Nope, this post is not about that iPhone function, Face Time. It’s about actually getting time, in person, with the people you are working with, when you usually work far apart in your own spaces.
Or, more accurately, the people I am working with.
Feb. 17–19 I was in Austin, Texas for that city’s annual SCBWI conference. It was a wonderful event, and I thank organizers Debbie Gonzales and Carmen Oliver, illustration chair Mark G. Mitchell, their volunteers, and indeed, the whole of the Austin SCBWI chapter, which is one of the most generous, sharing groups I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. These people really love spending time with each other, and it is always a pleasure to join that love-fest temporarily. I am not so good at thinking about the blog when I’m out experiencing real life, or I’d have taken photos of the event; fortunately, many others have posted theirs.
One of the benefits of attending conferences is getting time to chat with fellow industry professionals over coffee or dinner or cocktails. I always get thrown together with some fellow faculty members (or “esteemed guests,” as they called us in Austin—love that) more than others, and I always come away wishing I had more time with this person or that person—but the time I do get with editors or fellow agents or established authors and illustrators is always invaluable, in addition to just plain enjoyable. There is always some nugget of wisdom, some thread of conversation that blossoms into something more in my mind, some insight into the workings of a particular publishing imprint, some validation or correction of a new line of thinking I’d been exploring…oh, the joys of being out of my little rut! On this trip, I was especially fortunate to squeeze in conversation with fellow agents Jill Corcoran, Sarah Davies, and of course, my beloved fellow EMLA-er Ammi-Joan Paquette. It wasn’t enough time, but it was lovely nonetheless. (And I wish I’d had much more time with all of the other faculty members!)
BUT (get to the point, Murphy), this is STILL not the sort of face time I sat down to write about today.
I have five clients in Austin, plus one who drove in from Houston for the conference, and one who flew all the way from Connecticut (!) to attend, and the aforementioned fellow-agent-and-client who was in from Boston. I added on a day before the conference and two days after so that I had plenty of time to visit with all of them, knowing that between visits, I’d have away-from-the-office time to get some manuscript reading done, too. Plus, Austin is home to one of the finest independent bookstores in the country, and boy, does this town know food. This combination of factors, my friends, constitutes my definition of professional heaven. As in, heaven for the professional side of myself. (I’m not sure what else I could have meant by “professional heaven,” but I somehow felt the need to clarify.)
So much of what agents and editors do is deadline-oriented and time-sensitive, and it’s easy to get caught up in just moving the next project down the pipeline, one after another. Pausing to reflect on the big picture is rare but necessary. Having the leisure to spend an hour or two with a client over a meal or a cup of tea is so incredibly pleasurable—not only do I get to hear how things are going with the family or the new puppy or how vacation was, and just talk without an agenda, but longer conversations with clients have a way of meandering into territory neither one of us knew we needed to talk about—but we are both so glad, at the end, that we did.
This is where the real magic of the agent-author relationship happens (and I presume it is the same for editor-author relationships, as well). Even when certain particularly prolific and particularly organized clients show up with lists of things they want to make sure to cover before we part ways for the day, a meeting over a meal, away from all the things that would normally pulling at us both, just has space in it. In everyday work life, where I communicate with clients with a quick (or even longer) phone conversation or emails back and forth, I don’t have as much opportunity to learn about the YA novel the picture book author secretly longs to write, or to remind a debut author to stop putting so much pressure on herself and remember to enjoy this time, or to talk through a list of unformed project ideas and find a common thread that turns into something new. Just getting that time with a few people tends to make that kind of space in my own brain, too, so that on the flight home, I’m scribbling notes and ideas to talk with other clients about, as well.
By far the most important thing about these meetings is the opportunity I have to say something in particular to at least one person who really, really needs to hear it right then—to say, with great sincerity and love, the thing that authors and artists most need to hear from the people in their corner:
I believe in you. I still believe in you.
Like I said, magic.