As I warned earlier, here is my article on how to network at a con without being a total goob. I’m not going to make any claim to being a networking goddess, and I’m sure I’ve made some boneheaded goofs in my time, but I feel fairly confident in my ability to make a reasonably good impression. I felt the need to write this after seeing more than a few writers make utterly horrible gaffes at conventions, often blissfully unaware that they had even done so. (There was a particularly painful one at a con I attended last year.) (Coincidentally, John Scalzi recently posted something about blog readership that ties in perfectly with what I’m going to say here. Different medium, but same basic concept. Be sure to check it out.)
How to network at a convention
So here it is. You’re a fairly “new” writer, or at least new to the convention scene, and you desperately want to make some industry contacts in the hopes that it will make it easier to get an agent/sell your work/quit your day job and hire a cabana boy/any of the above. You decide to go to a convention, perhaps picking one of the “big” ones such as WorldCon, or World Fantasy, because you’ve heard that editors and agents are absolutely spilling out the doors.
Here are some guidelines/rules/suggestions to go by:
#1 ) Don’t go to a convention for the sole purpose of networking. It shows, and you will have the unpleasant reek of desperation clinging to you. Go to a convention because they’re fun and there are a lot of really really cool people to meet, only a small fraction of whom are actually agents and editors. Go to the panels. Listen to what is said. Form your opinions, and keep an open mind. Wander through the dealer’s room and talk to the vendors. Smile and be polite and nice.
#2) Have fun and make friends.† Making friends is the absolute best way you can possibly network, because these will be the people who will remember your name, might be willing to trade critiques, and who might later on kindly offer to introduce you to their agent/editor. Emphasis on offer to. Do not ask for the introduction. If you have progressed to a “friendly” status with someone, they will probably be well aware that you are at a stage in your career where you are looking for an agent/editor. DO NOT ask this person to give his/her agent chapters of your novel. If they want to read it, great. If they offer to show it to their agent, fantastic.
#3) Don’t bug the crap out of the pro or semi-pro who has been kind enough to take you under his/her wing for the con to introduce you to agents/editors at the con. Really now, these agents/editors probably meet several hundred shiny-eyed newbies at every con they go to, and dutifully and kindly pass along their business cards, and as soon as they’ve extracted themselves from the encounter will likely forget your name. Yes, even if you’ve pressed your business card into their hand.
#4) Again, if you’ve been fortunate enough to have a pro/semi-pro take you in hand, don’t stick with that person for the entire con. Dare to break away, especially if you find yourself waiting for them outside the bathroom. Trust me, they don’t really need to pee that much. They just need a break from you. Take the hint. Go to some panels. Go to the dealers room. Go wander around the con suite.
#5) Leave a person/group, before they get sick of you. Ideally you would leave the person/group at a point when they are sorry to see you leave. You definitely don’t want to leave at a point when they are relieved/glad/thanking the gods that you are leaving. This is not to say you can’t hook up with said person/group later on, but you need to give people breathing room.
#6) If you are invited to eat with a group of people, make SURE that you have contributed your share of the bill, INCLUDING a worthy tip. Play it safe and factor in a 20% tip at minimum. (You’ll never make a bad impression by overtipping slightly.) You definitely don’t want others to resent you because they had to pay more so that the server wasn’t stiffed.
#7) Never assume that someone is a nobody, so be nice to everyone.
#8) DO NOT PITCH YOUR WORK AT THE CON UNLESS ASKED TO DO SO. If an agent/editor does ask what your work is about, be ready with a one or two line teaser description, e.g. “My book is about a homicide detective who can summon demons, and she’s after a serial killer who can also summon demons.” If it interests them, they’ll ask for more details which you can then provide.
#9) DO NOT HAND ANYONE YOUR MANUSCRIPT UNLESS THEY ARE ABSOLUTELY BEGGING FOR IT. Everyone has heard the editor/agent nightmare of having the manuscript shoved under the stall door in the bathroom, right? Don’t come anywhere close to being that person. In fact, I really can’t think of any reason to bring your manuscript to the con at all, unless you were asked to bring it.
#10) Have fun. Make friends†. Go to the parties.
#11) Don’t get drunk. It’s okay to have a drink or three, but know your own limitations! And, there are enough non-drinkers at cons that no one is going to sneer at you for ordering the diet coke sans rum.
#12) Keep track of who you meet and who introduced you. Yes, keep notes if necessary. If you later query an agent that you met or were introduced to at a con, you can then mention, “I enjoyed meeting you last year at World Fantasy, and found the conversation about desiccated corpses quite interesting.” Or, “Jay Pond was kind enough to introduce me to you at last year’s convention.” That sort of thing.
#13) If you were fortunate enough to have a particularly nice conversation/meeting/drinking game with an industry professional, don’t be afraid to send a thank-you note as a follow-up after the con is over. Personally, I think that such missives should be handwritten on nice stationary and sent via snail mail.
#14) Have fun. Make friends†. Stay in touch with those friends after the con is over.
This should probably go at the beginning and be #0.5) Wardrobe and appearance: Mileage definitely varies on this, but my personal opinion is that if you’re trying to be taken seriously, don’t dress like a grunge ball. After you’ve sold a few books/stories and have made a name for yourself with your writing you can pretty much dress however you want, but until that time comes, dress in an industry-appropriate professional manner and style. (I don’t want to go into detail on this since opinions vary wildly, but I think a default of “Friday business casual” is probably a safe bet for most.) Use proper hygiene. Brush your teeth. If you have any doubt about your breath, utilize mints.
† How to make friends: Yes, it seems silly to have to include a section on this, but I think it’s needed. Many writers are introverts, and are a little shaky on the dynamics of social interaction. I won’t claim to be an expert at it by any stretch, and god knows I’ve made an ass out of myself before, but I think I can at least touch on the basics.
1) To be liked, you need to be likeable. Seriously. Be friendly. Smile at people.
2) Don’t monopolize conversation.
2a) Until you get to know someone a bit, limit talking about yourself except in brief introductory generalities unless asked or unless it would really add to the current conversation.
3) Ask the other person all of the questions you wish they would ask you. Don’t try to “top” what they say.
4) Smile, be polite, be nice.
I welcome comments on this, and also give blanket permission to link.