The Writers’ Conference Challenge

Whether it’s your first time at a writers’ conference or the 100th, getting yourself out there and networking with others can be difficult. I’ve been doing conferences for over 20 years and there are times, and conferences, where I find it difficult to come out of my shell or find people to talk to.

Sometimes, honestly, it depends on the conference. At some conferences, I find the attendees are looking to chat and make connections. They are there to meet people and learn. Their willingness to talk and make themselves approachable in turn makes me feel welcome and comfortable. At other conferences, I find attendees mostly want to stand in the corner and talk among themselves. They are unsure and uncomfortable about what to do and even the organizers don’t seem prepared in dealing with their guests. At events, the groups are tight and hard to jump into and often I wander off to my room with a book instead of mingling.

While I always manage to survive and even enjoy both types of conferences, you don’t want to be the conference that makes an agent run to her room. After all, why would you invite an agent all that way to have her hide in her room? And why would you spend the money to attend a conference only to hang out with the same group you see every month at home?

Sometimes though coming out of our shell is hard, which is why I’ve created this conference challenge. A set of goals/challenges/tasks that will force you to step away from your tight-knit group and make some connections that could be long-lasting.

  1. Make an effort at every meal to sit with a group you don’t know. That will mean separating yourself from the same group you sit with every year to find another table. Feel free to bring a friend, but no more than one.
  2. Sit alone at the bar. This is where things really happen. Sitting alone means instant conversation, even if it’s with the bartender (a character study maybe?). I guarantee if you sit alone at the bar (rather than alone in your hotel room) you’ll very quickly be able to strike up a conversation with the person next to you. In all honesty, at conferences, most of the best conversations I’ve had are because I walked into a bar and sat alone.
  3. Invite a stranger to join you. If you do find yourself in a tight little group in the corner, pop your head up and look around. I can guarantee there is one other person in that room who is standing alone and looking last. Invite her to join you.
  4. Avoid the name tag. The authors I often connect most with are those who strike up a conversation with me before reading my name tag. They just assume I’m another attendee and by the time they discover I’m an agent we are already comfortable with each other.
  5. At your pitch session ask the agent three things you want to know about her that have no connection to your book. You’re an author, be creative.
  6. Make sure to collect at least five business cards from authors, agents, editors or anyone else.

You don’t need to try the entire challenge, but pick one or two you like or create a few more with some fellow writing pals. Going in with a plan always makes things easier.

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3 comments

  1. It helps to be a people person. I have always enjoyed talking to strangers. It probably drove my parents nuts. But for those who are not, it is probably difficult. You do have the mingle. You do have to sit at a table full of strangers and at times you will have to talk about yourself.

    Many people hate placing themselves outside of their comfort zone but once they realize there are a lot of people like them at conferences they will find themselves loosening up and having fun.

    Conferences are a wonderful experience. So many doors are open.

    Thank you. Excellent stuff!!!

  2. I was on the board on a local writers’ organization for a few years. At the conference, I would grab a central table in the bar, and as people came in looking uncertain, I’d say, “pull up a chair and join us!” We’d expand and contract as people came & went, or moved on to their own conversations. But everyone was welcome. We met some great people. It was what I’d always wanted, as an introvert, at other conferences, where I often felt lonely. So I started creating it. Now I do it wherever I go, not just when I feel it’s my job!

  3. As an introvert that has not attended a conference (yet) I appreciate your advice. I did recently join SCBWI and attended a workshop where I introduced myself to the speaker as well as two published authors – not an easy thing for me, but it’s crucial to get out of your comfort zone.

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