“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.