Conference Etiquette a la Rob Lowe
I love attending conferences because of the people. I also hate attending conferences because of the people…well, maybe just one or two people.
The majority of people attending romance writer events are friendly, courteous and professional. They understand the concept of networking and socially acceptable behavior for business events.
In the spirit of Rob Lowe’s DirecTV commercials, I thought I’d showcase some of the less attractive Conference Attendee Personalities that occasionally make an appearance at romance writer conferences.
This is the person who takes up two (or three or four) seats in a room with personal items such as a laptop, backpack or purse. Sometimes they really settle in for a comfortable stay by propping their feet on the chair in front of them.
Etiquette tip: Put your personal items under your seat, especially if the room is crowded.
If you see people in need of a chair and there’s an empty one near you, raise your hand to let them know. When they sit down, smile and say hello.
There is a well-known legend within the romance writers’ community about the conference newbie who was so excited to meet an editor that she followed the poor woman into the bathroom and proceeded to pitch her story to the editor through the stall door. Believe it or not, I witnessed a similar transaction! These stalkers are generally harmless, but their lack of professional boundaries is a bright red flag that screams NEWBIE.
Etiquette tip: New writers are frequently in awe of publishing icons like editors, agents and bestselling authors. To be “up close and personal” with romance industry “celebrities” may trigger the impulse to act like a fan girl. However, if your goal is to become a peer to these professionals, you must conduct yourself accordingly.
There is a time and place for pitching and querying, and it isn’t the powder room.
THE PARTY GIRL
Beware the after-hour meet-and-mingles, especially those featuring open bars. Alcohol makes people do crazy things, like gossip, act overly familiar, stumble in stilettos and—God forbid!—barf.
Etiquette tip: Limit yourself to one or two drinks, and remind yourself that this is a professional event, even if attending a party or dining out with a group of friends. Make it a rule to never, ever gossip or reveal proprietary information.
Have you ever approached a speaker after a workshop to express thanks or ask a quick question, and lost the opportunity because the person who got there first kept talking and talking and talking and talking? Before too long, it’s time for the next workshop and The Monopolizer still has the speaker cornered. This is the same person you encounter at parent-teacher conferences who uses up 80 percent of someone else’s appointment.
Etiquette tip: Please be sensitive to the fact that you are not the only conference attendee. Many other people would like an opportunity to connect with the same people you want to meet. Make your exchange with a speaker/industry professional brief and ask if you follow-up with them via email or another time.
And a gentle suggestion to The Monopolized: if you see a line of people waiting to speak with you, please tactfully move The Monopolizer along. This acknowledges that you value everyone’s time and attention.
THE SPOTLIGHT HOG
This person may be afflicted by a condition known as Me-Me-Me syndrome. Symptoms include revealing too much information (TMI), lack of social reciprocation and egocentric myopia.
Etiquette tip: If someone asks what you write, ask what they write. If someone asks about your book plot, give them one sentence, not a play-by-play. Encourage everyone at your lunch table to join the conversation.
Remember, the art of small talk is about making the other person feel big.
What happens at your conference may not stay at the conference, given our love of social media and cell phones. There always seems to be someone snapping photos or video which then makes its way to Instagram or Facebook, often without the awareness and/or permission of those captured in the image.
Etiquette tip: Ask permission before taking photos or video, even in public areas. This includes speakers, presenters and publishing professionals.
THE BEACH BUM (may show up with her sisters THE BAG LADY and THE STREET WALKER)
You are attending a conference, not a fashion show, but there are some firm rules of thumb. Shorts, sweat pants and hoochie mama dresses are better left at home.
Etiquette tip: The conference you are attending is a professional event. You will be judged by your appearance so keep that in mind when it comes to personal hygiene (skip the perfume!) and clothing (business casual works every time).
There are exceptions for theme events and social outings, but consider the impression you’ll make before stepping out in that Vampira-Slut-of-the-Undead outfit.
THE CELL PHONE ADDICT
Posture is a dead giveaway for The Cell Phone Addict. She is usually hunched over, eyes on her lap, thumbs flying. Engaging with your cell phone (texting or talking) during meals and workshops is distracting and rude.
Etiquette tip: When you arrive for your conference, set your device to vibrate and leave it there until you leave.
A discreet peek to make sure there are no urgent messages from your husband who was left in charge of the children is acceptable.
Looking forward to seeing all of the wonderful romance writers—and one of these crazy personalities—at California Dreamin’.
Maria Connor has been a member of RWA since 1998. She has volunteered at both the local and national level, and holds membership in numerous RWA chapters, including Kiss of Death, First Coast Romance Writers, RWA-San Diego, Outreach International, Contemporary Romance Writers, RWA’s The Golden Network, Passionate Ink and the Yellow Rose RWA.
In 2013 she founded My Author Concierge, an author support business that provides editorial, technical, marketing and administrative services. Over the past two years, she has worked with more than 50 authors, primarily within the romance genre. She writes sexy, sassy contemporary romance under the pen names EmKay Connor and Margo Diamond. She recently released SAND BETWEEN YOUR TOES and has another soon-to-be-released novella, WHAT LIES BENEATH, from Ellora’s Cave.