As some of you might know, I went to my first major writing convention (WorldCon) back in August. The primary reason why I went was to meet industry professionals that could help me out in my writing career. It turns out that I wasn’t alone, and hundreds of young writers flocked to Kansas City with the same goal in mind.
During the second day, a few of us were all sitting around a table eating lunch in between panels. Since, I had come to the convention by myself, I decided to talk to these guys. Hell, we were all eating together after all. It turns out that I was one of the first people they’d spoken to outside of their friend group during the entire convention. Which brings us to the first rule of conventions: In order to meet people, you have to talk to people.
I had been chatting with pretty much everyone at this point. I had no friends with me, so it gave me an incentive to make some new ones. I never tried to be pushy by saying, “I’m a writer, would you want to buy my book?” Half the time, I didn’t even know if the people were fans or professionals.
I always broke the ice by asking how they were doing. This would open a conversation, and since we were at a writing convention it pretty easily turned towards work anyway. By doing this approach I met an author from Tor and his wife, who ended up being an awesome connection to almost all the other professionals that I met. I guess that the second law of conventions is to be normal. Treat others like people even if you are totally freaking out about talking to your idol. If you can establish a genuine connection to someone, it will take you a lot further than the slightly creepy, “I’m your biggest fan ever,” vibe.
The other major conversation trick I used, was ask them questions. I can barely talk to anyone. I’m just not witty enough for that kind of thing. I avoided this by trying to let everyone else talk. I find it much easier to let everyone else guide the conversation than try to be the one in charge. It was during this approach that I met my dream agent. Not just someone who would fit, but one of the people I came to the convention specifically to meet.
One of his authors introduced me to him about thirty minutes after we’d all been talking. We briefly discussed some of my work (In the entire hour long talk, it was only about five minutes of time focused on me.) and he gave me his business card and wanted me to send it to him once I finished. (This has resulted in a massive rewrite with the hopes that he will actually take me on as a client.)
Even though this is all some ways on how to talk to strangers, it doesn’t really help if you can’t find them. During the day, most people are busy with the conventions scheduling. You can find a few minutes to talk sporadically, but I found that the best place to meet people is to go drinking with them. The first Tor author that I met, invited me to go to the Tor Hotel party and that is how I met pretty much every industry contact that I now have. If you can’t find someone to invite you to a party, go to own of hosting hotel’s bars after the convention closes each night. I guarantee that you find at least a half dozen agents, editors, and authors unwinding after a long day. Please keep in mind of normal social rules and try not to get too drunk.