Friday, February 20, 2009

Jhumpa Lahiri and Mavis Gallant: I Need to Learn How to Network

Do you network? Can you network? Every week I'm trying to keep you posted on my road to publishing my novel. Last night I went to a reading with Jhumpa Lahiri and Mavis Gallant at the Village Voice Bookstore in Paris. Lahiri is one of my favorite living authors, and both of them write extroadinary short stories. Only the addition of Alice Munro could have made it a better night. Lahiri was cool and poised as she explained that 87-year-old Gallant was one of her heroes and the person who inspired her to write the three linked stories in Unaccustomed Earth. She read a section of the first of those stories and Gallant read two beautiful and hilarious pieces that got the entire audience blushing. One of them involved an erotic escapade with the entire English army. It was a great night, and I had the opportunity to give Lahiri a few stuttering compliments.

But, I'm left wondering if there was anything I could do to make a better or bigger impression on Lahiri. After all, I love her writing, and I think we have the same literary goals of creating dramatic and character-based universal stories. Having Lahiri read my book, even if she thought it was bad, would be an incredible experience. And, if she liked it, maybe she would offer a blurb or an introduction to her agent, Eric Simonoff, who is one of my dream agents. (I'm waiting for more feedback on my novel and query before I submit to him.) And yet, I didn't mention any of this to Lahiri. And, maybe I shouldn't have. I'm sure she gets requests like that all the time and they probably drive her bananas. But, a charming person, a witty person, probably could have come up with something that opened doors without being offensive. We all know someone like this, right? The one that just happens to be jogging when she finds Cormac McCarthy's hat and ends up getting invited to hang out with him in his think tank? Or, the one who loves reading about dung beatles and discovers that Don Delillo also loves reading about dung beatles? I've never been good at networking. I avoid large gatherings and I tremble around people I admire. Yet, here I am with a novel, trying to figure out how I can get it published. So, can a shy person learn to network? And, is networking essential to getting that dream blurb or agent or editor? At least I got to see these two amazing writers in person.


  1. From what I've read, networking in person is a big deal. Unfortunately, I don't have the time or means to run around to conventions.

    Here is an example from Jim Butcher's site.

    "I got to have this conversation with Jennifer Jackson (my current agent after parting ways with Ricia) that day at the convention: Hey, why are you interested now? You just rejected me like two months ago?

    'Well yeah,' says Jennifer. 'But that was before I met you.'"

  2. Hi there,

    I'm going to have to agree with Justus. Who has time or the money to be running around to conventions all of the country, but if there are conventions within a few hours drive of you why not go. Get a group of writers to go as well, split gas, hotel room, etc. When you're there, the best way to network is to just talk. Say you see someone with The Road by Cormac McCarthy, if you've read it recommend it, ask questions, "have you read anything else by him"? Go from there. I think networking takes practice and we writers (at least most of us) aren't all that social to start with. :)

    p.s. You're networking right now by being on the blogsphere. that's the first step

  3. I wouldn't have trouble talking with writers / agents I admire, but I don't think I'd ever manage to ask them for anything. I think it would feel too much like imposing. You know, where you go from "what an interesting girl" to "crap, this again? find me an exit" So I suppose I'm in your situation on this topic though for a different reason.

  4. You guys are making me feel stupid for flying all the way to Paris just to meet a writer.

    Kidding, and I definitely agree on saving money. As much as I'd like to, I haven't been able to go to a writer's conference yet, but I do think there are other ways to network.

    Justus, thanks for the note from Jim Butcher's site.

    Crimogenic, you're right on blogging being networking. I just started and it's really cool to find so many friendly and smart people.

    Anette, I agree with you completely. It sounds like we are in the exact same place in our publishing journey.

  5. Coincidence looms: I have just read a great article on a discussion amongst 4 editors and they mentioned Eric Simonoff;now you wrote about him. Coming across his name twice in a matter of hours is spooky.

    Re your question about a shy person networking. Blogs are a great way to start, so hope to see you around more. Off to read your show don't tell post!

  6. Oops meant to add the link:

    It's long but worth the read

    (cut & paste; sorry can't get my hyperlinks to work!)

  7. Hi Ann,
    I'm enjoying your blog! I read this article about the four agents. Yes, it was great! It's good to get the young agents' points of view.



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