This weekend, I attended Wordsmith 2019, a writing conference hosted by the Loft Literary Center at the University of Minnesota. My agenda had less to do with exploring the craft of writing and more to do with this: Find potential band members who can work as a de facto team to help me turn “Crazy Amazing: The Year of Living Like Prince” from a blog and a prayer, into a book.
Intentionality was key. When Prince auditioned band members, he listened not only for skill but for an innate, funky style. I would follow his lead: While keeping an eye out for people with valuable skill sets, they also needed to demonstrate a sensibility that matches that of this admittedly quirky, funk-filled project. It was a tall order!
With that in mind, I headed to a “speed dating” session for writers. The session’s goal was to enable you to connect with other writers who could support you in your work. Some participants were looking for a writers’ group; others were looking for a match in terms of their genre — say, someone writing historical fiction with a fantasy element set in medieval times (writers can be a wee bit specific about genres). Shockingly, no one I spoke with was seeking anyone writing a memoir of a year that they could describe as “like`Julie & Julia,’ only with less food and more funk.” (Wouldn’t that have been something!) But no matter. Rather, inspired by the way Prince sought out talented people who could do what he couldn’t — play horns or design websites or make costumes — I was looking for potential bandmates with skills I didn’t have and who were great at what they did.
As we rotated around the room in a musical-chairs arrangement, I spoke with seven people for four minutes each. Not surprisingly, opening a conversation with, “I’m a suburban mom living like Prince” tends to pique people’s interest. Still, one writer stared in puzzlement; another gave a bemused “sorry, not for me” look. Two others took an open-minded approach. While Prince wasn’t their cup of tea, they essentially replied, “I might not be your ideal reader but I can appreciate your idea; tell me more.” Three times, the eyes of the writer sitting across from me lit up. “How are you doing that?” they asked.
Ultimately, however, the person I honed in on as a good prospect for my “band” was in the open-minded bunch who weren’t ga-ga over Prince but didn’t dismiss the “living like Prince” spiel as a sign that they were sitting across from a madwoman, either. This gentleman described himself as a tech entrepreneur who’d sold a couple of companies and who had retired and was looking to write. As a writer, I could be helpful to him; he’s an entrepreneur, and that’s invaluable because being an author is an entrepreneurial venture that requires a product, branding, marketing, and distribution. Those things are notoriously difficult to do for oneself. But when I approached him the next day to say I’d chosen him, it turned out that he hadn’t chosen me. This could have spelled disastrous rejection, but au contraire: He seemed pleased to hear that having his input would be valuable and gave me his business card so we could be in touch. One potential band member connection made!
Then, at lunch, I joined a table of nonfiction and memoir writers and chatted with a woman who was younger than the typical demographic for anything Prince-related, but who she exclaimed enthusiastically over the idea of “living like Prince.” She impressed me with her self-awareness as she shared how she’d moved from a place with a high cost of living to a less expensive smaller city so that she could write as a profession and still manage her life. She showed a lot of dedication to her craft and a high level of maturity to boot and she happens to do freelance editing. She could be an ideal editor to help develop a book manuscript. We exchanged emails. Potential band number two, found.
When you’re going the traditional publishing route, the two other band members you need are an agent and an editor at the publishing house that’s publishing your work. The agent comes first and is your ally and guide in the publishing industry. The agent, in fact, is the one who connects you with editors at publishing houses. Once the publishing house signs you to a book deal, then you, the agent and the editor become a trio with the mission of bringing your book to life. I didn’t expect to land an agent at the conference; far from it! But I was encouraged by the positive, warm connections I made. Band members three and four remain at large, but that’s nothing concerning at this stage in the process. Prince bumped into his musical comrade-in-arms Andre Cymone as a junior high school student standing in a line in the gymnasium. Bandmates three and four will step forward when the time is right. Meanwhile, it’s time to start rehearsing with my new bandmates.