Last night I attended a really interesting Society of Editors dinner meeting. I could even say it was the most interesting Society of Editors meeting I’ve ever attended, which wouldn’t be a lie, but would be slightly misleading. It was also the first I’ve ever attended.
Either way, it was an interesting night – theoretically all about the writer and editor coexisting and how to work as an editor when all you want to do is write. I say theoretically, because to my mind it turned into a discussion about how terrible genre fiction is and how wonderful it is to write true literary fiction that perhaps nobody will read. Perhaps I’ve oversimplified but really, that was what it felt like.
At one point, genre writers were described as writing with their heads while literary fiction writers wrote with their hearts, which makes genre writers sound quite heartless and slightly manipulative really. Perhaps there is a formula and less of an impetus to confuse readers and push boundaries – nothing wrong with that at all – but I bristled at the idea that the stories I want to tell come only from my head.
I have nothing against either side – I used to read more genre fiction than literary fiction but that balance has changed a bit more as my reading preferences have matured – but I find the snobbery so frustrating. Why is there a line? Why are the Jonathan Franzens of the world so elitist about their ‘art’ when it’s just a different sort of art to genre? By their definition, Stephen King would be a heartless, money-grabbing genre writer, without a soul, sitting in his study laughing gleefully over a formula while they sit sobbing in their garrets making ‘art’. I really hate this divide. Yes, the mass market is driven more and more by sales and marketing than by real innovation and there are people out there churning out books to a formula but hey, they’re still writing and still getting that buzz from publication. The same buzz those literary fiction writers get. There’s no difference except that literary fiction writer is eligible for awards and is allowed to feel superior.
And then there was even some derision for those ‘lit fic’ writers – the ones who are writing literary fiction that conforms to a style, that doesn’t push boundaries and make readers scratch their heads. They’re apparently betraying their true literary fiction roots and should be snorted at.
Now, there is a chance that I read this all wrong but I stand up proudly as a genre writer and proclaim loudly – I am not ashamed! I will read widely but write what my head AND my heart tells me. Perhaps I don’t push boundaries but you know what? That’s okay. There’s an audience out there for my ‘safe’ work and I’ll write for them and for myself.
Networking. The most hated word in the business world for so many of us. By ‘so many of us’ I really mean me. I hate the whole idea of networking but alas, being a freelancer now and effectively starting my own business means I need to make sure I’m front and centre in people’s minds. While I may not be a fan of the idea of networking, it is one of the more effective ways to promote yourself and your business, whether or not you’re self-employed. I’m guilty of not being prepared and avoiding, rather than embracing, networking opportunities so here’s a plan for 2012 – for you and for me!
As weird as it may feel, people recommend to prepare a bit of a spiel about who you are and what you do. Then practice it many, many times so it’s almost second nature if someone asks you. I’m expecting to feel like an idiot initially and it may sound too practiced but having watched the experts, I can see that this works. I’m working on mine.
Promote and don’t demote yourself
In the whole elevator pitch, make sure you’re not doing what I tend to do and start with a defeatist or limiting attitude. I have a tendency to say ‘well, my experience isn’t in your industry at all but…’ when I’m talking to people in other industries. As soon as you start with something limiting, the person you’re pitching to will immediately push work opportunities aside. We may have a great conversation but I’ll never get any work from them simply because I gave them the impression that I was unsuitable.
Say yes to every networking opportunity
It’s tempting to avoid networking until you’re confident but you’re not going to build your confidence without networking – the ultimate catch-22. I’ve been to a number of networking events in the last month or so, many of which I knew from the offset wouldn’t really be my market but it was great to get out there. I’m still working on my confidence because I’m still getting my head around the fact that I’m actually good at what I do and that this is really what I’m doing. But every time I get out there and meet more people – even if I come home with the same number of business cards as I left with – I’m learning more about my pitch and how other people network.
One of my goals this year is to perfect my networking strategy and be prepared all the time. You never know where and when opportunity may knock and I’d hate to miss the call.
After almost a year in the full-time trenches, I’m back working freelance for the moment. Yes, that is a bit of ambivalence you hear there – I’m still not sure this freelancing gig is for me but while I look for more permanent work that thrills me, it’s happening.
My last shot at freelancing was by default in a lot of ways. I had built-in long-term clients and no reason to market myself seriously. Since my clients were all international and based overseas, I had double the freelance isolation and those who know me know that I prefer to have people around me at work. I’m a chatty cathy who loves to brainstorm and talk about things instead of emailing. You lose this when all your clients are in different time zones. For some reason, they don’t appreciate midnight brainstorming phonecalls.
But this time, I’m off into the freelancing ocean without my life-raft of a long-term client to start me off. It’s just me and whatever work I manage to drum up. So there’s pressure but I have a plan. It’s called Marketing Myself. Revolutionary, isn’t it? I’ve done the basic direct marketing to publishers already and joined every organisation that is remotely connected to my field. Well, probably not every organisation – more like every one I can find and think of so far. I’m sure I’ve missed a few.
I’m also throwing in a bit of Getting Out There, aka networking, which is strangely enough, not my strong suit. Despite being fairly outgoing, when it comes to selling myself, I’m strangely quiet. It’s a trait I need to work on, so I’ve got my business cards printed and I’m going to every networking opportunity I can think of, including a breakfast next week at 7am. This will necessitate getting up at some ungodly hour and still being chatty and cheerful before coffee. Hopefully I’m up for the challenge.
I’m not going to lie to you – I’m intimidated. Hugely intimidated. There’s no resting on my laurels anymore. Unless an amazing full-time role comes up, this is it for the next little while and it’s all up to me. All me. Nobody else is going to look after my business if I don’t do it. It’s empowering but also scary. But then again, all challenges are.