Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Connecting at Conferences

In honor of the upcoming SCBWI conference in LA, here's an article I wrote for Writer's Digest a few years ago. I'll post the next section on Friday.

The big writing conference. Anticipation. Excitement. You’ll dazzle an editor with your book pitch. She’ll beg to see it right away ….

You arrive, one among the hordes. Old friends hug and chatter. The display table overflows with attendees’ published books. The conference staff body-guard the editors like Secret Service agents around the President.

Anxiety. Insecurity. You are a stray cat among lions. Maybe you shouldn’t have come ….

A conference can provide inspiration, camaraderie, and marketing opportunities. Or it can waste your money and shake your confidence. Make sure you make the most of it.

It’s All in Your Head

Start by changing your attitude. When people hear the word “networking,” most imagine trying to impress bigwigs who could help their career. But many writers don’t feel comfortable selling themselves. If your goal at a conference is to grab an editor and convince her you’re wonderful, you’ll feel anxious. And if you fail to wow—or even meet—the editor, you may feel like a failure.

Instead, think of networking as making friends. During her first major conference, children’s book writer Holly Cupala decided to “think about making connections with people who share a love of children’s literature—future friends rather than future contacts.” During the four-day conference, she talked with dozens of people, including many of the famous speakers. She says, “I chatted with people I never would have dreamed of walking up to if I was in ‘networking’ mode. I connected with people by being open and letting go of expectations.”

Talk to everyone, from beginners to the pros. You never know who might be fascinating—or helpful in the future. Today’s “nobody” may be tomorrow’s success story, on a first-name basis with top editors and agents. A few years ago, I met a woman who had never published and who had no contacts in the writing world. Two years later, she ran a website organizing online chats between authors and schools. We exchange favors when we have a chance—not because we want something in return, but because we’re friends.

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