Artwork donated by Pati Nagle.
The Freelancer’s Survival Guide: 2 Personality Types
(Networking Part Six)
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Two weeks ago, my post on group dynamics (Networking Part Four) briefly went viral. People who worked on conventions in science fiction, mystery, and romance shared the post with each other. So did some SCA people, gamers, and lawyers. Each retweet and post with a link mentioned a group experience that had something to do with the group dynamics that I had described. Several folks used the post as a cautionary tale for groups that were just starting up.
In that post, I discussed the group as a group, and the freelancer as an individual. But we all know that groups are composed of individuals, all with different needs and different focuses.
This week, I’m going to discuss two different kinds of individuals you might find in a group. I mentioned them in the first networking post more than a month ago:
1. The master networker who has no work to stand on.
2. The excellent craftsperson who can’t network to save her life.
I’m going to discuss both of these individuals from two different perspectives—first as if they were someone you, the freelancer, might meet, and second as if they are you, which they very well could be.
First, the master networker.
I love people who talk a good game. I married two of them. One of my closest friends is a third. I really enjoy watching a good salesman, and I love listening to a sales pitch and/or hustle. I’m attracted to self-confidence, and I adore highly verbal people. I was a theater geek in high school (among other things), and actors in particular catch my attention. I love how flashy and showy and downright entertaining they are.
Master networkers talk a good game. They’re flashy and showy and often entertaining. They’re highly verbal, and they’re excellent salespeople. And the product they’re selling is themselves.
The problem is that they aren’t a commodity. With the exception of actors, comedians, and the occasional public speaker (or radio talk show host), most people can’t get by on hyping themselves alone. They need to have a real product or a real business behind them.
My first husband sometimes had a business behind his talk, but not always (although, to his credit, he tried to back up his words). My current husband, Dean Wesley Smith, has always had a business to promote. In fact, he was so paranoid about being perceived as just a talker when we started up Pulphouse Publishing that he insisted we do an issue zero of our hardback magazine—a hardcopy blank book to show that we knew as much about publishing as we did about editing.
In fact, that Issue Zero was the thing that filled our publication with great writers. I solicited my favorite writers to write for the publication, and to prove we were serious, I enclosed an Issue Zero. Later, more than half of the writers told me that they wouldn’t have written for us without the Issue Zero. Harlan Ellison told me that it was Issue Zero which convinced him that we were legit.
What I didn’t know at the time—and what Dean did know, because he studied the history of the field—was that so many other publications started with a great editor and a bit of money, solicited writers and maybe even paid them, but never got the first issue off the ground. He was proving to everyone he talked to that we would get our first, second, third, and fourth issue off the ground—and we did.
My good friend Kevin J. Anderson has always talked a good game. He can promote himself better than anyone I know. But, like Dean, Kevin has always had the work behind him. In fact, I learned that on the first day I met Kevin, in a college creative writing class. Kevin challenged the instructor on some issue (I can’t remember what), and the instructor shot back that he had been published, so he knew what he was talking about.
Kevin snapped that he had been published too—over 100 times in the small and specialty press. In that instance, I went from ignoring the loud young guy with opinions I (mostly) agreed with to deciding that this was someone I needed to pay attention to.
My habit of looking for credentials, however, comes from my love of the hype. Too many times, I’ve been bitten by someone who talks a good game but never has anything to back it up. Most of those disasters happened when I was in my teens and twenties. I was a gullible person who believe that if someone said they were going to do something, they would do it. After all, I did what I said I would do. Didn’t everyone?
Well, as this sadder but wiser girl (to quote The Music Man, which is an entire musical about the hype) now knows, not everyone who claims they’re going to do something will do it. Worse, not everyone who says they’ve done something has actually done so.
These people thrive in networking situations, particularly conventions and out-of-town continuing education events. They’re new to the other participants, and get a lot of attention. They do better with people who don’t know them, because people who do know that they haven’t (yet) done the work.
I put the “yet” in parenthesis because sometimes the master networkers do become established professionals. At some point, they realize they’re not producing, and they learn how.
How do you, the freelancer, deal with the master networker? Mostly you don’t. If you’re just an attendee at the conference, make sure you’re sitting at another table during the group lunch or that you are in a different panel than they are. The problem with master networkers is that they often take resources and energy from folks who are already doing the work, and that can be both difficult and frustrating.
A side note: Master networkers often graduate to presenters at some conferences, and then they use those credentials to run their own conferences. These are often the accidental scammers that I was talking about last week. They might know a lot about a little, but they have almost no hands-on experience. What experience they do have comes from listening to others.
If you’re a presenter at the conference, how do you tell a master networker from an outgoing professional with a lot of questions? You can’t. You answer everyone’s questions with equal sincerity. For all you know, you might provide the spark that takes the master networker from all talk to production, leading them to become the outgoing professional at the very next conference.
If you teach continuing education classes, like Dean and I do, you’ll need to do some extra work to weed out the master networker. You will have to research them. Because we teach established pros, we ask about work ethic (in some very pointed questions), publication credits, and workshop history. (Often too many workshops and very few (or no) publishing credentials shows someone who is addicted to workshops, but not to the craft of writing itself.)
But, as I promised, I’d look at these personality types from the outside and the inside. How do you know if you’re a master networker?
You probably already know. You’ve probably winced a bit as you read the above section. And, I’m sure, there are a handful of you who think you’re master networkers, when you’re not even close. You’re an outgoing working professional who worries that you talk too much.
What’s the difference?
That’s pretty simple, actually.
The working professional has a body of work behind them. Or an active and thriving business. Lawyers who have clients are working professionals, just like bookstores that keep their doors open from 9 to 5. Writers who write for publication every day—even if they haven’t yet been published—are working professionals. (Of course, those writers need to mail their work to someone who might buy it or they’re not really working professionals. Real writers need an audience, just like real artists and real actors and real musicians.)
Of course, we were all beginners at one point, and when we began, we didn’t have any work behind us. We went to conferences, and some of us asked a lot of questions (Right, Kev? Dean?). That’s good and healthy. But once you’ve reached your fifth year of conference attendance without doing the work, then you are a master networker. You can talk a good game, but you can’t deliver.
The only way out of that trap is to figure out what’s stopping you from actually following your dream. (There are other sections in the Guide for that. Try “Postponing Your Dreams” and “Discipline,” for starters.) I can guarantee that whatever is stopping you—fear, or a lack of discipline, or a lack of time—has deep roots somewhere. I can also guarantee that the problem is solvable if you but try.
What conferences do for you, in this instance, is substitute for the work. At a conference or continuing education event, you can be taken seriously without having to actually make an effort. And while that’s good for the ego in the short term, it’s not going to help you in the long term. Next time you go to a conference or class, go to the sessions on getting started or overcoming your fears. And then go home and apply what you’ve learned.
Once you actually get to work, you’ll have something most professionals are never able to do well (or comfortably): promote yourself. You’ve got the self-promotion part down. It’s the work part you have trouble with.
So the other personality type we’re going to discuss is the exact opposite of the master networker: the excellent craftsperson who can’t network to save her life.
I feel your pain, sister, because I’ve been there. When I graduated from college, I received a membership in the Wisconsin State Historical Society as a graduation gift. It was a gift I treasured (once a geek, always a geek.) Along with the gift came a free membership to the group’s conference that year.
I drove by myself to a small Wisconsin town I’d never been to before. (And since, at that point, I’d lived in the state for most of my life and traveled all over, that was saying something.) I went to the conference, excited to hear some of my favorite historians speak. I got up early, went to panels, listened, and took notes—
–and didn’t talk to anyone, except for the nice people at my lunch table during the sponsored luncheon after which a world-famous historian gave his (riveting and still memorable) speech. The people at my table forced me to tell them why someone so young was there (most attendees were either professional historians or retired), and they asked me (politely) what historical areas interested me the most. I spoke for maybe five minutes total during that entire weekend.
I even went (briefly) to the reception on the second night. I walked through the group, drink in hand, dressed to the nines, stood in a corner for a few minutes, then went timidly back to my hotel room and watched Bye, Bye Birdie on the small color TV, feeling like I was missing something, but having no idea at all how to participate.
I felt out of my depth, and lost, and I’m sure no one who attended that conference remembers me, although I remember them. I certainly did not network.
Nor did I network at my first science fiction convention, although my buddy Kevin did his best to get me to do so. He was the one who dragged me there—a Wiscon around 1980 or so. In those days, most attendees wore Tom Baker Dr. Who scarves, and if Kev had had one, I’d have taken the end and tied it to my wrist so that I never ever lost sight of him. Kev took me to panels where he asked good and pointed questions (working professional that boy), and tried to introduce me to some of my favorite writers (which did not work; I went into fan girl stammer mode or [more often] refused to meet them at all). I did learn a lot, but I missed a lot too.
It wasn’t until my first romance convention, which was held at the University of Wisconsin, that I figured out how to survive for me. I went as a reporter, doing a story for Isthmus and for WORT Radio. I had my press badge with me, and I played Reporter Girl the entire weekend. No one was fooled. They all knew I wanted to write fiction. But as Reporter Girl, I could ask questions without embarrassing myself (too much). I could even talk to my favorite writers, so long as I clutched a microphone.
I know, I know. Most of you competent introverts don’t have that option. You go to conventions, skip the socializing, and spend too much time in your rooms. I’ll get to a solution for that for you in a minute. But first, let me talk to the extroverts out there.
How do you know who the introverted professional is? (The person I’d called the excellent craftsperson who can’t network to save her life. I’m changing that here, because that phrase is too long to type over and over, and besides, a lot of excellent craftspeople can network. So, we’ll go with introverted professional from now on.)
How do you know? Look around. There’s an overdressed, tense person in the back of the room, hunched over her laptop or notepad, not making eye contact unless something inspires or surprises her. She’s taking copious notes. She’ll bolt from the room the moment the panel is over, lurk in the back of the cocktail reception looking horribly out of place, and concentrate on her food during the networking lunch.
If you’re another participant, you won’t be able to draw her out with pointed questions. Better to smile, nod, and acknowledge. Maybe a quiet hello or a comment on a panel you both attended. That should start a discussion, which might actually lead to a contact that will benefit you both.
If you’re a presenter, make sure everyone at your panel has a chance to ask questions. Limit everyone to two questions. That’ll control the talkers and the extroverts. If the panel is small enough, start in the back, and ask each person what question they most want to ask. You’ll get the introvert to ask her question—which will probably be a good one. Then check with her after the panel to see if you answered it. If you talk to her, you’ll open the door for others to talk to her as well, and her networking will have begun.
Of course, as a presenter, it’s not your responsibility to make sure everyone has a good convention, just like it’s not your responsibility to separate the never-gonna-do-it types from the real future professionals. But networking is a two-way street, and often those silent types are valuable friends, allies, and resources down the road.
If you are an introverted professional, there is hope. If I could learn how to survive the convention circuit, you can too—and you don’t even need a personality transplant. Here’s how:
1. Remember you’re there to network as well as learn. So make a point of getting a few business cards or introducing yourself to a few people.
2. Ask questions. Give yourself an assignment. Ask one question in the morning session and one question in the afternoon session. Yes, your voice will quiver. Yes, your heart will pound. No, you won’t die. And most people won’t even notice how nervous you are.
3. Ask more questions. Instead of sitting quietly at the scheduled networking events like the cocktail reception and the sit-down lunch, ask someone a question. At the reception, find another person who looks as lost as you do, and ask what they’re looking forward to at the conference or if they heard a particularly good speaker that day or if someone’s upcoming session is worthwhile. At lunch, ask what people enjoyed in the morning session. Then…
4. Listen. People love to talk about themselves. So if you ask them a question, they’ll answer—sometimes at length. Don’t then ask the next person a similar question. Listen to the first answer, and use it to ask another question, possibly related. Since you liked his morning session so much, are you going to his afternoon session?
5. Sit next to someone you talked to. If you spoke to someone at the reception the night before, and they’re in your panel the following day, then sit near them. Ask another question—as simple as “enjoying the conference?”
6. But don’t sit near them all the time. Make sure you talk to a handful of people, so that you don’t seem like a silent stalker. One or two sentences, a few questions, sitting near them in a panel, and you’ve made a connection. If it’s one you want to keep up, that’s when you ask the personal question, such as “Where are you from?” and “What do you do?” But don’t start with those.
7. Celebrate that you’ve spoken to more than one person. Eventually, over time, you’ll be more comfortable at conferences. You’ll still need the conversational tricks—I do, when I don’t know anyone—but you’ll be used to using them and won’t feel so awkward.
And, over time, you’ll make some friends, who’ll be at other conferences. You’ll slowly build your network. You don’t have to do it in one conference or one continuing education session. Build on your successes. Eventually, you’ll be one of those people greeting old friends and having loud enjoyable conversations at the reception. No one will remember that you were the introverted professional a few years back. (Except, of course, the friend who kept trying to introduce you to all your favorite authors when you refused. [Sorry, Kev.])
Conferences and continuing education are useful for both learning and networking. The master networker uses them for networking, but hasn’t mastered the learning part. The introverted professional knows how to learn, but misses all the networking opportunities. Try not to be either person at a conference. Network a little, learn a little, be quiet for a while, and talk a little.
You’ll get a lot more out of your conferences if you do.
“Freelancer Writer’s Survival Guide: Personality Types (Networking Part Six)” copyright 2010 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.