First off, I’d just like to say it’s nice to be back here at Magical Words hanging with my friends. I wish Faith’s hubby a speedy recovery and assure all of you that she’ll be back here next week on her regularly scheduled day, with more tales from Jane & Beast and more awesome writing and career advice.
Today I want to talk about Opportunity. We hear all the time that opportunity only knocks once, as though there was some dude wandering around the neighborhood handing out careers like they were Super Saver coupon booklets. I say that opportunity is like a ninja, a stealthy little bugger that sneaks up on you when you’re not looking and says “Hi! I’m a potentially life-altering chance that only happens because you’re right here right now. Are you ready for me?”
At least that’s how my life and career have gone. I’ve made a habit of taking every opportunity that presents itself, no matter how strange it may seem at the time. And it’s worked out pretty well so far. This is a path that has led me from theatre, to writing hundreds of articles for the internet gaming industry, to writing and self-publishing poetry, to self-publishing fantasy novels, to a six-book deal with Bell Bridge and leaving a sixteen-year sales career to write full time.
Here’s a classic example of something that worked out better for me than it had any right to. Once upon a time I self-published a couple of books. I had sold a few copies, and was looking for opportunities to promote them. So I googled fantasy conventions in the Carolinas, and found a small convention in Columbia, SC called RoundCon. I emailed the con organizer and said that I’d like to be a guest. They said “okay” and I pointed the Silverado south and set up my little table of books. I looked around at who was next to me, and saw table cards with names like Misty Massey, Kalayna Price and Faith Hunter. And not very many more.
Since Misty, Faith, Kalayna and I made up four of the six writers at the con, and we outnumbered the attendees at almost every panel, we spent all weekend together, got to know each other, and became friends. Now a couple years later and I’m happy to call them some of my best friends, and here I am writing on their website for the second time talking to all of you. All because I sent an email to Sean at RoundCon and made the opportunity to meet these people.
I hit the convention circuit pretty hard this year, and that has led to multiple other opportunities, including editing a pair of anthologies for a small press and contributing stories to another three. All because I happened to be at dinner with the right (or wrong) people at the right time. This will likely lead to other opportunities down the road, not just for me, but for my collaborator on these anthologies, who happened to be in the right place in the right time and volunteered to help out with stuff. So because she was willing to help out with a project when it was free, as soon as there was money available, I volunteered to split it with her.
I’ve managed to have drinks or dinner with everyone from Joe Haldeman to Brandon Sanderson, just by being there, being pleasant to be around, and having a generally good time whenever I’m at a con. It helps that I love cons and I love fandom. I really do believe that fantasy and science fiction fans are among the best in the world, and I love getting the chance to hang out with fans and creators. Because the creators are the biggest fans of all! One of my favorite memories from LibertyCon will always be standing up at the end of a panel and announcing that we have to go, but I was hungry and going for pizza, then inviting the whole room to come with me. About half a dozen people joined me for pizza, and we continued the conversation for another hour and a half. That was a ton of fun, and the pizza was pretty good, too!
My point to this is that if you sit at home waiting for Opportunity to knock on your door, you could grow old before you start a career. For every person who does things “the right way” by querying a billion people and being patient and proper, there’s another who’s out there hustling and making their own opportunities, getting to know people and making real connections. At the end of the day, this is a business, and people like to do business with people they know, people they’re comfortable with, and people they enjoy being around.
Obviously my career advice will be different from a lot of people. And your mileage certainly may vary. I’m naturally gregarious, the “one in every crowd” as the country song goes. My approach to making friends and making opportunities for myself would never work for a more shy, retiring type of person. But if you’re naturally outgoing – use that. If you’re funny – use that. If you’re the best writer since Patrick Rothfuss – then I’m jealous. And use that.
Here’s my challenge to all of you – take a look at your career as a writer. What opportunities are you not taking advantage of? Is there an awesome critique group in your area that you’re not part of? Is there a con you’re not going to? Is there a party at a con that you’re not going to? Is there a friend who’s offered a helping hand that you haven’t taken advantage of?
And then the flip side – what are you doing to help other people get a leg up? To spin John Donne in a less morbid direction, each writer’s success adds to my success. Each writer’s victory is a victory for me. And for you. Now stop waiting for somebody to knock on your door, and go kick down a few doors of your own.