I’m not exactly an introvert, but I’m not one that can easily insert myself into conversations in public places. I tend to be more of a listener in mixed company, patiently waiting for a subject I can latch onto. Sometimes it works, other times I’ll only passively jump in. [There’s also the fact that I sometimes have trouble filtering noise when there’s multiple loud conversations going on. It’s not that I’m hard of hearing, it’s that I hear every local conversation and noise at the same level, and need to do the classic hand-to-ear gesture and point it in your direction. But that’s another blog entry altogether.]
Networking at conventions as a writer can be a daunting task, especially when you’re just starting out. I certainly hate to come off as pushy or annoying. And I’m certainly not a born salesman, so I feel like an idiot going up to complete strangers and foisting my books upon them. I mean, sure, I can do the elevator pitch if I have to, and I don’t mind talking about writing at all, but that’s not how I am 24/7. I’d rather talk about music, or the latest book I read or movie I watched, or any other mundane subject like we’re friends that met up at the bar.
On the other hand, there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years: the convention is also full of pros who’ve been in the field quite a long time who feel the exact same way. Many are already self-conscious and nervous in this kind of public situation. We’d all rather just wave a quick hello and go back to hiding in our offices so we can write our novels!
In the end, the best way for all of us to break that feeling of mortification is to just jump in and go for it. It takes practice, but you’ll get it after a while. It took me a few cons before I finally steeled myself to talk to the pros. Some of them are even my online friends now! And as I’ve said, the best way for me to do so is to treat the connection like we were friends at a typical gathering. I understand that the social link might not actually reach that far, but it helps for me to think of the conversations that way so I don’t feel as nervous.
[Mind you, I also understand there are those with certain anxieties that make this sort thing hard to achieve. To that, I say: I gladly welcome you into the conversation, and I will try to understand what’s needed for you to feel comfortable while we hang out.]
For years I twitched at the word ‘networking’ because for me it drags up images of businessmen gathering at a fancy overpriced bar in the city center where they all talk about things that I have absolutely no interest in. After years of social media and the occasional convention, however, I’ve learned that it doesn’t have to be that. It can be the simple act of meeting a writer and getting to know them, they introduce you to their writer friends, and so on, until you find yourself knowing a surprisingly wide assortment of people, either as friends, associates, or acquaintances. Social media has definitely helped this become easier for many, including myself.