Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Painless Networking

This week we’re talking about Bouchercon, the huge mystery conference that just concluded in Dallas. The question is about networking and how we approach it. But before I get to that question, I want to say that leaving the conference this time I ran into several people who said they were always sad and let-down when it was over. I said that I’d like to live at Bouchercon. I’d like to be able to do my writing all day and then when I was tired and ready to go into the world, I’d like to go downstairs and all the attendees would be there, ready to mingle with, to laugh with, to compare notes, to have a drink with, to commiserate with. Writers, readers, editors, publishers, reviewers, librarians, booksellers… I miss you today. I miss the ones who were there, and those who were unable to attend for whatever reason. You are my tribe.
Norcal MWA members reading through the play "The Ghost Town Mortuary" written by Anthony Boucher and performed in honor of Bouchercon's fiftieth anniversary.

Bar scene. Yes, people do go to the bar.

Anthony-nominated pals Lori Rader-day and James Ziskin. One of them won!

On to the question: Networking implies chatting up people who either can help you or you can help them. It’s a “business” word. But I think of it as much more. It’s the way people relate in any way to my life as a writer.

I approach networking at a conference by talking to every single person I meet and trying to make them either a potential sounding board as a writer, someone whose writing I may enjoy reading, someone who may be able to answer a burning question related to the publishing field or a potential reader.

I am blessed (or cursed) with being relentlessly social. I rarely meet someone I can’t have a conversation with. The biggest way to grow your network is to talk to people about their interests, their jobs, their passions. This is true of every conference you go to.

I have developed questions that are sure to draw out people at conferences:

1)    Are you a writer, a fan, or related to publishing in some other way? The related questions branch off from there.

2)    If you’re a reader (yay! A reader!) , what do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? If the answer is that they like to read someone whose novels are like mine, I may trot out my bookmark and tell them a little (and I mean a little) about my books. If they like books that don’t seem like mine, I will try to think of an author they might enjoy reading.

3)    If you’re a writer, there are endless questions beyond “what do you write?” If you’re a thriller writer, how do you push your characters to the edge? If you’re a cozy writer, how do you manage to think up ways to get your characters in hot water and get them out without resorting to calling the police? Police procedurals, do you have police background? If not, how do you do research? If so, do you draw on real cases? As a writer, what’s your process? Do you write fast, slow, do you outline, fly by the seat of your pants? Are you traditionally published? Are you satisfied with that? Small or large press? If you could choose any publisher, who would it be and why? Do you publish independently? What’s your biggest challenge? Do you feel successful? What’s your worse fear?

4)    If you’re a reviewer, do you work exclusively for one source, or are you independent? How do you choose what you review? How long have you been a reviewer? What do you do if you don’t like a book? Do you refuse to review it, give a lukewarm review, pan it? Has an author ever gotten angry? Corrected you? What do you do about that?

5)    If you’re a publisher, what kind of books does your company focus on? How many titles per year? Do you love it? What made you go into publishing? What’s your biggest challenge?

6)    If you’re an editor, are you an acquiring editor, developmental editor, copyeditor? Do you work for a publishing company or are you independent? What rocks your world in a manuscript? What’s your favorite book you’ve edited? What does an author do that drives you crazy?

7)    If you’re a librarian, where do you work? Are mysteries your favorite books? What else do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Does your library do book events? Are you open to the idea of a panel of mystery authors? Do you know about Sisters in Crime’s “We Love Libraries” program?

8)    Are you a bookseller? What’s hot these days? What are you recommending? Any frustrations you’re having, like getting books? How is your business being affected by ebooks? By on-line sales? Do like having authors come for events? What are the special challenges of that?

You rarely get through even a few of these questions before you become deeply involved in the details. There are so many people at Bouchercon that it seems you barely get started before it’s time to rush off to a panel, a meeting, a lunch, or to crash in your bedroom getting a second wind.

If you are pressed for time, or just want a quick connection with someone, the short question to kick-start a conversation with anyone is, “What are you (writing, reading, reviewing, considering) at the moment that you are excited about?”

There are a lot of people who look lost at a conference with 1700 attendees, and you are sure to connect with some of them, especially if you have a few of those questions ready.

Photo of a an old friend, Tim Maleeny, who is back in the writing life after a hiatus, and the reading world will be better for it. 

And I end with a photo of dear Bill Crider, who was honored at Bouchercon with a special short story contest and a memorial cocktail party: 



Paul D. Marks said...

Great list of questions, Terry. And it sounds like you had a terrific time.

Terry said...

It was a terrific Bouchercon. Missed you.

Paul D. Marks said...

I missed being there. Hopefully I'll make it to Sac'to and see you there.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

You've got it down to an art, Terry. And Bouchercon sounds like it was a blast.