There is a theory – I’ve referred to it elsewhere – that everyone is six (or fewer) steps away from any other person in the world. It’s most popular incarnation is the Six Steps of Kevin Bacon game. In that, you work out how any Hollywood actor must have either worked with Bacon or have worked with actors who have worked with him (or even actors who have worked with actors who have worked with him). Lost yet? It does go on, but I’m sure you get the idea.
In this interconnected world we live in, it’s even easier to be in a position where you are only 6 steps away from anyone else. Only the other week, I was amazed to find I was being followed on Twitter by the author Peter James (still have no idea how that happened – he won’t answer my calls). But, although this provides us with opportunities to link up with others, there’s still an uncertainty about the nature of that relationship. There are things that can only be conveyed by physical interaction (behave yourselves!).
What I actually mean here is what you can see in terms of their body language and what you can hear in their voice. I know it’s possible to say something that has the potential to be really offensive if it’s seen as a written word, but when spoken in the right tone and with a genuine smile can be ironic or even funny. So, it’s good to get that initial connection through Twitter, Facebook, et al, but to get a real sense of the person, and to find out whether you really have got common ground (other than your love for dancing pandas), it helps to actually meet.
Over the last few years, as my writing has become a more dominant part of my life, I’ve begun to grab opportunities to go to Conferences and other, less formal, gatherings, where other writers meet. It isn’t always easy. For most writers, there’s a natural inclination to be inward looking, and I have been at conferences where some of the attendees can be seen pressed up against the walls as if someone has superglued the backs of their jackets. Contrary to outward appearances, my own inclination would be to do the same. But if that’s all I’m going to do while I’m there, I may as well have stayed at home. Sure, some of the presentations might be of interest, but the main objective is to meet people.
Last year I went to a conference and found myself sitting next to a young woman (anyone younger than me is young!) who had just signed a three-book contract with a publisher. We meet up occasionally for lunch now, and in the 10 months since we met, she’s had two bestselling novels published. That change in her status has led to her being invited to events with other, better known authors – and suddenly I find that those six steps for me have shortened to two (not that I particularly want to meet Jeffrey Archer).
There are other examples, but it’s clear, just from this one, how the potential for doors to open is there. What you know is important, but who you know is vital. So, over the next 12 months, I will be going to even more events and meeting even more people. Because the more people I meet, the more doors will open for me. And if that’s true for me…