Then, after work, I went out to have some beers with my club.
Which brings on this public service announcement: People, if you don’t live near a professional club, or if you don’t feel like the professional clubs in your area are the sort you’d like to join, start your own damn club. It doesn’t have to be clearly defined. It doesn’t have to be defined at all. It doesn’t have to even meet—maybe your blog friends constitute a club, as I like to think that mine do. But do try to have some kind of professional group you can call your own, however informal. It tastes good, and it’s good for you!
My club started about four years ago, when I was working as managing editor for a certain scrappy independent publisher and thought I might, just possibly, be losing my marbles. I needed a reality check. I wanted to know if other managing editors at other independent publishers were encountering the same, er, challenges, let’s call them, or if I was just particularly incompetent. So I mentioned this wish to a couple of people, and some e-mails started flying, and pretty soon I was sneaking out of the office to meet some mostly-strangers for bag lunch in a park. I think there were maybe five people at our first confab. We didn’t have an agenda. We didn’t even talk much shop, as I recall. But we became acquainted. And about a month later, we picnicked again. And then we did it again.
When the weather got cold, we took to meeting indoors. Then, so that farther-flung members wouldn’t have to hustle around on the subway at midday, we started meeting for postwork drinks instead of lunch. (The inaugural drinks meeting was such a success that we scheduled our next for just two weeks later. Clearly, we’re a bunch of lushes, but I must stress that alcoholic consumption is not required for these meetings to work.) Some “members” came and went, as people shifted jobs, but most of the original attendees still attend. It’s still a small enough group that we schedule meetings via e-mail (though I have started resorting to Excel to manage the Rsvps). Last night’s meeting was our largest ever, with three first-timers and most of the founding members. A total of eleven, if I recall correctly. (I may not be recalling correctly, however—after the first beer, everything became rather hazy.)
Who are we? Well, I think we had four designers (1 x jackets, 2 x jackets/interiors, 1 x DVDs), four production people (various titles), one editor, one sales/marketing manager, and, you know, one kind of confused art director. Some work at independent presses; others work for major multinational conglomerates; one’s at a university press; five work for nonprofit entities; one freelances full-time; most moonlight at something.
What did we do? I believe we ate two baskets of fries and one of calamari, and that an average of 1.75 drinks per capita was consumed. Some of us ranted animatedly, while others listened politely. Some of us reminisced about the shitty jobs where we’d met. Some provided me with or pledged to provide leads on promising illustrators. One of the newbies revealed that he is also an illustrator and gave me his portfolio URL. In the past, members have hooked each other up with freelance editorial or design work, job leads, and references.
This, comrades, is apparently what our college career counselors called networking, but without, bleccch, the work. Cthulhu knows, I certainly did not set out to “network.” I just wanted to get a reality check from some people at similar companies. The group still serves that purpose, but it’s more just for fun. These are my friends, not my contacts [shudder].
So what I’m getting at is, formal professional organizations are fine and nice, I’m sure, but they’re not always appealing or available. They can seem especially daunting if you’re new to the field, or changing careers, or have what seems to you to be a vague or weird job. Or if, like me, you suck at mingling. Whatever your reasons for not being a joiner—hell, even if you are a member of ADC, TDC, AIGA, EFA, Webgrrls, YPG, Overtime, whatever, and you go to every Mediabistro party that’s on the calendar—I encourage you to roll your own exclusive professional society, with escutcheons, secret handshakes, and whatever else makes you laugh. Find, or create, a group of which you would want to be a member.
This Public Service Announcement was brought to you by the Royal Stet Lodge. Stet!