May 27, 2005

Talk Yourselves Up, Writers!

I’ve read in more than a few sources the dubious assertion that a writer should not spend a lot of time talking about her work to "outsiders." When you say things like "I’m writing a novel," some seem to think that this is an activity reserved for wanna-be starving artists or people who want to look snooty and over-educated. Plus, your friends and family, they say, your co-workers and your random acquaintances--they don’t want to hear all the boring little details about your plot struggles or your character inconsistencies. In short, these sources seem to say, if you start talking about your writing you risk boring people to death. They don’t want the mystery, the illusion of a great artist at work, ruined for them.

Well, as someone who just finished writing a mystery, I can tell you for sure that this is not the case. When I say I’ve written a mystery, quite a few people want to hear about it. They want me to summarize the plot for them, and when I say, "Are you sure you want to know how it all turns out?" they say "Yes!" They think it’s intriguing. (This is not universally true, but it happens more often than I expect.)

Moreover, there’s an even more compelling reason to talk up your writing to every random person you meet, and take that risk of boring them to death. That reason is: You never know whose brother’s sister-in-law’s uncle might be an editor or agent. You never know which random co-worker might be a published writer with contacts in the industry.

Lest you be doubtful, this has happened to me a couple of times now. I was at a Welsh language class a couple of years ago (one of my hobbies is learning languages, though I don’t get to do it very often) and, that summer, I was mid-grad-school and right in the thick of writing my novel. At least two people cajoled me into giving them a synopsis of the novel. A third person said he had a good friend who had published books for teenagers, and he e-mailed me her contact information in case she could help me with publishing leads. After two rejections on my novel, I recently took advantage of that contact information and sent her an e-mail. I don’t know if it will lead anywhere, but I was glad to have that tiny spark of possibility. Not quite a Plan C, but it’s a start.

And today I was talking to the receptionist at my temp job, Alicia, who, like me, moved to the Central Valley from the Bay Area a few years ago. After commiserating about the time it took to get used to the change in atmosphere, she started asking me what I do when I’m not temping. I told her, and she said, "Did you know that there’s a woman in the department who just published a fiction book?" She kept getting rejected—until she talked to this otherwoman in the department whose sister-in-law happened to be an editor. They were able to hook up, and now, this person has a seven-book contract. Then, Alicia offered to mention me to both the writer and the woman with the editor in the family. Maybe, she said, they could help me out.

And maybe they can. Even if the editor doesn’t do YA, she might know someone who does, someone who is looking for new writers. Never underestimate the power of networking. The moral of this story is, don’t be afraid to talk up your writing to anyone willing to listen. You never know who might be able to pass on advice or connections.

1 comment:

TadMack said...

A seven book contract? A SEVEN BOOK CONTRACT?! Excuse me whilst I lie down.

A.F., you may be onto something good here... in any case, tomorrow's the big day when I send YOUR agent lead MY information... so we'll all cross our fingers. And though you seem INTENT on saying that you're doing nothing much but flaying yourself forward via whining, all I know is you're keeping ME moving on this. Thanks.