Last night I found myself tucked into the corner of a table at 44 and X, a very stylish little restaurant over in Hell’s Kitchen, surrounded by some big name authors and editorial people from Thomas & Mercer and Amazon Publishing. The night before, it was a cocktail party at Ink48 Press Lounge. And I asked myself… how did I get here?
Yes, it is me, dressed up. It happens once in a while.
I received an invitation from my publisher to both events, and though I wasn’t attending Book Expo America, both the cocktail party and the dinner were a short train ride from my side of the Hudson, and this would be my chance to finally put faces to the people I’d been dealing with since last summer. Oh, and to network, I suppose, though anyone who knows me knows I’m not really a ‘network’ type person. I’m a solitude type, and the moment I stepped out into that loud, crowded lounge, filled to bursting with wall-to-wall laughter and unfamiliar faces, my first instinct was to U-turn it right back into the elevator. It’s amusing how pressing through Penn Station at rush hour doesn’t faze me, and I’m perfectly comfortable wandering the streets of Queens, but set me in the middle of a social event like this and I start backing towards the exit. But I was there for a reason, and armed with a glass of Glenfiddich, I braced myself and headed in. From the looks of it, everyone there seemed to know most everyone else…everyone except me. No name tags, no means to tell who was who, no idea where to start. This was my first foray into the world of publishing, and I was completely out of my element. Ultimately I retreated to a quiet corner and stared longingly out at boats making their way up and down the Hudson.
I realize these events, from the writer’s groups and conventions to the cocktail parties, are part of the landscape many authors navigate along their way to publication. It goes with the territory, this process of making connections, networking, and I began to wonder if I might have overlooked something I should have been doing from the beginning. I eavesdropped on the animated conversations swirling around me and wondered if I’d missed some critical step in the process. I wrote a book simply because I enjoyed writing. I never really though much beyond that, and the last year had been a whirlwind of amazing and unexpected changes. But now I was on the outside, looking in.
Throughout the room, books from Amazon’s various imprints lay scattered across the low tables, including, ironically enough, a copy of Last Exit in New Jersey on the table beside me. As I sipped my drink a tall fellow wandered over and picked it up, flipping through it. I warned him that it was an awful book, and it was receiving some terrible reviews. Great icebreaker, huh? We started talking, and I caught that his name was Johnny and he was also an Amazon author, though through the noise I didn’t clearly hear his last name. But I was able to learn he was quite at home in this setting and he knew a good deal of the people there, including my editors and various marketing team members. I was delighted to finally meet Jacque, Eleni and Leslie face to face – they’re a wonderful group to work with, and even more fun to hang out around. And before long I found not only was I surviving my first night, but I was actually having fun!
Compared to the cocktail party, I figured the second night would be a breeze. Only a dozen people at dinner together, strictly the Thomas & Mercer crowd, including a few familiar faces from the first night. But I quickly discovered myself surrounded by some of the biggest names in the T&M stable, all heavy hitters with years of publishing behind them and reputations to match. And me. The noob. The lone self-published author that somehow caught Amazon’s eye. The more I looked around, the more I listened to the other conversations, the more I felt like I was way out of my league. I did my best, I joined in when I could, but I began to wonder if I had any business being there. And that’s Vincent Zandri, the author of numerous international bestsellers, made it clear to me that indeed I did. He told me to look around at the other authors with whom I was dining, all well-regarded in the publishing world. Amazon signed each and every one of them for a reason, and they signed me for a reason as well. “These are very smart people at Amazon,” he told me, “They know what they’re doing, and they wouldn’t have picked you if they didn’t believe in your work.”
Writing can be a lonely business, but as we spoke I realized it didn’t have to be. And thanks to a great author offering me precisely the encouragement I needed, I began to see that I’m right where I should be, and I’m just getting started. He made me understand I shouldn’t sweat the little things. I should focus on what really matters and what I truly enjoy: my writing. Reputations like Vincent Zandri’s are built step by step, book by book, reader by reader. And for an author at the beginning of this amazing, often intimidating journey, connecting with someone like Vincent Zandri helped me to put things into proper perspective, and for that I am grateful.
For more of Vincent Zandri’s wonderful wisdom and insights, check out his blog: The Vincent Zandri Vox