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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? Guest blog by Han Vance, a freelance writer specializing in local cultural analysis. Topics include local geographical cultures, travel, cities, transportation, painters, music, sport and food.

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.

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Guest blog by Han Vance, a freelance writer
specializing in local cultural analysis. Topics
include local geographical cultures, travel, cities,
transportation, painters, music, sport and food.
See his website here.

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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