from the mixed up files of Agent Manners – schmoozing at conferences

Dear Agent Manners,

To piggy-back on some of the Writer’s Conference questions.

I would like to attend a my first Writer’s Conference this summer. My two concerns are 1) I won’t know anyone, and 2) I feel somewhat uncomfortable talking about myself. I am neither shy nor gregarious and I’ve always enjoyed attending conferences but I worry it will be a lot of writers there with their buddies, and agents schmoozing with each other.

Are Writer’s Conferences like sororities (fraternities)? Or, can the serious, unpublished writer benefit from such an event as a social outcast?

Any suggestions on how to maneuver through one’s very first conference would be appreciated.

Thanks for your time,

Trying to Make it Work in the PNW

Dear Trying in PNW:

Conveniently, Agent Manners can point you to this excellent post from Mary Robinette Kowal about Schmoozing 101 in which she gives some great advice. In particular, per your point #2, Kowal recommends the art of schmoozing through the device of “the other person is more interesting than you are.”

Conferences can be a great experience, and an informative one, as well as a way to spend time with other writers who may understand more about all the challenges of the writing life than your family pet (no matter how good a listener Spot or Mittens might be). Agent Manners also reminds you that everyone was new at one point – even agents have their first conference where they don’t know anyone. Agent Manners also advocates volunteering to help out – the convention organizers will appreciate you and introduce you to people, and you may get an opportunity to escort an agent or editor or author guest.

Since you are in the PNW, Agent Manners recommends the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference. Agent Manners has attended this one in the past and it’s a great conference with much to offer, and has a very good reputation among agents.

13 responses to “from the mixed up files of Agent Manners – schmoozing at conferences

  1. Dear Trying,
    I just attended my first writing conference in April. I blogged all about it.
    I was extremely nervous and I didn’t know anyone either. (As my first post about it– alone at McDonald’s– shows). But by the first evening, it was much much better. And by the time the conference wrapped up, I was in deep smit.
    I can’t wait to go to another one. 🙂

  2. The Schmoozing 101 link nor her journal are working. 😦

  3. Kowal recommends the art of schmoozing through the device of “the other person is more interesting than you are.”
    This is where I always worry about crossing the line between schmoozing and being an obnoxious ass-kisser. I think I’ve been on this earth long enough to know the difference, but the line seems to be a little different for everyone, so I’d love to read what she has to say on the topic.
    I attended BEA (my first convention with anything to do with the publishing industry), but I’d love to attend a writing conference just to soak up the atmosphere and get a better feel for it all, even if I don’t focus on schmoozing that first time.

  4. Thank you for the tips! I need all the schmoozing help I can get.
    I had trouble getting your links to work. In case other people had trouble with your links, I found it at
    Adrianne Middleton

  5. I think of it this way: most writers are at conferences because they want to be more successful than they currently are. Also, most writers toil away in solitude, and come to conferences to meet people and learn stuff. Thus, they’re as curious about you as you are about them. And many of them like to talk shop, too. (Unlike, say, your well-meaning but slightly baffled family.)
    So don’t think of it as some clique you have to crack. Think of it as a lot of people just like you. In other words, you write. So you fit right in.
    PS – I’d also recommend the Willamette Writers conference in Portland. Good speakers and workshops, and lots of opportunities to pitch, if you’re ready for that.

  6. Thanks!
    Dear Agent Manners,
    Thank you for answering my question! I’m going to try to check one of these shing-digs out this summer.
    Thanks to the others for sharing your experiences – I checked out hidyer’s blog entry for some reassurance. 🙂
    Ms. PNW

  7. Absolutely you should go to the conference. You’ll learn a lot and meet great people. I went alone to my first conference and I found many people who were there alone, and everyone was easy to talk to. Start with “What do you write?” and the conversation will naturally go from there. Talking about what you like to read is fun too. A whole hotel full of book lovers. How could you not like these people? How could they not like you?
    Margaret Yang

  8. Great timing…I was just mulling over the idea of attending my first conference, the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s Conference in September…
    Good stuff (and the link to Schmoozing 101 worked for me).

    • I’ve been to RMFW’s conference twice and learned a ton both times. I highly recommend it. Also, I found the pros there to be just outstandingly friendly and helpful.
      Adrianne Middleton

  9. I attended PNWA a few years ago (by myself). It was a good experience, but very expensive. I’m shy, but I still found a number of friendly people to talk to. I actually preferred the Surrey Conference in BC. It had a more intimate feel and didn’t cost as much. And there were plenty of excellent agents there, including Donald Maass.

  10. What if I’m greatly addicted to Italian cooking and suffer from fear of vampires, so much so that I walk around in a cloud of garlic odor? Will this hamper my activities at conferences? We farmers are very troubled people.

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