I have always found attending and participating in writing/publishing industry events to be incredibly nerve-wracking. As a teenager at Wigtown Book Festival and Wigtown Writers’ Gathering, I was self-conscious at all events, holding back questions during Q&As, needing to be nudged into networking. In contrast then, is the experience of The Bookseller Children’s Conference. By necessity an event being hosted online and in condensed format, discussions held easily facilitated a stream of conversation in the messages. This is undoubtedly the plus side of the anonymity of technological interaction – a student can message in unknown to the speaker, without calling attention to themselves, and engage, listen, proffer opinion and response. Now more than ever the speed and ease with which we can use social media to connect works in our favour. Now more than ever, platforms like Twitter, on which the Publishing Industry promotes its business, are useful to students and young graduates seeking to build connections.
Though one does wonder whether we should be seeking to use a more professional platform, such as LinkedIn, rather than platforms like Twitter. Certainly, most of us are more adept with Twitter than with LinkedIn; on Twitter we can be fun, funny and enthusiastic, on LinkedIn we’re supposed to be… successful? professional? employable? We’re not yet sure. Both platforms seem to require us to present a version of ourselves that sometimes feels distinct from our ‘actual’ self. Both platforms seem a strange way to go about publicising and chasing our goals.
One also wonders whether this ability to ‘connect’ over social media might delay or erode the development of a skill that will be crucial in publishing careers – genuine connection and negotiation. Publishing is an industry in which different-skilled teams are constantly communicating and collaborating to create. The editorial roles that I and many others covet require back and forth with agents and authors. And whilst all of these operations can be done over email, through phone calls etc, ultimately, they require us to be tactful and articulate. We can better learn these qualities in person, when it is easier to read the cues of another person, where eye contact must be made when conversations are started, where we must suffer through awkward silences and the real difficulty of communicating passion, drive, work ethic, as we’ll need to in job interviews and team meetings.
I do not mean to disparage our efforts to connect in this obviously trying and unprecedented time. Now more than ever, it is important to use the tools that are available to organise, provide content and encourage those studying and training. My intention with this piece has just been to raise a flag and advise caution before we induct people into networks based on likes/retweets and DMs, to remember that connections made online are made and forgotten easily, without the weight of a face-to-face first impression behind them.