My First (Literary) Speed Date
When I signed up for the Conversations and Connections: Practical Advice on Writing conference at Johns Hopkins, I was intrigued to see that the day included “Literary Speed Dating.”
My only non-literary speed dating experience left me with some interesting stories to tell, so I hoped that Literary Speed Dating would yield promising results, if not good stories.
The night before, I checked the website once more as I printed up the writing I planned to bring and read that the speed dating was to give editors at literary journals the chance to give feedback on short stories and poems. I didn’t have either of those things, but I did print a brief excerpt of an unfinished novel. I felt kind of like one of those people who reads a dating profile where someone lists what they are looking for, knows they don’t quite fit, but goes on the date anyway.
Compared to what one woman said was a brutal, elbow-throwing experience at a New York City literary conference, Literary Speed Dating at Conversations and Connections is well-run. Conference attendees get one speed dating ticket in their conference folder and can buy more if they want to go on additional “dates.” We were grouped by genre (fiction, non-fiction, poetry) and told beforehand that we could not pick the literary journal, so it was would be something like a blind date. Each literary speed date had a ten-minute limit: five minutes for the editor to read and five minutes for the editor and writer to talk.
People tend to do research before dates. In times past, one might have made inquiries around town; these days people take to the internet to find out just who they are going to meet. I, however, did neither of these things.
Since the conference session I attended was in the same room as the Literary Speed Dating, I hung out by the door so I could get in line sooner rather than later. This was smart because I got the number two spot. But the woman who claimed the first spot in line soon pointed out that my research was lacking. She gave me a pitying look when she learned I was not aiming for certain journals and was not well-informed about just who I wanted to see.
In the dating world, there are plenty of people who are more that willing to give you advice, but you have to know what you want. While it is good to have a competitive edge, I wasn’t expected to sail off into the sunset with an editor. I did this on a lark; I just wanted the feedback.
In the previous year it seemed you were able to zero in on who you wanted to see, but true the their word, this year the organizers didn’t give us a choice. We were each ushered to a seat in front of an editor picked by the conference staff. And the most highly eligible editors were the ones for fiction, since that line wrapped around the room. The non-fiction and poetry editors were in less demand, so much so that another attendee told me that she was able to “date” four poetry editors, including one who was interested in publishing that attendee’s poetry.
For me, a low-key approached worked. I did feel kind of intimidated when I was shown to a seat in front of an editor I’d heard speak earlier and who worked with the literary journal that sponsored the event. And yes, it’s cliché, but I did mention that I was nervous. Oddly enough, he seemed a little nervous too. But I think the fact that I was not looking to have someone read my work and immediately promise to publish it put us both at ease.
I gave a hurried explanation of what my novel was about, he read it, and then we talked. He liked what I had, complimented certain aspects of it and then asked me some questions that I had not considered. His thoughts allowed me to see how someone might like the story but wonder about elements of the structure. He spoke about the story in a technical way, which is something I don’t do because I am so close to it so I was grateful for that perspective.
I had a good time on my first Literary Speed Date and I wanted to go on another, but time ran out. As is the case with any other date, for Literary Speed Dating, it helps to be informed and prepared but to also relax and have fun.