February 2014

The importance of contacts

One thing that they never told me is that contacts matter. That in a lot of ways, it doesn’t matter what you write, as long as you can sell it. As a kid, I never realised the truth. The value of a good network. “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

(The truth came later. You know, I have never landed a job based on merit [and I’ve had several]. I’ve worked hard and built a good reputation for myself after the fact, but getting the job in the first place has always been a matter of knowing someone who could get me in.)

I don’t recall whether it was a conscious choice or not, but I elected to believe in the romantic ideal of writing: that quality would sell itself. That a good enough book would get published, and that success would come once I’d earned it through writing.

And look, I have to admit that given recent news, there is some merit to this approach. It might even turn out to be a winning plan. Only time will tell.

But for the moment, and especially when coupled with observations of my contemporaries, it seems that while this part of the process is important – vital – to any serious artist, that’s not where it ends. Not by a long shot. When I set out on this path, all those years ago, I had no idea what it entailed.

“I know the game:
You’ll forget my name
And I won’t be here in another year
If I don’t stay on the charts.”
– Billy Joel, The Entertainer

Ever since first being published in 2011, I have stepped so far outside my comfort zone that I don’t even remember where it was. Exhibiting at cons, soliciting punters, making friends with complete strangers whose only connection to me is a mutual interest in making comics, building and engaging audiences in social media, and attempting to maintain some sort of constant public profile… that’s the part that others seem to excel at. Not me.

The writing part is easy. Relatively speaking, anyway. Self-promotion isn’t easy for anyone (I assume), but no one else seems to be as totally intimidated by it as I am.

And now, with the prospect of launching an ambitious Kickstarter project, I worry. I keep thinking about the comics creators I’ve met along the way. The way they draw crowds to themselves, the way they engage an audience, the way they build a tightly networked community among themselves. They’re the kinds of people who can run Kickstarter campaigns. Me? I’m on the periphery. I might have a career, but I’m not tied into a network. I have loose connections to it at best. My project’s gonna tank. And tank hard. Embarrassingly hard.

“You’re not them. You’ll never be as good at this as they are.” That’s what my brain keeps whispering to me.

I know my shortcomings. There’s no point denying it: I don’t have the effortless-looking charisma I see in a lot of the comics folks I’ve met. I’m not naturally social, and find small talk impossibly draining and stressful. I’m intimidated by crowds and feel overshadowed by pretty much everyone in the creative industries. I’m not going to make it if my networking skills are the difference between success and failure.

It’s entirely possible that my writing career will have to rise or fall based solely on the quality of my work.

And that’s going to be a real test of that idealism I had as a kid.

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