Tomorrow I'll be heading off to Baltimore for Bouchercon, the biggest (and arguably the best) mystery/thriller conference. As always, I look forward to seeing old friends, meeting new ones, and of course, having the opportunity to talk about books all weekend. In a way, these conferences are business. You go to network, make contacts, reconnect. But I've found that the more you can just relax and enjoy yourself, the more contacts you'll inevitably make.
I think of it like this. Most Americans (or at least the ones I know) don't like to get sold to. If they see a canvasser on the street asking for donations, they cross to the other side. They breeze right by the Gap greeter and say, "Just looking!" They avoid Avon ladies, Mary Kay representatives and the dreaded Amway salesman. We don't want to hear the pitch.
Too often, I hear newbie writers attempting to network with agents or editors by "selling" their book. Never works. The editor or agent will tune out or give looks to a buddy to come bail them out of the situation. Like most Americans, they're not interested in being "sold" on the "next big novel".
But there are two lines that never get tuned out: "I'm a big fan of your work. Can I buy you a drink?" Taught to me by a master networker (and drinker), these lines provide the agent/editor/big name author with two things: The opportunity to talk about themselves and to get free booze. Who would say no to that? In turn, you have the opportunity to learn about them, about the industry, and since one drink usually leads to another, you'll have time to solidify that contact.
Eventually, agent/editor/big name author will tire of talking about themselves and ask you a question, such as, "What are you working on?" or "Do you currently have any books out?"
You can then talk to them in casual conversation without it feeling like a business transaction: "Actually, I'm in the process of querying agents now. My book is about (insert elevator pitch here)."
If your pitch is good enough, agent/editor/big name author will ask for more. They may ask who you've queried so far. If they're really interested they may offer to read it or big name author may offer you a reference for his/her agent. But give it time. Remain at ease, enjoy the conversation, and if it leads you to nothing other than a, "Nice meeting you," you still made a contact that may come in handy later.
Another word of advice is not to seem like a leech. There's nothing less appealing than someone only talking to people that could maybe help their career. I was at one conference and a small-time author asked me if I was someone important. Joke was on him because a month later, his book came across my desk and I didn't review it solely because of how he acted. (I know it seems spiteful and childish but ask any reviewer and they'll tell you they'd do the same thing). Everyone, whether it's a fan, a fellow newbie, a big name author, or a reviewer, could be helpful in some way. Seldom do I have a conversation where I don't learn something. Acting like a social climber is a turn off so don't be so quick to dismiss people.
On that note, I offer everyone safe travels to Charm City. I'll be heading straight from Synagogue to the airport ao I'll be arriving a little later on Thursday evening. Be sure to check out my panel, MONEY BACK GUARENTEE on Friday at 3:00pm in International A. I'll be talking to Lee Child, Patti Abbot, Ali Karim, Bill Crider and Rae Helmsworth about the books they love.
Happy networking and I'll see you all there!