A Blagger’s Guide to Schmoozing

November 15, 2013

 

Abbie Todd

Abbie Todd

I am organising the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ Conference Party. It’s a great opportunity for unpublished and published authors and illustrators to mingle with editors, agents, publicists and art directors.

I recently stumbled across this blog, which I wrote after attending last year’s SCBWI Undiscovered Voices party, but I never did anything with it. Good timing, I thought. So here it is!

When I attended a glitzy publishing party in London, I was faced with a room full of agents and editors – all masters in the art of schmoozing. Oh God, thought I, how am I going to get through this? They’ll sense my fear! Pounce on it faster than the next Harry Potter.

If you’re an aspiring writer, you’ll probably find it beneficial, at some point, to venture out of your writing cave and try to engage with the real world. I’m talking mingling, networking, chatting, business carding, and other scary words that end in ‘ing’. Yes, I too loathe to be dragged from my writing cave. I struggle to interact with real people rather than characters. I have to remember that talking to myself is only acceptable in the inner sanctum of the cave. But needs must.

Here are my top tips for how to blag your way through such an ordeal:

  1. Don’t booze and schmooze. By all means, have one (or two … or possibly three) to calm your nerves, but don’t get carried away. I’m thinking that vomiting on the shoes of an editorial director, or bursting into tears in front of an agent who’s rejected you isn’t the best way forward.
  2. You will enjoy yourself. It’s mandatory. Smile, and make eye contact with people, even if they walk right past you.
  3. Find some kind of tenuous link to your schmoozee (the person you wish to schmooze). If you sent them a manuscript when you were fifteen (as I did) and received a personal response, go and thank them! If you read and enjoyed something they edited/agented(?!)/wrote, tell them. If your second cousin’s wife’s brother-in-law lives in the same village, mention it. But don’t take this too far – we don’t want to stray into stalker territory.
  4. Have a good exit strategy if you end up talking to someone for too long, or if your eyes are straying to other people you want to talk to. Try ‘I need some more water’, or ‘I’m just going to find the loo’, or ‘I must go and catch up with such-and-such’.
  5. Most folks who work in publishing are absolutely lovely, but there will always be exceptions. I was once quite coldly rejected to my face by an agent. Don’t be discouraged if someone is rude to you. You are worth talking to, damnit. Just find someone who will listen.
  6. Have a pitch ready. Fairly obvious, you might say. But it needs to be succinct. A sentence or two. The longer it is, the more likely you are to mess it up/stumble over bits/forget key plot points.
  7. Find someone who knows everyone, and strike up a conversation. Often, people will gravitate towards them, and if you stand there like a lemon for a few seconds, you’re sure to be introduced.
  8. Don’t regret who you didn’t talk to. Focus on the small victories and feel proud of who you did talk to. (I should definitely practice what I preach with this one!)
  9. Don’t be tempted to cluster in the corner with your friends like nervous sheep. Move around the room. If you’re not looking for someone specific, pretend you are, until you notice someone you want to talk to.
  10. If a couple of people are deep in conversation and you want to butt in, do it! Just go in with ‘Sorry to interrupt’ and no-one will think you’re rude.

All of the above can be applied to any number of writing events – author signings, writers’ conferences or parties. Remember, you’re not the only writer who feels nervous about putting themselves out there. And even if it doesn’t lead to anything, it’s intensely rewarding to conquer that inner hermit who’s adamant that you’re better off staying in your cave.

Good luck – happy schmoozing!

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Comments

Comments

  1. What great advice, Abbie! As another writing cave-dweller I’ll try and remember it next time I’m allowed out!

  2. Abbie Todd says:

    Thanks Charlotte! I bet you’re an excellent schmoozer! 🙂

  3. Jane McLoughlin says:

    Excellent advice, Abbie! I think the conference party is generally a friendly event. Writers, agents and editors are all in a celebratory mood so it should be a relatively relaxed experience. Have fun!

  4. Abbie says:

    Thanks Jane! Agree, it’s a lovely bunch of people. I’m sure it won’t stop some folk feeling a bit nervous, though. Getting excited now …

  5. Julian says:

    Good luck with putting theory into practice, Abbie. Looking forward to reading the follow-up blog.

  6. Abbie says:

    Thanks Julian! What, I have to follow my own rules? Can’t just cower in the corner all night? Humph. Yes, a follow-up blog might be a nice idea!

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