Con contemplation; the art of the schmooze

I’m thinking about going to World Fantasy Con. I’ve never gone before, mostly because I’ve always thought of that particular con as being primarily for pros. And though last year I finally became a pro by SFWA standards via short stories, I still didn’t think I was pro “enough” for WFC. I mean, what if the halls were filled with published novelists all standing around and asking each other, “So, when’s your next book out?”

…Yeah, OK. I didn’t really think that.

Well. Maybe a little.

In this case, regardless, I think I should go. My agent suggested it last year when it was in New York state, and partly because of finances I decided against it. This year I think it’s a good investment, and I have enough saved up to do it… but that means I have to schmooze.


Now, here’s the funny thing. In my dayjob? I schmooze all the time. I’m literally a professional schmoozer. I think I’m pretty good at it, actually. I tend to be a better communicator in written form than verbally, because sometimes I get tongue-tied, especially when I’m nervous or in a group of fast talkers. I’m a slow talker; it’s a Southern thing. But I can usually overcome this with no trouble in order to sell my product… as long as that product isn’t me.

When it is me, I get more nervous, and more tongue-tied, and my natural shyness — which rarely crops up elsewhere in my life — rachets up by a factor of 100. My internal monologue drowns out whatever I’m trying to say verbally. For example:

Nora: (out loud) Hi, nice to meet you. I’m Nora.

Nora: (in her head) Ohcrap do I have spinach in my teeth? Did I say it, or spray it? What does (other person) think of my approach? Do I sound like a dork?

Other person: Oh, nice to meet you, Nora. ::small talk:: So, are you a writer?

Nora: (out loud) Yeah, I have some short stories published, and a book coming out soon. I publish as N. K. Jemisin.

Nora: (in her head) NOBODY KNOWS WHO THE HELL I AM AND WHY WOULD THEY CARE?! I should just go sit down in a corner somewhere.

Nora: (eventually goes and sits down in a corner, depressed)

This is why I’d kind of decided not to do any cons this year. It was partly a financial decision — I spent waaaay too much on cons last year, and even though it’s tax deductible it’s still a serious pinch — and partly logistics, but partly just the fact that I’ve spent the past 5 years going to cons to “network”, and I’m not sure how useful it’s been. I have met some good people, and made new friends. I’ve been on some panels, joined some con committees (Readercon for awhile, and Wiscon), had a lot of fun. But did this actually do anything for my career? How the heck would I know, if it did?

Well, the book deal means I need to start conning again. I don’t mind; I kind of hated not going to Wiscon this year. But am I going to be any less of a basket case if I go? Especially now that the stakes are higher?

::sigh:: Well, just going to have to suck it up. And practice my relaxation techniques.

So — see you folks in a con hallway somewhere. =)

5 thoughts on “Con contemplation; the art of the schmooze”

  1. Any chance you’ll change your mind on the “no cons this year” and show up at Readercon?

  2. I’ve been telling you for years that your internal monologue needs to be suppressed, ‘cos the external conversational you never comes across as anything other than bright and intellectual**. I watched you schmooze like a queen, in New Jersey in 1999-2000, both times, and not just in a dealing-with-pros situation, but with random freaky fans (of which we had PLENTY).

    (**except walking around NYC when we first met. You were pretty babbly then =D)

  3. Cathy Krusberg

    But I can usually overcome this with no trouble in order to sell my product… as long as that product isn’t me.

    Time to repeat the creative artist’s motto: “I am not my works. I am not my works. I am not my works.”

    Because if what you’ve said is literally true – that you can overcome your nervousness to sell any product other than yourself – then that really is all there is to it. You wrote things. They’re not part of you. You’re still responsible for them, of course – in both the “I did it” and the “I’m pushing it” senses – but once a work is published, it is in a very real sense a product, and not you. And that can make it OK to treat it as a product, if you can perform the necessary mental gymnastics.

    Your works are not you. (And if you think it’s handy to believe that now, wait until after you’ve gotten a few truly slamming reviews!)

    I realize it’s easier to say this than to put it into practice, and maybe I’ve missed some subtlety of what’s involved in getting you into “professional schmoozing” mindset. But it sounds as if you have the key to getting out there and selling a product.

    By the way, very belated congratulations on your triple-decker sale! I’m so proud of you! And I can say, “I knew her when!”

  4. Mercurio Rivera

    If you do go to WFC, I may be intimidated to talk to you, what with your 3-book deal and all. :) Trust me, you are beyond worthy to be there.

  5. For what it’s worth, when I was at WFC, my utterly unpublished (genre-wise) self was surprised how often I ended up having ‘name’ writers expressing a genuine interest in my work. For the most part, they seemed earnestly into meeting ’emerging’ writers. *I* of course had to scuff my foot and go ‘well, gosh, I actually haven’t published any fiction yet,’ but *you* will have all sorts of stuff to talk about! Rock on!

    Congrats, BTW, on all the awesome sales and on the purty new site…

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