Last week 12,000 writers and editors convened in Minneapolis for the annual AWP Conference (The Association of Writers and Writing Programs)… Perhaps you were one of them? Maybe you were there for the panel discussions and poetry readings. Maybe you came to buy or sell books at the book fair (or collect the free candy). But certainly you were also there, like everyone else, to network.
Sure, success in the literary world isn’t all about who you know, but who you know can help. I got my agent, for example, through a good word from my mentor, and I got my mentor through a suggestion from my friend Jeni Wallace. I didn’t meet Jeni at AWP, but you might have. She’s gone every year for over a decade.
But making contacts at AWP is no easy feat. You know the scene: thousands of sleep-deprived writers milling around under the fluorescent lights of the convention center, trying awkwardly to make conversation, despite the fact that most of them would rather be at home on the couch, curled up with a good book.
This was my third official AWP, and I told myself that this year was going to be all about making contacts. I have good reason to be collecting friends and followers. I’m now the Features Editor for Compose Journal and will soon need people to write articles for me. I’ll also (hopefully) have a book coming out some time in the next two years. And yet, I found it nearly impossible to tell people either of these things, much less hand out my silly business cards which have a picture of my face on them. I didn’t want to come off as a shameless self-promoter, like those aggressive types who thrust at you glossy postcards advertising their latest self-published memoir and then proceed to talk your ear off about it. So, I did what I normally do: I worked at the Burlesque Press table (my friend Jeni Wallace is the director) and promoted Jeni’s literary endeavors instead of my own.
But this AWP, a funny thing happened. On the first night of the conference, I composed a tweet using the hashtag “#AWP15,” I noticed that there was another trending hashtag: “#AWPPickupLines.” I laughed and told my fiancé.
“Tweet, “I’m an editor…wanna submit to me?”” he suggested.
“That’s pretty good,” I told him. So I did.
By the next morning, my tweet had been favorited and retweeted over thirty times, and I had eight new followers. I was pretty excited. I had managed to network without stepping foot inside the convention center. And I started to wonder, did I even need to go to AWP? I could sit at home in my pajamas and use Twitter to make just as many — probably a lot more — contacts than I ever could in person.
On Thursday I went to a panel in which a cranky author complained about how the publishing world is now linked so heavily with social media. (And it’s true — last year I nearly got an agent through Twitter.) “My agent made me get a facebook page and an author website,” he complained. But I don’t share his negativity. If I can use social media to find readers and make contacts from the comfort of my own home… that seems pretty sweet to me.
In fact, I started tweeting more “#AWPPickupLines,” hoping to get more followers, although none of my lines were quite as good as the first one, nor garnered as immediate of a response. (“Wanna sit on MY panel?” and “I’ve got two drink tickets in my pocket…”)
Then I started to wonder — are my Twitter followers really going to contribute to the success of my career? Writers are always being told to build platform, but according to my dear friend Jeni (who knows about these sorts of things), less than one percent of all your facebook fans and followers will actually buy your book when you have one. And according to Stephanie Bane at Creative Nonfiction, platforms are overrated: “If you reach all one thousand fans of your author page no fewer than three times with an announcement of your book release, and include a link to Amazon, you could reasonably expect ten of them to buy your book.” And, she points out, only six percent of your fans are likely to see each of your posts, so that ten book estimate is extremely optimistic.
You know who might buy your book, though? Friends and acquaintances. And I’m not talking facebook friends or Twitter followers. I’m talking people you have met and interacted with in person. Think of how easy it is for people to click “follow” or “favorite.” It’s just as easy for them to disregard what I have to say.
I think social media is important, and I’m thrilled to have more followers, but making the in-person contacts is important, too. In the end, you have to do both. Sure, I only made two or three real connections at AWP this year — I’m talking people with whom I might actually get in contact or stay in touch. That’s not much, but I suspect one face-to-face friend is worth twenty of the facebook variety.