Networking at Writers Conferences

Many fledgling writers understand the value of manuscript reviews and taking classes at a professional writers conference, but few understand the true potential impact of networking outside of the traditional formats. If you have a big salesperson personality and tend to meet people easily, networking will be a natural for you. If you’re a bit shy and reserved, think of outward communication as part of your job: Bite the bullet and take the initiative to speak to those around you. The majority of those in attendance are aspiring writers like yourself; who more perfect to understand you? A few established writers and industry professionals will be sprinkled in amongst the masses. Guess what? They are normal people with some time to spare and valuable information to willingly dispense. Do not limit this special career opportunity by staying in your shell.

Guest blog by Han Vance, a freelance writer
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Study the conference presenter roster beforehand for an overview of who’s who in attendance in the professional ranks. Breaks are a regularly scheduled part of the conference routine. Instead of hanging around your hotel room or quietly reading by yourself during breaks, think of yourself as on the clock. You are working to promote your future products. Have copies of your manuscript synopsis ready to distribute and be yourself, albeit a version of yourself who is visibly willing to make contacts by meeting new people. Position yourself in a well-traveled area and start introducing yourself.

At my first writers conference (the amazing Harriette Austin Writers’ Conference in Athens, GA), I made sure that I was a visible presence in the atrium during all breaks and ended up meeting several key contacts there. As a result, I was able to choose between a select few of those contacts for the best possible professional editor for my memoir manuscript. I wanted to meet various lecturers from my classes, so I was regularly in the atrium where I knew they would pass through. I met everyone on my list and a few new writer colleagues along the way. It was a matter of location, location, location.

At my second writers conference, many of the industry professionals I had briefly met or taken classes from the previous year were again in attendance. I may have learned more from hanging around those folks on breaks then I did from all my classes and my manuscript review. They welcomed me as a fellow smoker in the outside smoking section, and I asked questions and took notes. I don’t really smoke, but that day I did. After realizing the value of the information I was getting for free on the first break, I walked to the convenience store and purchased some mini-cigars, which I smoked without inhaling on the rest of the breaks. My throat hurt a little, but it was well worth it. The point being: You need to be where speakers and attendees are. That’s what you’re there for.  If the night is wrapping up and you’re exhausted from a long day, you’d still be a fool to turn down an invitation to go out to a bar for drinks with other writers and professionals. Deals are made in the literary world over drinks in the bar around the corner.

A break in the conference schedule before dinner was a chance for me to informally bond with the agent who had reviewed my manuscript. The lunch and dinner allowed me to connect with fellow writers, including a special writer friend who for a time called herself my muse. And finally, the late night poetry slam allowed me to showcase my versatility in the world of words while again making a lasting impression on contacts.

Do not expect long interactions with any individual. Instead, spread yourself around as much as possible and collect the gems of industry wisdom as they come, and remember to write them down. Save and reread your notes once you are back in the lab trying to create and sell that masterpiece. Above all, get contact information from any key individuals and keep it for when the time is right to use it. In any industry, networking can be the key to ultimate success.


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7 thoughts on “Networking at Writers Conferences

  1. hanish vance

    Stay memorable by having as nice and fun of a personality as you can. If they don’t remember you per se, that is okay. You can still say, "You may not remember me, but I met you at the Conference in Wichita." I think of professionals in any industry as people first. People like people and want to meet others and feel important and involved in life. The whole point of these minor contacts is to maybe turn one or two of them into a major contact later. If not, you still met some good folks with common interests and that may give you the social confidence to meet more good folks in the future, which may lead to the right contacts.

  2. KP Sheridan

    The problem I have, and I don’t think people address enough, is HOW to network. I’ve "networked" at screenwriting expos time and time again, and I firmly believe I came off as an annoying scrub who was told to go out and "network". It’s obvious you’re networking solely for the purpose of trying to land an agent or sell a pitch. How do you come across as just a person, and network with an agent as just a person? How do you stay memorable when the agent/person in question has 50 different people trying to "network" with them?

  3. BJ

    I could have used this message a couple weeks ago, when I was at the Surrey International Writers Conference. Then again, it may not have helped.

    Carol Berg said it immensely well at her keynote speech in Surrey, describing the first conference she attended pre-published. To paraphrase, all the published authors, the agents, the editors — they were like *gods*. ‘Celebrity-itis’ is, I think, a minor form of having the fear of being in the presence of the gods of your possible future. What if I do/say something wrong? Will that end my career before it starts? We’re all told what a small world publishing is.

    I’ve attended that conference for three years now. THIS year was the first year I had the courage to speak to the agent I wanted. Someone I’d met introduced him to me in the bar, and I managed to spill my drink all over myself. The next day, when I had a pitch session with him, I was still shaking. I mean, the man is very nice, very approachable — but he’s still a god.

    I have no problems speaking to the unpublished writers – the people at my table, people in the workshops I took — because they’re just like me. In fact, a couple people I met this year have joined my writers group since then. Great people. Online, I’m also less shaky — probably because I can usually take some time to decide what I’m going to say. I think the Internet is the great equalizer. I even had an arguement with a well-known published writer in a forum once. But if I were to meet him in person, I wouldn’t be able to say a word.

    My point? Shyness is a terrible thing, and can get in the way of a lot. Even though common sense tells you ‘he’s only human’ and everyone else is saying ‘he puts his pants on one leg at a time, just like you’, the fear remains. I’d really like to thank all the volunteers and others at the conference who helped me. And when I did finally pitch to him, he was very gracious, helpful and encouraging. If I talk to him again, I’ll probably do better, but I doubt I’ll lose the *awe* that quickly.

    And Linda? Thank you for taking pity on that guy who was so scared, and helping him (it wasn’t me, by the way). Shy people need all the help, all the kindness we can get. It helps us to be braver then and even later in a similar position.

  4. Linda

    The hardest thing, I think, is getting over the celebrityitis. Networking is not easy for people to start, and even harder for someone not comfortable doing it at all.

    I volunteer at my conference, running the pitch sessions. I’ve seen writers who are so afraid of the agents that they won’t do anything for themselves. Normally, we time the sessions and give five minutes in between for the agents to run a little over. Sometimes, when the next group shows up, the agents are still in session, so I always tell the writer to go over and just be seen. Usually the session breaks up immediately so the next one can start.

    In one case, one man didn’t do that. He stood not just in the back of the room, but he hid behind a pole. I did’t even see him until several minutes into the session. I told him to go over and get seen by the agent. He hunched down and said he didn’t want to disturb the agent. "This is your time ticking away," I told him and I took him over to the agent’s table. I think this guy would have let his time tick away because he was too afraid to make the connection.

    And we get others, who are on the opposite ends. We control the pitch sessions very carefully because people will try to take time that isn’t theirs to meet with an agent. In one case, we were just starting a new pitch session. One of the writers was leaving from the previous session and saw an agent sitting by herself. He kept going, "Can’t I see her? She doens’t have anyone at her table. I’m in the next session." We firmly told him no, and to go check in for the next session. He kept trying to argue with us about it, and it took two of us to get him to leave. Turned out he lied. He didn’t have the next session with the agent. He was just trying to get in when he wasn’t supposed to; the agent he was trying to see was on her break.

    Always be nice and respectful. It was nearing lunch and one agnet was running behind because one of his partners hadn’t shown up, and he’d taken her pitch sessions and his. I was a little concerned that the lunch food might run out and asked if he wanted us to get his lunch. One of the writers who had just finished her session said she’d run and get it for him. Next thing I knew, she was eating lunch with him outside. You never know when the opportunity might present itself.

  5. Patricia Haddock

    The worse experience I had was at a conference in San Diego. I had a sit-down with an agent who informed me that he hadn’t had time to read my submission. He then dismissed the 11 nonfiction books I had written because the publishing houses were "small." The sheer fact that I had had 11 books published meant nothing. He was cocky, rude and dismissive.


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