Yesterday I posted briefly about how awkward it can feel to be at a conference, as an editor, and not know anyone. In the comments, Keira asked:

I always feel like editors and agents get mobbed so much (no wonder they don’t wear their nametags) that they’d be happy to have a quiet drink without someone accosting them and wanting to talk…even about commonplace things. I’m always trepiditous of approaching someone unless I’m introduced or I have a question after their workshop. What in your opinion is the best way to approach an editor or an agent who doesn’t know you and whom you’ve never met before?

First, I should say that I sometimes go without my nametag not because I’m trying to hide who I am or because I don’t want anyone to talk to me, but because seeing my nametag seems to have the effect of making people uncomfortable and less likely to talk to me, or to feel awkward (true story). I figure if I’m without nametag, conference attendees who don’t recognize me will instead just think I’m forgetful and will assume I’m another author they can be comfortable and casual with.

I should also say that there’s a difference between approaching an editor or agent at a conference who’s clearly meeting with someone (at a quiet corner in the bar) versus approaching an editor or agent who’s at a social function at a conference, like a cocktail party, dinner, lunch. We’re there to talk to everyone at that point, not just one person, so it’s okay to approach us!

Here are some conversation opening suggestions. First, introduce yourself (please don’t just walk up and start talking and force us to stare at your chest to see who you are). Then:

    * Tell the editor/agent you follow their blog/Twitter/Facebook and mention something recent they may have posted that you enjoyed.
    * Or ask them about their kids (if they talk about them, like I do, on their social media).
    * If you know who the editor/agent works for, comment on a recent book they published or represented.
    * Ask them if they’re enjoying the conference
    * Ask them what projects they have coming up that they’re excited about.
    * Ask them what they’re reading
    * Converse with them about area events, things to see/do.
    * Do not talk about the weather.
    * Offer to buy them a drink (get the agents and editors drunk. Maybe they’ll dance on the bar later so you can take pictures for Twitter).
    * If they’re wearing something you like, comment on it (jewelry, clothes, shoes, makeup, hair. We’re as easy as the next person when it comes to flattery).
    * Don’t pitch your book. But if they ask what you write, answer concisely. If they then ask about your current work in progress, be prepared not to ramble for five minutes. Give a 2-3 sentence answer. Then stop talking. Give them a chance to ask questions!
    * Compliments, flattery, sincere interest in their work, lives or other casual conversation is appreciated. If you know you have a common interest (love of Julie Garwood historical romances, addiction to shoes, Etsy and purses, a fine appreciate for cooking and baking), even better!
    * Offer to give us a ride to/from conference and airport.
    * Issue an invitation!

Some of my best conference memories are because an author issued an invitation to me either at or before the conference. I attended a conference years ago (at least five) but I still remember a particular aspiring author because she was sitting at my table at the dinner presentation, and she invited me to go with her after dinner to meet some friends and attend a local jazz festival. We hadn’t met before that meal, but she knew I was there for the conference and might not know anyone there, or in the area. I had such a great time and was really grateful to that author.

Similarly, one of the Carina Press authors, Fiona Lowe, knows I’m coming to Australia in August for their conference, and that my husband is coming with me. She offered up her husband to take mine to an Australian football match while I was busy with conference activities (as it happens, I have that afternoon free so we’re all going, hurray!) It was thoughtful of her to think of something my husband might enjoy and offer to arrange it for him.

So those are just some examples of how to break the conversational ice. Honest, we’re just like your author friends, so don’t get too nervous and worked yourself up. The only agent I know of who bites is Jessica Faust. You might need to watch out for that one. But otherwise, we’re all quite safe and nice, and happy to talk to you! Except in the bathroom. That’s usually just awkward.

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