By networking, I mean meeting like-minded people who are attending the conference with you. If you've been following this blog for a while, you might have read the story of how I got my agent. As I said in that post, I attribute most of my growth as a writer to the critique partners and support group I've built up over the past few years.
Conferences are fantastic places to find critique partners and groups. Case in point: I met Jenn, Stacy, and Lauren, my co-bloggers here at Thinking to Inking, at the first conference I ever attended. Especially if you don't have a critique group or writer friends who live nearby, you'll definitely want to network when you go to a writer's conference.
Here are some tips for getting the most out of your networking:
1. Bring business cards. You might feel a little sheepish about passing out business cards made before you're a published author, but trust me, they are really useful at conferences. Mine just have my name, contact info, and "writer" on them. You can make your own on your home printer, or order them online. Moo.com and Vistaprint.com are inexpensive, good places to start.
Tip: order a matte finish on your cards so you can jot notes like "writes adult SF/F" on them to remind you of details.
2. During the conference, be friendly and interested in the people around you. If you're in line for food or waiting for a workshop to begin, start up a conversation with the person next to you. Ask them what they write. If you find someone who writes in a similar genre and your communication styles seem like a good match, don't be afraid to mention you're looking for critique partners.
3. If you're attending the conference with a spouse, best friend, or a whole group, make an effort to branch out. It's tempting to sit in the corner whispering with the person you know instead of meeting new people, but this is a golden opportunity that you don't want to waste. If you really want to force yourself out of your shell, sit apart from each other at mealtimes and talk to the people around you instead.
4. Sometimes the best connections are formed after conference hours, since most conference days end in the early evening. Networking is a lot like dating--if you feel like you're making a connection with someone, suggest you continue the conversation over dinner or drinks.
I'm off to the Midwest Writer's Workshop this Thursday for the second year in a row, so I'll get to put my own conference survival tips to work. Maybe I'll see some of you there!