Your words can speak volumes, but only if you write them…and write them well.

Writers’ Conferences: Approaching Other Writers

November 17th, 2009 by Ami

After attending the Baltimore Writers’ Conference this weekend I have a lot of great information to share with you. In addition, Jenn Escalona asked me a few questions about conferences back in the spring, when I attended the Maryland Writers’ Association Writers Conference, and while my intentions were good, I never got around to answering all of them (although I did answer one). Thankfully questions like these are timeless.

Many of the questions that writers ask about conferences have to do with networking and approaching others. Let’s face it. Writers aren’t exactly the most social beings. We research, write and edit in solitude most of the time, and if we’re honest with ourselves, most of us like it that way. Being social can be a challenge for our introverted personalities. There are ways we can make it a little less painful, though.

How do you go about approaching other writers?

Like I mentioned indirectly above, I’m generally pretty introverted. Talking to random strangers isn’t my forte. In fact, it’s probably one of my weakest skills. Practicing these skills is part of my motivation for going to conferences in the first place. After all, if I’m going to become a published author I’m going to have to learn how to interact with others and promote myself and my writing well. Here are a few strategies I use when I’m attending a gathering of writers (or other human beings).

  • Look for friendly or familiar faces. I’ve come to realize that most writers feel as uncomfortable approaching others as I do. If someone is open enough to make eye contact and smile, then I’m willing to approach her and introduce myself. You can also look for faces (or names) you may recognize from meetings, classes or your community. Use that as the icebreaker and go from there.
  • Partner up. It may be easier to approach others if you have a friend with you. If you are both shy, you can approach people together and introduce each other. If one of you is more outgoing than another, allow the social butterfly to take the lead and introduce both of you. (Warning: When mingling with a friend, be careful not to isolate yourselves, which can intimidate others and discourage them from approaching you.)
  • Take advantage of connections. If you know others at the event and see them speaking with people you haven’t met before, approach a person you know and allow her to introduce you to whomever she is speaking with. Return the favor when you can by introducing her to someone you’ve met during the day.
  • Find the socializers. Look for people who seem more outgoing than you and connect with them first. These people are more likely to draw additional people into a conversation, multiplying the number of people you meet.

Once you’ve made a connection, the easiest way to start a conversation is to introduce yourself and ask what type of writing the person does. We all know writers love to talk about themselves—what they write, what they’re working on, what they’re reading. Asking questions and being genuinely interested in what your fellow writers are doing is the best way to meet and network with other writers. Don’t let them monopolize all the conversation, though. If they don’t return the interest, jump in where appropriate and add your input. (“Oh, really? I write about aliens in the Midwest, too. Isn’t that strange? Here’s my business card; maybe we can form a critique group.”)

The most important thing to remember is that people at conferences want to connect. Introducing yourself or joining in on a conversation is not an inconvenience. In most cases, it’s a welcome relief. The more you introduce yourself to others, the less social energy they have to expel. Hand out your business card, seek out people who write similar stuff, and look for ways to connect people you’ve met throughout the day. Make the most of your social energy and you will walk away with a new network of writer friends.

If you want to learn more about what to expect at writing conferences, you can read my previous posts on Writers’ Conferences:

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55 Responses

  1. Alexis Grant

    Really useful post. Gonna include this in my Writers’ Roundup this week.

  2. Ami

    Thanks, Alexis! I’m glad it was useful. And I’m looking forward to your roundup this week!

  3. Writers’ Roundup « Aspiring Author

    [...] from the Baltimore Writers’ Conference, Ami Spencer talks about how she networked with other writers [...]

  4. Kenn Crawford

    Excellent post. I haven’t even thought about the conference aspect of being a writer. I have to look into it in the new year.
    ~Kenn

  5. Tracey

    This is great. I recently did a similar post after being cornered by an aspiring author at a recent conference. It’s here http://wp.me/pj9tT-hK If you’re interested. I had a slightly different take (after re-reading, mine’s a bit snarky. I think I was stressed), but I do love talking to other writers. Book people are the best.

  6. Gail Dayton

    I am an introvert who’s been married for mumbledy-something years (LOTS) to an extrovert. I have learned a lot about how to approach people at a conference. I’ve been to a few where I knew maybe one person. The best conversation starter is a question, and at a group of writers, the best question is “What do you write?” People respond to interest.

  7. Suzanne Arruda

    I, too, am not too adept at this, but I’ve noted that many “famous” authors are just as bad at it and are actually glad if I take the initiative and introduce myself to them.

  8. Paul Lagasse

    Nice and timely post! I’m frequently guilty of lapsing on one or more of the “dont’s” you mention.

  9. Ami

    Kenn – You should definitely look into a writers’ conference or two. They’re great for networking and learning a thing or two about the craft while you’re at it.

    Tracey – Thanks for sharing your post. I’ll check it out.

    Gail – Yes, questions are always great conversation starters. Whether we like to admit it or not, people like to talk about themselves. :)

    Suzanne – Sometimes all it takes is being the person with just a tiny bit more courage than everyone else.

    Paul – Me, too. That’s why it was so easy to write about them.

    Thanks to all you new visitors for the comments!

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