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Networking for Writers: Conference Etiquette (Part 2)

Writing Novels That Sell with Adrienne deWolfe

Networking is a form of word-of-mouth marketing. At a writing conference, you must learn to market yourself in ways that make you memorable –- but for all the right reasons. 

This article is Part 2 in a 2-part series that shares networking tips for writers who plan to attend a writing conference.  Read Part 1 here.

Work the Room

Networking is the act of sharing information. It is the practice of “give and take.” If you stumble upon a group where one person is dominating a conversation, or if the group, in general, seems to be whining rather than discussing writing tips, move on.

As you “work the room,” keep moving, even if you think you’ve found your long-lost soul mate! You won’t reach your networking goals if you huddle in a corner, talking to the same three familiar faces.

If you really want to make a deeper connection with someone, schedule a time when the two of you can have a drink, go shopping, or hang out by the swimming pool. Then move on to the next group.

Avoid Clingers

Avoid entanglements with “clingers”. These people don’t know how to network and want to latch onto your arm, so they don’t look like the only person in the room without a friend. Clingers may be perfectly nice, pleasant people, but they aren’t likely to help your career. Tell them politely but firmly, “So glad that I met you. I see someone else whom I need to meet,” and move on.

By the way: not all wallflowers are clingers. During one conference that I attended as an aspiring author, the keynote speaker stood idly in the buffet line. She was a New York Times bestseller who’d had 27 novels published, and nobody was talking to her!

So I sacrificed my place near the front of the buffet line, walked to the rear of the room, and struck up a conversation with her. As a result, that New York Times Bestseller and I corresponded for several months, and she endorsed my book when it was published years later.

Moral of this story?

Starve to network!

(No, silly. The moral of this story is to keep your eyes peeled for opportunities.)

Don’t Blather about Your Story Plot

Every writer has at least a thousand stories in them. Your story idea may have made you unique at the backyard barbecue or the baby shower, but it is not going to make you unique at a writer’s conference.

You must understand that when another writing professional asks, “What do you write?” that professional is being polite. He is trying to determine what, if anything, you have in common. That professional is NOT interested in the entirety of your storyline, the names of all your characters, or the family history that you concocted for your hero.

No Stalking Allowed

There is a fine line between trying to locate a professional and stalking a professional. Stalkers are icky and potentially scary. They quickly earn a reputation among agents and editors as someone to avoid. (What, you don’t think editors and agents gossip?)

If you’ve been involved in a two-way correspondence with an industry professional prior to the conference, be sure to notify that individual that you’d like to meet him at the conference. This tactic establishes you as a professional networker, not a stalker.

6 Other Tips to “Meet and Greet” a Pro

If you haven’t established a previous, two-way communication, here are 6 tips to “meet and greet” a literary agent, book editor, or published author:

#1

Volunteer for the committee that picks up celebrities at the airport

#2

Volunteer for the committee that is responsible for manning the agent/editor appointment room.

#3

Get yourself to a workshop where that professional will be speaking. Introduce yourself after the talk. Your attempts to demand a professional's attention prior to a workshop may not be welcome because he may be nervous about speaking, or because he may need time to prepare for his workshop.

Exception to this Rule: if a professional seems chatty, relaxed, and open to communication prior to the workshop, then you might introduce yourself briefly and ask to hook up after the workshop for a lengthier meeting.

#4

Attend hospitality events, book readings, book signings, cocktail parties, or other public events where the professional is likely to make an appearance.

#5

Scout for professionals when you walk into the dining room. Head for the table where that professional is standing/sitting.

#6

Scout for professionals in cocktail lounges, hallways, elevators and escalators. If the professional is wearing his conference badge, you can assume he is “working” and is open to talking about business.

Some of my most successful networking has been conducted during the 15-30 seconds when I shared an escalator with an editor or an elevator with a literary agent. (Now you can see why memorizing pithy and/or succinct elevator speeches is mandatory.)

In these extremely brief encounters, introduce yourself, establish a reason why that professional would want to meet with you, and ask for an appointment. If you’re lucky, you’ll score a meeting – or get invited to a private party.

If not, you’ll have something memorable to write in your query letter: “We met in the elevator, and you invited me to send my manuscript . . . “

Warning for Networkers

Do not force yourself on a busy professional who is late and dashing across the conference center to reach  another appointment. Nor should you follow a professional into the bathroom and shove a manuscript under a stall. (No, this is not an urban myth.  I've actually seen it happen. Not only did it alienate the professional, it made the aspiring author a laughingstock for the duration of the conference.)

Remember: networking for writers boils down to two basics: common sense and social skills. Follow the Golden Rule: “do unto others” as you’d like them to do to you, and you’ll make a positive impression, building an army of professional writing contacts who can help you advance your career.