It’s the time of year when everyone is getting ready to head to Clarion and Launchpad and conventions. It’s busy and social, signings will abound, and you might even meet some of the authors who have shaped your life.
And that is one of the things that makes our genre so incredible.
But hey, there’s something that’s even more incredible: the people in your critique group or the signing line? Those are the future game-changers, the authors who will, some day, shape the lives of another generation. It’s like being in school, if school was taught by your hero, and you got to take all the coolest classes. You get to be in on the ground floor. You get to say ‘oh man, I knew that guy before he was cool’.
As writers and fans, it’s easy to gravitate toward the big names. King, Card, Gaiman, and others have priceless advice on writing. They are known as experts for a reason. But they are very busy, and very far removed from where the new writer is standing. Studying them is certainly worthwhile, and necessary.
But the people around you will, in the end, probably teach you more. They are going through the same thing you are. Instead of looking back on the hazy early years, they are going through the same gauntlets. When you need a comforting shoulder to cry on, or have hit that point where you can’t work on your novel for one more minute, your peers are the people you’ll turn to, because they’re right there with you.
It’s a lesson I’ve been lucky to learn the easy way. When I went to Dragon*Con the first year, I sort of fluttered at the edges of those Names. Obviously inundated with people, there was no way they’d remember my name. (A point driven home with great humility when one later hired me and had never heard of me…despite actually having had discussions on Twitter and at the con.)
Toward the end of it, I ended up sitting with the editor of a small press, and one of his authors. I picked up an incredible amount of industry knowledge from them, got involved in one of their projects, and generally built an actual relationship with them. They were still many years ahead of me in experience, but they remembered the kind of stuff I was going through, and they were happy to share their knowledge.
You meet people through your immediate network, too. The person in the elevator with you might be the tie to your first big sale, your agent, or a much-needed client. Yes, that sounds mercenary, and there’s a line between networking and preying that everyone needs to understand and pay attention to.
So, by all means, go to the panels and workshops by Chuck Pahlaniuk and Connie Willis. They are the living embodiment of what you are trying to become. They are the world’s coolest teachers, and you’re in the world’s coolest school. But in between the big conventions and signing lines, check out your local conventions and writer’s groups. Walk up to the person sitting alone at the bar and ask if you can share their table. Strike up a conversation with the person next to you on the panel, or in the elevator, or at the book launch.
Say hi to your genre. The people around you are your future colleagues, friends and support network. Get to know them, because they are your number one resource.