Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Westside Writers Schmooze celebrated faux pas - and lessons learned - on June 8th, 2011

Thirty-two people gathered to discuss faux pas and etiquette tips at the June 8th SCBWI Westside Writers Schmooze. As anticipated, it was an evening filled with laughter. Charlie and Karol had a ton of tips and funny stories they pulled off the web and/or collected from anonymous sources in case the Schmoozers were shy about sharing, but that wasn’t the case at all.

After briefly mentioning some upcoming local events (have YOU registered for the national conference yet??), the evening started…and, well, sort of ended, too… with long-form introductions. The idea was to have everyone participate – and boy, did they!

Often the introductions around the circle “eat up” precious time for the “real content,” but since your humble new co-coordinators’ master plan is to do as little work as possible…er, we mean…encourage as much participation from the group as possible, we provided this poster board prompt, opening up the Schmoozerific floodgates.

Charlie started off the evening with a brand new faux pas, forgetting (for the second month in a row) all his notes, the nametags, and even his chicken hat. None of these, it turned out, were of any real import except the chicken hat, which he was going to use to augment his own etiquette tail of woe: It’s seems he and a partner traveled to the Cartoon Forum at Ludwigsberg Germany to sell a chicken cartoon concept to the world and it couldn’t have gone better! They wore their chicken hats for the entire week of presentations and were a smash hit with many interested buyers…until his partner drank WAY too much on the final triumphant night and basically destroyed all of the good will they’d created. (It takes a lot of alcohol, by the way, to destroy the good will created by chicken hats.) Charlie’s lesson-learned was this: Drink in moderation! (Heck, that’s probably a good idea in any life situation!)

Charlie also shared an anonymous wardrobe-malfunction faux pas submitted by one brave Schmoozer.She had a brand new blouse (bought especially for the occasion) betray her not once, but twice during a conference, when talking to two different, important faculty members. The moral of the story: Test new clothes! (And speaking of clothes, dressing in layers for the conference was suggested. You’ll probably be dealing with a wide range of temperatures inside and outside the hotel.)

These opening stories helped set the evening’s tone of we’re-laughing-with-you-not-at-you, and several people shared their own cringe-worthy experiences. Many of the Schmoozers’ faux pas involved blurting out something they wish they could take back, such as one person’s experience of “kindly correcting” an editor’s misinformation, which was not at all appreciated by the editor. The lesson in that? Don’t correct an author or editor on something she’s already published or said! (Actually, there were quite a few Schmoozers, who couldn’t restrain themselves from correcting editors, authors and the like. Is this an authority issue, a devotion to craft above all else, or just suicidal tendencies? Dunno.)

This theme of foot-in-mouth stories prompted Karol to introduce a word she learned recently:

Logorrhea. Noun: Excessive flow of words, especially when incoherent.

(FYI – Karol came by this word via a nifty little free e-mail subscription from Check them out at A.Word.A.Day .)

The problem with logorrhea is – you can’t unring a bell…or get in the way-back machine and go correct your mistake….or fly around the globe so fast that you actually turn back time like Superman did to save Lois Lane in Superman II.

You CAN:

  • Offer a brief, lighthearted apology (“Wow, that was kind of insensitive…sorry about that!”)
  • Accept that you acted like a boob, forgive yourself and move on. Everyone puts his foot in his mouth occasionally. And on that note – if you find that you’ve put your foot in your mouth, take it out! Don’t shove it in further!
  • Prepare better so you’re not so flummoxed the next time you meet some Big Shot Author/Editor/Agent, etc. (More on this topic in a sec.)

Logorrhea brought to mind another terrible faux pas: blogorrhea. This is when you say things on your, or someone else’s blog that should either remain unsaid, or be said privately. Not only can online bells not be unrung, they keep ringing repeatedly and in perpetuity. This can best be shown through the cautionary tale of “The Greek Seamen.” Click this link to see a writer self-destruct as she tries to upbraid an online reviewer for giving her book a vaguely negative review. She just goes crazier and crazier, until this exchange became an Internet sensation. Rather than being known for her work, she’s now known for this:

On the other side of the logorrhea coin is a faux pas so bad, and yet so common, that we collectively concluded it was the worst and most deadly one you could fall prey to – no faux pas at all: Many people sheepishly admitted that they had no embarrassing stories because they were so afraid of saying or doing something stupid, they would routinely cower in a corner and avoid all contact with those with whom they most wished to make contact. This anti-faux-pas-faux pas is the story of countless missed opportunities.

Or, to put it another way: If you haven’t made an ass of yourself, you’re not really trying!

With the SCBWI National Conference coming up, there was general agreement that you must FORCE yourself to schmooze and network! Learn to think of the inevitable faux pas as badges of honor.

Luckily for the timid among us, the Schmoozers had a plethora of wonderful tips on how to get the absolute MOST out of your conference experience (and these tips are applicable for those prone to logorrhea as well).

Behold, the wisdom of the SCBWI Westside Schmooze Collective:

  • Go to the conference with a plan. It’s your time & money – make the conference what you want.
  • Familiarize yourself with editors’ or agents’ work before approaching them at a conference or meeting with them. Read reviews on if you don’t have time to read their books. Look up their images on the ‘net, so you know who you’re looking for.
  • Nametags for faculty are often different – printed, on a lanyard, etc. Take note of what faculty members’ nametags look like to help identify them. Try to KNOW who you’re talking to.
  • Bring business cards. You don’t have to put your phone number but definitely put your e-mail address or website. Maybe put what you write or a particular project if that’s what you’re concentrating on currently. (Try for free or inexpensive cards. Also, Avery labels makes perfectly fine business cards you can design and print out on your home computer with their free software.)
  • When people give you a card, jot down notes about the conversation you had so you remember them. Do the same when you give someone your card.
  • Stick around after the “official day” has ended. There’s the potential for valuable one-on-one time. If you’re tired, take a nap out by the pool.
  • Be open to possibilities – every conference attendee has value. Don’t be rude – don’t ditch the person you’re talking to in order to “upgrade” to someone “more important.” Charlie told the story of being “stuck” at a table at lunch with people he didn’t know when he could have sat with his pals and Bruce Coville. Making the best of it, Charlie demeaned himself to talk to the “nobodies” at his table and found, to his left, a teacher who was not only funny and brilliant, but offered to teach his unpublished book to her third grade class. During the next school year the class Skyped him on numerous occasions, giving him feedback on his work in progress and, in the case of one very astute young man, pronouncing his book “the best book I ever read.”
  • Praising someone’s work is a good way to start a conversation (but be honest about what you’ve read – or you run the risk of getting caught!).
  • Editors & agents are people, too! It makes them uncomfortable if you look at them like they’re meat. (They’re SOOO sensitive!) So, rather than salivate at what they can do for your career, ask them about theirs! Joke about the conference, ask what sessions they’ve been to, etc. Do this, and before you know it, they’ll ask you about you, and you can go into your spiel. All they really want to know is that you’re not crazy.
  • Don’t give away your power – you have something they want: great stories. Be confident in yourself and your material. Mention your successes – but GLOW, don’t GLOAT.
  • Take the pressure off your manuscript consultant if it’s not going well – ask him or her questions, take it as an opportunity to get to know an author, editor, etc. And remember: their opinions, while valuable, are still just that – opinions. Don’t let any one bad reaction to your work devastate you. (Of course, if everyone has the same bad reaction, go ahead and be devastated…um, we mean – you might want to consider a rewrite.)
  • Lastly, have your “elevator pitch” ready – but be appropriate!

And speaking of elevator pitches…Charlie & Karol had a Mini Pitch Mad Lib exercise planned for the end of the evening, but they ran out of time for anything beyond a hasty introduction of the idea. As promised, here’s the format you can use as a general guideline to formulate your own Mini Pitch Mad Lib. (Some Schmoozers were uneasy with the “readers will love this book because…” part, so this is definitely a “take what works for you and never mind the rest” situation).

**Please note – this mini-pitch format is copy written material, created by screenwriting teacher par excellance Pilar Alessandra, and was used/adapted with her permission. Karol has taken a class with Pilar and says she's awesome! Check her out at

And one more VERY important note on pitching at the conference....DON'T do this:

With all the sharing and the cringing and the laughing we conveniently ran out of time before Karol had a chance confess to one of her own faux pas.

“Not so fast,” says Charlie. “Spill it!”

OK – here goes, a logorrhea story if there ever is one:

I’m a bargain hunter. Give me a sale price + a coupon, and I’m in heaven! One time an author was kindly signing her book for me, and I blurted out, oh-so-proud of my frugality, “I got your book for $1.98!” The author definitely did not share my enthusiasm. (If that author happens to be reading this… “Wow, that was kind of insensitive…sorry about that!”) Not sure what the lesson learned there was for me beyond – try really, really hard not to be an idiot.

Another thing we ran out of time for (are you picking up on a theme here?) was reminding everyone that the Westside Writers Schmooze will be taking its annual two month hiatus in July and August. Our next meeting will be September 14, 2011. But we’ll be at the conference (Karol attending, and Charlie at the bar, drinking away his last dime.)

Thank you everyone for being so open and giving and informative with your personal tales of shame. We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect evening.

Until the next schmooze, you can…

Please LIKE us…please really, really like us!

Keep passing the open windows,

Charlie & Karol


  1. Nice chicken hat, Charlie, but is it a free-range chicken hat?
    Poultry Platitude

  2. Thanks for the terrific summary, Charlie and Karol! Wish I could've made it to the meeting. I'll be there in September, though -- and I'll definitely see you at the summer conference (my foot in my mouth, I'm sure).


  3. What a great summary of what sounds like an amazing faus-pas filled evening! Love this re-cap, and also adore the mad-lib style pitch technique. Great job, you two!
    Namaste and Hugs,

  4. Delightful chicken hat, delightful word that I'm going to use--logorrhea--and tips and stories, and delightful pitch exercise! I learned so much, and this is a timely reminder for me to update my business card . . . right now . . .

    Thanks, Karol and Charlie, and thank you, Westside Schmooze!