When I got home yesterday I was greeted by a fat envelope from eBay. “About bloody time, seeing as you fund the bastards,” my housemate had scrawled on it, depressingly accurately. I buy a lot of stuff on eBay, mostly because it’s cheap and I can get clothes when my real ones start falling apart.
What was troubling was what they had sent me. “As you’re a star eBayer, you deserve a treat…” said the flimsy bit of card. (“Brilliant!” I thought, “discount central here we come.”)
“You must have become good friends with your mouse by now,” it continued somewhat crushingly, “so here’s something you can both enjoy”. It was a mousemat, complete with “hilarious” eBay mouse hole. Well colour me pink and call me Santa, whoop-de-bloody-doo. I’ll just add that to The Omen one with the squashy blood floating around in it, and the one from Direct Line in the promotional tat pile.
When I mentioned the mousemat this morning, Swishblog was outraged. “I’ve got over 200 feedback and I never got one,” he said bitterly. Maybe they just liked what I’d bought. Or the fact that I occasionally go through phases of absolutely no self-control. What was really weird was that I’d never heard of this happening before. It was like being initiated into a secret club, albeit one with a really shit welcome pack.
Two years ago, when trying desperately to forget that we were doing our finals, OIR lured me into joining a website called OKCupid. It’s run by the people who did TheSpark.com and pioneered those crack-addictive personality tests. It was like a 10,000 quizzes version of MySpace, but much less fun, although my Grease 2 and Jaws quizzes rocked the OKC community quite hard. About a year in, I got an email saying I’d been added onto The Hot List, which meant I was “hot” and could therefore look at pictures of other “hot” users. I rang OIR in a fit of “I’m not going to die alone!” excitement.
“Oh yeah, I’ve been on that for a while,” she said coolly, as if being voted hot by a load of Americans was something that happened to her everyday. I refused to be deflated. It was only after the initial smugness had worn off – yes, I was hot, but a cure for cancer was still quite a long way off – that I started questioning why it had taken a whole year to become part of this mythical list. Why was I only deemed worthy now? Was I hotter in 2005 than in 2004? And who are these people who get to pull aside the velvet rope and beckon you inside?
The point is that with all such secret clubs, you only find out when you’re in. It’s like networking. “The *** don’t employ anyone they don’t know,” said a friend of mine when I was feverishly scribbling my covering letter. “Oh,” I said, disappointed. “Well, my covering letter had better be bloody amazing then.”
I should point out that I am utterly shit at covering letters. Also, pitches. Give me something to write about and I will quite happily research, dig and delve until I have enough material to write a small book. Should I have to sell myself in the cold, exposed world of email however, I invariably come across like someone who knows what a personality is, but has only ever seen pictures of it in books.
So I wrote an email to the reviews editor of a magazine I worked at for a bit last summer.
“Yeah that's not bad. Shocking first line,” he said. I rewrote it and sent it back. “This is a bit of a tortuous sentence, and I'm not sure what it means,” he wrote. “I suspect it may mean, ‘The *** reviewer is reviewing the band they were commissioned to write about’ - perhaps a rarity on certain websites, but vaguely essential to professional journalism. Also a typo.”
Arse. Still, at least I hadn’t sent the thing off. And, most importantly, this lovely man actually gave me a load of really good advice. I think that was networking.
“I’m really good at networking,” announced a smug RBT yesterday, having just landed some freelance subbing work thanks to a friend of a friend. (Why is it always friends of friends? Why can’t our actual friends be useful?)
“Well, I’m good at networking too,” I said defensively. “I found you a load of jobs to apply for. I managed to introduce a girl I know to Kerry King at the Kerrang Awards, without having actually met him before. I hooked up an Inde journalist for an interview with the nice one out of Fightstar. I’m really good! Although the nice one out of Fightstar will probably never talk to me again.”
“Ye-es, but you have to be more selfish if you’re going to network for actual work,” said RBT, leafing through his piles of freelance money (possibly). I opened my mouth to retort, then shut it again, defeated.
The word ‘networking’ used to fill me with impotent rage. To me it was synonymous with nepotism: Daddy’s friends with the head of Conde Nast so you can go and work on Vogue for three weeks. My aunt runs a record label. My sister’s boyfriend is the chief sub on Mix Mag. That sort of thing. My parents had no interesting media contacts at all – although, bless him, last year my dad did pull out some newspaper sportsmen out of nowhere – and so I was filled with the righteous anger of one who thinks they’re being gypped. “But I’m BRILLIANT, why aren’t I working at Select in the school holidays?” I’d rage. Well, bully for you kiddo, you make your own luck.
I recently got some MySpazz messages from a girl in Cambridge who was similarly disenchanted with the networking thing. She was doing all the right things, she just didn’t have a break. “Whaddya mean you don’t network?” said a PR friend I met at Latitude. “You’re doing it now, slagging me off about Radiohead!”
I see her point in a way. You’re networking all the time. Each time you get pissed with someone, or say “Hello!” to someone you vaguely remember from a gig, or befriend someone nice you met at a festival, that’s networking. Eventually, it’s helping people out, and you can be helped out in return. It’s the same with the magazine last year. Whether or not their (very nice) reference helped to get me into Empire or not, it can’t have done anything bad for my chances.
Back to my younger self’s self-righteous grump, there is, granted, that real pisser of having to be in the field (or any field) in order to meet the people to chat to. It’s probably what was running through the minds of the magazine I wanted to pitch to: it’s much less hassle to get in people you know are reliable and known to you, than trying out somebody new.
What pissed me off when I was younger was that I knew I could do it, I just didn’t have the opportunity. Then I got off my arse and got some work experience instead. It didn’t get me a job, but it meant I would start learning what the hell I was supposed to be doing.
And right now, I’m doing it in sparkly new Adidas, as delivered to my door by eBay yesterday morning.