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Sunday February 22, 2009
Charisma Is Not A Dump Stat
The gamers among you will get this immediately. Some of the rest of you may also get it immediately, though I won't be surprised if a few of you need a nudge.
Here's the full statement, which I found occasion to use during three different panels at Life, the Universe, and Everything XXVII: "If you want to work in this business, charisma is not a dump stat."
My meaning should be obvious. If you want to be a professional writer, illustrator, or other creator, you may be enticed into believing that your dress, demeanor, and interpersonal skills are less important than they are in other fields. This is patently false. The only situation in which people will overlook what a jerk you are, or how smelly you are, or how shabbily dressed you are is when you are so incredibly impressive in other ways that they figure your eccentricities don't matter, or may even be part of the mystique.
This is not a message that I send to my fellow creators who are successful in this business. Why not? Because whatever their current charisma score, they're successful in this business and it probably doesn't matter much. Whatever they're doing is working.
But if you're trying to break in, if you're hoping to get hired by a comic book company, a video game company, or get an editor to read that 200,000 word manuscript, you cannot afford to be anything other than easy to get along with and inoffensive to the other senses. Write nice emails. Say kind things. I'm not suggesting that you become a simpering, obsequious, shallowly-flattering aspirant. Just be nice. Look nice, smell nice, act nice.
Why? Because you're going to have to work with others, and they have to want to work with you.
And now, an observation...
Every full-time, creative professional at this most recent event looked really good. The authors, illustrators, game designers, animators, and editors all dressed sharply, carried themselves uprightly, spoke clearly, and if I stood close enough to them to smell them the only smells were clean clothing, and perhaps a hint of appropriate fragrance.
They did not all look sharp in the same way. Tracy and Laura Hickman wore muted colors, while Lee Modessit wore black and white. David Farland and Brandon Sanderson looked like college professors, casually yet very sharply academic.
There were a few fans, on the other hand, who looked, acted, and even smelled pretty bad. Yes, the smelly fan is kind of a cliché, and we laugh at it. But in some cases it's sad because there are fans who desperately want to be professionals, and whether or not their work is up to that level they won't be recognized as such... not unless their work is so incredible, so outstanding, so ground-breakingly, astoundingly awe-inspiring that those reviewing it are suddenly forced to pay attention to nothing but that work. And that's a hard thing to pull off if you look like you haven't showered in two days, and then, upon closer examination, it turns out that you smell that way too.
I'm not pointing fingers. If you were there, please don't go thinking I was looking at you and saying to myself "what a slob." I wasn't. But if you think that maybe you did look that way, congratulations. You probably know enough to solve the problem.
Many of the panels and lectures at this event focused on developing the skills necessary to be a creative professional. We covered putting good science in your science fiction, writing believable romance, maintaining suspense, rewriting for clarity and concision, and a host of other things -- and that's just on the writing side. To my knowledge, however, there wasn't a panel centered around crafting personal appearance in order to increase the chances of getting published.
Maybe there should have been. And maybe the title of that presentation should be "Charisma Is Not A Dump Stat."