Lessons from FWA 102: Networking at a Writing Conference

NETWORKING: cultivating professional relationships with peers and industry representatives through meaningful interactions.

Networking is work. It comes naturally to some, but it can be difficult for someone who is unprepared, someone who is reclusive, or someone like me, who hadn’t done it before attending the Florida Writers Association conference. I didn’t know what to expect from this experience, but because I made an effort, I can call it a success.

First off, some context: I am usually an outgoing person, but being around “real” writers intimidated and terrified me. I thawed out after a day, and when I finally felt like myself, it was time to go home. I learned how to network by doing. Here are a few tips about networking that you can use at your next writing conference or literary event:

1. Be prepared

My business cards by Moo
  • Bring business/contact cards with you that share your name, email, Twitter handle, website or blog, and phone number. Make it interesting and uncluttered. I got mine from Moo for the cost of shipping after signing up for a profile at http://about.me
  • Set a goal for the number of meaningful connections to make during the event. Once I did my first card swap, I was so excited that I made a game for myself: get at least 10 cards before we checked out of the hotel. The ulterior motive challenged me and I won! Caution–don’t allow the game to become the purpose. Meaningful connections that come naturally should be the aim, but give yourself a little push.
  • Bring a Sharpie. This is optional, but it worked for me. When you want a presenter or an agent to remember something about you, write a note on your business card before you hand it to him or her so it will trigger a memory (before it lands in the trash…just kidding!). Most business cards are textured and do not lend themselves to ballpoint or “bleedy” pens. Sharpies are great. Metallic Sharpies are greater.

2. Be yourself

  • Authentic is memorable. People can smell if you are trying too hard. Allow natural conversations to build connections. Don’t worry about perception. You’ll probably embarrass yourself once or twice, but most times, you’re the only one who notices. Usually, the other person is as terrified as you are.
  • Your people will find you. I talked with many writers over the course of the weekend, but the ones who made the biggest impressions did so because we connected on common ground. We encountered each other in the same seminars, hobnobbed with the same people, or wrote in the same genres. Birds of a feather…circle around the same carcasses trees?

3. Be Considerate

  • No networking in the restroom. I need not elaborate, right? Respect people’s time and personal space and let common sense reign. The golden rule applies.
  • Give your friends space. If you attend a conference with a friend, members of your writing group, or a spouse, allow them time to network on their own. It is tempting to rely on their company, but far more rewarding to trade stories afterwards about meeting new people. Likewise, let your new friends meet the least annoying version of yourself. Build the relationship, but don’t crowd or cling. Creepy is not cool.

I did not come up with these useful tips all by myself. Before I packed my carry-on, I did some research and here are some supplemental sources on networking skills:

How to get the most out of a conference
Don’t panic: Networking for Writers

Which brings me to my last tip. Research the presenters, industry people, and other writers listed in the conference literature before the weekend. Modify your plan of attack accordingly.

This post is the second in a series that aims to give you insights into the experience at the 2012 Florida Writers Association conference. The objective is straightforward: to share what I’ve learned. My ultimate goal is to encourage you to apply these lessons to your own writing life.
Missed the first installment? Lessons from FWA 101: the Royal Palm Literary Awards

What is your networking experience? Do you have any questions about networking?


One thought on “Lessons from FWA 102: Networking at a Writing Conference

  1. Having attended these same conferences for a the last few years, I reverted into being a sponge––listening, observing, note taking. With enough of all under my belt, this past year I added “acting on” to my roster.
    You've done a right-on summary. Thanks for it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s