Monday, October 5, 2009

5 Steps to Better Conference Networking

We are very fortunate this week to have not one, but two guest bloggers! Lindsey Faber, Managing Editor, Samhain Publishing, Ltd. ( is here to talk about the ins and outs of conference networking. Since several of us are heading to a conference soon, it's a timely subject. Thanks for joining us, Lindsey!

Conferences can be a writer’s best resource. You can hone your craft at workshops, get inspired by a keynote, and share drinks, dreams, and disappointment with people who truly understand. But the best resource conferences can offer are a chance to network—with agents and editors, with fellow writers, with readers and booksellers. It can be a little overwhelming when you’re not used to interacting with anyone more than the characters in your head, so here are five of my best networking tips to get you started:

Do Your Homework
Prepare, prepare, prepare. You’ll be at your best if you have a plan of attack and information at the ready. Research the agents and editors who will be there. Make sure what you’re pitching is appropriate, and target your pitch—let them know exactly why you think your book is a good fit for them. Research the speakers and any other attendees you hope to meet. Conversation will be easier and more memorable if you can refer to a book of theirs you enjoyed or something you read on their website/blog. Most importantly, practice your pitch. The most common question you’ll get asked is “What do you write?” Have a brief, standard answer that will intrigue, and be prepared to follow up with more details. You never know who will be asking.

Get Out There
You can’t network if you’re sitting in your room, so be sure to spend as much time meeting people as possible. Other than when you really need a little down time, I recommend getting outside your room whenever you can. Go to workshops and signings, attend the meals and receptions, hang out in the bar. If it can be done outside your room, get out there. Use your laptop in the lobby, eat meals at nearby restaurants, wait for your friends in the bar area. This is where you’ll meet people and make contacts. And don’t just find a quiet corner and hope no one notices you. Make an effort to meet people. Pretty much everyone you meet at conferences will be friendly—and passionate about reading or writing. It’s easy to strike up a conversation by asking about someone’s current project, what they’ve been reading lately, or what workshops they’re planning to attend.

Be Positive & Professional
This means at all times during the event, not just when making an important new contact. There are numerous urban legends of people who’ve ruined their chances with an agent/editor by various rude acts during other parts of the conference. Probably some of them are just legends, but you don’t want to risk doing anything that could leave a bad impression with an industry professional. Don’t drink to excess. Don’t talk negatively about anyone in the industry. As Angela James ( wisely says, “act in a professional manner even when you think no one is watching”.

Read the Situation
We all dream of that perfect elevator pitch opportunity. It’s an appealing prospect—especially if you can’t get a pitch appointment—but has to be approached in the right way. If you see your dream agent/editor during the conference, do approach them and let them know you hoped to meet them—but only if the circumstances are appropriate. Don’t pitch in bathrooms, if the editor/agent is clearly in a hurry or busy with someone else. Even consider whether you want to rush into a pitch when you catch a weary agent/editor at a bar—sometimes a simple conversation is better networking. You have to read the situation and decide whether approaching them in a professional manner would be welcome networking or an annoying interruption. Better not to meet them than to make a bad impression.

Focus on Building Real Relationships
The most successful networking relationships are those that develop into friendships. Sure, most of us are happy to share our experience or help out an acquaintance, but a relationship based only the trading of favors probably isn’t going to take you as far as a legitimate friendship. Sincerity is key, so focus on finding people with whom you feel a real connection. And don’t forget the little people. Going after agents, editors, bestselling authors and other industry bigwigs is all well and good, but often people just getting started have the most time and inclination to offer help.

Share your best networking tips or ask any questions you have about conferences, networking, and pitching. I’ll be in & out all day answering questions, and I’ll draw two lucky commenters to win a free Samhain ebook of their choice.


Susan Shay said...

Five excellent suggestions! I'm going to bookmark this so I can refer back to it in the future. Think I'll post a link to my rwi chapter, too!
Thank you very much.
Susan Shay

Janet C. said...

Hello, Lindsey, and welcome to The Prairies. Your post is very timely - with the Surrey International Writers Conference coming up, many of us Chicks are counting down (and biting nails) to our scheduled pitch sessions! I, for one, will take this advice and make sure I keep 'networking' at the top of my goals for the weekend.

What stood out in your post was this line a brief, standard answer that will intrigue, and be prepared to follow up with more details. I went to a small conference in S'toon last year and someone asked me what I wrote - I'm pretty sure I gave my best imitation of 'deer in the headlights' as my brain tried to come up with words that would inspire further questions from the inquirer. Needless to say, my word choice did not cultivate further conversation as the author's eyes shifted to the person standing beside me in a not so subtle 'next' hint.

Question: If the pitch session goes well, as in comfortable discussion or a connection, but the editor/agent does not ask for follow up, is it appropriate to drop a quick e-mail afterward to thank her for her time and encouragement?

Thanks again, Lindsey. And a note to the Chicks who are going - keep me away from the wine!!

Carolyn said...

Great post, thank! I wish I'd started going to conferences (RWA) sooner than I did. Once I learned about hanging out in the bar or the lobby or anywhere in the conf. hotel, my conf experience was far, far more valuable and fun.

Lindsey said...

Thanks so much for the invitation, Janet - I'm thrilled to be here. I hope you all will have a successful conference experience.

Following up is a crucial part of networking (and one that I struggle with when I come home to a mountain of email). I definitely encourage you to exchange business cards and send a quick post-conference email to those you network with. Including editors and agents, even if they didn't make a request. Keep it short, though, and don't necessarily expect a reply. And, of course, keep it on topic - how nice it was to meet them and maybe something about the conversation you shared.

Glad you found this helpful, Susan, and thanks for spreading the word.

Carolyn, you're so right - getting out there with people is what makes conferences so great. I'm a total introvert and still enjoy it, though it can be exhausting!

Suse said...

Hi Lindsey, thanks for dropping by with this timely post. I too am heading to SIWC in Surrey, BC. I'm afraid I won't have anything ready to pitch. Would it be appropriate to talk to the editor about the idea I'm working on for some feedback on the feasibility of my idea?

Jana Richards said...

Hi Lindsey,
Thanks for being with us today.

I have to admit I'd rather have dental surgery than schmooze a room full of people. Small groups I can handle, but when it comes to huge conferences, I'd rather sit in a corner and play the invisible woman. Have you got any pointers on overcoming nerves and shyness?

It's hard to believe but many writers don't know how to read a situation. If you meet some poor, tired agent/editor in the elevator, don't immediately accost her and try to pitch your story. I'm guessing that's one of the fastest ways to get a rejection.

Thanks for the reminder to have a brief, standard answer ready when someone asks "What do you write?" Like Janet said, I don't want to be caught off guard with no idea what to say.

Geez Janet, if the best place to meet people is in the bar, how am I going to keep you away from the wine? Or maybe you should be asking, how are you going to keep me away from the wine? (chuckle)


Jana Richards said...

Hi Lindsey,
I have one more question. Do you find one-sheets helpful? Would you accept one if offered one by a writer, or would you usually only keep a one-sheet if the project genuinely interested you? I'm in the process of creating a couple of one-sheets and I'm wondering how useful they will be.

Thanks again,

Julia Smith said...

'Don’t pitch in bathrooms' - LOL! I'm only laughing because I'm sure that's done all the time.

Hi, Janet C - just met you yesterday at the writers' group. Thought I'd pop by.

Karyn Good said...

Warm welcome today, Lindsey. Like Susan, I'm going to bookmark this post for future reference.

You've provided us with five great networking tips. I honestly hadn't given much thought to how I would answer the question: "What do you write?" but it's one I imagine is asked repeatedly at conferences by many different people.

Thanks for the great post!

Janet C. said...

Hey Jana - we're going to make a fine pair at the conference!! Good question on one sheets - can't wait to hear Lindsey's take on those.

Hi, Julia - glad you stopped by, the more the merrier on The Prairies. I enjoyed my day yesterday - what a great group.

Mary Ricksen said...

Whenever I get to go to a meeting I will remember this sage advise!

Helena said...

I'm very grateful, too, for your comments about conferences. SiWC will be the first one of its kind that I've been to, so I want to do it "right."

As a member of a few writers' organisations, I've often been asked about my writing, and it's amazing how tongue-tied I can be about something that is so important to me. Altho I write in a number of genres (poetry, creative NF, short and long fiction), I am going to focus strictly on the novel I am currently writing. Not close enough to completion to pitch in the usual sense, but I'd like to get an impression of potential interest in the manuscript at a later stage. (Is that a reasonable approach when speaking to an editor?)

Thanks for being with us today, Lindsey. Very useful, and timely, topic.

connie said...

Attn Janet:
You are altogether too fascinating a writer and charismatic to boot. I am going to ply you with wine by the gallon jug!
Quiet (?) SRW friend

Judy said...

A timely post for me! I'm three days away from my very first writing conference. Since my books won't be released until next summer, I couldn't opt to rent a table, but I did prepare some simple promo materials that I hope to distribute either one-on-one or on a "freebie" table if available. Any advice on this?

Also, I did prepare some one-sheets for a completed novel that is looking for a home, so I'm anxious to hear the answer about those!

It would be too lucky to meet someone here who is also attending the Ozark Creative Writing Conference in Eureka Springs AR, Oct. 8-10.
<----shy writer, needs friend!

connie said...

Hello Lindsey, I add my welcome to the prairies. They are beautiful beyond belief - and I am an former easterner.
A PR person once told me, "Make every other drink mix only. You can keep up and stand up".
An agent can take a shotgun approach to publishers but can a writer send manuscripts to more than one publisher at once?
Is it wise to mention one's record with other genres or stay to romance?
Thank you for your time with us. Your advice is most welcome.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Judy and Mary,
Thanks for dropping by from the Rose Garden. We're really glad to have you here.

Mary, when you get a chance to go to a conference, give it a whirl. You'll learn a lot and I'm sure you'll love it. Judy, I wish you luck at the conference in Arkansas. Is it mostly romance or all sorts of genres? I'm really lucky in that I'm going with a group of friends to the Surrey conference. That's in Surrey, British Columbia, just outside of Vancouver. They are getting some really remarkable people in from all genres. For instance Diana Gabaldon, Susan Wiggs and Jack Whyte will be there, and agent Donald Maass will be there too. I've got an appointment with him. Wish me luck!

All the best,

ms bookjunkie said...

My tip: Don't go to a conference already sleep deprived. This way your brain actually works for the first two or three days (helping with things such as eloquence, retaining useful information, sensation and information overload) - before conference sleep deprivation sets in (and you mentally -maybe even physically?- start to drool).

Rie said...

Wow, great post! This is really valuable information. I haven't started going to conferences yet, but this will come in handy when I do.

I think my main problem is I don't know how to find local events.

Margaret Tanner said...

Great post, interesting and very true.


Lindsey said...

Wow! My lunch went looong, but I'm back and ready to dive into these questions and anything else that comes up. Thanks, everyone, for the warm welcomes, thoughtful questions, and great response.

Sue asked: I'm afraid I won't have anything ready to pitch. Would it be appropriate to talk to the editor about the idea I'm working on for some feedback on the feasibility of my idea?

Agents and editors often aren't crazy about being pitched unfinished work. I think the best avenue into this is to treat it as a networking opportunity, and show them you're there to learn. Explain that you don't have anything to pitch, but you're interested in learning more about them and what they're looking for. Ask a couple thoughtful questions - what they're hot for, what they've sold lately, etc - then ease into asking if your idea is marketable and if it's something they'd be interested in when you finish it.

Lindsey said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Jana. It's true that not everyone reads these situations well. I've been lucky, but I hear plenty of stories.

Have you got any pointers on overcoming nerves and shyness?

I'm actually very shy - it's something I have to work hard to overcome. For me, this is where preparation comes in. Because I freeze up when I'm nervous, I pre-prepare questions I can ask people - I'm most comfortable when someone else is talking, and most people are friendly and eager to talk about themselves and their projects.

I also make it manageable. I'm not good in big groups, so I try to approach smaller groups or people on their own. Do what makes you most comfortable and don't sweat it. I always find people so friendly and welcoming that I never have a problem finding someone to talk to.

Lindsey said...

Jana & Judy asked about one-sheets. I can only speak for my own preference. I accept them and find them useful - I meet so many people at pitch sessions that it's helpful to have something to reference. So if you have them, I don't think there's anything wrong with making the offer. But I don't think they're necessary, and I wouldn't take offense if the agent/editor isn't interested - everyone has their own strategy for keeping pitch info organized.

Lindsey said...

Helena said: Not close enough to completion to pitch in the usual sense, but I'd like to get an impression of potential interest in the manuscript at a later stage. (Is that a reasonable approach when speaking to an editor?)

I think my advice to Suse applies here. Treat it as a chance to network and learn first, and only pitch if you get the opening. Show that you respect their time by your willingness to learn without expecting a request on unfinished material - and if you get a request, all the better.

Lindsey said...

Judy, I definitely recommend bringing some promo for the goody table and keeping a little on hand for when you meet people and are telling them about your work. Often if you contact the conference organizers ahead of time, you can also get promo material in the conference bags.

Lindsey said...

Connie asked: An agent can take a shotgun approach to publishers but can a writer send manuscripts to more than one publisher at once?

Yes this is generally accepted, so long as you respect their time. If you get an offer from one publisher, it's courteous to let the other know and give them a chance to make an offer.

Is it wise to mention one's record with other genres or stay to romance?

Absolutely. If you've been published before, it's worth mentioning briefly and being prepared to elaborate on if they ask for follow up.

Lindsey said...

Rie, RWA is a great resource for finding about about local and regional conferences. Check their website or RWR if you're a member.

Rebecca J. Clark said...

Thanks for a very timely post. I'm headed to the Emerald City Conference this weekend and I'm horrible at networking. So...thanks. The key for me is not "hiding out." I'm a natural introvert, so putting myself "out there" and not spending my free time in my room is always a challenge.

If any of your readers want specific help pitching, they can come to my blog tomorrow. I'll post a cross link to this blog as well.