah.

But as the evening wound down and with a Smirnoff Ice mellowing in my stomach, I began to relax. I chatted, smiled, and learned about the people around me and about their writing experiences and challenges. I discovered that, in a lot of ways, we were in the same boat. Hate marketing? Yep. Frustrated by how much time the business side takes away from writing. Oh, yeah. Wish you could write full-time but stuck having to work a day job? Oh, yeah! Finally, long after the event was done, a few of us stuck around to chat and a writer (Hi Veena, if you’re reading!) asked me about my book. I didn’t stress about any of the stuff I had before. Instead, I talked about what The Purple Morrow meant to me and that’s when the words started to roll. There aren’t many unique stories out there, but talking about Morrow’s essence and its themes and how they became the story worked. I felt like my listener actually listened.

Purple_Morrowl

 

Anyway, I’m glad I attended. It was a great opportunity to meet some great people while practicing becoming comfortable talking about myself and my work. I’d been looking for a place in the Montreal writing scene for a while and, after four years or so, it looks like I might have got my toe in the door. In September the main activities like workshops and mentorships will start up and I hope to explore those too. So stay tuned as I venture deeper into the realm of the Montreal writing scene since I will most definitely be blogging about it. 🙂

Essays, Misc

Once You Publish, NEVER Leave Home in Pajamas

You could say I learned a lesson today, one many of you will probably have a good laugh over but one which could also save you a ton of embarrassment. Trust me. Here’s how it all went down.

So, this is week 6 of my medical leave from work. You could say I have adapted to home life. I like comfort, pajamas, fuzzy socks and drinking coffee in the afternoon. And it’s Friday, the best day of the workweek, so I decided to take it easy. In my defense, I did do some chores in between watching the rest of Season Two of V (which is a great show, and how dare they end the series on a cliffhanger like that!?) Um…anyway, 3:30 comes around and I had to pick up the kids from school.

Like I said, I took it easy today. As in, staying in my Lazy-Ass-Comfy-Clothes, and the last thing I wanted was to change into Decent-Well-Fitting-Constricting Clothes for 20 minutes only to change back once I returned home. For the visual ones out there reading this,  today’s attire featured 15-year-old karate pants, a t-shirt and a sweater, all of it covered in cat and dog hair. Yeah, sexy, I know. But I figured, “I’ll drive to school, stay in the car and when the kids appear, I’ll wave. No one will see me, I won’t have to talk to anyone and I can make a clean getaway.”

From soundscapemusictherapy.com
From soundscapemusictherapy.com

Right.

15 minutes later, I pulled into the parking lot and found a great spot where I could see the door where the kids come out. All I had to do was wave and Voilà! The kids would see me and come running…

Until I remembered that the teacher who comes out with the kids doesn’t release them until she sees the parent. Which meant I would have to get out of the car. Which meant I would have to enter the circle of waiting parents all of whom were wearing appropriately Decent-Constricting-Clothing. Which meant I WOULD NOT escape being seen in my pet-hair-bedazzled glory.

So I bit the bullet and got out. I hung back, close to the car to wait.

 And then it happened.

“Hi, Dyane! How are you?” called the mother of my son’s classmate. Her voice rang out through the parking lot.

I shifted uncomfortably under the glare of the bright spring sun. “I’m great, how are you?”

“Doing alright. Hey, I just wanted to let you know that me and my husband read the article on you in the community paper. And that story about the cat! We bawled our eyes out.” (FYI that would be Shadow in the Sun)

Hearing this, I started to feel just a tad less pet-hair-hairy. “Really? Wow, thanks! I’m sorry it made you guys cry but I’m really happy you liked it.”

“But it was in a good way! We love cats and had to put down 3 in the last five years, so we really felt it.”

We chatted about it for a few more minutes before she left to pick up her son. I had a few seconds to breathe before another parent I know came along. Turned out, she’d parked right next to me.

“Hi! Congratulations on your book!” she said as she approached. Luckily, she didn’t seem to notice my way-too-baggy pants and its failing waist elastic.  

“Thanks!”

“You know, it’s great that you were able to achieve your dreams. So many people never do.”

Then she asked how she could support me, whether by buying the book at the local bookstore or on Amazon. I mean, how cool is that?

I’ve been writing a lot about the Writer’s Life and finding meaning in what we do, especially since for the most part most of us will never become famous or best-selling authors. The less time I spend worrying about what I’m NOT doing right to sell books online and focus more on the community and meeting flesh and blood people in regards to my book and writing, the more fun I have. Talking to real people, getting heartfelt feedback about how a story touched them or being encouraged because I managed to achieve my lifelong dream of publishing is so satisfying…even when I’m totally not prepared for it.

From glenwood.org
From glenwood.org

So, I guess I’m trying to advocate for authors to get involved in both online and community networking. Our friends and contacts can be great supporters and resources. We all know that word of mouth and personalized recommendations from one person to another are some of the best publicity we can get. And, as I’ve said many times before, nothing beats a firm handshake, a big smile, and hearing the words, “Great job on your book!”

Happy community networking!

Essays, Misc

Another Day in a Writer’s Life

So this is really cool. Yesterday I went to my old high school, Trafalgar, to drop off a copy of my book, The Purple Morrow, for their library. It was weird to go back since I haven’t set foot in there since 1992. The school is so different. People are smiling and happy in there! lol Even the students!

The librarian took me up to the library. The surface of the school may look different after all this time, but its bones are the same–it’s amazing how many memories came flooding back in the 20 minutes I was there. Anyway, the visit turned out to be a great experience: the librarian is also a writer and she introduced me to some writing conferences and other resources in our city and the surrounding areas I was not aware of, as well as asked if I would be interested in visiting the students to talk about writing and whatnot, possibly even participating at their Career Day event next spring. The prospects terrify but also excite me. My high school English teacher’s encouraging words as she presented me with a package of some of my favorite short stories from that year stayed with me, and years later I ended up achieving my writing goals. Perhaps these activities can help me return the favor and help another budding writer find their own path to their dreams.

IMG_1382 (2)

When it comes to my book, I can be a little shy about promoting it in person. I went into that meeting with no expectations, almost deciding to just drop off the envelope at the receptionists’ desk and walking out. But I took a chance and decided to follow the thing through. I ended up being blown away by what could happen when you take chances: doors can open.

Again, this confirms to me that though social marketing and networking are powerful tools, actual contact with people is so much more validating. Nothing can replace seeing the smile on a person’s face or the affirming nod they give when then like your book, or the pleased tone in their voice when they complement your work. Perhaps you’re thinking, “Well, it’s ‘just a school contact’, that’s small fries.” But you know what? I felt and still feel like a million bucks about it. And here’s one more cool story I have to share with my kids about how Mom took a chance, reached out, and saw one more stone set in place for her to move forward towards furthering her dreams. That’s hard to beat. 🙂

Image provided by irunonbatteries.blogspot.com
Image provided by irunonbatteries.blogspot.com

 How do you feel about getting out into the community to network or to bring your brand “to the people?” How have you been received when you’ve tried it?