The Magic of Face Time

by Erin on February 27, 2012

in Musings, Writer Support

(via)

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.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Corinne Duyvis February 27, 2012 at 10:13 am

This is lovely, and so true. I live in the Netherlands but write for the US market, so I’ve never had much chance to meet other publishing professionals. When I attended Clarion West last summer, though, I lived in a house with seventeen other writers, next door to the professional instructing us that week, and got to rub shoulders with loads of others at the weekly parties. (I would’ve liked to meet my then-agent, too, but alas, Seattle isn’t exactly on the East Coast.)

Now that I’m back home, I really, really miss that. It’s easy to become a hermit in this kind of occupation.

Thankfully, I have a long trip to the US coming up again this summer and already have lots of author meet-ups planned. I may need to make it an annual thing, because you’re right–nothing compares to face-to-face contact.

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Sayantani DasGupta February 27, 2012 at 10:14 am

Lovely piece Erin! “I believe in you. I still believe in you.” Magic words, magic sentiments for any creative person!

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Audrey February 27, 2012 at 10:24 am

What a great post. I’m so glad for you (and your clients) that you had this time, and also that your really value this time. But I hope you see the writing on the wall: the invitations to conferences in every single town your clients inhabit.

When are you coming to New Jersey?

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Erin February 28, 2012 at 3:14 pm

When am I coming to New Jersey???

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Joshua February 27, 2012 at 1:01 pm

I’ve been in that proverbial rut (much of my own making) for what feels like forever now, but sitting down with Joan in Austin (and her letting me talk her ear off) provided me with a much needed boost in morale (and was by far the highlight of the conference for me). Y’all are terrific.

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Lynda February 27, 2012 at 2:09 pm

I had such a wonderful time in Austin. The writing community down there is beyond compare. Fun, professional, and stunningly talented!

I also loved the face time with you, Joan, and the other wonderful clients of EMLA. I feel very lucky, indeed…

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Ruth McNally Barshaw February 27, 2012 at 2:28 pm

I really, really needed to read that last few paragraphs right now. <3

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Laurie Thompson February 27, 2012 at 11:04 pm

Erin,
Just in case it wasn’t clear before, I think you can see from the comments that we believe in you, too. I’m so happy to be a part of this agency: it’s my own little slice of professional heaven. :)

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Erin February 28, 2012 at 3:15 pm

Aw, gosh thanks, Laurie! Look at that, it’s just as magic coming from the other direction!

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L.B. Schulman February 28, 2012 at 7:48 am

And I feel fortunate to have face time with you in Asilomar this upcoming weekend. When you and Joan speak at conferences, I get all puffed up inside, so proud, as if I gave birth to you or something. ;)

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Erin February 28, 2012 at 3:15 pm

This comment left me uncharacteristically speechless. Mommy?

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Jean Reidy February 28, 2012 at 3:43 pm

“as if I gave birth to you or something.”

Lisa, I love this almost as much as I love Erin’s post!

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Jean Reidy February 28, 2012 at 3:46 pm

I’m right there with, Ruth. I love the way you speak to hundreds but I feel like you’re speaking only to me. Enjoying this lovely post with a cup of Earl Grey and imagining we’re in the Tattered Cover just chatting, two old friends.

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The Writer Librarian February 29, 2012 at 10:46 am

Focusing on the big picture is definitely something aspiring writers need to do too! Thanks for the reminder, and glad you had a great SCBWI experience.

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Cynthia Levinson March 9, 2012 at 10:23 pm

Spending time with you in Austin, Erin, was such a lavish luxury. I regretted my tension over my upcoming launches. But hearing you tell me to enjoy them, to take the time to revel in where this book is going, is exactly what I needed to hear. Our time together reinforced for me that I trust you. I still trust you.

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Erin March 13, 2012 at 11:22 am

This touched me, Cynthia! Thank you!

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