Novel Spaces is in its 10th year! Over the coming months we'll be featuring some of the most popular posts from our archives. This one was first published July 17, 2012 .
By Dayton Ward
In the world of professional publishing, we as writers are both a product and a service, and it’s up to us to present ourselves in this manner. We’re of value to a potential editor and/or publisher; we just have to convince them of what we already know, right?
Oddly enough, I tend to suck at selling myself.
Specifically, I still struggle when it comes to introducing myself to editors, agents, and other publishing professionals. Take this past weekend, for example: Comic-Con International in
. Tens of thousands of people milling about the exhibitor’s hall, and in the midst of that chaos were booths sponsored by publishers big and small. You’d think it’d be easy enough for a guy like me, a reasonably accomplished if not well-known sort, to walk up to one of these booths and feel comfortable talking shop, but as usually seems to be the case, I often was second-guessing myself at the moment of truth. It wasn’t such a problem if I at least knew the person in the booth by name or perhaps even had exchanged earlier e-Mails with them, but a cold introduction? San Diego
It’s a lot like when you finish a story and you’re getting up the courage to mail it to the faceless editor you’ve never met, only here you don’t even have the cushion of distance to ease your uncertainty. It’s you and your prospective client, face to face, and everything hinges on the next words to come out of your mouth...assuming you can make your mouth work.
I did have some success, of course. I met several writers in fields outside my own, and we spent a few pleasant minutes here and there swapping war stories before exchanging info. Likewise, a couple of good discussions were enjoyed with friends and colleagues, during which plans of one sort or another were hatched. And I did introduce myself to a few new folks at publishers’ booths where conversations ensued, and I came away with contact information and an agreement to communicate after the mayhem of the con was behind everyone.
Did I take full advantage of the opportunities presented by the con? Honestly? No, owing mostly to my own nervousness with such situations. I always feel out of my depth at these things. Part of me always wonders if the con’s hectic nature just makes attempting any sort of introduction worthwhile. Would the business card I gave the booth person go in a pocket, a box, or the trash? How many other hopeful, hungry writers were selling themselves to editors and publishers just as I was? Quite a few, obviously, and while I imagine most of the people working those booths took such introductions as to be expected in the con environment, I still was wondering if their first reaction as I walked up was something along the lines of, “Oh, great. Another one.”
I suppose it’s worth noting that I’m better at dealing with these scenarios now than I was a few years ago. A little better, anyway. I’ve refined how I present myself and what I do, how to say what I want to convey, and shortening the amount of time it takes to say it while still communicating the appropriate and relevant information. As my resume has grown, so too has my confidence in selling myself, but there’s still that little bit of anxiety taunting me whenever I enter these situations. The rational part of the brain-like thing renting space inside my skull tells me the only way to get over this self-doubt is to keep at it; continue preparing myself as I would for any other job interview, and convincing that other person that I’m a seasoned professional with valuable skills to offer.
From discussions I had over the weekend, I know I’m not the only writer who feels uncomfortable selling themselves. Even some veteran pros—people I’d never having any kind of trouble with this—have confided that they still feel that momentary apprehension in these types of situations. “Just keep working at it,” they tell me.
How about you? Are you a natural seller, or does it come a bit harder for you? Are you a smooth talker, or do you feel like your tongue sometimes wants to fight you over every word? How do you prepare for making these types of introductions, and do you have any particular success (or horror) stories you want to share?