The goal is clear: you are headed to your next writer’s conference to network, learn and mostly network. You are going to connect with writers, renown mentors, editors and agents.
So arm yourself with your dog-eared manuscript–the one you have sweat nuggets for. You hope to meet some time-honored editor and charm her with your enthusiasm and talent in the hopes that she will offer you a publishing contract.
But there are a few things not to do. The excitement is likely to cloud your judgment if you are not well prepared. Here are a few tips to help you keep from being a dweeb in your next writer’s conference.
Keep From Networking Until the Middle of the Conference
Everyone is slightly uncertain at the beginning. That includes you. You cannot connect with every person. You may end up wasting time with contacts that add little value to you while you leave out the most useful contacts. The only way to find out who exactly will be useful and should be added to your network is by taking your time to evaluate people. The conference will bring together different writers, editors and other publishing professionals. Take your time to identify the group that will add value in your network.
Another reason to wait is due to the “First Day Morgue Syndrome” which afflicts all people in a new and uncertain environment. People are unsure at first and need time to gently fall into the cadence of others around them. If you go slapping them upside the head with your enthusiasm, they will likely look at you like you are a loon.
Match The Tone
Keep in mind that writers are not usually salespersons. They therefore often do not have gregarious personalities. This notion will help you from misinterpreting their natural expression as lack of interest. They may be interested, but lack the personality to express it. Simply adopt a tone that will level with them.
Come Early and Get a Table in the Middle
A seat somewhere in the middle will allow you a perfect space for mingling. You will also be well positioned to be within reach of many people. You can share both your ideas and material with people as you interact. You should be seen and you should be able to see, so keep that in mind when choosing your position.
Don’t Approach Keynote Speakers
There’s some controversy with this piece of advice. Lots of people don’t agree with me. But, in my years of going to these conferences, I have rarely created a good, solid networking contact with keynoters. Although many have been kind to me, answered my questions and were patient, a larger majority have been curt and rude. They have wanted to cut the conversation short and have done so abruptly, sometimes mid-sentence! Some of my long-held fan girl relationships have died because I met the author in person and they were, well, curt. I can’t blame them, though. They are burdened with the stress of speaking, sometimes several times in one day. They have jet lag. They are hungry and need to use the rest room. In other words, they must take care of their human needs in between sessions and the last thing they want is to be ambushed by wannabe #34 right outside the men’s room.
Another common occurrence (and I hesitate to blanket the entire writing industry in this hazy but sinister glow, because I’ve only encountered it a few times) often you will run into agents, editors or writers who simply come off as superior, snotty and self-important. It can be humiliating to have a keynoter look down their nose at you with ill-disguised impatience. You want to send them your novel, interview them, tell them about how you loved their book, but they don’t want to have anything to do with you because you are not a big thing they have heard of and at this point in their career they are looking for only the big things. This can completely ruin the conference for you.
To avoid any of that, network with people within or slightly above your level. Those at your level may help you with diverse insights as you share experiences. Persons slightly above you may mentor you to be a better writer and can even become cherished friends!
Stay Clear of “Have You Been Published?”
Simply put, do not ask people if they have been published. This can be quite a sensitive area and may not make a good subject for discussion. Writers whose manuscripts have been published will usually not hesitate to tell you about it. They will say it within five minutes of interaction. Those who have not yet been published desperately want to be. They don’t need you to remind them that they aren’t.
Find Common Ground
Talk about things that are unrelated to writing. At this past SCBWI conference I had long conversations about trail running, antique toys, art programs, cycling, Native American jewelry, education for disenfranchised youth, ghosts, etc. The best way to achieve a social interaction is by keeping slightly off business. Business will naturally come in later. The initial interaction should touch on general topics to loosen the mood.
Don’t Monopolize Time
Remember that not everyone at the conference is there to network. Some attend simply to learn. Make sure to move discreetly around the room after a certain period in order to give others a chance to listen and chill out. They will like you more for it.
Slow Down After lunch or Near The End
People get cranky before lunch, tired after. Then they get cranky and tired at the end of the day. They don’t want to talk about the intricacies of picture book marketing. They want to go back to their hotel and nap furiously. Keep human needs at the top of your sensitivity list.
With these tips you can be certain to perform well in your upcoming writer’s conference.
I have posted a few videos about my last writer’s conference experience on my Youtube channel.
If you have other tips and advice about attending conferences, please share!
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