Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Networking in the Mystery World

Many moons ago I was just about to attend Bournemouth University to take a degree in screenwriting when a friend of mine persuaded me to move to Hollywood instead. He insisted that networking was the name of the game and that I'd get more value learning on the job than I ever would sitting in a classroom.

I'm going to gloss over the actual move from Chailey Green, England to the "slums" of Beverly Hills because that's a story for another time (preferably one accompanied by copious amounts of wine) but my friend was right.  Within 3 months of working as a lowly receptionist for New Line Cinema, I was moved into the international sales and marketing department. There, I read at least two hundred scripts per year and eventually became a freelance story analyst for several major studios. Although the experience didn't turn me into an A-list screenwriter, it did give me quite an impressive Rolodex—but very few friends.

When I transitioned into writing long-form narrative, I discovered that networking primarily for career gain shifted into something far more meaningful. The lunches I enjoyed with Hollywood movers and shakers changed from "what will we both get out of this meeting" to shared war stories from the trenches, moral support and genuine friendships.

This past weekend saw the second California Crime Writers Conference in Pasadena. Jointly organized by the Southern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime Los Angeles, it was fun, informative and jam-packed with terrific panels. We were treated to fabulous keynote speakers, T Jefferson Parker and SJ Rozan who, along with inspirational advice, shared tales of woe and endless struggles that always seem hilarious in hindsight.

These conferences are often costly and it's easy to question the value of splashing out hundreds of dollars on registration, hotel rooms and often, air travel. But I think I have the answer.

As the registration coordinator I did a lot of people watching. I witnessed cyber friends meet in the flesh for the first time and new friendships forged over a breakfast muffin, at the bar and in the book room.

This past year I had been begging a family member to take the plunge and just come and see what the mystery world was all about. For decades he believed he was the only aspiring writer on the planet who had a  half-finished novel in his bottom drawer. Imagine my delight when I saw said relative laugh and chat with fellow writers and then tell me that he was determined to keep on writing now he realized his angst and fears were completely "normal."  He'd discovered a whole new world. The mystery community is one of the most generous and selfless groups of people I know.

Sometimes networking isn't about working the room (Hollywood-speak) for professional gain, but about something far more meaningful.  That discovery that we are not alone!


Liz V. said...

You might enjoy said...

Thanks Liz! I love getting recommendations - what a great discovery. You've made my day!

Charlotte Hinger said...

Hannah, I so agree on the value of sharing with other writers. I always leave conferences inspired.

Donis Casey said...

Excellent, excellent insight.