Conference Series: Networking

Before I begin, thanks to everyone who congratulated me on my triple-final. Also, check out Carrie Ryan’s post on the Manuscript Maven’s blog and win some free autographed Diana Peterfreund books. Last but not least, today is my first ever Romantic Inks post. Check it out, and please leave a comment to let me know you dropped by!

[Day 1 link] [Day 2 link] [Day 3 link]

Real quick, I’d like to offer up a terminology disclaimer. Several people I know hate the word and/or concept of networking. I’m going to continue to use that word for lack of a better term, but as it applies here, be aware of what networking ISN’T.

Networking is NOT: lying, pestering, bothering, being annoying, being two-faced, pretending to be something you’re not, being “fake”, etc.

Networking IS: getting to know other industry professionals, meeting other writers, putting agent/editor/author names to faces, reaching out to the community, making contact with people who may become close friends with you.

Think about it. How did you become friends with, well, anyone you happen to be friends with? Networking, right? You might not have thought of it that way at the time, but a rose by any other name…

So, now that we’re on the same page with the human interaction we’re calling networking, how do you go about doing it?

Step 1: Go where the action is
Step 2: Make eye contact. Say hi.
Step 3: Ask questions about the other person. Listen.
Step 4: Be personable. Takes a friend to be a friend.
Step 5: If appropriate (and amenable to both parties), exchange contact info.

You can’t network if you’re closeted in your hotel room by yourself. Go to breakfast. Turn off your cell phone or leave it on vibrate. You’re here to interact with the people you meet. Make eye contact with people, remembering to smile and say hi. If someone attempts to engage you in conversation, join them. If not, it’s your turn. Look for a table with an empty seat and ask if you can sit there. Or look for someone standing by themselves and go and introduce yourself.

Personal anecdote: I met an agent this way. I had flown to a conference where I knew no one, and out of pure desperation for human contact, plopped down next to a woman sitting on a couch by herself. After we chatted a few minutes, it became clear she was an *agent*. And I hadn’t screwed anything up by acting like a moron (perhaps in part because I didn’t *know* she was an agent) and she gave me her business card and asked me to send her whatever I was working on.

Okay, so now you’ve met someone new and you’ve had breakfast. Now go to a workshop. You can talk to the people in the audience (not during the presenting, but before/after) as well as the agent/editor/author/bookseller/etc giving the workshop. (Plus you get to learn something!)

Personal anecdote: I went to a workshop Julia Quinn (another fave historical author) gave on Dialogue. Afterward, I made it a point to go chat with her. We ended up sharing a lunch table, and chatting at an agent/author speed dating event. Although we exchanged a couple conference-related emails, we did not become instant BFF. However, a few months later, we ran into each other at a different conference. She was sitting alone, and I went over to reintroduce myself. Before I could do so, she greeted me by name, and we talked for a few minutes. As mentioned above, networking isn’t about trying to “get” anything from someone else, it’s about meeting people and making connections.

After the workshop, there might be lunch. Do attend–aren’t you hungry? (I’m always hungry at these things. It’s either stress, lack of sleep, or some combination thereof.) Anyhoodles, if it’s an RWA conference, typically you will find your seat laden with various free books, often of the keynote speaker. (To whom you can ALSO speak, once she’s eaten her lunch and given her speech.) Plus, you’re at a table packed with new faces! (If you did come with friends or have a large chapter base present, do try to go outside your comfort zone from time to time to meet more people.)

Personal anecdote: I was at a conference where at the lunch table, it came up that I develop web sites for a living. Two of the people happened to have computer questions. We exchanged emails, and when I went back to my hotel room that night, I sent each of them detailed emails on how to fix their problems. What did I get out of it? A thank you, and good karma! They may or may not remember me, but if they do, it’ll be as “that girl who helped me even when she didn’t know me from Adam.” Isn’t that nicer than “that girl who sat there like a bump on a log, arms crossed, shoulders hunched, eyes averted.” ???

Let’s say the next thing on the agenda is the annual meeting. Oh, boy, you say. Those things are more boring than watching bones fossilize. Yes, yes, this may be, but this is where the future fate of your organization is debated and decided! (Plus, you get to put faces with names of the members on the board, as well as voice your opinions and talk to the board members afterward.)

Personal Anecdote: Right now a brouhaha rages over whether or not novellas will be kept or kicked as a RITA category. Some argue that the RITAs are for book-length romance, and novellas by definition are not book-length. Others argue that the RITAs are for book-length romance, and women’s fiction (chick lit, etc) by definition, is not romance, so what’s the difference. Both sides have valid points. I’m not here to argue either way, except to say you won’t know what rules are being added/changed/dropped and WHY unless you’re there to hear it!

Once you’re workshopped out and had dinner with new friends or a chapter group etc, it’s time to address my CP Kel’s advice: “Be the bar.” As mentioned yesterday, whether you drink or not, the bar is the best place to go to find people who are hoping to meet people, and to hear the latest industry buzz. Plus, you never know who you’ll run into!

Personal anecdote: I was at the post-RITA soiree last year at RWA National. I was there with friends, but somehow I was wandering between the tables and the chocolate fountain by my lonesome. The emcee and one of my all-time favorite historical authors–Christina Dodd–was wandering about in much the same boat, with that expression on her face that said, “Crap. Where are my friends? Why am I wandering around between the tables and the chocolate fountain all alone like that chick with the crazy curly hair?” So I went up to her and said hey, and did NOT gush fan girl crazy style over her books, but talked to her author-to-author. We didn’t exchange phone numbers (or even names, but duh, I knew who she was) and so we’re not BFF or anything, but it’s an example of how everyone is approachable. Just do it!

YOUR TURN: If you have any questions about networking, please ask! If you’re a conference veteran, please share your best tips/anecdotes as regards networking. I’d love to hear about your experiences!


  1. Heather Harper - Reply

    “networking isn’t about trying to “get” anything from someone else, it’s about meeting people and making connections.”

    Excellent wording, Erica! 🙂

    And if I didn’t already congratulate you, Yay on the 3fer. (I’m battling allergies, so my brain is mush. I think I already said congrats, but maybe you deserve a total of three WTG’s…)

  2. MerylF - Reply

    Another great post Erica. Very good advice, keep them coming! 🙂

  3. Ericka Scott - Reply

    I’m so jealous of everyone going to National. I’ll be there next year!

    Great post! I’ll print it and keep it to refer to. It’s good for almost every social occasion!

  4. Vicki - Reply

    Great advice…I’m so excited and ready to go.

    I know that you all ready know this but you so did the right thing with Christina Dodd. I’ve worked with a lot of very well known people and the one thing they loved is when people treated them like people.

  5. lacey kaye - Reply

    You basically summarized my life story here. What else is there to say? Maybe except to reiterate–tell your friends to get lost! Going solo at a conference is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Imagine X Wonderful Author being approached by 5 crazed fangirls. Now imagine her being approached by little ol’ innocent you. Which would you prefer?

  6. spyscribbler - Reply

    My personal rule of networking? Give the shirt off your back, but never ask for a thing.

    After all, no one can write for you. You have to do the work. And who doesn’t want to claim their success as a product of their hard work?

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Erica Ridley