Sunday I head for Orlando for the RWA National convention. My first was in Reno, and I didn’t know anyone. I’d only been going to my local chapter for three months, and the size of this convention was staggering, to say the least.
I dutifully went to the orientation on Wednesday night… and by Thursday afternoon, I’d peeled the orange “first timer” ribbon off my badge. Orientation had given me some very useful information (some of which is on the list below), but they didn’t really cover “How not to sound like a clueless noob.”
But then, there are some people who have gone to a lot of writing conventions, RWA and elsewhere, who could use classes in “How Not to Be That Guy (or Girl) at a Conference.”
So here are some conference survival tips: Both practical tips to make it through, and tips on how not to make your fellow attendees want to kill you.
1) Wear comfortable shoes (but maybe not too comfortable). You want to be able to walk, not look like you just came in from the beach.
2) Just because you have your elevator pitch down cold doesn’t mean you are obligated to blurt it at any industry professional who happens to get into an elevator with you. Just the opposite. They might be in a hurry to get back to their room to pee. That never puts ME in a receptive mood.
2A) Ditto times one hundred for the bathroom. I always thought the “pitch your book through the door of the stall” was a conference myth, but it’s been confirmed more than once. People really do pick the MOST inappropriate times to talk about their work.
3) When you go to a workshop given by an agent or editor, this *also* is not an excuse to pitch your book. Not even covertly. “Would you be interested in a Western historical about time traveling werewolf who becomes the sherif of a one horse town and falls in love with the virgin card dealer at the local saloon?” is not what workshop presenters mean by “Any questions?”
3b) Likewise, “Any questions?” shouldn’t be used to ask an industry professional things easily researched on the internet, like “Do you represent extraterrestrial manage a tois stories?” or “How big should the margins of my manuscript be if I’m submitting electronically?” (I’m not making up that second question.)
4) Don’t forget to take a breather now and then. It will get overwhelming. By Friday, I always have to take a few hours off, either in the quiet of my hotel room, or out of the hotel.
5) Be friendly, but professional, especially in appointments. Relax–your career does not hinge on the success of your pitch. Be a person an editor or agent would like to work with, and they’ll want to look at your work.
6) Be temperate. A social setting is a great place to let your colleagues meet the real you, as long as the real you isn’t a loudmouthed bigot or a sloppy drunk. Don’t be that person. Watch the booze.
7) Don’t always sit with your friends at conference luncheons. Take a chance, sit with strangers, and you might luck into a really interesting table. (I know, I have trouble with this one. I’m more shy than I appear.)
8) Leave off the cologne. You will be in very close quarters in the workshops and at lunch. Many many people have allergies.
9) Go to the workshops! They’ve got great ones, given by all kinds of cool writers. Don’t just go to network, go to learn. You may think you know it all, but chances are, you’re wrong.
9a) It’s copacetic to slip out if you have an appointment. Speakers understand the conference is packed, and they’d rather have you tehre for a little while than not at all.
9b) It’s also okay to slip out if the workshop isn’t what you’d thought it would be. There’s too much going on to waste an hour on something that turns out not to be pertinent to your interests.
And speaking of talking…
10) Never ever bad mouth an editor, agent, or author, published or unpublished. Not in the bar, in the hall, in the bathroom, even when you THINK you’re alone. Publishing professionals all know each other, and they all talk to each other.
These apply wherever your writer journey may take you, not just to RWA. Some conferences are more relaxed than others, but when in doubt, you’ll never go wrong by being professional.