Traveling Virtual Roads

As I’ve mentioned before, in many ways, I was really lucky as I started my career in RPG editing. It’s a path not everyone can follow, because it relies on being friends with people on the verge of making it in the industry. There are several big conventions within driving distance of where we live, and my family is content to go to gaming conventions as our vacations. I realize not everyone has these advantages.

I wish I had brilliant insight to offer on how to make those necessary connections—as I said in my previous post, people can’t work with you if they don’t know you. I’m happy to share some lessons learned from my own experiences, though, and I hope other people will chime in with theirs!

If you can figure out how to meet people in person, that’s ideal. How you do that depends on your situation, but things like going to conventions when possible, finding out what people in your gaming group might be working on in their spare time, or becoming friendly with your local game/hobby/comic store are all good starts.

Conventions can be intimidating, though—how do you meet anyone in that crush of people? A plan and a business card are pretty critical (Tiara Lynn Agresta designed my business card, as well as the banner for the blog). Just handing out cards or resumes isn’t enough, though. I’ve handed out a ton and I’ve never had a response from anyone unless I had other connections with them.

I’ve used variations of the following strategy. First, figure out who you want to talk to, and then figure out where they’ll be—do they have a booth? Are they speaking in any seminars? Introduce yourself fairly briefly—these people have jobs to do and other people they need to talk with—and hand them a card. Then find out where people are hanging out. Is there a bar most people go to (such as the Big Bar on Two for Origins Game Fair) or a hotel lobby where gaming happens (the Embassy Suites or the downtown Marriott come to mind for Gen Con) or some public space where people gather (such as Games on Demand in the Crown Plaza at Gen Con)? Go to those places. Reintroduce yourself. Buy people drinks. And listen and learn. Join in as appropriate, but don’t dominate the conversation. Gather cards so you can later make sure you’re reading their blogs and following them on Twitter.

Once you’re back home, it’s the online communication thing that’s key. And this is a realm where I am by no means an expert. As much as there is a gaming community (its existence and nature isn’t something I intend to get into on this blog), it’s worldwide and it meets online. My circle includes people from all over the US and Canada, plus Italy and the UK and probably a few more countries. Many of them I’ve never met in person, but I interact with them on a fairly regular basis. Living in the future is cool.

So how do you do this? There are lots of ideas and strategies. Let me share my issues, instead. For better or worse, as an editor I’m neurotic about posting anything anywhere. I feel like if I can’t proofread my own emails, statuses, and tweets, why should anyone trust me with their books? And blog posts take me forever—I almost always make at least one other person read them, and I read, reread, and edit several times before I hit “publish.” Maybe I should just learn to let go and relax, but that’s easier said than done.

And in the meantime, it takes a lot of time for me to keep up with things. This is time I really ought to be spending on my editing projects. If I’m not careful, I can lose full days to maintaining and building online interactions. Yet I do need to stay up to date with blog posts, Twitter conversations, and all the stuff happening on Facebook and Google+ that I’m kind of ignoring. I’ve been told I should be on Linked In, several times by several different people. It’s kind of overwhelming, especially because I’m so painfully aware of how missteps might come across because it’s my job to pay attention to that. It feels like I can’t do anything casually.

My suggestion is to pick one or two things—I have this blog and for the most part I keep up with Twitter (and even though it makes me slightly twitchy, I no longer go back to read every single post I missed while offline—small steps). Twitter is where most of the people I interact with start their conversations (more and more are moving to Google+ for the deep stuff, so I guess eventually I’ll slowly head that way). The blog gives me space to talk at length about things I can’t cover in 140 character spurts, and it lets people get to know me a bit. Already it’s led to several opportunities I probably wouldn’t have had otherwise. My friend Annie Frisbie just set up a Facebook page for my editing—I’m still not sure what I’m going to do with that, but it doesn’t require a lot of time to keep up, so I’m playing around with it.

Like meeting people in person, figure out where the people you want to meet are hanging out online. Listen and learn. Find out who they respect and talk with. Ask questions and learn from the people who have already tread the paths you hope to walk. In general, I’ve found people to be open and welcoming. Keep an eye out for opportunities. And remember that these interactions are a kind of job interview—be polite, be thoughtful, make sure you’re saying what you mean. When these people are looking for an editor, you want them to think that you’ll be easy to work with and that you’ll bring the thoughtfulness and attention to detail that they need.

As I said, I’m no expert at this—there are many people who play this game a whole lot better than I do. I’m interested to hear how other people make the necessary contacts and develop those relationships, what kinds of interaction and strategies work for you, and how you balance the time required to maintain online interactions with the time required to do your actual work! It’s definitely something I’m still working on.

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2 Responses to Traveling Virtual Roads

  1. John Adamus says:

    So many things to say about this…let’s start with some basics:

    1. Thank you notes! After the event, when you’ve got that stack of cards and emails, send people a note. Thank them for a good time together, talk about how it was a pleasure to meet them, and if at all possible, reference directly something you shared so that it does not read so generically. It does not matter how tired you are, write even a three line note and you’ll keep the lines of communication open.

    2. Do what you say! If you told someone you’ll email them a file, do it. And do it promptly. Rarely will you get a situation where they’ve emailed you in advance to remind you, if they’ve got dozens more people to meet.

    3. Tweet smarter, not harder! Follow the people you want to, not the people you feel compelled to, and communicate with them as if you’re still in the convention atmosphere – after all, these other people are humans too. Expedite this by having tweets sent to your phone/device at first until you build up better rapport. Also, treat Tweets like thank you notes and be polite and gracious. Just because they’re 140 characters is no excuse to skimp on courtesy and respect.

    That’s a good start.

    • ayvalentine says:

      I hadn’t thought about thank you notes – my mother would be ashamed of me! That’s a really good idea, though. After a convention, I always have a pile of cards I’ve collected. It’s not always easy to remember which card belongs to which person, especially if, like me, you’re more likely to remember faces and conversations than names. A thank you note is a great way to jog the memory.

      And definitely always do what you say you’ll do – if you can’t be trusted with that, why would they hire you onto a project?

      I like Twitter in many ways, partially due to its imposed brevity. But it does mean that you need to be creative in making sure you’re clear and polite – I’ve seen lots of misunderstandings occur that may have been diffused with a bit of courtesy.

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