Saturday, August 24, 2013

Conferences & Bookfairs: How to Network

When at a Writers Conference/Workshop/Bookfair



I'm not an expert on "networking" but as an agented author I've done my fair share. I've attended the International SCBWI conference in NYC, the Backspace Writers Conference (NYC), local SCBWI meetings (Omaha), the Southwest Florida Romance Writers Conference (Naples), and Romantic Times Booklovers Convention (Kansas City). All these conferences have vastly different in content, size, and organization. But the one thing I, as a writer, HAD to do, was make the most of these different opportunities and the best way to do that is by networking! And by networking, I mean talking to agent and editors! *gasp* I know...that sounds daunting, but you can do it. (Agents and editors are just people too.)

Here is a list of things to remember when you're attending a writing conference or meeting and want to shmooze with pub industry folks:

Even if you're a painfully shy introvert and the thought of talking aloud to an agent makes you want to blow chunks, you can open your mouth enough to say hello or thank an agent for speaking, because a lot of times, that's all it takes to engage. Or, if you're like me, one of those weird outgoing writers, make sure you don't come off too strong. Be self-aware.

Either way, you DO NOT have to change your personality to be in this business. Stay true to who you are. And remember, agents and editors are people just like you. They are on the look out for talented writers but if you don't seize the moment, they may never get the opportunity to meet you!

Talk to agents and editors about things other than your book. If you enter an elevator, are outside getting fresh air/smoking, at the bar, or whatever, and you happen upon an agent/editor, don't automatically introduce yourself and start spewing your pitch. Start with whatever you'd say someone else: "It's freezing out here." "Your panel discussion was great." "Your ____'s agent! I love her work." Pretend you don't even need an agent or your manuscript is about to go on submission. Talk to agents and editors like you would anyone else. You wouldn't immediately try to sell someone else your book, that's rude and just plain weird, so don't do that to them either. Treat them like a person first, an agent/editor second. If it comes up, if they ask, then tell them about your manuscript.

Ex: My agent advised me to attend some publisher highlight talks at RT and to introduce myself. So, after the talk, I went up to the editors and introduced myself. "Hi! Thanks so much for the presentation. I'm agent ___ told me to come by and hear what you had to say." I won't lie. It helped a crap ton that I said "my agent" but every single one of them asked what genre I wrote, if I'm on sub, the title of my book, etc. Most of them would've asked me that even if I hadn't thrown my agent under the bus (which she totally ok'd before I did so). 

Do you homework! Before you attend a conference/workshop/bookfair/meeting KNOW who is speaking and LOOK THEM UP! Sure, some people call it stalking, but really you're just doing research. You should know which speakers (agents/editors/etc) represent what you write, are on your list to query, on the sub list your agent put together, whatever. Know who their clients are, what clients' work is similar to yours, etc. Follow them on Twitter, Facebook, or their blog. What are their likes or dislikes? I introduced myself to an editor at RT with, "Nice to meet you! I'm Tonya on Twitter. We've talked about our shared love of Dairy Queen!" Guess what? She remembered me. 

I mentioned this above. This is the EASIEST way to introduce yourself and break the ice. Be sincere, of course, because they are giving you a wealth of knowledge. They say flattery gets you nowhere, but really, it can open up a conversation that leads to who knows what! 

I have another example for you -
When I was Backspace (before I was agented), after a panel I went up to an agent who had said he was closed to queries and I said thank you. I told him the truth...he'd told me things I'd never heard before and I liked his approach. I wasn't even pitching a manuscript at this conference because I was only 1/3 done with it but guess what? He asked what I wrote, if I had a manuscript, then he said, "Okay. Pitch it to me!" (Eliza was there, she can attest to this.) After I passed out...just kidding. I fumbled my way through a pitch I was completely unprepared to give and he asked for THE FULL when I was done with it!!! All from me telling him that I appreciated his talk.

5. KNOW YOUR PERSONAL INFO (including your pitch)
If you read #4, above, then you know what I'm talking about! Even if you aren't signed up for a personal pitch session, even if you're not going into a conference/meeting to pitch to anyone, even if you're not done with your work-in-progress, KNOW YOUR PITCH! You never know who is going to ask you about your completed, or even your incomplete, manuscript! Practice your pitch. Write it down if you have to and practice saying it aloud. Memorize it, yes, but you also need it to sound natural. Pretend like you're telling one of your good friends about your book. Your excitement and enthusiasm will show through.

Yet, another example:
At a smaller conference last year, on a trip where I met my agent for the first time, she said, "why don't you pitch your manuscript to _____ <---insert editor. It will be good practice for you." I was like, "Der. Duh.What's my name?" I was not prepared to do that. I wrote it out. I practiced aloud to a couple of my agency-mates who I'd just met for the first time. (They had to think I was a moron with a mouth full of marbles.) But I did it. No, the editor didn't want my manuscript but she gave me such VALUABLE feedback. So...learn from me. Even after you have an agent, but you have a manuscript that will be subbed to editors, still practice your pitch.

Go to all the extra stuff -- especially if it doesn't cost extra money! Or if someone is going to the bar. Go! If someone asks you to dinner. Go! If someone says, "We're all going to this one event, do you wanna meet us there?" GO! Because it is often in these social situations that you really get to talk to aspiring authors, published authors, editors, agents, publicists, and bloggers! It's in these moments when you may get the opportunity to get to know someone on a more personal level and THAT is what networking is about: RELATIONSHIPS.    

And this leads me back to #1: BE YOURSELF. Because being yourself is what will help you develop lasting relationships with people.

What say you? Do you have any tips to add?

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