Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Playing Nice at Conferences

I did a fair amount of schmoozing at Thrillerfest. Besides my workshop and panel, I volunteered at AgentFest (mad! absolutely a madhouse!) and hung out in the bar and went out to dinner and had lots of time to talk to other writers, many of whom are still aspiring. (Aspiring with everything they've got, which is why I love Thrillerfest - no dabblers here! Everyone's figurative sleeves were rolled up and they came to work, which was nice.)

And delightful. Really! Ninety-five percent delightful!

And...I had a few moments that made me think I should share some hard-acquired wisdom on What To Do when one finds oneself unexpectedly in the company of a mix of publishing people. Too often - perhaps out of nervousness - we all fall back on habits that don't really serve us all that well. We might drink too much, monopolize the conversation, ignore less-important people in an effort to gain the attention of the most important or famous person in the group (actually, I personally would NEVER do that one because I find it just so entirely rude), get nervous and don't speak at all, vent our frustration or complaints about the industry, and eat all the salty sesame bits out of the bar mix. (Okay, that last one was me. Yep. Guilty.)



There's something I would like to share with you. I have a little experience now, and I know a few people, some of them Kind of Big Deals. And I want to share with you what impresses them, because it impresses me too, and we, well, we talk about it. Now, you probably don't care what I think - after all, I can't get you any closer to your book deal. But you might care what that nice person I was with thinks, if you knew she was an agent or editor, which not all of you did.

(That is a DIRECT message to the awful woman who invited herself to sit at my table and then promptly insulted my friend, a very well known and revered literary agent. You know what you did. So do all my friends, 'cause I told them. Sorry, that's what happens when you don't play nice.)

What's impressive? It's simple, really: show a little kindness. Ask the person next to you what he's working on. Ask her how she's enjoying the conference. Offer to get someone a cup of coffee, as long as you're up. Let the person who's obviously having some mobility issues take your place in line. Share a kind word with the author who's alone at the signing table. Smile at the gal fixing her lipstick next to you in the bathroom. Introduce a stranger to your crowd, if you're lucky enough to have one - remember, there was a time when *you* were the newbie.

It's funny, little nag-y posts like this one always pop up before RWA every year, but I didn't see too many geared toward Thrillerfest-attenders. Maybe tuck this away for next year. And if you need a little more guidance, check out this great NYT article about how NOT to be the "death of the party."

5 comments:

Alli Sinclair said...

Great post, Sophie! I'm now a conference veteran and boy, have I seen some amazingly bad slip ups. I'm not sure why some people think being obnoxious and PITA is going to achieve (other than annoy a lot of people). The problem is, a lot of these people don't even know they're doing it. But on the other hand, I've seen many, many people make an effort to get to know others in those endless queues, and functions where a newbie knows no one. That's why I love conferences so much--you just never know who you're going to meet and strike up an interesting conversation with.

Martha said...

Excellent advice, and not only for conferences but for life in general. It's too bad that most people who need this type of gentile reminder are too dense to realize it's aimed at them.

Editor @ the "Dew" said...

Great article. I just want to say that I go to quite a few functions and even a conference or two and I am still in awe of how kind the publishers and authors are to me. It makes me try even harder to pass that along to someone else.

Kristin Miller said...

Coming from someone who's the life of the party, you really know what you're talkin' about! I'm taking notes.

Missed you at RWA this year. Maybe next...

Judith Starkston said...

So true that kindness is always the best choice. I think sometimes people get so nervous or greedy for what they hope to get out of gatherings like conferences that they forget to focus on the people around them and they forget to enjoy themselves. It isn't fun to be mean, unless I suppose you're really nasty, so if people relaxed and decided to have a pleasant experience they wouldn't make such rude fools of themselves. But, cringe, in all honesty, there have no doubt been those moments for most of us...