I have survived both Gen Con and Worldcon. I’ve come home to a mountain of work and a clowder of kitties alternating between needy and pissed off. I am so glad to be home. It’s been a lot of travel over the last three weeks.
I only had two panels and both were good. I was nominated as moderator for the Media Tie-In panel and did adequately well for having no warning and no prep. The second panel, “How to Pitch a Story”, was something else altogether.
The room was almost full by the time I arrived ten minutes early. I was already fretting that I had to condense a 2 hour workshop into 50 minutes. By the time the panel started, it was standing room only and people were lining the walls. It was one of my most successful panels to date (second only to my Tracon panel, “How to make the ordinary terrifying.”).
I spoke fast, recovered without making a fool of myself when a pair of sign language interpreters appeared at my side (thank goodness I recognized what they were doing before I asked), and I got out 95% of what I wanted to do. Based on the myriad of responses and compliments, I did well. I’m pleased. I feel prepared for the North Coast Redwood Writers Conference version of the workshop I’ll be giving in September.
I did have a husband (D) and wife (S) come to my table later and ask how D could learn to put himself out there. S explained that D was extremely shy (he was) and that networking was going to be really hard for him. S was vivacious and engaging. D looked like he wanted the ground to swallow him. I knew I had to do two things: 1. Explain that “Jennifer Brozek, Author and Editor” was a different person than me. 2. Explain how the two of them could work things so D would be able to talk to editors, publishers, and agents.
1. When I am at a convention and in public, I’m “on stage.” I’m playing a character who likes people, is extremely patient, is confident, knowledgeable, and happy to be there. 80% of the time, this isn’t really an act. This is a mode that I get into. It’s true. However, when I saw how packed my workshop was, I had to take that ten minutes to “gird my loins” as they say and remind myself that I did know what I was talking about. I wasn’t a hack. And they weren’t going to throw rotten fruit at me.
I did this by taking on a power stance, standing in front of the panel table, and taking control of the room. I didn’t let anything bother me. If I didn’t have an answer for a question, I said so. I was the character. As soon as the panel was done, I fled. Flat out. I thanked everyone. Reminded people that another panel was coming in there. And I didn’t wait to talk to anyone. Except for William Ledbetter who said, “That was the best 4 hour workshop in 45 minutes I’ve ever heard.” It was the right thing to say to me then.
2. D is shy. Extremely so. But, he’s a gamer. I explained how I put on a character and recommend that he try something similar. Also, practice your elevator pitch. Practice your longer pitch. Practice on your friends and family. If you have to create a LARP of friends who are different publishers, editors, and agents. Then have a party. He seemed to consider the idea as a possibility.
The other thing I had to do was gently tell S that she needed to step back a bit and let D take the lead. D would be the one working with the publishers, editors, and agents. He had to be the one to talk and he had to get used to the idea. Eventually, the two of them could tag-team it, but for her to help, she had to let D work through his issues. She had to have the patience to do so.
I wasn’t always as “confident” or “smooth” or “clear and concise” or “engaging” as I seem now. I remember I wouldn’t go to my first Gen Con until my editor, Brian Gute, agreed to shepherd me around. Now, I’ve had over ten years of experience on the convention circuit, talking with people I wanted to impress, and generally learning how to be a people-person or “on stage” at a convention.
I think it’s important for people just starting out to realize that a lot of us in the front of the room are faking it. Yes, we generally know what we’re doing, but we don’t have all the answers. We have the experience of what worked for us. We’d like to help those following in our footsteps make less mistakes… or at least different ones. “Fake it until you make it” works for me. It might work for you, too.