by Laura Anne Gilman
In previous posts, I’ve talked about the fine art of business-shmoozing particular to conventions, especially when it ties into the predilection of many publishing people to gather in hotel bars. We’ve discussed the fine art of knowing how to nurse your drink, being okay with NOT drinking, of joining a conversation without feeling awkward, etcetera. All of these are useful skills to contemplate, especially for the first-timer or socially anxious.
But I realized that here was one very important aspect to all this that I left out, one that comes into play, usually, after you’ve mastered those other skills. The Prowl.
You are, let’s say, at the upcoming World Fantasy Conference, where the bar is filled with writers, editors, agents, and readers. Maybe you have some writer-friends there. Maybe your editor or your agent are there. Maybe all of the above. So you step into the bar, and you pause, and you let your gaze skim over the crowd, trying to find familiar faces, and cursing the bar’s decision to drop the lights to pickup-level, rather than identification-level.
(Seriously: can we do something about that? Con-runners? Anyone?)
This pause-at-the-door is a well-known and totally acceptable First Position of The Prowl. If you’re lucky, someone will raise an arm and summon you over. Or you’ll see the person you were scheduled to meet, and can work your way to that area of the bar, waiting for their current meeting to be over (or to be invited to join them early).
Or, you could be without meetings or plan, and just want to see who’s there, to schmooze with for a while. All well and good – some of the best convention meet-ups I’ve had were impromptu greet-and-drinks. So you move into the bar, ideally running into people you know vaguely, or being hailed by people who know you. This is the Second Position: the Casual Shmooze. Sometimes you’ll run into someone at a table, and end up hanging with them all evening, often as other people come and go. Sometimes, you’ll stop long enough to say hello, and move on.
And this is where things can get tricky. Other folk have blogged recently about the dangers of monopolizing the conversation, or zeroing in on A Big Name to the exclusion of others at the table. But there’s another schmoozing no-no to be aware of, as well. The Hustle.
When you’re in Prowl mode, you need to actually interact with the people you join. Unless you say “I’m looking for so-and-so, have you seen them?” (which is, yes, totally acceptable) don’t keep looking out at the crowd instead of your companions, and for dog’s sake don’t give off “all right, who’s higher up on the food chain that I can glom onto?” vibes.
This behavior should not be confused with “oh wow, I see someone else I need to talk to, I’ll see you guys later?” That happens to us all, especially in a group that might gather only once a year. But the relentless movement from group to group in the search for the Right Crowd, the Right Connection, is aggressive networking, and even when done skillfully it can rub people the wrong way. Done obviously, insulting the people you leave behind as being not useful enough to be worthy of your presence? That behavior will be noted by, oh, everyone. And nobody will be impressed. Trust me. I’ve been guilty of it myself a few times, and had my hand slapped, and I’ve called other people on it in turn. Once or twice, it’s a misstep that you can apologize for. Get a reputation for being a hustler, more interested in making a potentially useful connection than actually talking to people?
People notice. They remember. And what they remember isn’t “oh, so-and-so, with X project that sounded interesting,” or “so-and-so who was fun to hang out with,” but “ so-and-so, who came across as a user.”
And that’s not the impression you want an editor or an agent – or a writing-peer – to remember you by.
Laura Anne Gilman is a former editor with Penguin/Putnam, and the author of twenty novels, most recently DRAGON JUSTICE (PSI #4) and the forthcoming COLLARED (a Gin & Tonic mystery) under the name LA. Kornetsky. She is also the author of Practical Meerkat’s 52 Bits if Useful info for Young (and Old) Writers. For more info check her website, her BookView Cafe bookshelf, or follow her on Twitter (@LAGilman)
She also runs d.y.m.k. productions, an editorial services company (www.dymkproductions.com).
And yes, her nickname really is meerkat.