When you’re at a convention, every minute behind your table counts.
People want to meet the creator. They prefer to buy from them, and love to have the creators sign their books.
So if you aren’t there, a potential customer will often leave without buying.
Despite knowing this, why did I leave my booth for over two hours on the busiest day of Otakon (the largest Anime convention on the east coast) to take a young man I had never met out to coffee?
Because Sean had done everything right.
For most of us, we’d love to have a mentor to pull the curtain back and show us the inner workings of the industry, teach us new techniques and open doors that would have otherwise remained closed for much longer.
Especially if they are the type of person who answers the phone every time you call and responds to multi-page, anxiety ridden, 2 AM emails that can usually be summed up simply as “Should I just give up?!”
But how do you find someone like that?
It seems elusive and we don’t know how to go about cultivating that sort of relationship with someone a few steps ahead of us. So instead we either don’t try or we approach our idols awkwardly or presumptuously, and neither approach will help us attract a mentor.
Of course an unofficial mentor/mentee relationship is elusive and let me spoil the surprise: there is no formula for creating one. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can do to attract a mentor.
I had never left a show to hang out with a fan before I met Sean. But he knew how to attract a mentor. Here are the first three of six things I learned from him.
Tip #1: Talk.
When I was trying to break into comics there was no Facebook or Twitter giving me direct access to the people I admired. Today, we have so much more access to professionals than even ten years ago. The world is changing fast, and thanks to the digital age, walls are coming down.
But that doesn’t mean we can be weird about it.
The internet offers an artificial sense of familiarity: just because you read someone’s blog and feel like you know them doesn’t mean that you actually know them. So walking up to someone you admire at a show and acting like you’re buddies probably isn’t the right approach.
If you have permission to act this way, believe me, you’ll know. And if you don’t know whether or not you do, trust me, you don’t.
This means don’t be a stalker. Don’t follow them around the show. Don’t hover at their table for inappropriate amounts of time. Don’t respond to every tweet they send out as if their Twitter feed exists exclusively for the two of you to stay in touch. And don’t ask for favors.
Essentially I’m saying be a Winger—and that means be engaging, memorable, excited but also professional. Gage their body language and interest and respond appropriately.
But don’t fall into the other trap as well: no one will know you exist if you only lurk on websites without ever participating.
-Tweet This Quote
Take the time to write an insightful, grateful email to the pros who have created content that has inspired or helped you. Don’t feel entitled to a reply back, but let them know who you are and that their work has impacted your life.
Participate on their forums, engage them on social media, and do it all in an appropriate manner. Become one of the community members without joining the forum just in the hopes that your idol will befriend you. Become a contributor for the value that participation in such a community brings you and believe me, professionals will take note.
What Sean Did Right: Sean began by engaging me on Twitter. He would respond to my tweets and retweet me regularly. At first I didn’t remember him, he was one of many people I talked to. But then came a day when I needed some help…
Tip #2: Offer to help.
A lot of times the, “Can I help in any way” question will either go unanswered, or be answered with a “not right now.” But every so often the answer will be “yes.”
Have you heard your favorite creator say something like, “One of these days, we’d love to have a forum” but that day never seems to come? Offer to set one up for them. Then offer to moderate it.
And then do a good job running it.
Is your favorite creator going through a big life change, “I’m moving,” “Getting married,” “Baby on the way”? See if there is anything you can do. Offer to write a fan article or draw a guest strip as filler content. Offer to keep the forum or their Fan Page active. Offer to flat a page of their comic for colors.
Whatever it is, if you see an opportunity, jump on it. Don’t be pushy, but put the offer out there and see what comes back to you.
And if they do respond positively, follow through.
I hope that needs no further explanation. Take the initiative then do what you promise.
What Sean Did Right: The protagonist of my comic The Dreamer is a teenager in drama club who wants to be a Broadway actress one day. Theater is not an area of my personal expertise and one day I was looking for the name of a production that would fit the bill for a joke I had set up. I needed the name of a production that used notoriously outrageous hats. The only thing I could come up with was My Fair Lady, and I didn’t think it was strong enough to make the gag funny so I turned to Twitter. Sean, a young man with the same aspirations as my protagonist, jumped on my question and sent me suggestions throughout the day as new ideas came to him.
He wound up giving me the winning idea, and it was something spot on that I never could have come up with myself.
I’ll tell you this: I didn’t forget Sean after that.
Tip #3: Be professional. Always.
Today, unless you are very careful about your privacy settings, everything you post online can be seen by anyone.
This is true even if you believe that no one is paying attention. The moment you do have an opportunity someone will follow a link to your blog, see your twitter feed—and not just the @ replies you send them—read your FB wall or tumbler feed. Everything you have ever posted is frighteningly public and searchable.
So whether a client treats you like crap, a friend betrays your trust, or you get dumped, keep it off the internet.
If you can’t resist the temptation of posting a slew of emotionally needy tweets or an expletive-ridden rant, keep yourself off the internet until you find better self control.
In these “life sucks” moments call a friend instead, watch a movie in your PJs or shoot an email to your Circle of Trust. Whatever you do, don’t blast your drama in a public place. (And yes, your Facebook Wall is a public place.)
If I’m interested in working with someone the first thing I do after I look at their work is to check out their social media. This tells me volumes about what kind of person they are and if I would ever want to work with them.
What Sean Did Right: Sean was still in his teens when I met him online. Despite his youth, I never saw him posting anything inappropriate, mean-spirited, foul-mouthed or emotionally needy. He was positive, excitable, and all around charming. The kid never let anything get under his skin.
Even on the few times when he had the right to vent, I saw him respond evenly and with charity.
I started to admire him.
And people you admire are people you want to spend time with. Sean McGuire turned our relationship on its head when he made me take notice of him.