Bleech- Who Really Wants to Network?

“We’re having a great day at MicroTool.  This is Kat.  How can I help you?”

Imagine the wah-wah voice of the adults on Charlie Brown specials.  That should provide an accurate picture of the level of enthusiasm I mustered when uttering this phrase every time the phone rang at my old job.  Believe me, this intro was not my idea.  When I call a business, I prefer them to get to the point.  But the owner, my boss, wanted a friendly voice that exuded hospitality.  He probably should have scheduled a second interview before hiring me.

I have never been great at customer service.  Sometimes I was downright rude to customers.  In my early twenties, I managed a couple of sunglass stores- you know, stores where we sold nothing but sunglasses.  I would ask people “is there something I can help you find?”  At least five times a day, some comedian would reply “do you have any sunglasses?”  I couldn’t help myself when I glared daggers and replied “wow, I haven’t heard that one before.”  Ok, sales are not my thing.

So why am I bringing up my tendency for discourtesy?  I happened upon an article for aspiring authors, written by Hugh Howey, the author of the Wool series.  If you are unfamiliar with Wool, the stories are set in a post-apocalyptic future where civilization has been forced to live in huge cities underground.

Howey gained a name for himself through self-publishing.  My husband, Ben, came across another one of his stories on the Amazon free list.  He enjoyed the story, did a little research on the author and came across Wool.  Howey grew a loyal following through word of mouth and Wool became a hit.  It has recently been made into a graphic novel, and was sold to 20th Century Fox for a possible film.  Howey signed a print-only deal with Simon and Schuster for a reported $500,000.  Not bad for a guy who originally gave away the story for free.

As I said, I came across an article on Howey’s website for aspiring authors looking to mimic his success.

While the advice covers everything from developing a habit of writing to appealing to readers, the bottom line is networking.  You need to publicize your work, connect with fans, build a platform, attend conferences, and join a writing group.  Basically, you are trying to meet and interact with as many people as possible, hoping to create a following and get your work in the hands of someone who can do something with it.

Great.  Unless you have a personality that might be described as “cool” for the sake of politeness.  It’s not that I purposely try to put out a vibe that reads “stay the fuck back.”  I’m just a bit insecure around new people, and I guess it shows.  I was talking to a bartender once, and I asked him if guys actually do the “I’d like to buy that lady at the end of the bar a drink” thing.  He confirmed that they do.  I bemoaned that I have never been bought a drink in that manner.  The bartender says “You? Oh yeah, no way someone is going to buy you a drink.  You do not come across as approachable.”  Well, so much for free beer from strangers.

Last night, I watched this episode of Louie where he is trying to learn how to interview people for a late night talk show.  Louie practices on the cleaning woman, and ultimately causes her to burst into tears discussing her dead mother.   That’s how I think networking would go for me.  I’d launch into a pitch for my children’s book and end on a tirade against female genital mutilation.

Were there ever glory days when writer’s just had to write?  If so, I might put my time to better use trying to build a teleportation device to that period.  Even though I can barely handle a drill, I can probably figure out how to build a complex, mythical machine faster than I can learn to smile and make chit chat with strangers.

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