I once had to present a faux writers festival presentation as part of an assessment piece. As someone who doesn’t like speaking in public, interacting with strangers, or even being seen, I was quite happy pitching that writers should be read and not seen. That the golden days were when we didn’t have to be performing monkeys.
I was wrong.
I was wrong because there never was a time when we didn’t have to sing for our supper. From the troubadours and travelling storytellers to Chaucer, from Oscar Wilde to Mark Twain, we’ve always had to perform in public if we wanted attention. Hell, even Bram Stoker schlepped across the US giving readings. If we don’t perform, we don’t eat; and most of us like eating.
A lot of writers (myself included) can be described as ‘anti-socialist’ – we’d refer to be at home, on our own, just writing and spending time with people who don’t actually exist outside of our own heads. It’s like a game of Extreme Imaginary Friends. We don’t like to talk to anyone (except the furry familiars and the pretend people), and we just put the pretty words on the page.
You can get the words in the right order, you can get them to shine and dance on the page, but this doesn’t prepare you for the other part of your career: the talking to people part. If indeed you do want to be published, you will need to interact with other human beings: agents, publishers, publicists, booksellers, the marketing and sales departments, and most terrifyingly of all, readers. These are all categories staffed by humans. A writer needs to know how to talk with them, interact with them, in short, network with them.