I have the great fortune to presently live near the city of Baltimore. While we are not inside Charm City itself, it is easy to get there and so my husband and I are able to do lots of fun things such as attending concerts, conventions and festivals. This weekend alone we went to two such events, the second of which was the Baltimore Book Festival! Due to our previous commitment to the concert on Friday, and a friends’ wedding on Saturday (it was a very busy weekend!), we were only able to go for part of the day on Sunday. But what we did experience was certainly interesting.
We managed to see both of the panels on my list – How to Present Yourself as a Professional, and Worldbuilding, both in the SFFWA tent. The panel on professionalism was especially interesting given the cast of presenters. I come from a business-attire-required background (my internship was with the DoS), so when I want to come off as professional I step over to the Banana Republic section of my closet. But though there was one gentleman in a jacket, a second presenter wore street clothes, and a third wore Steampunk-inspired street clothes. One of the first points they made was that writers are typically not judged on their choice of attire the way the rest of the world is. Given my personal history, I find that hard to believe, but as I am not yet a member of the industry I suppose I will have to wait and see.
The balance of the presentation could have been called “Don’t Act Like a Crazy Fan-girl/boy”. I’m not certain what I was expecting, but with the exception of the aforementioned lack of importance given to clothing choice, there wasn’t anything said which went beyond the scope of what I consider common sense. From the way it was presented, however, it was as if the established authors were overwhelmed by the number of unwashed, socially awkward would-be-writers which they encounter on a regular basis. It made me realize how fortunate I am to have been raised in such a strict, mind-your-manners fashion. While I struggle with my shyness and talking to strangers, at least I know I won’t embarrass myself by being unprofessional.
There was a good deal of discussion on making connections in the industry and the use of social media. The panelists were very encouraging about making friends with established writers when you encounter them online or at events. They stressed the importance of approaching these potential connections as human beings, rather than as potential connections. Which is understandable, everyone wants to be treated as a person and not as a means to an end, but it does make me wonder how difficult it must then become for writers to distinguish between when someone is being friendly because of the potential connection, or because they are genuinely interested in friendship. To me, it seems deceptive to approach someone as a friend when you’re only interested in how they can serve you. Regardless of how it works out – you may become best friends, you may never speak to the person twice – the intent was still self-serving. Is that really better or worse than being upfront about the fact that you are looking for a connection? Unfortunately it’s not a question I feel I can adequately answer.
The Worldbuilding panel I attended because it is likely the weakest area of my writing. It had been labeled on the schedule as a workshop, but it really was a panel, where the various authors discussed how they go about worldbuilding. It was heavily geared toward Science Fiction rather than Fantasy, especially because the panelists all had scientific backgrounds, but I still managed to pick up a few relevant notes. The most interesting thing I took away was the idea that I could ask experts to read through a short passage, and that they would more often than not be willing to let me know if anything stood out as incorrect. Another was the idea that I could potentially get tours of locations typically closed to the public if I mentioned that I was writing a book about said location. I’m sure that probably becomes more true the more work you have published, but it’s something I might try my hand at in the future.
After the panels we wandered around the festival and then went out for ice cream. All in all, it was a lovely day, and going to the festival has definitely motivated me to start looking into writers conferences, associations, competitions and the like. I highly recommend that any other aspiring authors do the same. While it’s not going to guarantee anyone a book deal, it will give you networking opportunities, and if nothing else will let you know whether or not you’re on the right track with your approach to all aspects of writing and publishing.