Thursday, April 09, 2009

Networking, Conferences, and Agendas. Oh, my!

Please welcome my dear friend and guest blogger, Paula Matter, to Working Stiffs. Paula, as a past Pennwriters Conference Coordinator, has been holding my hand and keeping me sane during this past year. She’s also a darned fine crime writer. Welcome, Paula.—Annette

By Paula Matter

A friend attended a conference in NYC recently. I asked her to say hello to an agent I know and like. The agent responded, "That's Paula. Networking without even being here." That led me to consider the importance of networking. Which led me to start thinking of the conferences I will attend this year. Due to the economy, I won't be going to nearly as many as usual. One big event I'll be missing out on is Bouchercon. I simply can't justify the expense.

Last year was a different story. I was in better shape financially, and it was only a five hour drive to Baltimore.

2008 was my fifth Bouchercon, and I had an agenda. I attended as a reader. At each panel, instead of scribbling notes on the craft of writing, or promotion, or marketing, I wrote down names and/or titles. If panelists or moderators were funny, I jotted down their names. If they made a particularly profound comment, their name went on my list. One author, outside in Smoker's Paradise, simply smiled at me and his name was added.

I'd then make a beeline for the book room after each panel, or in the one case, after my cigarette. I learned buying lots of books in spurts didn't hurt my credit card, and I went back to the same two booksellers each time.

A highlight for me was meeting a new-to-me author. Her books, and how she switches POV in them, intrigued me. I saw her in the book room after her panel and I asked her about it. What a delightful woman. I bought her paperback right then and there. Later, passing her in a hallway, she was just as delightful when she stopped and we chatted some more. I took a chance and bought her hardcover.

I lied earlier. See above about the cigarette scenario happening once. It occurred again later that same day when, quite exhausted, I was debating whether to go take a nap, or attend another panel. I stepped outside for a smoke to help me decide. Hush, all you non-smokers who have no idea what I'm talking about. I initiated a conversation with an author whose name I knew, but had never read. The chat with this genuinely (keyword there) kind man is still too special to share, but know this: Instead of taking a nap, I went to the book room and bought one of his books. I would've bought more, but I had to eat that night and put gas in the car for the trip home. Once my credit card balance comes back down, I'll be buying more of his books.

Another author annoyed me this year. Again. The first time was during a panel a few Bouchercons ago when she, seated three seats from me in the audience, proceeded to snack on potato chips. Very crunchy potato chips. For that one act of rudeness, I've never bought this woman's books. Last year in Baltimore she practically sat on my lap due to an overcrowded room. I made nice and restrained myself from kicking her.

Which reminds me of a kick-ass writer I know and adore. Many years ago, S.J. Rozan, one of the smartest women I know, when attempting to assuage my concern (fear, actually) about being on a panel, told me "Just be yourself. And be nice to everyone." At the time I thought, "Pick one because I sure as hell can't do both." I should've known she'd be right.

I had a chance encounter with a very pleasant woman. Resting my poor feet, I sat on one of those couches in the hall between the book room and the conference rooms. Another tired attendee plopped herself down, smiled and said hello. I responded in kind. She thanked me for not being rude. Because of my obvious puzzled expression, she explained how she'd tried earlier to strike up a conversation with a stranger, and was snubbed. We agreed it was shameful that impoliteness has nearly become the norm. She and I chatted for several minutes about books and writers. When she asked if I was a writer, I hesitated then admitted that I was. Before I knew it, I was telling her about my writing. (She asked. I swear she started it!) She wrote down my name and said she'd be looking for my book when the time came. I laughed. She then told me what bookstore she works in. So, um, S.J., thanks.

Continuing with kick-ass writers, another woman I enjoy reading was gracious when I greeted her in the hallway. Later I realized I had interrupted an interview, and I apologized. She was just as gracious in her response. I'll continue buying her books.

Some pros have it, and some don't. The latter won't miss my money. I won't bother schlepping all the way to NYC, or Pittsburgh, or Baltimore to buy their books. And I also will never badmouth them in public. Or in private. But I hope they know who they are.

For the rest of you, I hope to see you at your next booksigning.

Paula Matter is a member of MWA, PWA, Backspace, and Pennwriters. Her short crime fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies. She hates writing bios, so will stop here.


Annette said...

Thanks for being here, Paula! We're going to miss you at Bouchercon this year!

Joyce said...

We will definitely miss you at Bouchercon this year.

So, did you get all those books read yet?

Anonymous said...

Paula, who says you can't be nice and be yourself?? You're the greatest! Someday, we need to hear a blog on the subject of Smoker's Paradise at conventions. I have long suspected a lot of business gets conducted out there!

Great to see you here, babycakes.
Nancy (my verification word today is . . . louse. Hm.....)

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Thanks Paula. Let's see, that male author out in the smoking area might have been Lee Child? I agree with your post 100%.

I stayed in the "OTHER" hotel, so I walked through the smoker's area and over the walkway quite a bit. The people I remember the most there were the Jordan's of Crimespree Magazine and Lee Child. I suppose there were many more. BTW Lee and I chatted outside (while he smoked) for about 20 minutes on his latest Jack Reacher book. Great guy.

Networking does matter. And even beyond the "right thing to do" and "common sense" values we all should have as part of our upbringing, being nice and gracious is noticed by people.

I had an "AH HA" moment with an author who I will never read because of an incident at Bouchercon. I had my panel and then did my turn in the signing room (a very lonely experiance) then rushed up to my room to get a book I already had for an author to sign while they were in the room. I ran to the table as he was getting up to leave and made the comment about just making it there. He said, "no you didn't" and turned to leave. I thought he was just joking. He wasn't. Then, as an afterthought he grabbed the book out of my hand and scribbled his name in it, no personalization, tossed it on the table in front of me and walked away. I SO wanted to toss that book in the trashcan while he could still see me. My manners would not let me.

Needless to say that book is not one of my prized possessions and will probably make its way to a charity donation. I won't be buying his books anymore.

Jennie Bentley said...

Thanks for visiting, Paula! Excellent post. I won't be doing much traveling this year either, unfortunately.

Will, I can't believe that! What a rude boor!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Annette, for the invite. My first blog post ever!

Joyce, yep. I've read all those books. That's why I'm going to Murder 203 in CT next weekend. Zero credit card balance!

Nancy Martin, you are certainly not a louse! Maybe someday I'll write about the generous and PATIENT authors out there who help me. You'll be at the top of that list.

Will, you guessed one of them! It was indeed Lee Child. I bought three of his books at one time.

And, oh, Jennie's right--what a rude boor. Don't these people realize how they're behaving? We readers can dismiss them as easily as they dismiss us.

Thanks, Jennie! Are you attending any events this year?


Joyce said...

Will, sometime you're going to have to let us know who that was!

Paula, we're hoping for many more blog posts from you. Hint. Hint. (I have a photo of us (and Becky) at B'con if you want me to post it.)

Anonymous said...

Joyce, I will divulge the name of the crunchy potato chip eater if you promise to NOT post that photo. OR, if you'll be at Pennwriters conference next month, I'll buy you a few drinks.

And, um, I got the hint.

Paula--who's off to do some digging to find out who Will's referring to...

Joyce said...

Deal. I'll always go for the booze!

I dug out my old B'con schedule to see who was signing at the same time as Will, but I couldn't figure it out. Darn.

Anonymous said...

Will & Joyce, this is tougher than I thought. Out of the possible fourteen suspects, I recognized only three names.

I narrowed down who Will's rude boor couldn't be and that's Reed Farrel Coleman. A true classy guy.

Joyce, what do you drink? I'll start saving money now. And, thanks for taking the bribe, er, offer!


Wilfred Bereswill said...

You know, though the story is absolutely true, I'm going to hold onto this guy's name. I have tried to give him a pass knowing that he had a long line and was probably tired of smiling and acting nice.

I talked to a very good author friend of mine about the incident. My friend knows this author well and says that he can be a nice and engaging person, but that he can see him acting the way he did.

Susan said...

I read all your posts shivering in my slippers!

I know I've never been intentionally rude to anyone requesting a signed book.

But I'm not sure about the whole potato chip thing. Except I wouldn't be crunching chips as much as unwrapping a piece of candy...And those wrappers can be pretty crackly.

Interesting post, Paula!


lisa curry said...

Loved your first-ever blog post, Paula. You definitely meet all the best people in the smoker's area. (Is that where I met you at my first Pennwriters Conference? Probably!) Thanks for sharing with us. You rock!

Anonymous said...

Will, I don't blame you. And I wouldn't really reveal the name of Potato Chip Woman.

Susan Meier! Another person who would be at the top of my list of helpful, generous and patient authors. And I can't imagine you being rude to any reader.

Lisa, thanks! Will you be at Pennwriters conference next month? If so, I'll see you outside!


Annette said...

I know who the potato chip lady is. Nah nah nah nah nah.

And I'm not telling. That's Paula's choice.

I don't know Will's author, although, I have a guess which I won't print here.

Donnell said...

Paula, great blog! Annette, thanks for having her, and, Paula thanks for helping keep Annette sane. I wish, I wish, I WISH I could come to the Penn Writers Conference to see your efforts in action. I know this conference will be one of the best. When you're toasting to your success, I'll be lifting my glass to you from Colorado!

Anonymous said...

How cool to still be reading comments!

Annette, oh, that's right! I did tell you last year at the Mystery Lovers Bookshop Festival. I'm going to miss it this year.

Donnell, great to see you here! Thanks for commenting! I was afraid no one would.