Thursday, July 27, 2017

Speak Sweetly, Because You Never Know Who You're Talking To

Perhaps the most common saying when it comes to getting ahead in the world is, "it's not what you know, it's who you know." We see this in big ways with presidents and billionaires, but we also see it in small ways. Like how your mom got you an interview at her company, or how your favorite coach wrote that glowing recommendation for your college application.

This is just as important if you're a writer. In fact, it may be even more important.

Hey there, stranger, how are you?

Always Put Your Best Foot Forward

If you're a writer, chances are good you put yourself out there somehow. Maybe you go to conventions, post updates in Facebook groups, hang out in a few subreddits, or attend local shows. Whatever you do, though, you tend to interact with a lot of strangers. People you've never seen before, you don't know, and you have no reason to know. However, sometimes all it takes is one good impression to open a door you didn't even know was there.

The hell did that thing come from...?
I'll give you an example of what I'm talking about. About four years ago I was attending Gen Con in Indianapolis. It wasn't my first time there, but it was both my first time there with game publishing credits under my belt, and as someone's staff member rather than a random attendee. I'd been making the rounds, and I met Wolfgang Bauer of Kobold Press, who I'd done some work for that year. While we were talking, he asked if I was going to the Ennies that night. I'd never heard of them before, and was informed they were the RPG awards given out every year at the convention. That sounded like a big deal, and since I was now at least tacitly a part of the RPG creating community I figured I should head down, shake hands, and pass out business cards.

Because I had several hours to kill between my staff duties and the show, I turned up a little early. There was going to be an auction, as well as other social activities, so I walked over, introduced myself, and asked how I could help. I set out forms and pens, helped get items squared away, and when other staff showed up I was introduced to them. Hands were shaken, and one introduction led to another. Before I knew it, I was meeting the heads of RPG companies, discussing my experiences, and sharing ideas I'd had for fresh takes on their games, or other proposals I never would have otherwise talked about. Most of the time I didn't even recognize their names, but as soon as they handed me their cards, or mentioned the games they headed up, I realized I'd gone right to the people who had the authority to offer me work.

Now, this wasn't a career-making night. With that said, I walked out of there with some solid contacts made, and more people who knew my name than didn't the night before. While some of the seeds I planted were duds, others blossomed into future projects. All because I followed-up with a client I'd worked for when I had the chance to meet him in-person, and I put my best foot forward when he gave me a tip on where to meet the people who needed a pen-for-hire to get the job done.

That Could Be Anyone

Every person you see has the potential to help your career. That middle-aged woman giving your signing table a casual perusal? She might be the head of a local book club who will help you spread the word about your work. That older fellow at the end of the table on the panel you're speaking on? He might know the editorial staff for a major publishing house. That mysterious someone you're contemplating lashing out at online? Well, they might be a potential employer, or co-worker, in your industry.

Take a moment to remember that. You can always be rude or unpleasant later... but if you lead off with that, it's hard to overcome that impression. And that might be a way of slamming the door in your own face.

That's all for this week's Business of Writing. This lesson took me some time to learn, so I thought I'd share it. If you'd like to help support my blog and my work, then head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today. $1 earns you both my everlasting gratitude, and you get a free book (or two). Lastly, if you want to keep up on all my work, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.


  1. Good article, straight to the point, well-written, and phenomenal advice.

  2. The worst thing anybody can do – especially those in the artistic realm – is to underestimate and / or dismiss someone (anyone!) who initially seems insignificant. Indeed, that lone individual standing silently off to one side may be an important figure in your chosen field. But, as far as I’m concerned, anyone who shares a similar artistic interest with you is critical. We artists certainly want people to buy our books or paintings, come watch us dance, or listen to us sing. More importantly, though, we all NEED those people. They are the ones who can help us succeed or fail.

    I don’t consider myself a people person. I actually have more respect for animals than most people. But I know full well that I cannot brush off anyone who expresses even a modest curiosity about my writing. That would be tantamount to career suicide! Too many artists forget that, as they gain wealth and fame. It’s what we all want. But it all can be gone just as easily as it arrives. NEVER take anyone for granted!