Networking at Conference -- Really, it's not scary!By Trish Milburn
For some people, the idea of networking at the RWA National Conference sends icy shards of fear through their heart. Honestly, there's no need for that. Networking is just a fancy word for talking to other people who like books and romance as much as you do. Here are some quick ways to flex your networking muscles at the conference.
1. Editor and Agent Appointments -- If you take a stroll through the waiting area for these appointments, you'd think you were in an anteroom for the gallows. Now I say this having had to take my share of Pepto Bismol before said interviews, but they really aren't bad experiences. To me, the anticipation beforehand is much worse. Once you're in front of the agent or editor, the time flies and most of the time it's a pleasant experience. And when else are you going to get one-on-one time with an industry professional without interruption (at least until your allotted time is up). Oh, and if it isn't a one-on-one but rather a group appointment, do not hog the time. If a group appointment is 25 minutes and there are five people, do the math. Each person gets four to five minutes, depending on if the editor or agent takes up some of the time by speaking at the beginning.
2. Workshops -- During workshops, you can meet and chat with the other attendees. You never know when you might meet a kindred spirit, a future critique partner, someone who might be in a position to help along your career down the road. Also, if the speakers are editors and agents, take notes and ask intelligent questions, ones that haven't been asked a gajillion times in workshops since the beginning of time. You also might have the opportunity to go up after the workshop and ask a question that helps them put a face with a name when your submission comes across their desk. This is an especially good way to meet them if you weren't able to get an appointment with them for a pitch.
3. Luncheons -- I know it's more comfortable to sit with people you know at the luncheons, and I'll admit to doing it myself, especially since I don't get to see many of my writing friends more than once a year. Still, if the opportunity presents itself, you might consider sitting at a table with strangers or with an industry professional. A word of caution -- now is not the time to try to pitch to him or her. They want to enjoy their lunch and downtime as much as you do. But you never know when he or she might ask you about your writing. And even if the topic doesn't come up, if you're a pleasant table companion, people tend to remember that.
4. The Bar -- No, you don't have to drink to enjoy the networking hotbed that is the hotel bar. I don't drink, but at every conference I spend many late nights in the bar talking to other writers and, occasionally, an editor or agent. Another word of caution -- since editors and agents are likely about, do not allow yourself to get stinking drunk and make a fool of yourself. Sadly, I've seen it happen.
5. Business Cards -- While they are not a necessity, it's nice to have a basic, professional business card on hand to exchange. This will mainly be done with other writers or perhaps members of the media if you're published, but again, you never know where it might lead. And with places like VistaPrint, where you can get nice business cards for only the price of shipping, it could be a wise investment.
6. Attitude -- Perhaps your biggest networking asset is your attitude. Don't be a diva. Don't be nasty or talk trash about fellow writers, publishing houses, editors, agents, anyone! Think about it. If you were an editor who overheard two writers talking, and one was professional and courteous while the other badmouthed someone in every aspect of the industry, who do you think she'd prefer to work with in the future?
7. Volunteer -- If you moderate a workshop or work the editor/agent appointment desk, this is another way to come into contact with industry professionals and published authors who could offer you good career advice at some point. If you didn't volunteer this year, keep it in mind for when the call goes out next year.
Remember, networking is just one aspect of the conference experience. If you're new to networking, try one of the above and make plans to add another at the next conference you attend. And have fun! Conference shouldn't be solid work. You're allowed to have a good time too.
See you in San Francisco!