Networking at writers’ conferences is important. But writers are often introverts and would prefer to keep to themselves. I’m an extrovert, but because I’ve worked from home, alone, for so many years, I can be a little reserved when meeting someone for the first time. Especially a total stranger. By myself. Even worse if I have to approach him/her. So I know how tough it can be to network, but it’s really important for your writing career that you do.
First of all, let’s get your expectations in check. Someone who attends a writers’ conference is probably a writer and/or a reader. This should ease your nerves at least a tad because you know you have something you can talk about. Books. You can ask them what genre of books they read and/or write. Find out who’s their favorite author. Which book would they recommend from that author and why? Ask about their experience at the conference so far. Is this their first conference? If not, how does this one compare to others? Where are they on their journey to publication? Are they published, just starting out, or somewhere in between?
See what I mean? You can come up with a list of things to discuss when you know you’ll automatically have books in common. Much easier than meeting someone on the street or anywhere else in this big, bad, scary world. But just because you know what to talk about doesn’t mean your job is done. Make sure you LISTEN to what the other person has to say. Don’t pause and patiently wait for your turn to talk. Absorb what the other is saying and build the conversation off that. Try to retain as much of the exchange as possible. You might run into this person again while at the conference, and you don’t want to repeat the same questions or ask about something you’ve already discussed. Common sense, right? Should be. But you’d be surprised how many conference attendees only half-listen. They’re trying to network because they were told they were supposed to, but either they don’t feel comfortable doing it, or they’re distracted thinking about their upcoming pitch meeting or that workshop that’s always standing-room-only and is probably filling up right now.
I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but the publishing world is small. It’s true. This person, the one you’re talking to by the water cooler, might be the same person who two years from now hands you an award. Or maybe she’ll be the author who’ll write a blurb for your book. Maybe she’ll read your manuscript and recommend you to her agent. She might become a critique partner and close friend. Or she could be someone you’ll mentor. Maybe her name will come up during an awards ceremony, and you’ll root for her. Perhaps she’ll call you in tears because she received yet another rejection. Or maybe you’ll never hear from her again. There’s no way to know.
But, guaranteed, if you don’t make the effort to get to know people at a writers’ conference, that’s a lost opportunity. Take advantage of having other writers in the same room as you. Chat with some of them. Exchange contact information. And when you return home, get in touch with them. Find out how the rest of the conference went. Ask about their next goal. Continue to build that relationship.
Writing can be a lonely profession, but writers do better with as much support as they can get. This can be anything from encouragement to critiques to help with promotion when you launch your book. Even if you’re an introvert and prefer to keep to yourself, you need to network and build your support team.
You can do it. I know you can.