Monday, January 31, 2011

How to Mingle at Publishing Events

This past weekend was the Annual SCBWI Winter Conference in NYC. I had no official duties (unlike last year), but as always when I'm in town, I enjoy attending the VIP Cocktail party, and then the Kidlit Drink Night after party (hosted by Fuse #8). The main problem with these events is that there are just too many people to talk to everyone I would have liked to.

I do remember a time as a younger editor when I didn't know as many people as I do now, when I found it harder to mingle. And I also imagine these events can be intimidating to attend as an author or illustrator. So, I thought I'd give some tips on how to mingle at publishing events. I know most of these tips are pretty standard, and to give full disclosure, I don't actually abide by all of these, but here goes:

1) The best "pick-up line" is to simply say "hello" and introduce yourself. Honestly, everyone at these type of events should be there to mingle, and even if they're not, they at least expect others to introduce themselves. If you recognize someone, whether an author or editor or Twitter friend, go up to him/her and say hi. Then again, if they look like they're deep in conversation with someone else, wait until they're not as engaged to approach them.

2) Have a goal/agenda for the event. Maybe there's an author, illustrator, agent, art director, or editor, etc. you've always wanted to meet and know will be there. Make your goal to meet that person. Maybe you're shy: make your goal to introduce yourself to at least one stranger. Maybe your goal is to get at least two business cards, and/or give your card to at least three people. Turn it into a game!

3) Don't be afraid to ask for help. I'm totally happy to introduce people to each other. I wish people would ask me more to introduce them to others. In general, I think people like to feel helpful.

4) Don't get drunk. It's fine to have a little liquid courage in you, but remember that this is a professional event. Nobody wants to be around someone who is sloppy. Don't embarrass yourself.(Okay, not that I've never gotten drunk at a publishing event myself...)

5) Have some conversation topics prepared. Maybe it's a current event, or asking what people are reading, or what they think of the award winners, etc.

6) Don't be afraid to introduce yourself again, or ask someone to remind you of their name. I go to so many different conferences and events. I may remember faces, but not usually names. And I never expect people to remember me. So don't worry about offending people you know you've met but can't remember. And it's always helpful to people to reintroduce yourself to remind them of who you are.

7) If you're introverted and/or shy, don't worry--I'd say at least 75% of the people in publishing are, too!

8) And finally, not to be cliche, but: Have Fun! These events are FUN! You're in a room of people who love books as much as you do. What's not fun about that?

As for the rest of the conference, I was following the action on Twitter over the weekend while I finished up an edit. There are also great interviews and wrap-ups of the different talks on the official blog here.


Wendy S said...

I attended a conference where YOU were the person I wanted to meet, and in spite of my shyness, you couldn't have been more gracious. That's another thing to remember, too - as long as you're not trying to shove a manuscript under the bathroom door, most people at writing conferences will treat you kindly.

alvinaling said...

Aw, well, I was excited to meet you, too, Wendy! Yes, I think it's good to remember that 99.9% of people in kidlit are NICE! BTW--great cover!

Libby Koponen said...

I wish I had read and followed this event before attending my first publishing event. I didn't follow ANY of these rules, except to have fun -- I did have all too much fun. I will leave it to our readers' imaginations to guess what that means and will not embarrass myself all over again by going into detail.

Anyhow, thanks. I love all these tips, especially reminding us that people are THERE to mingle so it's fine to introduce yourself (though don't interrupt conversations), have goals and make it into a game, and the reminder that 75% of people in publishing are shy.

As one very social person in town put it when I was trying to desribe the atmosphere at most writers' events:
"A party for people who hate parties," and then she made a face.

Anyhow, great post Alvina--and YOU are great at mingling!

Anonymous said...

I attended the SCBWI cocktail party on Friday for the first time, and I can't tell you enough how helpful/reassuring it is to hear your thoughts! As an assistant, it is doubly exciting and stressful to navigate those kind of situations (even for the 25% of us who are not shy).

Your advice is spot on... thanks so much!


Nikki Shannon Smith said...

This is great advice! I have a hard time approaching people, even though I don't consider myself shy. I think I'm always afraid they will ask me something and I will goof up the answer, stumbling over my words. Plus, I would have never thought to ask someone to introduce me to someone else. I'll take this advice with me to my writing workshop in March.

I don't know what I'm so worried about. Everyone I have met so far has been wonderful, ESPECIALLY agents and editors. (Including you, at Big Sur '07!)

Anonymous said...

I love this post, Alvina! It's great advice - I never expect anyone to remember me either! I do love when I don't expect that and then getting a warm greeting - it always feels so good.

Dan Santat said...

I forget how we met, but I want to say it was through our huge pool mutual friends? It's a small industry and we all get to know one another eventually.

alvinaling said...

I *think* we met through Peter, Dan...but then again, we could also have any number of ways. You are correct, sir.


Fabulous tips, thanks so much! My editor has commanded me to attend RWA Nationals in New York this summer, and I'm already a bit nervous. I'm not shy, but I AM terrible with faces and names. I can meet someone & then completely forget both their name and face within 20 minutes. I'm ever-so-grateful when people have to wear name tags!


Lois Hoffman said...

Great post, Alvina. Thanks for the tips. Although I don't always think of the right words or have the quickest wit, I always remember MY name. It's a great place to start.

Pam Pho said...

and for the love of all things holy don't babble, I get nervous and babble, and babble and them guess what? I babble some more.

Pondering~~ said...

I am trying to help shy but talented friend get his book published, not your format...any suggestions much appreciated...I work in Marketing...but not books and am located on the West Coast....thanks...