Why Taking a Risk at a Writer’s Conference Is a Good Thing

Saturday, February 23, 2013
I’m at a writer’s conference this weekend, and at first, I was disappointed that several of my good friends wouldn't be attending this year. But then I thought, that’s okay. I won’t play it safe. You see, when I don’t know many people at an event, I’m sort of a different person.

It’s funny but true. I stand a little taller, I smile a bit more. I can’t be lazy, falling back on the old reliables. When I look around and don’t recognize anyone, I have to put my best foot forward. I want to make a favorable first impression, so walking into a room full of strangers definitely keeps me on my toes.

Now, maybe you’re wondering why I bother. After all, we go to writer’s conferences to learn writing stuff, right? Isn't it enough to find a chair and take copious notes at the workshops? Maybe pay extra-close attention if you've paid for a manuscript critique?

Well, yes, there’s that purpose to the conference. But a writer’s conference is also a wonderful opportunity to make a few connections. If you play it safe, you’ll never meet anyone. So you have to take the risk, and give yourself a push.

Of course, us writers are notoriously reserved. If we liked the whole social scene, we probably wouldn't be hunkered down in our cubbyholes, writing. So. How to pack a push?

Come prepared to put yourself out there. Bring business cards to share. Sit at the table where no one seems to know anyone. Polish up your elevator pitch. You may not meet many agents to pitch, but every time you meet someone new, you have a chance to fine-tune that pitch, and that’s incredibly beneficial. Because if you’re having difficulty figuring out what your novel is really about, explaining it to strangers, and getting their reactions, can be very illuminating.

Don’t forget to ask people what they’re writing. Writers may not always be the most social creatures, but I've never met one who didn't like talking about the work. And don’t be surprised if you meet a couple true kindred spirits.

Once, I overheard a writer discussing zombies. As it happens, zombies are one of my favorite topics. So we had a lively chat (Yes, I know. That was bad.). She’s a gifted novelist, and a generous writing friend—and I've bought several of her books since that conference.

The thing is, you may meet a couple editors or agents at a conference, and that’s swell. Maybe you’ll meet up in social media, and maybe some day, somehow, that connection will pay off. Meanwhile, the struggling writers you meet, the folks who live in your area and who are on that same publishing journey as you, might become your new best friends. Friends who’ll support you along the way, just like you’ll support them.

It all starts with that moment when you decide to take a risk—and say hello.

~Cathy C. Hall


Sioux Roslawski said...

And Cathy, maybe you will have one of those editors or agents at "hello."

Have a blast working outside of your box.

Anonymous said...

Great advice Cathy. Thanks.

Angela Mackintosh said...

We should talk zombies one day! It's one of my favorite topics, too. :)

Hope you're having a blast, Cathy! Work that room. Whoop! And if you meet any editors and agents, remember we're always looking for interviews for the e-zine. Maybe you can use that as an icebreaker? ;)

Margo Dill said...

Well said, Cathy. I actually think writers are some of the easiest "strangers" to talk to. Everyone loves to answer the question, "Well, what do you write?" The only easier people to talk to are the other parents at a playground or McDonald's playland or something when your child is throwing a tantrum, and the parent looks over at you and smiles, knowingly. That's always a conversation starter, too. :) Have a great conference. I'm sure you'll have many more NEW friends when you are done. :)

Donna Volkenannt said...

So true that it's not always easy talking to a stranger, but the rewards of making new friends outweigh the risks of taking the first step to say Hello. Hope you have fun at your conference. It's fun to meet new people, especially writers.

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