All of us writers have introverted qualities about us. We wouldn’t pursue this solitary work if we didn’t prefer spending time alone with our laptops. I’ve never heard someone say, “Yay, I can’t wait to network!” But if you pay the money to go to a conference, that’s the number one thing to get out of it, even if it’s the last thing you want to do.
I recently went to the Romance Writers of America (RWA) 2017 National Conference and, in truth, I was really nervous about going. Social situations drain me and leave me pining for alone time with my laptop. I say wrong and awkward things at inopportune moments. I get strange looks frequently and spend hours afterward berating myself for saying something stupid.
Being social zaps energy from me and I don’t like it.
But I’m not the only one. I find comfort in reminding myself, even the most prominent editors and the most successful writers, would rather be at home working than having to “network.”
Here’s some basic things even I managed to figure out while “networking.”
1) Observe the situation. Read the room.
In any given social situation at a conference, some people will be standing or sitting in a closed off way. They’re having a private meeting and are not to be disturbed. Some people will have recently met or are there specifically to meet new people. They’ll be sitting or standing with a more open posture toward the room. Those are the people you can walk up to.
Also, observe the people as individuals. Sometimes, though not always, it’s possible to tell based on what they’re wearing and how they’re conversing, who the publishing professionals are in a room versus who the authors are. Authors who are friends will be in a different formation from a group of editors or an agent speaking to their clients. Notice these things.
2) Introduce yourself with something you have in common.
Everyone knows it’s hard to cold walk up to someone and say hi. Even the most famous, influential people know and respect how difficult that is. They were once newbies too. Make the situation as socially normal as possible.
Start with something general like, “how is your conference going?” or a compliment about something the person is wearing. (Most people think hard about what they wear to a conference, and there is almost always a story behind any given article of clothing or piece of jewelry.)
Talk about something normal. Do NOT under any circumstances jump right into, “I write this, and you should buy my book.” Wait for the invitation and permission to do so.
3) Make friends
That’s what we need the most in this industry: friends. Whether the person is someone you need to help your career now or will be in the future or just someone who is available in the moment, you never know when that person as a friend could come in handy. You never know when you’ll connect with someone in a personal way. Honestly, that’s what I love, when you meet someone and everything just clicks. You bond over something in an unexpected way and *spark* – you’re fast friends.
4) Wait for permission to start the sale
If you’re at a mixer specifically meant to pitch your book, you can jump into this more quickly, but generally, knowing when to talk about your writing takes a lot of patience. Waiting and looking for the opportune moment takes a lot of self-talk, including keeping your cool. Create the social connection first, then wait for the invitation before talking about your work.
So often people go up to an important writer or pub professional and just start talking and talking. I know some people do this when they’re nervous, but try not to. Instead, ask questions. You’re there to LEARN from the people who’ve been in the writing business longer than you. Again, start with general social questions and gradually get into more specifics of writing and publishing if the conversation evolves that way.
6) Remember the contact
Exchanging business cards is great, but my favorite thing, since we always have our phones in hand, is to pull up my Twitter app and follow the person. Inevitably, business cards get lost or confused in the bag. Best to just follow right away. Then you can’t lose track of them. It’s also a potentially good topic of conversation when you get a glimpse at the person’s bio, “oh, you do ____?”
Do not do this if it’s a more well-known person who you should already be following on Twitter. If it’s a famous author, it’s okay afterward to pull a fan moment and tweet sweetly, “OMG I just met ___!” Most authors love being fanned over, as long as you’re not crazy about it. If it’s someone it’s not appropriate to fan over, a simple tweet of “it was nice to meet you today” the evening after your conversation is totally cool.
7) Be brave
Networking is a muscle. I found at the conference after a few days, it got easier. By day four, I was saying hello to people without a second thought. The important ones, like editors, agents and reviewers, are wary of being introduced to strangers. They get accosted a lot by people shoving their work in their faces. They’re dying for just normal social interaction, or they wouldn’t be out and walking about. A lot of these people will leave their name tags off on purpose to keep away the worst social attacks.
Motto: keep it normal!
It’s helpful to find your style. The way you feel comfortable approaching people won’t be the same as mine. But the only way to discover your own style is to just jump in and do it! Everyone gets nervous, just remember you’re not the only one.
Robin Lovett is a romance writer whose first series of dark romances releases through St. Martin’s Press Swerve summer 2017. Her next series will be sci-fi erotic romance through Entangled Publishing. She loves to chat on Twitter @LovettRomance and every Sunday evening you can find her with other romance writers at #RWChat. She is represented by Rachel Brooks of BookEnds Literary Agency.