Networking & First Impressions

This blog is focused on writing–craft, business and careers. And part of any successful writing career is networking. When you work in a creative business, you run into a lot of people whose ideas and approaches differ from your own. Not only their approaches to life but to art, politics, religion, etc. My being a Christian in science fiction, a world full of scientists, makes it an interesting experience sometimes. I know there are people I consider friends who find my religious views ignorant and even sad. I feel the same about their Atheism, even worse about Agnosticism. But I try really hard not to let that show, because, in the end, what draws us together is more important to me than what separates us. Not just because we are human but also because we are writers. Maybe I admire their craft, their voice, or their business acumen. Maybe I admire their scientific knowledge, their experience–it could be any number of things. Whatever it may be, religious differences are not going to cause me to think less of them as friends or respect them less. Unless, they disrespect me.

And I have been disrespected, but so far rarely by people I thought of as friends. There are people in this world, to my surprise, who actually think they can surmise enough from looking at you for five minutes to decide if they will ever like you. And like stubborn mules–in both actions and wisdom–they stick to it. Neither movement of heaven nor movement of Earth will change their opinions. That’s just the way it is.

Personally, I find the immature, selfish and stupid. BUT people like that exist.

I had one experience where this person, a beginning writer who happened to have co-edited an anthology, snubbed me at an event for the antho. I had several friends in the anthology and went to support them. Took pictures, etc. Afterwards, I politely went up to introduce myself, and never have I felt such cold outside of a snowstorm or perhaps a zoo’s Penguin exhibit. It was just a rude, cold “nice to meet you” stated only because of social mores, then a quick turn away and ignoring.

And you know what? I will probably never buy a book by that person, RT a link promoting their story or interview them for #sffwrtcht or any such thing because I just can’t respect that. Ironically, I had several people come up later and tell me they saw how I was treated and felt it was ridiculous. They thought that person was shallow and fake and had no respect for it. That’s the impression that person made.

You don’t have to like or even be friends with everyone you meet in the world. No, not even in a creative business like publishing. But I would say you should damn well learn to keep those feelings to yourself and treat them with respect. You never know who the person is who could help or hurt your career and you never know who else is watching. It can come back and hurt you. Maybe not now but what about in ten years. People don’t forget things like that. Especially not a first impression. Oh yes, you can PMS or whatever guys call it sometimes with people you know well. You can be out of sorts from a crisis. But when you just treat people rudely for no good reason, you show your lack of respect for other people on a general level in a way no one who witnesses it will ever forget.

And that’s bad for business. It also creates awkward situations. I have a number of friends who like, pal around with and call this person friend. In fact, some of them include this person in their “in” group in ways they never include me. It’s disappointing, because you feel left out and you feel like they don’t respect you as much. But on other hand, it sometimes makes me question why they don’t see what I see?. It’s not a one time thing,  by the way. This person has continued to treat me badly or virtually ignore me since.  I continue to respect and like those friends because of many reasons so I don’t hold it against them. It doesn’t really matter because I don’t want to be around that writer anyway nor anyone else with such a crappy attitude toward people. Doesn’t matter what the person thinks of me or why they don’t like me, I know for a fact I never did anything but treat them with respect and offer encouragement and the reaction I received just shows a lack of class and a total lack of understanding of networking.

I use this not to complain about it but as an example of what not to do.

Some of you might be saying “maybe the person is just introverted and bad in social situations.” I’d buy that if the behavior hadn’t continued. Yes, many introverted writers struggle in these situations. I do too. Work on it. You can only use introversion so far as an excuse. Do you really want to lose opportunities because of it? It’s like any other weakness, something you need to learn to overcome as best you can.

Part of networking is leaving people with the impression “he or she is cool and might be fun to work with” or “that’s a person I enjoyed chatting with.” This is so that the next time they see you, they’ll smile and actually be glad and maybe even remember your name. And those kinds of connections can lead to all kinds of opportunities. I can’t tell you how many times people I haven’t seen in over a decade have opened doors for me or introduced me to important people. All because of a first impression. All because of respect. That has even happened with people I don’t remember liking that much. Sometimes I like them now very much, just not who they were then. And sometimes my opinion hasn’t changed. But who cares. There’s no law saying everyone you know has to be someone you like but there is an unwritten law that every person deserves the same respect you want back from them. And by violating that, you can create long term repercussions which can hurt you career. Do you really want to do that?

In life, as in business, “who you know” can be very important. So next time you go to a workshop or a Con or even a restaurant, remember how important it is to treat everyone with the same kindness you’d like to be treated. Forget your personal feelings for a moment. If they are not your cup of tea, don’t have them over for dinner or hang out with them, etc. But don’t let yourself be rude to them. Don’t badmouth them because of some personal vibe. Just keep it to yourself, be polite, and you never know what will happen.

That’s a lesson I’ve learned from being in the creative/entertainment business since 1987. It’s always served me well and it’ll serve you, too.

For what it’s worth…