A gift from the department of travel karma

So a funny thing happened on my way to Wiscon. I mentioned that my flight was oversold and I volunteered to go on a later flight, right? The airline gave me a food voucher so I wandered over to the nearest kiosk. As I was standing in line, a woman said, “Mary Robinette Kowal!”

I turned, in some surprise. She looked familiar, but I couldn’t immediately place her so I cleverly said, “Um… yes!”

“I’m [editor]. I just had lunch with your agent.”

My jaw dropped. She’d spotted my name on my luggage tag as we were standing in line. And this, my friends, is a good reason to have a distinctive name.

We realize that we’d actually met at World Fantasy last year and ridden back on the same train. This time we did not have the same destination, so running into her was totally random. She was on her way with her boyfriend to spend the weekend with his family. And then she said, “Your manuscript is one of the ones in my bag. It’s sort of Jane Austeny, isn’t it?”

“Jane Austen with magic!” I said.

“What could go wrong with that combination?”

“Well, lots of things go wrong. Chaos ensues. And then matrimony.”

She laughed.

So the lessons learned today are:

  1. Volunteer to be bumped
  2. Distinctive name is good.
  3. Have the elevator pitch ready.

I mean, now I’ve got a free round-trip ticket from the airline and had the bonus of making a connection with an editor right before she reads my manuscript. I think that’s worth the price of being late to WisCon.

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29 Responses

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      Ha! This is actually the second time I’ve wound up doing a mini pitch at the airport. The first time was on the way back from my first world fantasy. I was chatting with the woman next to me and she eventually fessed up to being an agent. I didn’t have anything ready that she represented, but she gave me the excellent advice to not try to sell my novels in the order in which I’d written them. Which is what led to the current novel being the first one to go out shopping around.

      And to being in the editors bag today.

      1. RaeBryant

        Sounds like a good marketing plan to me. Baggage stickers with title, byline graphic and blurb. In fact, you could even sell baggage space to writers. $100 per inch of bag space. You can walk up the aisle with one side showing, then do a circuit showcasing the other side. Stop every so often for a quick excerpt reading (that would cost mega extra, of course). All in all, airport time after conferences could really put you in the green ;).

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      That was one of those things that got hammered into me early on. The first time an editor asked me about my novel and I started to tell him, he stopped me and said, “No, no. I don’t want to know the plot. I want to know what it’s about.”

      I’ve been working on getting all of them down to a line or two and then having a paragraph mentally prepared for if someone says, “Tell me more about that one.”

      1. Chris Billett

        Excellent! Testing, testing… I went to the site, and my email was already in use? Weird. I just reset it, though, so now I should have Dinosaur goodness.

        … I’m such a nerd.

  1. Joe Sherry

    I’m looking forward to the day I will have an agent and my manuscript will be out with editors and I too will be standing in line at the airport and someone behind me will exclaim “Mary Robinette Kowal!”. I will turn, and the person will slink back embarrassed for thinking I was a woman.

  2. Michael Curry

    Sounds like karma definitely smiled on you! I mean, what were the odds of you running into said editor in the airport when you were headed to different destinations, days after she’d just had lunch with your wonderful agent, and when she had included your ms. in her travel reading? Pretty darned slim. I’m glad you had the quick pitch ready to go, and now I’ll just keep my fingers crossed for her really liking the novel.

  3. cherie priest

    I’ll vouch for that “distinctive name” thing. Oh yes. I will. For example: when I went to Cory D’s reading in Seattle this past Sunday, as we were chatting when he figured out who I was … the man in line behind me (to have Cory sign books) suddenly went, “Holy crap! I should’ve brought YOUR books to sign too! I didn’t realize that was you!”

    It happens more often than you’d think.
    So yeah, totally. If you didn’t come with a distinctive name, make one up!

  4. David Loftus

    That’s a FABulous story, Mary! All kindsa cool things have been happening to you in the past year — when does the karma run out??!!!

    I thought I had a distinctive name growing up. The first time I learned otherwise was in Boston during the mid 80s when I started getting telephone calls for a guy with not only the same name, but the same middle initial. (I gathered he had a business degree from Emerson College, a few years younger than me.)

    Things have gotten steadily worse since the advent of the Internet. In the 90s I received emails that asked whether I were the Irish priest . . . or the Australian Olympic swimmer. During occasional Googlings, I’ve learned of David Loftuses who are physicians and physicists.

    Then there’s the David Loftus who is an accomplished professional photographer and apparently lives in a houseboat on the Thames. He’s shot many illustrated books about flowers and food, so his book listings in Amazon tend to come up before mine, and his Web site and mine keep trading off the lead spot on Google.

  5. Michele

    That book must be published soon, because I really really want to read it! And perhaps buy it as presents for people. 🙂 Good luck!

  6. Lyn

    Very cool experience. Congrats. So when you say “elevator pitch” do you mean a short summary of your story that’s catchy and to the point? What else should one put into a quick presentation like that? Lyn

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