Friday, 9 November 2012

The Other Side of the Desk

At the SCBWI Professional Series debut author panel the other day, a couple of the writers commented on how happy they were to be on the other side of the desk this year, facing the questions. It occurred to me that in exactly two weeks the same thing is going to happen to me, that I'm finally going to pass onto the other side of the desk at a SCBWI conference, moderating a session on Transmedia Storytelling.

It's a weird feeling, because ever since I went to my first writers' event, I've wanted to be the one up there in the spotlight (to the extent that I occasionally forget my role as audience member rather than performer). I managed a brief appearance at the SCBWI retreat a year ago - which was an enjoyable session - but I've had my sights set on the conference since the first year I attended (this is my fourth)

Getting onto the other side of the desk (not just with SCBWI, but also more generally) has proved harder than I expected. It hasn't been as difficult as landing a publishing deal, it's true (still working on that), but the two are closely linked. It turns out that having boundless enthusiasm and a big mouth are not sufficient qualifications for hosting a writers' event - organisers also want this thing called "publishing credentials" to attract an audience. But I was a software geek, and while my technical credentials remained impeccable, my publishing cachet hovered somewhere around zero.

I noticed after a while that writing events were often organised around promotional concerns – an author would be appearing with a book to sell, a publisher might be looking to seek out new talent or promote their list. I'm not being critical of this, because the PR and networking opportunities are what make it possible for organisations like SCBWI to run writing events at relatively low cost. But it did seem that you needed to have published a book to get invited to speak at events, which made my continued failure to get published doubly frustrating.

So what changed? Well, publishing, mostly. The unstoppable march of digital meant that my software experience was suddenly relevant, and I took the decision to switch industries and join OUP. Almost overnight, I had gained these mysterious publishing credentials (and even better, I was getting paid to improve them). It seemed like people might finally be willing to listen to me beyond the blogosphere. Oh, the crazy fools!

How do I feel about achieving this long held ambition to move to the other side of the desk? A little terrified, if I'm honest. It's weird that I should feel this way, because I had to give a presentation to 70 people at work the other week and it was absolutely fine. But there's something subtly different about presenting to people who are paying actual money to attend the conference, who naturally expect SCBWI's high quality standards to be maintained. It's been a long time since the session was confirmed, long enough for plenty of doubts to worm their way into my brain. What if I'm too nervous to speak? What if no-one turns up? What if I go mad and dance Gangnam Style on the desk while the panel accompanies me on kazoo?

It turns out that realising your dreams is a strange feeling, to the extent that you start to question if they were valid dreams in the first place. This isn't the first time I've talked here about fear of success and I'm sure it won't be the last. Actually, I hope it isn't, because that would mean I'm continuing to be successful!

But right now, there are last-minute details to be worked out and last-minute hitches to overcome. I hope that all of my preparation will pay off and that I'll also see a few of you at the session. Once that hour is over I'll be gloriously free to enjoy the rest of the conference. But as for next year...

Is the author keynote too much to ask?




  1. I'd probably pay to see you dance Gangnam style on the desk Nick!

  2. I LOVED being the other side of the desk at that event,especially with such a lovely crowd. Keynote? That's behind a lectern, not sure if I'm ready for that.