Sunday, July 25, 2010

On not being an asshole at a Writers Conference

We all have heard about how pitching to agents in bathrooms, running around your chair in circles during your two minute pitch to an agent, or showing up in sweatpants are sure fire ways to make a complete ass out of yourself to agents and editors at a Writers Conference.

But I think people get so excited about agents and editors, that they forget that going to a Writers Conference, particularly a local one, is a great way to network with other writers in your area. So I’m going to give you two tips, free of charge, on how to avoid being considered a complete dickhead by your peers!

1. If a fellow writer asks you about your novel, the correct thing to do when you're done answering the question is ASK THEM ABOUT THEIR NOVEL IN RETURN.

In critique groups, beta reading, manuscript swaps, networking, and just about every other writing organization that you get involved in (in which you are not PAYING someone for their services) the name of the game is reciprocity. If you can’t even ask me what my novel is about after I listened to you ramble on about your own for fifteen minutes, I’m pretty damn sure you’ll be a shitty critique buddy. I’m not going to hand someone my business card when they’ve proven they’re only interested in furthering their own work and not being an interactive part of a writing community. Besides that, you’re just RUDE if you don’t do this, even if you aren’t interested in anything else but a brief chat at the local conference. Every writer that comes to a conference is there because they are excited about their own project and want to share it with the world. So share the love and share the courtesy, and avoid burning bridges before you’ve put down the first brick.

2. If you walk up to two or more writers introduce yourself to EVERYONE present even if you only are interested in networking with one of them for a particular reason.

My friend Maggie was a finalist in the literary contest for the PNWA conference. As a result, she got to wear a ribbon on her name badge that said Finalist, which was awesome. And I got to hang out with a finalist, so awesome for me, too! Well, when writer Joe Smoe, who was also a finalist, walked up to rub shoulders with Maggie based on her awesome status, not only did he interrupt our conversation, but he completely ignored me. Lesson here? The first thing Maggie did when he left was turn around to me, her friend, and comment on the fact that Joe Smoe was a complete dickhead for not even acknowledging I was alive. Take a moment and think people. If you snub the friend of the person you want to network with, do you really think they’re going to give you a ring to hang out when you’ve just proven that you lack the most basic level of manners? No. You’re going to get mocked when you walk away for being a pompous prick.

See how easy that is? All you have to do is remember those brilliant lessons you learned in kindergarten.


Dominique said...

#2 reminds me of an old saying, "Be careful of the toes you step on today, because they might be connected to the behind you have to kiss tomorrow." Not only is blowing off someone you don't particularly care about very stupid, it can also be remarkably counter-productive.

Tara Maya said...

My first reaction was to say, "Wow, I can't believe that guy was so rude." But then I realized I in fact had no trouble believing it. :)

I'd add another tip too. Don't sit at a table of writers you've just met and badmouth every single other writer you already know -- for instance, the members of your critique group back home. This is like people who spend a first date badmouthing you ex.

Hello? If you have nothing but bad things to say about the critique group members you know, why would I expect you to be any more socially adept with a new batch?

I agree, basically it comes down to not acting like a troll.

M. Dunham said...

I think a lot of wannabe writers forget that this isn't a convention centered around them, but a professional environment where manners and whatnot DO count. It's no different than a conference for any other professional world - medicine, research, agriculture, etc. Don't treat it like you get a do-over.

Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

UGH! I've been to one writer's conference and didn't have any experiences like that. I'd like to hope all writers can be professional, but that's silly to assume.

Eric said...

Great post, Guppster. I've always lived by the idea that you never know who someone really is, so you should probably treat everyone politely. The person you snub now could be the agent/publisher/editor/employer you really want to be associated with later. If nothing else, being a pleasant person on the outside makes you a pleasant person in your heart as well.

The Screaming Guppy said...

See, this is what makes you guys so cool. You all already knew this. :)

Matt said...

I had an experience like that recently, but it was a little more complicated.

Someone I met and made friends with at the con introduced me to an author I liked, but when we approached the writer, they were in a larger group and my new friend didn't introduce all the others that were standing there. I felt like I'd been tossed into a pre-existing conversation without knowing anyone.

Then my new friend left.

I don't know if he assumed I knew everyone else already, or what.

It was awkward!

Michael John said...

I usually talk about a swap of signed copies if our conversation is going well.. I found it to be a great way to meet good people.