Monday, June 10, 2013

On Workshops and Wetware

This past Friday I attended a workshop presented by April Eberhardt and Susan Bearman entitled “Pathways to Publication.”  It was a very interesting workshop, presenting the “current” view of the ever-changing publication landscape as lived by two professionals. There was quite an eclectic group gathered in the conference room of Chicago’s University Center, representing essentially all stages of the production process and most of the phases of a literary career.

I have to say that while I had discovered a lot of the subject material on my own, I still found both the presentation and discussion useful. If you have an opportunity to attend a talk by one of these two women, I highly recommend the opportunity – they are both enthusiastic about their subjects, and energetic and engaging in delivery. Susan is an author as well as a marketing communications specialist, and April an agent with a list of clients at varying levels of the writing process.

My Primary Takeaways 

My primary takeaways from the conference were, in many ways, things I already knew. I am not a published author, nor am I particularly experienced at writing salable fiction, but I am (if I can toot my own horn here) excellent at researching topics and distilling the knowledge down to the salient points. Along these lines, I have done a lot of reading about writing and publication and have read points on all sides of the issue.

I tend not to write about publication and my opinions on the “right” or “wrong” way for two fairly simple reasons:
  1. I am not yet published
  2. I’d rather write than write about writing

There are hundreds of thousands of words out there about the various ways to get published, and they all boil down into the following categories:
  • Individuals who firmly believe that traditional publishing is the only way forward, and any who disagree are heartless blasphemers who will never shake the negative stigma of the self publisher
  • Individuals who firmly believe that indie publishing is the only way forward, and any who disagree are heartless blasphemers who will never earn even a tenth of their self-published peers
  • Individuals (and, most likely, the truth) who lie somewhere in between these two extremes

I use religious terminology in the above because in many cases that is the style that is taken by these blog posts and various discussions – absolutes thrown out with aplomb by individuals wholly dedicated to their particular cause, and god help the poor sap who dares to express a contrary opinion.

These people are not to be taken seriously. At least, not by me. They are informed by their own success, and thus may be biased towards what has worked for them. That is not to say that they don’t have any useful information, but arguments and opinions should always be taken with a grain of salt.

And ultimately, that was my key takeaway from the workshop. There is no right path. There are different paths, suited to different individuals, with different goals. Some people may want to make a living from their writing. An exceedingly small percentage of those people may achieve that goal. Some may only want the cachet of the title “Published Author,” and a small percentage may achieve that goal. Note the repetition of the phrase “small percentage” – the only true reality is that thousands and thousands and thousands of books are produced each year, and only a small number of those obtain publishing deals, let alone any kind of cultural relevance.

So in the end, this is what I gathered (right or wrong) from my time at the workshop:
  • Know your goal – am I looking to hit it big, or do I want the respect of a published writer, or do I simply want to create something that will live after I have died?
  • Plan your path forwards – what are measurable steps I can take towards that goal? How much will the options available to me cost me in time and/or money? How do I know when my goal has been achieved?
  • Do not dismiss any options until you are absolutely sure that they are not viable – the numbers game is already heavily weighted against me, would dismissing an entire market vertical help?
  • Finally, make your own conclusions – the only person with all the data on my situation is me, not an opinionated blogger or a pretentious literary critic, so why should their passion inform my decision if their reasons aren’t applicable?

The Fringe-Benefits, and Why I Will Never Be a Politician 

As any experienced conference attendee will tell you, the knowledge presented is only half of the reason for attending the event. If the knowledge was the only important thing, we could just download the PDF and go on our merry way as newly-enlightened writers. The other half of every conference, expo, convention, party, box social, et cetera, is the social aspect.

When I was a young college student getting ready to make my way in the “professional” world, I had a strong aversion to networking. I was earning a degree in Computer Science, which is based heavily in mathematics. In math, you are right or you are wrong, and there is no real room for in-betweens – that’s what statistics and probability are for. As I of course knew everything possible to know about the world at that age, I firmly asserted that I had no need of networking with potential colleagues. That kind of glad-handing may be necessary for business people and politicians, but I was a programmer. I just had to be the best programmer, and bam – job time for me. I envisioned myself living in a world of true merit, where the most talented were rewarded and the bull-shitters would be exposed and shamed.

We were all so naïve, once.

Some people say that money makes the world go ‘round. However, behind that money is a directing hand. This essentially means that the hand driving the money is just as important to the angular momentum of our planet as the money is itself. Thus, there are two paths to having an effect on the world:
  • Have lots and lots of money at your disposal
  • Connect with enough people with similar goals and work together to achieve what you need

Now this is a simplistic view of the world dedicated to show one fact: the only people who can afford to ignore the social side of the world are people with the fiscal resources to do so. Want to advance in your career? See and be seen. It is not enough to be damn good at what you do – that will get you local notoriety and aplomb, sure. If you want to make it big, though, you have to advertise. Be your own salesperson. Know your upsides and down, and emphasize the up while diminishing the down. Talk to people. Connect. Network. Make friends and find colleagues.

And this is where I fail. I like to describe myself as a quiet person. I have few social skills of which I am aware, and my sarcastic and self-deprecating nature can be off-putting to some people. On top of this, I have… while not exactly a fear of social interaction, I certainly have some sort of mental block against it. I rarely feel confident when introducing myself, and I’m by no means a people-person. To put it simply, I’m not an aloof ass – I’m just shy.

This is an issue that has plagued me for a while, and this past Friday it more or less reached a tipping point. I’m not great at networking (I even forgot to have new business cards made, as I am no longer a graduate student in computer graphics), and I tend to hang back by myself in a crowd. Here I am with a room full of people who can prove great people to know and potentially build a long-term correspondence with, and outside of a few smiles I only really talk to the people who approach me directly. A fantastic opportunity somewhat wasted.

In computer programming we see three phases of every solution: the hardware, with all the lights and sounds, that makes the program run; the software, with the thousands of lines of code, that makes the computer do what you want; and the wetware, with the hair and the appetites and the sporting team affiliations, that directs the entire process. Like far too many computer programmers over time I have focused a large portion of my attention on the two former, and not nearly enough on the latter.

And that’s probably my ultimate take-away from the workshop on Friday. Somehow I need to learn to be a people person, because even though I might be able to tell n interesting tale, nobody will read it if they don’t know who I am.

Long ramble, complete. Shutting down for now


  1. Thanks for the positive review, Matt. I'm so glad you found your time at our workshop valuable. I'd say that if Friday was a tipping point in your ability to network, you made great strides in just those few hours. Learning to network effectively is an art and skill well worth developing. I've learned that the more you connect, the more you see other connections that you couldn't even visualize before. It's the ripple effect as your circle hits the water and intersects with all the other ripples out there. Keep at it. You'll be great, and the rewards will be profound. Best of luck to you. I look forward to reading more.

    1. Thank you for an excellent workshop!

      The ripple effect is definitely a major reason behind the social platform that is the default standard for any artist these days. I am always reminded of an article I read on about the "monkeysphere" (see it here at: ) - in essence, we need to break outside of our own monkeysphere if we ever hope to achieve serious success.

      Thanks again for the excellent session, and for stopping by my little nook here!