Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Random Thought - The Misery of the Hustler, and the Joy of Being a Fan

Or, we live in two worlds, and trying to cross the streams is asking for nothing but trouble.

This post is inspired, in large part, by a well-justified Twitter rant Seanan McGuire went on about a month ago. The first tweet in the thread can be found here for anyone who wants to go read it in its entirety. The short version is that Seanan and a group of her professional colleagues were at San Diego Comic Con having a conversation in a public space and a random dude jumped in to try to pitch his own work and did so in a fairly sexist and tone deaf manner. The part of the rant I want to focus on is this one:
Mr. Hustle promptly went into his pitch. And the reason I say that this was PUA techniques, and not a lack of social awareness, is that he knew it was a pitch. He called it a pitch, called it a hustle, said several times "this is why I came to con."
Seanan's story kind of dovetails with another that I recently observed, this time from Hillary Monahan concerning someone who moved in her writer circles. The first tweet in that thread can be found here. The short version of this story is that an aspiring author spent their time networking to "move up" the ladder of writerly contacts, discarding "lower tier" authors when they had been able to move "up" to more successful authors and then began name-dropping in order to get published, apparently wildly exaggerating the extent of their relationship. The specific part of Hillary's thread to focus upon is this:
If knowing people is a boost, pissing people off with power and influence . . . does a lot more to your career than that boost.

If you want to befriend authors, you should.

If you want to scale us while you scramble up a ladder, fuck you.
Once again, the focus is upon trying to cultivate relationships, not for the purpose of cultivating relationships, but for the sole, and seemingly exclusive, purpose of career advancement. The issue isn't forming a network of professional contacts, the issue is pretending that you are socializing with people for the purpose of cynically using them for career advancement.

I even have my own story in this vein: A couple of years ago I was at Gen Con and ended up playing a game of Cards Against Humanity in the hall of the convention center with a large group that included the redhead, most of the members of Five Year Mission, their spouses, and a couple of other people. It was late in the evening - late enough that the halls of the Indianapolis Convention Center were mostly deserted. While we were playing, a random dude walked up to the group and proceeded to try to pitch us on the game he and his buddies were trying to Kickstart. First he proceeded to denigrate the game we were playing, and then he spent a half an hour droning on about how great the card game he and his friends were producing was despite the fact that we were pointedly ignoring him after about the first five minutes of his pitch.

The reason I want to focus on these stories is that this sort of behavior seems to be all too common, despite the fact that it is unlikely to ever work and will probably result in an exasperated pro and an unhappy fan. Now, I'm not going to tell anyone else how to be a fan, but going to a convention with the goal of cold pitching your brilliant idea (or manuscript, or screenplay, or whatever) to a random famous person you recognize at the event is simply a recipe for disappointment. In short, the people who do this, who go to a convention (or a writer's group, or a reading, or any number of other similar spaces) with the notion that they will "hustle" themselves into the publishing industry are probably not having as much fun as the people who just show up to be fans and are probably deluding themselves as to their likelihood of success to boot.

The root of the problem in all of the examples is treating what is intended to be a social interaction as a commercial one. I am reminded of Dan Ariely pointing out in his book Predictably Irrational that humans don't live in one society, we effectively live in two. One society is the commercial world, in which we engage in professional transactions with others, trading labor for money, and then money for goods and services. When you go to a supermarket and buy food, or hire a tow truck to come get your car when it breaks down, you're participating in the commercial world. You pay them, and you get stuff in return. But humans also live in a social world of family and friends, and you interact with them very differently. If your car was to break down, and you asked a friend to come and help you fix it, you wouldn't tell them afterward "hey, to thank you, here is $50 for your time". You wouldn't go to your mother-in-law's house and leave her a cash tip for making a particularly good dinner. You might offer to take your friend out to dinner, or send your mother-in-law a thank you note, but you wouldn't pay them with cash. And if you did try to pay them with cash, they would probably be at least confused, and probably offended1.

When someone shows up at a convention or a writer's group or some similar event with the intention of locating a conveniently placed famous person (or potential customer) and trying to pitch their idea to them, they are trying to cram a commercial exchange into what pretty much everyone else expects will be a social one. This is why this sort of behavior is so very off-putting, why this sort of approach almost never works, and why approaching such venues with the intention of simply engaging in a social exchange results in a much better experience for everyone. When I think of the many guys (and almost all of them seem to be guys) who do this, I am struck by how much frustration they are causing themselves. They are taking what should be an enjoyable experience - attending a convention and meeting the creative people who make so much of what they profess to enjoy - and transforming it into a series of disappointments. They miss out on the joy of being a fan, and in some cases, on the human experience of having pleasant and friendly social interactions with other people. Their mercenary intentions have eliminated their ability to see the dual world they live in, and left them with only the cold comfort of existing solely within the commercial world.

In the end, this post is about expressing just how freeing it is to simply be a fan. I don't have stories to pitch, or books to sell, or a brand to promote - I don't even have ads or any other monetizing mechanism on this blog2. There is simply something glorious about being able to go to a convention with no ulterior motive of any kind. To bring this back to the first example in the post, I have met Seanan McGuire: She signed a couple of books for me and we talked about some of her other books. I got to hear her recount her story about the guy with the lizard in his leg and her story about the boa constrictor (at least I think it was a boa constrictor) that bit her arm. I got to hear her exchange stories about frogs and reptiles with Ursula Vernon. I also ended up having lunch in a group that included Ursula Vernon. I could do all of this without trying to figure out how I was going to launch myself at either McGuire or Vernon in order to pitch a comic book script.

If you multiply that experience by a couple hundred, you can get a sense of how many experiences I have had as a result of simply being a fan with no further expectations. Over my years of attending conventions, I have made many friends who are authors, editors, and even publishers. I have wound up having lunches or dinners with them, playing board games with them, or just sitting in a hotel bar and having long conversations with them. Several of the people I have made friends with keep in touch so they can be apprised of the adventures of the littlest starship captain, a few have even sent her gifts. If I had attempted to go to conventions in order to hustle some business instead of cultivating these friendships, there is a tiny chance I might have been able to get a story or something published somewhere, but I would have missed out on so many truly enjoyable interactions as a result. Even if all that had resulted from my fannish attendance at things like conventions and book readings had been sitting in the audience and listening, then the result would have been more rewarding than selling a couple of stories.

Just being a fan is freeing. Just being a fan is fun. Just being a fan is rewarding. Just being a fan is joyous.

1 This sort of mixing of the social and commercial is problematic in the other direction as well. Think back to those times when a salesperson tried to behave like they were your friend in order to make a sale and how off-putting that felt. This is also why people tend to react negatively to friends trying to sell Amway or Primerica products to them - these kinds of businesses advise their members to treat their circle of family and friends as a market for the company's products, essentially advising people to use their social circle as a source of commercial contacts.

2 On occasion, someone gets mad about something I've written and loudly proclaims that I must have "just written it for the clicks", or they declare that I have just lost them as a reader, and my response is to suppress a laugh. I don't make any money off this blog, and I have no plans to change that. I don't really care how many clicks a post gets or how many readers I have. Anyone who wants to stalk away mad is welcome to and it won't bother me a bit.

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