How much time should you spend networking at a conference? That’s up to you. However, forcing your book on people will get you nowhere. Treat fellow writers as allies. Networking is about nurturing existing relationships as well as making new connections. Look for these opportunities to put yourself out there, and you’ll also leave the conference with a few new friends:
1. Bring business cards and other printed marketing material to conference. There is a table for everyone’s book flyers, but only leave about half of what you bring on the table. When an attendee expresses an interest in your book or genre, physically hand him a flyer for a more memorable experience. You’ll also know who to follow up with. If a person refuses your card or flyer, don’t be offended. Better to give it to someone who will make use of it.
2. While you shouldn’t ignore friends, don’t just stick with people you know. Find opportunities to talk to unfamiliar faces. Create a list of people you want to meet such as the keynote speaker that writes your genre, the writer of the year, and contest winners. Seek them out and introduce yourself. Or ask a friend or conference volunteer to introduce you to the writers on your list. Congratulate them on their success.
3. Network while in situations you feel comfortable. If you have trouble meeting people one-on-one, schedule your networking time during the banquets, where there are more opportunities for introductions. Make reservations for lunch with old friends, and have everyone bring a new acquaintance or invite people on your ‘want to meet’ list.
4. Introduce yourself to the other writers sitting around you at workshops. Strike up a conversation by asking what genre they write or if they’re published. The discussion could lead to other shared interests outside of writing. If anything, you’ll add a friendly face to the crowd and are bound to meet again in another workshop.
5. When exchanging business cards, make notes about the person on the back. This will help you remember who’s who after the conference. Later, use your notes to add a personal touch in a follow up email or social media post.
6. And speaking of social media, during the conference in between scheduled workshops (please do not disturb other attendees by posting during classes), use the hashtag #RMFW2015 on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc. Tell the world what you’re learning. Engage with other attendees online. This could lead to new followers and a meet up during happy hour in the lobby.
7. Presenters want feedback. Compliment them or ask questions outside the classrooms. Comment and share personal experiences and the two of you could connect on a personal level.
8. Ask questions to prompt conversation and be a good listener. This is a great way to engage the quieter members of the crowd. Everyone wants to talk about their work in progress. Inquire about workshops attendees have found valuable. Published authors are quick to share their experiences with the changing publishing industry. Or cry on each others' shoulders about disastrous pitches.
9. Sometimes people need to nudge to network. Always ask for a business card or book flyer if one is not given to you. If the person doesn’t have one, jot down her name and email address on a slip of paper. Of course, you don’t have to do this with everyone you meet, but if you want to follow up with someone, you’ll be glad you asked.
10. After the conference, gather all the business cards and flyers you collected. Sit down and prioritize who you’d like to get to know. Follow up on email and social media. Schedule a coffee date. Remember there is potential in all connections that could lead to promotional opportunities, editing gigs, critiques of your work, publication, and even new connections. Appreciate that every relationship is reciprocal. There is great reward in helping others as much as they will help you.
Networking with people you don’t know at a conference can be difficult, but we all have to do it to advance our careers and sell books. The good thing is, like anything that makes us uncomfortable, the more we approach others, the easier it becomes.