by Raelene Gorlinsky
I was at the RT convention last week for less than 48 hours, but it was enough to remind me of a very important and enjoyable benefit to conference attendance by publishing company staff. Yes, we go to promote our company, to share our knowledge through workshops, and to reach aspiring new authors via pitch appointments or other meetings.
But so important is the opportunity to talk directly with our existing authors, the people who already write for us. We communicate a lot via email and online discussion loops, sometimes by phone. But in-person contact is pretty much limited to seeing them at conferences. (And let me apologize here for my very poor ability to match names with faces. My mind has a list of many hundreds of author names, and a "mental database" of faces - but very few connecting lines between the two.)
There were about one hundred ECPI authors from our three imprints at the RT convention. In my two days there, I had conversations with them in the hallways and elevators, sit-down meetings in the lobby and in my room; I had breakfast, lunch and dinner with our authors.
So why were we meeting, what was the point for them or me? After all, I'm not their editor, so we weren't discussing their current book in development. And I maintain a business, not personal, relationship with authors, so this wasn't social chit-chat about their families or lives or whatever. I'm their publisher and represent the company, and they generally want some dialogue based on that.
Some authors just needed reassurance and encouragement. "Are you happy with my sales? Am I a good author? Does my editor love me? Am I doing things 'right'?" (And btw, my personal definition of an author doing things right comprises only two items: you are producing books that sell well, and you are behaving in a professional and reasonable manner in all aspects of your "job" as author.) Others wanted to talk about their career planning: the trend in their sales, what types or genres of stories would be most marketable for them to write, promo ideas. Several said "I have this great story idea that I want to run by my editor, but could you give me your opinion first?" Some wanted to hear firsthand about upcoming company activities, or wanted a chance to tell my their ideas and opinions. And yes, some wanted to complain or to tell me about problems. And that is perfectly fine and valid - I can only fix things if someone tells me they are broken, and I accept and appreciate all opinions even if they don't match what I or the company decide. A few wonderful authors just wanted to say "thank you" to me or the company.
I'm not a touchy-feely person. Even the social hugs so common at these events are hard for me. But I absolutely love meeting our authors, connecting with them directly, talking to them about their books. Yes, authors are a representative subset of human beings - there are nice and not-nice; the reasonable and the unreasonable; the ones I don't feel sympatico with and the ones I think "If we weren't business associates, I'd love to have her as a personal friend." But we share our involvement in the publishing industry overall and in our specific publishing company, our need to figure out how to succeed in this career. So the chance to deal directly with "our" authors is for me the best benefit to attending industry conferences.