Last week we looked at five sensible rules for effective marketplace relating. Below are five more. Next week we’ll finish up with an additional five.
6. Expect people to come with shadows. Everybody you’ll be dealing with is a human being who comes with all of the baggage that human beings come with, including hidden agendas, thin skins, passive-aggressive tendencies, self-interestedness, and so on. These everyday shadows do not disqualify them—if they did, no one would be able to deal with anyone. People come with light and shadows—try to enjoy the light even as you stay very aware of the shadows. If a person proves to be too shadowy and difficult, that’s one thing; but if he remains in the wide middle-range that most people occupy, just learn to deal with his troublesome but ordinary shadowiness.
7. Be strong when you need to be strong. It may be smart and strategic to be pleasant, easy-going and low maintenance in most of your marketplace interactions. But you also need to be strong when strength is required. If a certain moment calls for assertiveness, find that iron inside of you. If your gallery owner unilaterally decides to change the title of your solo show at the last minute to a title you just can’t tolerate, speak up. You have no real control regarding that change, but by standing up and speaking your mind there’s a decent chance you can positively affect the outcome. You may have to shift from genial and agreeable to hard-nosed in a split second—get mentally ready for such eventualities.
8. Make conscious decisions about who should get more of your time and who should get less of your time. That is, be strategic about the importance of people in your networks and universe. If somebody is pestering you with question after question for a print interview and you find yourself spending more time on responding to those questions than to chatting with your gallery owner about your upcoming show, you are letting a squeaky wheel derail you. Decide on how you want to relate to people not on the basis on their aggressive demands but rather according to what strategically serves you.
9. Ask questions. Marketplace players have plenty of reasons for not always being clear. Imagine for a second that you’re a poet as well as a painter and that a publisher has taken an interest in your collection of poems. They may offer you a publishing contract but prefer that you didn’t know that their small press is on its last legs and that your book might never be published. Therefore they leave out of the conversation any mention of your book’s publication date. If you notice that omission, your choices are to act like the omission must have been an oversight and nothing to worry about or you can judge the omission a red flag and ask, “When will the book be published?” If you take the first route you may be setting yourself up for big trouble, trouble like the publishing house holding your book for a year or two and then announcing that it can’t publish it. If, on the other hand, you ask, you may not be happy with the answer but you will be in a better position to judge whether or not to proceed with this publisher. Ask questions, even if you feel one-down, even if you feel embarrassed to ask, even if you’re not sure that the question really needs asking. Err on the side of clarity.
10. Ask for help. If you want to make contact with a journalist but you think that the contact ought to be made by your gallery, ask your gallery owner to reach out to the journalist. If you’re a musician as well as a visual artist and want to perform with someone and you have a friend who knows that someone, ask your friend to introduce you. If a deadline is approaching on a residency application and one of your referrers hasn’t gotten around to writing a letter of recommendation yet, ask the person directly for the help you need, namely a timely recommendation. Ask for help and ask for what you need.
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