Tuesday, September 19, 2017

How do you get ahead these days without lying — or at least stretching the truth?

by Rick Blechta

Okay. I promise to stop writing blog posts about Bouchercon (but I may be lying — or stretching the truth).

Being so, well, intimately involved in the whole process of mounting a production like this through being the designer and layer-outer of the conference program book, I know where all the bodies are hidden. Even including Kathleen Fraser, its very able editor, I’m probably the only person who’s read Every Single Word of the darn thing — multiple times.

The largest portion of the book is given over to the author and panelist (if they’re not also authors) profiles. One thing struck me over and over again: the use of the words “bestselling” and “award-winning”. Authors throw them around like confetti, occasionally multiple times in the same 600+ character profile.

I have neither the time nor inclination to check out any of these claims, but I doubt very much that every one of them is true. But taken as a whole, it is a depressing spectacle. It seems we poor scribblers have to use any means possible to separate ourselves from the crowd. The result is a very sad thing. The two terms listed above are used so often that a potential reader almost stops noticing – which is not the result being aimed for. Not only that, but if you’re actually not award-winning or bestselling, sooner or later you’re going to be found out and that will be a very embarrassing experience.

So how do you make yourself stand out? After having attended about six of these monster conventions over the years, I’m sorry to say there’s not much of a way to accomplish this. Funny hats won’t do it. Handing out bookmarks or postcards to all and sundry helps, but only a little. Being everywhere at once (I’ve actually seen people try this one) might get people commenting about you, but also will garner some head shakes and strange looks.

It probably sounds like I’m dissing the whole endeavour — and one I’ve toiled over for many hours — but I’m actually not. Come a little bit closer and I’ll tell you the secret I’ve learned about Bouchercons. Bouchercons (indeed any convention) can help you if you simply mingle and talk with anyone you meet. Standing in a corner, wearing black, and with an angst-ridden expression that you hope proclaims you as a serious author is no help. Spending your days hanging around with people you already know, comforting and enjoyable as that may be won’t get the job done.

You just need to schmooze.

That means introducing yourself to people you don’t know, being friendly, striking up a conversation as you wait. If someone notices you’re an author, they’ll probably ask a few questions (work out your “elevator pitch” in preparation). But the real key is to ask them questions. If they’re a fellow author, you start the ball rolling with a question about their books. Most will return the favour. (If they don’t, move on quickly in a polite way.)

The reason this works is that everyone is intimidated at Bouchercon (well, except maybe for the guests of honour), so reaching out is a nice thing to do — as well as being potentially useful.

If the person you’re speaking with seems receptive, give them a bookmark or such (to help them remember your name) and when you see them again — which you most certainly will in such a closed environment — at least wave and smile.

If you’re painfully shy and thinking, I couldn’t do something like that!, thinking of it as a performance might help you break through. Most everyone participated in plays or performances of some kind while in school. Put yourself in that headspace.

Reaching out will also make the experience of attending the granddaddy of all mystery conventions a lot more satisfying fun for you, as well — and I’ll bet profitable more profitable too.

You’ll also make a lot of other people feel good.


Jim Napier said...

Good advice, Rick. Looking forward to seeing you there!

Caro Soles said...

But I LIKE hangng out with people i know...sniff... Maybe I will just follow you around. :)

Rick Blechta said...

I probably shouldn't have pulled my punches quite so much. The whole point I was trying to make is that there are better (and more honest) ways to promote yourself than by lying, or at best, exaggerating to the point of silliness. Really, when you read all the biographies that authors submitted (which I did because of designing the program book), I was appalled at how many authors used the words "bestselling" and "award-winning". Sure. I've won multiple awards. I got a band award twice back in high school. That makes me a multiple award winner, doesn't it? If everyone who used these terms in their bios was telling the truth, then the book industry is in terrific shape with massive book sales.

Sadly, that's not the case.

I was trying with my words to put a positive spin and positive ways to get yourself noticed.

But you can hang out with me anytime, Caro! You're good company.

Marianne Wheelaghan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marianne Wheelaghan said...

I'm a bit late reading this post. Sorry. I hate blowing my own trumpet but I tend to think if we don't big ourselves up we are at risk of becoming invisible. Does this mean we should lie, absolutely not. Ultimately, we have to do what we are comfortable with, be true to ourselves sort of thing.
Ps: Making conversation with strangers and generally being nice to people sounds like a good plan for standing out in life, nevermind at conventions :)