Friday, March 1, 2013

Know When to Just Stop Talking

by Mindy McGinnis

People who know me well are probably double-checking the title of this post, wondering if I'm really the best qualified person to address this particular issue. While I may be a bit of a talker, one thing I do know is when to stop. At least, in a professional setting.

I've been to quite a few conferences, and I admit that I love them. There's no such thing as awkwardness when all you need to start a conversation with a complete stranger is ask, "So, what do you write?" Even though I'm a country girl, I don't mind a room jam-packed with like-minded individuals ... as long as those people aren't standing in front of me and monopolizing the time of someone I'd like to talk to as well.

It constantly amazes me that people who are willing to shell out the money to attend a conference, and perhaps travel a great deal to get there, have no idea how to pitch themselves in a face-to-face environment.

There never fails to be a handful of people who make their pitch to the agent/editor/bookseller, hand them the business card, and then proceed to ask about a mutual friend, or what their favorite book might be, or ... (yes, really) how they've felt about the weather lately.

It's onerous. It's painful for the person you're addressing because they're trying their best to be professional and courteous as well. They can't very well say, "Excuse me, you did your bit. Now move." So instead their eyes glaze over, they nod like a bobble head, and their smile starts to seem suspiciously stitched on.

Meanwhile there are roughly 10-15 people standing behind that Talky McTalkerton who have something to say that's actually relevant, and trust me, Talky just became their least favorite person.

How do you avoid being Talky McTalkerton? Here are some tips.

  • Have a business card with your relevant information on it. Tell the person your name when you introduce yourself, but don't recite your website url or your email address. Put that information on your business card, as well as any other social media that might be pertinent. Hand that useful piece of paper to them, and keep the interesting things about you for conversation. Everybody has links. You've got something better to actually talk about.
  • Have something ready to say. Don't walk up to anyone for a quick FTF and have nothing prepared. Have your elevator pitch ready if you're approaching an agent, or a speedy "Hi there, I'm looking to set up a signing with a group of fellow MG authors if you'd be interested," for the bookseller. Don't walk up and say, "Hi, I'm Talky McTalkerton and I'm a writer." Duh. They didn't think you were a crude oil miner.
  • Ask the right questions to the right people. Don't approach a bookseller or librarian with the pitch for your unpublished book. Don't approach an editor with questions about how many first run printings you can expect from the book you haven't finished writing yet. Don't approach an agent and ask how to succeed in digital self-publishing. Sure, they might have some information that might help you with your question, but honestly they're probably going to redirect you to someone who is better equipped to answer you ... and you just wasted their time plus the time of everyone behind you.
  • Know when Networking is Notworking. It's amazing how dense some people can be about social cues. Is the person you're talking to packing up their stuff as you fling words at them? Yeah ... that means they're ready to leave and you're stopping that from happening. Are you following them and throwing words at them sideways while they're walking? Yeah ... they're trying to get away from you (unless they invited you to walk with them to their next panel). Are they purposely looking over your shoulder or smiling at the person behind you to encourage them to step up and say their piece? Yeah ... they're done talking to you.
Everyone wants to stand out at conferences, but in my experience the best way to do that is to be prepared and polite. Dress nicely, do your thing, and then get out of the way in under 90 seconds. The person you're talking to will thank you, and so will the person behind you.

Especially if it's me.

Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. Her debut, Not a Drop to Drink, is a post-apocalyptic survival tale set in a world where freshwater is almost non-existent, available from Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins September 9, 2013. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire and contributes to the group blogs Book PregnantFriday the ThirteenersThe Class of 2k13The Lucky 13s and The League of Extraordinary Writers. You can also find her on TwitterTumblr & Facebook.


Mel Kinnel said...

I really had to laugh at "Talky McTalkerton". I've never been to a conference but will have to keep your tips in mind when I attend my first one. Thanks for the great post!

Mindy McGinnis said...

Hi Mel! Definitely... you'll spot the McTalkerton's right away at your first conference - you don't want to be one!

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