Thursday, August 21, 2014

The SCBWI-LA Summer Conference –OR-- Swallowing My Pride

This was my fifth year at the conference, and I’ll admit, I was getting frustrated at the lack of forward momentum. While I wanted to get the most out of the opportunity, I decided ahead of time to prioritize giving myself enough time to rest and spend time with my friends. Otherwise, I’d once again be so exhausted by the end of the weekend that I’d need to be a hermit for the next few weeks just to recover. Not overextending myself meant choosing fewer opportunities to make contact with agents and editors, so the onus was to work them more effectively. Which meant…networking. Schmoozing. Which always has felt gross to me. It’s not like I did something amoral – it’s just business! – but I always felt weird developing and using connections. Maybe it was a byproduct of growing up in LA, amongst a hive of insincere people namedropping and using others as stepping stones.

It was time to reek of desperation. It was time to swallow what remained of my pride in one big gulp.

While I had joked on Twitter about printing my dummy on toilet paper and handing it under a bathroom stall to an editor, I didn’t go that far. But I did take a risk. I got cheeky. When I saw that I had my manuscript consultation with Steven Malk, (thank you, SCBWI angels!) I took a deep breath and jumped…

It all felt slightly inappropriate on my part, or at least presumptuous, but getting paired up with Steven Malk was kind of like getting an interview with admissions at an Ivy League School, and I couldn’t squander it by being chicken. Soooo…instead of just going over the manuscript I submitted, I got out all my dummies and my portfolio, and I had him look at everything during those 20 minutes. Check and check. All was proceeding smoothly. I had one last step…I asked him which agent(s) he thought would be a good fit for me.

To me, this felt really scary and forward. But I had taken my very first children’s book class six long years ago, and for the past five, worked on my craft full-time, so I was absolutely not a dilettante. Everyone around me was scratching their heads over why I didn’t have an agent yet. I knew – KNEW – that all it took was one yes, and all those years of contorting myself into a box that people could understand would be over. And I knew Steven Malk’s opinion carried a lot of weight with agents and editors. He is known for spotting value in work that is different, and using his name would get people’s attention. If he understood me, others would make an effort to understand.

And, yes, I knew if all went well, the best realistic outcome would have been the ability to use the kind of gross, self-aggrandizing name-dropping stuff that I usually hate:

“Steven Malk said you’d be a good fit for me.”

Maybe you’re thinking, What’s the big deal about that?

I don’t have an answer. It just feels gross to me. It feels like not getting chosen by virtue of my artistic merit, but through campaigning for myself. But was that a bad thing? Was I just making things harder for myself by resisting it? After all, I would be stating a fact. It’s not like he was saying it because he owed me something. It wasn’t a lie. After all, I had paid my dues! I AM a good artist! If this could get me in front of the right eyeballs, I had to do what was best for my career.

So I had to do it. And with that decided, the rest would all depend on my delivery of that heaven-sent sentence, “Steven Malk said…”

If it worked, the hell of querying would be over. I didn’t have much to lose besides my pride at this point. So, that was it. I risked sounding like a total jackass and jumped off a cliff . . .

. . . and . . .

. . . luckily, I didn’t meet a bloody end smashed on some rocks at the bottom of said cliff.

What does that mean?

. . . Next time on the blog: I GOT AN AGENT(!)

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