We writers sit alone at a desk for hours at a time, day after day, writing. It’s no surprise that writers tend to be introverts; most extroverts would run screaming from such a regimen.
As a result, professional conferences can be daunting for many writers, particularly those who, like me, are at the extreme end of the introversion scale.
Two recent blog posts give some excellent advice on “working” a writers’ conference:
advice from Ami Spencer, nonfiction writer
advice from Mary Robinette Kowal, speculative fiction writer and puppeteer
I’ll add some points of my own.
Business cards don’t have to be expensive. Vistaprint has low-priced cards you can buy in small quantities, and cards are often on sale. (Note: Order from Vistaprint well before your conference because Vistaprint takes a long time for standard shipping and charges a lot for upgrades—I suspect that’s how they can offer their products so cheaply.) Vistaprint has a broad selection of templates for you to customize—great if your design skills are shaky or if you’d also like matching stationery, envelopes, return address labels, sweatshirts, etc. For a more professional card, you can upgrade to heavier stock without the tiny Vistaprint ad on the back.
Another option is to design your own card. You may have shied away from this option before because of the shaggy edges of homemade cards. But today’s stock for printing business cards breaks apart cleanly. Homemade cards have big advantages. You get exactly the mood, typeface, and art you want—no compromising. You can change your card on a whim. If you rarely need cards, you don't have to pay for a printer's minimum of 250 or 500 cards. You can customize your card for each event—adding a blurb on the back for your newest story or book, temporarily removing your phone number or address for privacy, or changing the art or color scheme to jibe with the genre of the conference.
I try to exchange cards with everyone I meet. Afterward I note on the card where I met the person and any interesting facts and file it. I may not meet the person again for a year or two or three, but when I do, there’s a good chance I’ll remember them if I’ve gotten their card. Exchanging cards also helps other people remember me.
A trick I learned when I used to man booths at trade shows is to go armed with a set of memorized sentences that fit most situations. If my mind goes blank when I met a new person, as it usually does, I fall back on my sentences. Some of the ones I use for writers’ conferences are:
•Are you enjoying the conference?
•What’s the most interesting panel you’ve been to?
•I had a great time at [name of panel, party, or event]. Did you get to go?
•This is my first time at this conference. How about you?
•Are you going to [name of panel, party, or event]?
•Have you found any interesting places nearby to eat?
•Have you met anyone famous yet? (not to be used when talking to someone famous)
I make a point of looking at the name tag of the person I’m talking to and try to work the name into conversation. Doing so helps me remember the name and links their name and face (and book) together.
One of my pet peeves is people who don't wear name tags or put only their first name on the tag. Does the person think they are so famous that I should recognize them on sight? Does the person not want me to remember them or buy their book? If you go a conference where you know I'll be, please wear your name tag, place your full correct name on it, and hang it face out. Thank you.
Do you have any hints for meeting people at conferences and making professional connections? I’d love to hear them.
Thanks for visiting. I’ll be blogging again on January 7, on a topic I have not yet chosen. (If you want to suggest one, go ahead!) Until then, I wish you happy holidays and a great 2010!