In this year of the conference, I was only able to attend #RWA17 for one day. I was squeezing it between a trip to Seattle and a much-needed vacation. I also knew that, frankly, one day was all I needed to spend time with my clients, the BookEnds team and all the other talented BookEnds romance clients. I made no plans to take pitches or meet with editors or other agents.
Despite a tight schedule I recently signed an author I met at #RWA17. The only non-BookEnds author I met at RWA. Julie Stone made a great impression. Now, I’m not sure if Julie cleverly planned the arrangement or just happened to be in the right place at the right time, but either way, it seems to be working out for both of us.
When I met Julie she was walking with my client Heather Webber. Heather and I were meeting for dinner. They were in the middle of discussing Julie’s pitch for pitch appointments so being the bossy person that I am I insisted Julie try it out on me. It was obviously a great pitch because I requested the material and the rest is history. Whether she planned it or not, Julie took the opportunity to network perfectly.
So often we think of networking as this very forced, planned and uncomfortable engagement. We go into something thinking we have to “network” and it freaks us out. Networking is nothing more than a conversation and there are so many simple ways you can network and make it enjoyable both for you and the person you’re hoping to network with. Here are some stories and ideas.
The best networking I did this year was done by plopping myself in a chair and making myself part of the conversation. Most conferences take place at hotels and most hotels have tons of little seating areas scattered around. It is here where attendees sit to rest their feet, rest their minds, decompress and talk with other writers. If there’s an empty chair at the table or in the grouping, plop yourself in it and if you’re not comfortable forcing your way into the conversation, sit quietly and listen. It won’t be long before someone in the group will invite you in, or you’ll feel compelled enough to say something and join in yourself.
Say more than just hello. Smart attendees remember the agents and editors they’ve met before and remind themselves that we feel just as much a fish out of water as they do. Most attendees travel to conferences in packs. You sign up with a friend or plan to meet friends there. We don’t. We travel alone, arrive alone, and usually wander alone. While there are often other agents and editors we know, most are just as busy as we are and harder to find. So if you see one of these people standing forlornly at the bar, waiting for a drink, say hello and then ask a question. How is the conference going? Have you taken pitches yet? or reintroduce yourself. I pitched to you at the BlahBlah conference. I read your blog and really enjoy it, I especially love when you write about…. It doesn’t take much to get people talking and before long, well, you’ve networked. Tip–do not start the conversation by telling the agent she rejected you. This always leaves to a long and uncomfortable silence and frequently leaves the agent looking for the door.
Make a game out of it. Get together with your pack and make a game out of finding and meeting new people. Arrive at the bar or the lounge or the restaurant and make it a goal to invite someone new to join you or see who can collect the most business cards. Heck, make it a scavenger hunt and tell people you’re doing a scavenger hunt. I’d certainly remember you. Whenever I’m at a conference, and standing at the restaurant hostess stand, waiting to be seated, I see someone standing alone. Why not invite that person to join you? Think of it as making a friend, as reaching out to someone who might not have a pack. Think of how you would encourage your children to do the same thing in the lunchroom and be the example.
PUT THE PHONE AWAY. I need to put this in all caps so you don’t forget. PUT IT AWAY. Networking will never happen if every time you sit down you pull out your phone, a book, or your conference materials. If you want to be left alone, if you truly need a break, feel free to bury your nose in a screen. However, if you want to meet new people, staring at a phone or brochure isn’t the way to do it. Staring at your phone or reading tells others that you aren’t there to engage and that you want to be left alone. If you really want to network you need to make yourself available.
Networking doesn’t need to be complicated, but it will almost always force you to step out of your comfort zone. Remind yourself that everyone feels a little nervous and overwhelmed at these events, but taking the steps to reach out to someone can earn you double what you spent at the bar.