After the Draft: Episode III, Getting CONned

Hello gang. I’m back home and ready to step back into my ‘regular’ life. This installment of After the Draft was supposed to focus on writing a good query letter and synopsis for your novel, (an exercise I’ve previously compared to editing the complete Director’s Cut Lord of the Rings trilogy into a gif file), but as often happens in life, events didn’t adhere to my carefully planned timeline.

I spent the weekend in San Antonio at WorldCon. For those of you who do not know, WorldCon is short for The World Science Fiction Convention. It is home to the Hugo Awards, often called the Nerd Emmys. At six to eight thousand people, WorldCon is a medium-sized convention by today’s standards, but as opposed to the throngs of fans tens of thousands strong at places like ComicCon, WorldCon is a haven for industry professionals and amateurs, veterans and upstarts. Here, you’ll find authors, agents, publishers, editors, podcasters, artists, and illustrators all cavorting through whichever series of bars or pubs happen to be close by. It is, in short, exactly where you want to be if you’ve just finished a novel.

Granted, I hadn’t written a synopsis yet, or even a query letter, and I had only heard back from one of my Beta readers by this point, but I had a first draft (finished the read-through and line edit in the hotel room the first night of the con, actually) and it would have been silly to pass up the opportunity to network, shake hands, and talk to the Key Masters of the publishing industry face-to-face. Now, I’m not saying that new writers trying to break into the industry MUST attend conventions. This kind of dynamic social environment isn’t for everyone, and the ranks of writers have more introverts among them than society at large. Conventions are expensive, and can be both physically and emotionally draining.

My excellent roommate and I described going to conventions as an aspiring author like this: Imagine going to one of those speed-dating nights at a local hotel bar… for five days. Just like speed-dating, you have to dress up, remain witty and charming, not appear desperate, needy, or creepy, and basically maintain a polite lie about your true intentions. Just as you can’t sit down across from someone you’ve just met and say “Hi, I think you’re attractive. We should go have sex now,” you also can’t just come right out to an agent or editor and ask them to take a look at your shinny new manuscript and sign you to a multi-book deal. Social norms insist that some lubrication is required to get the wheels spinning first. Oh, and speaking of lubrication, you’re probably going to be drunk and sleep-deprived for the majority of the time.

So, not for everybody, and there are plenty of authors who have broken through and gotten their work published without ever attending a professional con. However, if you’re one of the more socially-capable among us, these events certainly don’t hurt either. Let me be very clear, after seeing what I have and watching several friends break out into amazing debut authors, I do not believe this is a who-you-know industry. Talent and hard work are absolutely critical. Without them, you’re not going to get very far.

But there are many thousands of talented people out there shouting into the void, and you need to find advantages, no matter how small, that will make you more visible to the people making the decisions so your talent has the opportunity to be judged in the first place. One of the best ways to do that is face-time. We are a social species, and in the age of vast networks of virtual-friends, the simple act of shaking hands and sharing a laugh over a drink has more power to connect than ever before. Human beings are just going to show preference to people they actually know. Fair or not, that’s just how it is folks.

Once you’ve decided to go to Con and network, there are some things you must do to prepare. First and foremost is to work up an elevator pitch. This is nothing more than a short, thirty second spoken commercial for your book. There are many dozens of sites and blogs that can help you write one, but you MUST practice it. Say it out loud many times so you can hear yourself saying it. Just like speed-dating, you must be ready to whip it out smoothly and confidently when the time is right. Fumbling your presentation probably isn’t going to get you the results you want from either situation.

I failed to do this, which with my stand-up comedy side project, is a rather inexcusable unforced error. I found myself in the embarrassing position of having my book pitched better by the friend who introduced me to the acquisitions editor of an important house than I ended up doing myself. Fortunately, it was the last day of con and everyone was exhausted, so there may have been a little more wiggle room given.

So, as of a couple hours ago, Any Port in a Storm has been read by one Beta reader, line-edited, formatted, and submitted to exactly one agent and exactly one editor. And there it will remain until I get word back from them. I have previously learned that it is very bad etiquette to submit a partial or complete novel manuscript to more than one editor at a time. Doing so will not make you friends.

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