I have not yet had the pleasure of publishing a story by today’s guest blogger, but I have had the pleasure of sharing a table with the delightful Addie J. King at conventions. She’s the best table-mate a writer could wish for, a cheerful and easygoing person who makes the three-day grind of table-sitting into something enjoyable. She’s also the perfect person to talk about convention etiquette, something she has mastered.
The Golden (Conference) Rule(s)
Or not so much golden. Maybe silver. Or Bronze.
Anyway, I’ve written on my blog about conferences before. I’ve written about going to a conference on a budget. (CLICK HERE and CLICK HERE). I’ve written about finding conferences (CLICK HERE). I’ve written about preparing for conferences. (CLICK HERE). I’ve written about attending them (CLICK HERE), and I’ve written about what to do after you’ve been to one. (CLICK HERE).
I’ve been going to conferences for seven years, both as an aspiring writer and avid reader (i.e., to learn and to network), and now as a professional (in the sense that I get paid for my writing, and I’m going to network and promote my own works).
There are some rules…or maybe I should say, practical pieces of advice, which I can give to people heading to a writers conference for the first time. These are also good reminders for non-newbie conference attendees.
1) Be yourself. Unless you are a sucky, boring, mean, obnoxious person. Then be nice, interesting, and pleasant.
Don’t be a creeper. Period.
It’s one thing to go fan-girl, or fan-boy, on your favorite author. They do like to see it from time to time. It’s kinda cool to have someone come up and gush about one’s work.
Remember, though, that they aren’t there to be gushed over for the whole weekend by one fan. They want to talk to lots of cool people. They want to meet you. They want to know what you liked about their stuff. But they also want to know that from the three hundred people in line behind you. Or the three people in line behind you. They’re also there to talk to agents and editors and publishers and other authors. They’re there to do business.
Some of the coolest things I’ve gotten to do have been because I was in the right place at the right time with the right people, and I got to do more because I didn’t completely wig out, interrupt, and basically ruin everyone else’s day. I’ve been in a conversation with an agent at a conference about marketing and promotion, and she introduced me to one of her clients, a writer whose work I’m a fan of. I’ve gotten to do a reading and appear on panels with one of my absolute favorite authors, and the conversations themselves were memorable, rather than just OHMYGODFANGIRLSQUEEENSUES (That happened later. My husband is still laughing at that one). I’ve gotten to have long chats with agents and authors and editors and publishers because not only did I keep a lid on my excitement and be a pleasant person, but I’ve made friends all over the place…and some of THOSE friends have actually pitched my own work to professionals FOR ME. I’ve gotten leads on conferences from friends I’ve met, invitations to submit to anthologies…and the invitation to write for this blog…from people I’ve met and made friends with at conferences.
That’s not a guarantee that being the good guy will get you hearts and flowers and publishing contracts. It will, however, help you build a GOOD reputation. And a reputation for being a normal person, with a sense for business, does more to help you than being a jerk. Don’t be a jerk.
2) No Business in the Bathrooms.
There’s an urban legend out there about some neophyte writer following an editor or an agent into the bathroom conference and slipping their manuscript under the stall door.
Only it’s not an urban legend. I’ve actually talked to publishing professionals, and more than one, who’ve had it happen.
DO. NOT. EVER. DO. THIS. For any reason. Ever. NOT COOL.
Don’t pitch your work in the bathroom, either. There is absolutely no business so important that it can’t wait, not only until after the flush, but until after they’ve washed their hands and walked out of the bathroom. Do you really want them to mentally link you and your work to whatever they were just doing in that stall? I don’t.
3) Don’t Get Drunk.
Most people gravitate towards the hotel bar at a conference. Nothing wrong with having a drink or two, relaxing, meeting up with friends you only see a couple of times a year, and talking life, writing, the business, politics, pets, and whatever else blows your skirt up.
Agents, publishers, editors, and other publishing professionals do the same thing at conferences.
Have a drink. Know your limit. Stay well below your limit.Puking on your dream editor or agent, or favorite author is not how you want to be remembered. Ditto with slipping them your room key, or dancing topless on their table. Can’t have a drink without doing this? Don’t drink. This isn’t about singling out alcoholics. I have a writer friend who does not drink, ever. She’s not an alcoholic, just doesn’t like it. It’s not a big deal. She and I will network at a conference together and separately, and while I might have a glass of wine in my hand, she probably has a Diet Coke. No one cares. Don’t drink to impress someone, but also know that if you want to have a bit, it’s okay as long as you remember that you’re there to be a professional…even if you haven’t signed a contract yet.
And if your dream agent or editor or your favorite author is sitting there, sipping a glass of wine, it is okay to go up, introduce yourself, and ask if you can join them. It’s okay to ask if you can pick their brain if you buy the next round, but then keep it to learning about the business. Don’t bring up your own work unless they ask. If you’re smart, articulate, and pleasant to talk to, there’s a high chance that they’re going to think you’d be good to work with, and they’ll ask for a pitch or some pages on their own.
They’re trying to unwind, too. Ask them about something about the conference. Ask them about their favorite conference to go to. Ask them about the current state of the industry. Ask about promotional strategies, marketing, etc. Engage them, and learn from them. DON’T INTERRUPT an already going conversation.
4) Know when to walk away.
You’ve had a good conversation with a publishing professional, but they didn’t ask for pages, or a pitch. They might have asked for it, and then told you it wasn’t for them.
THAT’S OKAY. You know why? It’s practice for the next time you meet someone else. You might have made a good impression on them that they’ll pass on down the road. The five bucks you paid for their beer? It’s an investment in networking, and establishing a reputation for yourself as a professional. If you’re lucky, they’ve told you why it doesn’t work for them, or given you some advice, which is priceless.
There’s an editor out there who has never read my writing, and yet she’s approached me and asked if I had ANYTHING in the genre that she edits. You know why? She says she wants to work with me. Because we’ve been at the same conference multiple times, and we’ve talked business, conferences, anthologies, editing, submissions, etc., ad nauseum.
The sad part is that I don’t have anything in her genre at the moment. She told me specifically what she wants, and right now it’s not anything that’s on my plate, because I have contracts and deadlines for other things. That said, I have a project simmering in the back of my brain that I think she might be interested in. I haven’t seen her for a couple of years, but the minute I have the chance to get that project whipped into shape, she’s the first one on my list to send it to. I’d love to work with her. Both of us know ahead of time that we’d be a good fit…if we had the right project.
THAT CAN HELP YOU DOWN THE ROAD AS WELL. A no today might not be a no tomorrow ON A DIFFERENT PROJECT, and you want to be professional and courteous and business-like enough to leave a good impression.
And yet, I had to walk away from that conversation, because I wasn’t going to get a yes from it. I might someday turn it into a yes, but it wasn’t going to happen that day.
Publishing is a fairly small world. Word gets out pretty quickly about who is hard to work with, and who gets along with whom. I met the head of my current publishing house two years before she offered me contracts for four books. We had breakfast together, and talked about publishing and small presses. When I asked her later, she remembered the conversation and the conference, and she’s been awesome to work with. In fact, my impressions of her from the breakfast convinced me to submit to her (admittedly new at the time) publishing house.
Basically it boils down to being polite, being professional, and not being a jerk. If you are someone who doesn’t do well at networking, work on it. Go to events in your hometown and see how many people you can meet. Go to a wine tasting. Go to a book signing. Go to a local fundraiser (pick something that you actually care about), and get involved. Introduce yourself as a writer. And see if people ask about what you write. Learn how to meet people and make a good impression without being pushy.