Tuesday, 25 November 2008

The Ills of Networks

The Ills of Networking

I feel sick to my stomach this morning. Last night I spent an entire evening flying under the radar of my new boss in my new swanky publishing job as I went around one of our events pushing my own agenda. There were publishers I wanted to push my book to; there were publishers who had rejected my book, ones I needed answers from; there were publishers who were still considering my book I wanted some sort of inkling from. Beer helped. The steady push of support from my colleagues and a friend, all rooting for my self-promotion to pay off in dividends, meant I had to go for it. I started circling my prey, waiting for one to stray away from the pack, then POW I would erupt on her like a talking imposition.

She broke off. I broke off a conversation mid-flow and headed her way. I introduced myself. She introduced herself. Her colleague saw she had made a friend and brought us back into the pack. I was in the inner-circle. I had to talk. I made my play. Hello, yes, I am a writer, would you like to read my book thank you that would be lovely thanks yes it’s great I’m great oh what a character I am yes thank you. My spiel ended on an awkward pause to which one of my prey said, ‘You’re very good at self-promotion, you know?’ I shrugged her an aww shucks as if to say, yes but sod all that, will you read my book? Eventually I tired of trying to keep talking as they had sussed my game out, thus giving me no cause to continue verbalising. I smiled and said I was going to the bar. I walked away, doing the quick glance-back. They were wide-eyed at each other, laughing and darting their eyes back to me and enthusing about my weirdness.

I started obsessing over four representatives of a publisher we’re to date still waiting to hear back from. They were stood in a cliquey circle. I needed to talk to them. I assumed one of them would be the editor looking at my work. I sat on a radiator, obsessing. My friend told me to just go up and get on with it as I had nothing to lose but my dignity, and seeing as I had none left just get on with it.

I went in just as the pack split into two factions. I went in for the two smaller less imposing girls as the factions had split on height. It turned out in the first 30 seconds these girls had nothing to do with editorial. I’d backed the wrong horse. I was about to hang up my network spurs but I persisted with being nice because it isn’t all about speaking to the most important person in the room, sometimes it’s probably good just being nice to someone. We chatted and I endeared myself enough to them that they introduced me to a middle-aged lady who looked like the archetypal white female senior editor. She wasn’t, she was a fellow writer. She was a fellow writer who needed me to promote some work for her. I’d backed the wrong horse and followed it into someone else’s stable. The tallest, youngest girl in the group, a beautifully androgenous Bowie figure circled the outside of our burgeoning circle. The sales girls took pity on me and introduced me to her. She was an editor. She hadn’t heard of me. We talked about how hard it was getting published and sci-fi and music and my book and she gave it her best interested face. She told me she had to leave, I thanked her for not rolling her eyes at me too much. She laughed and walked off. I returned to my group who all celebrated my eventual success. I ran back to the bar to get us a celebration drink. But there she was... She-Bowie hadn’t left at all. She’d relocated to a hidden part of the room to talk to someone else. She’d let me spiel, given me her best attentive ten minutes then moved on. She was dead to me.

Then this conversation happened.

ME: Hi, are you [name of author]?
MAN: No, I’m [name of biggest agent in country]
ME: Oh, shucks, right, hi. I know [author represented by biggest agent in country]. He’s a really good friend.
MAN: Yes, terrific talent.
ME: Yes, really paved the way for up-and-coming writers like me.
MAN: ...
ME: Have you read any of the books tonight?
MAN: No.
MAN: Yes, [author represented by biggest agent in country] is a terrific talent.
ME: Yes, really paved the way for up-and-coming writers like me...
ME: He’s a really good friend.
MAN: I’m going to go now. It was nice meeting you.
ME: It was really awkward wasn’t it?
MAN: Yes.

I hate networking. I hate being the guy with the product and the snappy talk and yet I find myself in this auto-pilot groove where I’m able to spout off oodles of self-promotional gumf about myself. Why don’t I believe any of this stuff in real life? I have no idea. I’m not convinced by how much or how little talent I have and I’m not convinced in a roomful of the most important people in publishers I have any ability to make myself a known entity to them but the whole network is a nasty game of chance, bipolar personalities and the ability to relay your CV in a bullet-pointed two minute format. And free wine.

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