Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Do's and Don'ts of Conventions (The "Pro" Edition)

So I recently attended Con Nooga to help work the table of professional author and dear friend John Hartness. He is being kind enough to let me go out with him to sci-fi and fantasy conventions this year, both to learn a different side of the business and improve my skills as a salesperson. In return I help keep his ledgers, book things, pump gas, buy food, etc. Basically it is an internship in hyperspace.

One of the things I notice about conventions is that they often bring out people that want to get into the business of publishing, gaming, film, etc., but another thing I notice is that a good number of people completely shoot themselves in the foot. Previously I wrote an entry on the Do's and Don'ts of Writer Networking, which received some really good reviews and a few nods from pros in the business. However, after going to Con Nooga and being exposed to a variety of new people, I wanted to write a follow-up to it because were are a bunch of other things I never considered until I actually ran into them. Two of them are actually a minor fuck-ups on my part, but I am choosing to own it and make it a teachable moment. So here we go!

DO present yourself as a professional!

One very startling memory I remember from Dragon*Con 2014 was attending a writing panel, which usually are pretty good at that convention. Being the person I am, I arrived ten minutes before the room was even available and waited outside. The panel was sponsored by Bell Bridge Books and hosted by Deb Dixon, a super-talented bestselling romance author and Senior Editor at Bell Bridge. The topic for her one-woman panel was "voice," and while I could go on forever about what she talked about, this isn't the time for that. What I do want to talk about is what happened beforehand.

As I was waiting in my seat for the panel to start people filed in. A few of these individuals came in and started speaking to each other across the room, talking about how awesome it was to be at Dragon*Con and how everyone in the room, especially them, were all going to be "famous authors" one day. Beyond being slightly disingenuous and panicky, one thing they did not take into account is that there were actual authors and editors in the room, and those people were turned off.

You have to understand that the publishing business is very small, and with it being so small there is a lot of room to make yourself look like an ass. Someone shouting to each other about how awesome they are/will be is a deterrent to actual professionals in the field--first, because your worth is in your work, not in your mouth. Second, it has lot to do with how your present yourself. Speaking as someone who will be taking on their first editorial project later in 2015, I want to work with people that understand how this business works, and to me those people won't be shouting at each other before a panel at Dragon*Con. Some of you may be turned off and go "I'll never submit something to him," but you'd be surprised how many other people feel the same way.

DON'T undersell yourself!

This one kinda hits home for me because I used to do this a lot in private, and looking back on it I could have created some bigger opportunities for myself if I had just stopped self-sabotaging with doubt. Anxiety is a real thing people in my family deal with, and while I am not the worst, it still rears its head from time to time. A person wanting to work in this business needs to get over that, because if they don't they can really stop themselves from being something and making money (let's be honest about what the goal of the business is.) Case in point and without naming names and pointing to specific individuals, I met someone at Con Nooga who was taking an art class with a really well known cover artist who I adored, and I had the opportunity to see a project they were working on. It was amazing to the point I told them they were just as good as their teacher (and they were.) However, this young artist immediately started downplaying themselves before everyone, stating that they could never do cover art professionally because of reason A, B, C...

People know the stink of timidity, and for me, the moment this young artist started doing that I kinda knew I would probably never see them again, let alone work with them (I was actually really close to throwing down some money for a cover, believe it or not. Real money, too.) If you want to be in the business you have to believe that you belong there, but if you don't think belong then you don't belong. This person, for all of their talents, may never rise out of their excuses. Of course I could be wrong, and I will be happy to be so if that happens, but the important thing to realize is that if you want people to believe in your worth then you have to believe in your own worth first.

DO pace yourself!

Having now sat on the other side of a convention table, it is so amazing how quickly working an event like that can wear you out, even when you aren't up and moving around. I sat behind a table selling John's books (I did okay) for THREE HOURS, and those three hours were miserable because I made them miserable. I discovered quickly that sitting for three hours thinking that I constantly needed to be at the table led to me being a poorer salesman for it. I should have taken the time to get up and go eat, go to the bathroom, and in general just calm down. It is really easy to go to one of these conventions and work yourself into believing that you have to do everything at ALL TIMES, and that's impossible.

John really showed me how to do it, as he had three back-to-back panels that day, and even he was tired after all of it. Yet he made time to go to the bathroom. He made time to walk around the convention hall. He made to eat. He still sold a good amount stock, but watching him not kill himself over it like I was really showed me how do it better. Pacing, just like in storytelling, is integral to making the journey fun instead of actual labor. Remember to take your time.

DON'T be a fanboy/girl/appropriately-gendered-"fan"-term

This is the spot where I messed up until, again, John Hartness came to my rescue. One thing that young creative professionals often face when they get in this business is that they do not feel like they can consider themselves equals. That can be very daunting to deal with, and perhaps more than a bit annoying. I made that a mistake a few times, and the best thing you can do is just remember: these people are just like you. They are all grinding towards something. They don't have time to spot and pay attention to your fangasm. However, they will give you time if they know you are serious about the craft you are pursuing. It is better to just be calm, relaxed, friendly, and professional as you can be. If you want to be an equal, act like an equal.

In conclusion, conventions can be a daunting place to be if you are trying to break into this creative business, but if you stay calm, remember your worth, and act like you are deserving respect by giving respect, you will do fine.

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Saturday, March 7, 2015

Beer and What It Means To Me by Jay Requard

Recently I announced that I had sold a Sword & Sorcery short story called "Stout" to Swords and Sorcery Magazine for their February 2015 issue. Here is the link to the piece:

Read "Stout" here!

In reflection of this story's publication, I wanted to take some time this week and talk a little bit about it. I wrote Stout because I wanted to do a few different things:

1. I wanted to give Jishnu another story.
2. I wanted to get away from the grimdark aspects of "Paper Demons," which appeared in Thunder on the Battlefield. The goal was to go in the opposite direction with it, playing with a sense of humor that was very simple while still maintaining the "heightened" sense I enjoy about Sword & Sorcery.
3. I wanted to write about beer.

I've spoke previously about why "God's Proof That He Loves Us" is such an important beverage in my life. I don't drink a lot anymore, but I still enjoy beer for its aesthetic. Like spirits, wine, and mead, it is one of the few tethers we have to the idea of alchemy in the real world, where someone can take something given by the earth and transform it into "gold." Beer is a positive thing when used correctly, both to soothe the soul and feed the mind. Civilizations rose and prospered because of their ability to make beer, and in many ways beer in itself tells the story of the place where it created.

Brewing itself is a people-first activity, requiring thought, cooperation, business, hard work, and most importantly, love. People make and drink beer because they love beer. In every possible way brewers are just like writers--they are there for the craft and the wonders it produces. And beer is "hereditary", in a sense, as it always comes from another brew before it. In many ways the main character of the story, Stout, came from something from my past.

Stout the Sirtya, the brewer and "hero of the story" (I made Jishnu the "sidekick", in a way), was inspired by character named Pikel Bouldershoulder, a dwarven druid who was created by my favorite author R.A. Salvatore.

Here's Pikel:

I took a lot from Pikel to make Stout, especially when it comes to the club and his speech patterns. I loved Pikel growing up because it was the first time I could read about a character with speech-and-language problems, a huge hurdle that I had to deal with growing up. Salvatore never diminished Pikel for it, however, leaving him very intelligent, wise, and so powerful that he is a powerful druid, something most dwarves never become. He was different, and he was kind, and sweet, and more importantly, he was able to do things on his own. Just like I wanted to be a bit like Pikel, I wanted Stout to be a bit like him as well. Stout's sweetness, dedication to his friends, and willingness to stand up against enemies bigger than him made the character special for me, because I really believe that even the most common among us can be a hero.

I hope if you take the time to read Stout you will love him like I do. I think we need more "dwarves", "hobbits", and "little folk" in our stories because they remind of our innocence. They let us know that we can still be strong, brave, and kind, even when we live in a world that doesn't seem to value those things anymore.

But more importantly, I hope you enjoy this story with a good beer. A sweet stout, if you can.

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