Do you dread interacting with people? Do you text instead of call? Do you find excuses not to go to parties, opting instead to spend all your quality time with the characters in your head?
Does the word networking give you feelings of dread and/or anxiety?
You may be an introvert, and when literary conferences roll around you might find yourself hugging the walls and running between sessions, trying to avoid eye contact lest someone think you might like to interact. However, if that’s what you’re doing, you’re missing out on key conference networking opportunities to connect with other authors, agents, and publishers.
7 Tips for Conference Networking from an Extrovert
I’m that rare breed of author that thrives on social interaction and chatting people up. Yet, I married an extreme introvert who––with encouragement––learned how to network for the sake of his profession, and it’s not as hard as you might think. It’s time to fake it till you make it. Here are some tips to help you get past the anxiety.
What are you working on?
Work your way up.
Find a conference buddy.
Ready to take your conference networking to the next level? Then keep reading.
1. Ice Breakers
The best way to engage is to find a casual in. The man next to you has an All The Kissing sticker on his notebook? “Oh wow, I’m a member of the ATK community, are you as well?” BOOM! Find something a you have in common.
Or maybe you’re both wearing sweaters. “Geez, it’s cold in here.” or “Where did you find the coffee station?” or “Oh. My. God. You’ve got the Kate Spade typewriter bag!”
The thing to remember about finding an in is to be genuine. If you give fake compliments, people will see through the flattery. Be sure to let the real you shine through. I promise, you’re fabulous.
Hot Tip: When exchanging names, repeat their name back to them right away. “I’m Sally Sexkitten.” “Sally, it’s nice to meet you. I’m Deena Adorable.” Then repeat it in your head again to help it stick.
2. What are you working on?
Or what do you write? Those are the questions everyone asks next. Prepare an answer ahead of time and practice it. A short informal sentence or two that sounds casual will suffice.
Example: I’m querying a contemporary romance about a twenty-something massage therapist who fantasizes about a regular client. Until she realizes he’s the step-brother she didn’t know she was getting, and a pro athlete to boot.
Having this answer prepared will help you relax into a conversation and make it easier to respond to follow-up questions.
Also, if you’re speaking with another author it’s good form to reciprocate, and really listen to what they say so you can ask the follow-up questions.
Should it happen to be an agent or publisher, you can reciprocate by asking what’s on their wishlist at the moment. Ask for a business card, and remember to follow up by connecting online.
3. Business Cards
You need to have them, and they’re relatively inexpensive to buy online. Plus, they go a long way toward making you memorable after you walk away.
Business cards should contain at least your social media handles, website (if you have one), and email. A headshot also helps people remember who you are, but you don’t have to pay a professional. A clear picture where you don’t have any food on your face will suffice. (Psst, my picture at the bottom of this article is a selfie.)
Try to leave some blank space to scribble down things. Glossy cards are pretty, but can be hard to write on. What you don’t need is your social security number, the premise of your WIP, and your bio. Pick a design you feel reflects who you are or the genre you write, and keep them within easy reach so you don’t have to hunt for them when you need one.
4. Work Your Way Up
If you’re an unagented author, agents are likely your target, but start by engaging other authors. Chat them up until you’re more comfortable and at ease talking about yourself and your work, then seek out that agent you wanted to query and break the ice.
If you’re agented but unpublished, same goes. Talk to the agents, other authors, etc., and then break the ice with that editor from Penguin.
Hot Tip: Prepare an elevator pitch–a longer version of your two sentences from the example above meant to be more intriguing. An elevator pitch should only last a minute or so, or the length of time an elevator ride takes, hence the name. Rehearse it until you know it backward and forward, and then deconstruct it so you’ll sound casual about it.
This will help you be confident about it, because you never know when an agent/publisher may follow up the question, “What are you working on?” with “let me hear your pitch,” and “send me the full!”
5. Find a Conference Buddy
A conference buddy can help you feel more confident and not so out of place. Try getting together with someone you communicate with online (the All The Kissing Facebook community is a great place to meet other romance writers). You may also find someone during the conference that you bond with. However, try not to lean on your conference buddy too much. The point of conference networking is to meet people and make connections.
6. Social Events
As much as it may skeeve you out, don’t skip the social meetups. Things may come more naturally for you in a relaxed environment with your peers (and a cocktail).
Memories are cemented when people are at their most comfortable, so relax and be yourself. Grab a drink from the bar if you’re of drinking age and join a conversation.
Tomorrow, when you pitch that agent from XYZ, you may have overheard them tell a funny story the night before that you can remark on. One such place to let your hair down at the RWA 2018 Conference will be the All The Kissing Meetup inside the Sheraton. Details can be found here in the sidebar. All conference attendees are welcome to join us for this fun, come as you are get-together.
7. Down Time
Even for extroverts, being “on” all day can be exhausting. I always need some time to myself throughout the day to quiet my mind and mentally prep for what’s to come. Find a restroom, bury your head in a book, find a quiet corner and organize your thoughts if you feel overwhelmed during the day. It’s okay to take a break. Then emerge from your hidey-hole refreshed and ready to go again. It’s equally important to do this at the end of each day, as well. It allows you time to recharge before evening events or the next day’s sessions.
Of course, all the above are easier said than done. Writing is a solitary game where we get lost in our heads, and it’s not always easy to emerge from those worlds to interact with real people. You have to make the effort in order to reap the rewards. I challenge you to step out of your comfort zone when it comes to conference networking. Be yourself, be kind, talk to people, and you’ll be surprised what you’re capable of.
Need some practice? Look me up at the RWA conference. I’m happy to help. If you have tips for networking in person or would like to share some tools that have helped you, we’d love to hear them in the comments section.