With that said, though, networking takes experience. It takes finesse. It's a skill, and like any skill, you need to practice it. Which is why the first thing you should do is read through this update from author Seanan McGuire. Read through it, then take a moment to absorb it. Because the incident in question is a textbook case of what not to do.
|Please, for the love of god, stop talking.|
#1: Do Not Hard-Sell People You're Trying To Connect With
If you have a strong hard-sell game, that's great. Save it for the readers you're targeting when you make hand sales from a booth. When you're trying to make a connection with a fellow author, an editor, or even someone who's a Name in your genre, leave your car salesman impression at home. Because I guarantee you that they have already had to deal with this situation more times than they can count, and all you're going to do is piss them off. Worse, they'll remember you as the pushy guy, and that will get doors slammed in your face instead of held open.
The best thing you can do when approaching people you hope to connect with is to be friendly and casual. Tell them you admire their work (a nice, neutral opener), and if you're in-person (say at a convention or similar event) mention something you saw them talk about. If they seem eager to talk, and a conversation starts, run with it. If not (you caught them in the middle of doing something else, you're at a signing table with a line behind you, etc.), this is not the time to try to crowbar yourself into their good graces. It won't work, and will achieve the opposite of what you want.
#2: Don't Make It All About You
Have you ever been at a dinner party, and there's that one guy who seems to have this compulsive need to make everything about him? No matter what you're trying to talk about, he needs to put his two cents in, and re-focus the attention on him. You know how annoying that is?
Well, you're being that guy.
Authors big and small hear it all day, every day. No matter what forum they're in, what social media group they're part of, or what convention they're attending, someone always wants to talk their ear off about how they really want to be a well-known author. They just need an agent, a shot at pitching to a better publisher, or someone to take a look at their manuscript. And chances are that we might sympathize with you, but if you're just talking about yourself, what you're here for, and what you need, that is quickly going to turn into a song no one wants to hear.
Take a breath, and relax. Try to see who you're talking to not as a business opportunity, or a potential stepping stone. Realize they're a person, and treat them as such. People are more likely to help out those who treat them with dignity, rather than those who just want something from them.
#3: Don't Push Your Card
When you've got a business card, the urge to offer it can be an almost overpowering. After all, that's what you have it for, right? However, if you're trying to get your foot in the door with someone you want as a contact, look for the signs that they're interested before holding out your card. Once it's been offered, they'll probably take it, but you should try to be sure they aren't just going to throw it out once your back is turned.
If someone asks for your information, and has a pen out to write it down, that's a great time to offer your card instead (provided it has the info they're looking for on it). Ditto if someone is interested in a project you've completed, or wants to get in touch with you later. Or, you know, asks for your card. But don't jump the gun, because that will be seen as pushy.
Business cards are like bullets. Sure, you can spray them everywhere and you might get a hit or two, but if you're patient, you can make each shot count.
#4: Invading A Group
This one applies directly to Seanan McGuire's tweets, and I want to emphasize it here. If someone is already involved in a conversation, or is part of a group discussion, you would really be better off to try later if you're looking to connect for networking purposes. Especially if it's clear in the non-verbal cues (chairs turned inward, circle is complete, no empty spaces, etc.) that this is not a group that's looking for more voices to join it.
You might be able to slip in quickly to get a word in edgewise ("Hey, I really liked that panel you were on," or, "Sorry to interrupt, but could I get a quick autograph?"), but no more than that. Now, you might want to take this risk in the event the group invites you to join, but don't depend on that. If no one extends an invitation after you've delivered your greeting, asked your question, or made your minor request, keep walking. Do not stand there and keep talking. Even if everyone in the circle is wearing a patient smile, you're actively damaging any goodwill you might have managed to accumulate, and you're only hurting yourself. Several minor interactions are better than one, long conversation, because then you'll feel familiar and accepted. So exchanging a pleasantry or two on day one, asking for an autograph on day two, and then getting a conversation on day three would work a lot better than trying to skip ahead to fit all your dialogue in.
#5: Being Just Another Attendee
This one might seem a little on the elitist side, but one of the big mistakes that I see a lot of folks making when they try to network (particularly at events) is that they just come as any old attendee. If you really want to stand out, you should consider volunteering. Because an endless stream of people may go by on the attendee side of the table, but if you're on a panel with someone who had insightful things to say, or you shared a signing table with someone, or a volunteer made sure you always had a bottle of water when you needed one, that makes you stand out. A lot.
Three dozen people might have tried to get this person's attention as attendees. But if you were in their bubble in a professional capacity (or even as an official part of the event), then you're a lot more likely to be noticed, acknowledged, and fondly recalled. Even if all you did was share a table in the green room, and talk sports over hot dogs. You don't have to be famous to get in on this action, either. Just be willing to throw your hat in the ring, and do your best!
That's all for this week's installment of Business of Writing. Hopefully it helped, but if there's advice I missed, or questions you want to ask, feel free to leave it in the comments! For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive. To keep up on my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to support me, then Buy Me A Ko-Fi or drop some change in my cup on The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. Either way, my gratitude, and some free stuff, will be yours!