by Mary Altman
The thrill of the chase. The exhilaration of the hunt. There’s nothing quite like the pulse-pounding excitement of tracking, spotting and running a publishing professional to ground—and there’s no hunting ground more fertile than the halls and ballrooms of a conference hotel.
But before you release the hounds for the coming conference season, please take a few moments to consider how best to approach the agents and editors you may have the chance of ensnaring. Publishing professionals can be tricky beasts, but remembering a few key points will help you both walk away unscathed.
1) Food for Thought. I had been warned about networking before I attended my first conference and knew to always be polite, professional and approachable. My publisher hadn’t thought to tell me that if I managed to be all three all the time, I would be half-starved for my pains. Dinner conversation is a wonderful thing, and it can be exciting to realize you have a publishing professional at your table. But please let him or her take a few bites between questions. It’s hard to listen to pitches when my stomach is protesting so loudly.
2) Keep Your Eyes Open. Conferences give name tags for a reason—to keep us from embarrassing ourselves. The only thing more mortifying than introducing your good friend What’s Her Face is making an incorrect assumption about the person sitting next to you. If my name tag says Publishing Professional or Editor, asking me what I write or whether I’m here to support my mother (!?) probably isn’t the best conversational icebreaker.
3) We’re People Too! One of the things I wanted to constantly remind authors during my first few conferences was that I was just as nervous as they were. Meeting people can be nerve-racking, especially if you want to make a good impression. Remembering that the publishing professional standing there looking aloof may be just as anxious as you could help nudge you in the right direction. For example, at my first RWA conference, in Denver, Colorado, several lovely ladies went out of their way to make me feel comfortable and relaxed.
4) Keep it in Your Pants. It doesn’t matter that I edit erotic romance for a living. If anyone grabs me and pulls me aside, then proceeds to tell me in shockingly explicit language (and trust me, I know from explicit!) about their sexual experiences or, God forbid, ask me about mine, I will reach for the pepper spray. Don’t ignore the person in favor of the title and don’t assume that just because I edit spicy books, I want to hear about your prowess with a bullwhip or your teenage high school fantasies.
5) The Gossip Lounge is Open. Editors have good memories for bad behavior and we just love sharing zany conference stories. Do not become my next entertaining “and then he asked me if I wanted to dominate him!” anecdote. Act friendly but professional and editors will have only good things to say about you.
Conferences should be just like real life magnified. Yes, you need to get in there and be aggressive. Track down that editor you’ve been dying to meet, make that elevator pitch, strike up a conversation in a bar. But also keep in mind that editors are people too. So before you blow your bugle and shout “tally ho!”, think about how you’d like to be treated…and whether or not you’d like to be chased to ground.