“Suffering Writer’s Conference Networking Block”

SCBWI Conference by rhcrayon/flickr

They're having fun!!

Networking at the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference was a flop.

In everything I’ve read about conferences and certainly in my own writer’s group I’ve heard how important it is to network at writer’s conferences.

I went to the Regional Mid Atlantic SCBWI Conference last weekend and found again how hard it is for me to network. This was true also at the Pennwriter’s Conference I went to last May.

I suck at it. I felt like the wall flower at a party in middle school. First, I had crowd fatigue after just one workshop. I was blown away about how much work is ahead of me with marketing my book “Annie’s Special Day.” And about how that’s my new job. Not writing.

I was so overwhelmed after the first workshop that I ran to my car to lick my wounds. I didn’t want to talk to anyone except my husband. I looked at my watch. It was only 9:30 am. He would be fast at work on his own project, on his linguistic program and I thought I can’t call him after every workshop, every hour. I’d wait till later.

So I stayed in my car and walked around till it was time for the next workshop. It was an agent panel. How I wished I had an agent to talk to my publishers and navigate that trail for me. And not for the first time. There are so many questions I have to negotiate by myself, right now and this whole past year. Yes, I wish I had an agent. The agent panel only confirmed my fears and/or wishes.

I tried to talk to the authors in line for the bathroom. They just weren’t friendly. When I asked if they were enjoying the conference, they looked at me like I was from Mars. Maybe they were having the same reaction I was. Then after I had finished there was time to wander around. People were milling around. Finally I got the nerve up to ask someone,

“Everyone’s talking but us, what’s your name?’” and then we started talking.

I talked to three other writers during my conference. None of them were published or even had a finished book. All were afraid to tell me what their book was about because they thought I would steal their idea. None had an elevator speech or even knew what that was.

SBWI conferences are those that have narrowed down the genre of writers. They are those conferences that deal only with children’s literature.The attendees are kid lit writers or illustrators.We all have that in common. So I thought it would be easy to talk to people. Easier than at the Pennwriters’ Conference anyway. I just don’t have an easy time of it.

I felt immense gratitude for my writer’s group where I had learned so much about the business of writing. I felt gratitude for all the people along the way that had told me, taught me and had passed along information to me about writing

I was further along the road than these writers I had met. None had heard about the online conferences that had given me so much, The Muse Online Conference and WriteOnCon. All I could do was give them the web sites and dates of the conferences and reassure them no one was going to steal their idea. That most people have so many ideas of their own that they want to develop they don’t think to steal another’s. I only gave my card to one other person and I don’t think it was looked at. No one shared email addresses. Yes, networking at this conference was a flop. At any rate I did talk to three people and enjoyed the workshops immensely.

Have you had similar experiences? All I heard was how important it is to network at these things and I couldn’t seem to do it very well. Have you gone to conferences and had a hard time networking?

About ClaraBowmanJahn

Journal writer. Author of "Annie's Special Day" And coauthor of Edmund Pickle Chin, A Donkey Rescue Story." Proud mother and grandmother of wonderful kids. Wife of brilliant husband. Servant of two cats. Member of Pennwriters and SCBWI.
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17 Responses to “Suffering Writer’s Conference Networking Block”

  1. Oh, poor Clar! It sounds like you had a tough time. I know exactly how you feel. I’m pretty shy in real life (as opposed to online:)) and it’s very hard for me to walk up to people and start conversations. That said, I’ve always found the people I met at SCBWI conferences to be friendly and helpful and I’ve enjoyed meeting them – I have a much harder time with editors – not because they aren’t nice – they are – but because I’m intimidated by their power!

    As for being overwhelmed with marketing, join the club 🙂 But you’re in the right place. We will all help you! Whenever you want you can contact me and we’ll set up an interview and giveaway on my blog for you – you choose the date that works best for your release and I’ll work it in – and the sooner we pick a day the better so we can start talking it up – so email me if you want 🙂 And if you haven’t visited Laura Barnes’s blog Laura B Writer, check it out – she’s all about marketing and full of great ideas!

    Hang in there and good luck!


    • clarbojahn says:

      OH thank you! I’m not that much of a loser. Or at least I don’t think I am. LOL. But you’re right about being shy. It’s easier online because you’re not face to face and have a little anonymity. People get their first impression from what you say not how you look. Maybe There’s something about the way I look? 🙂 so much for second guessing myself.

      Thanks for the heads up on LauraBWriter. I’ll check her out. I have also started reading Laura Cullins blog..She’s also all about marketing. And another book maven who’s name I can’t remember, I follow her, too.

      And yes,, I’ll email you. Thanks for that offer. I’m very grateful. 🙂


  2. suzicate says:

    I feel for you. I suck at networking also. It’s a shame they publishers leave the marketing up to the authors these days.


    • clarbojahn says:

      I think if you are a celebrity the publisher will do more to market for you. I know some subsidy publishers also market for you but you pay for it either way.

      What, you suck at networking? I wouldn’t have thought. 🙂 You seem so outgoing on your blog. You are so revealing online. Isn’t it funny how different we are in real life. 🙂


  3. I’m good at networking, as I spent my career doing so. But, after a serious injury in 2004, I’m less outgoing. So,I do so more on-line. Attended the national SCBWI conference and did put myself out to people, but not to the extent I would have. Fortunately, I attended with four other people I knew. That helped.

    So, you are working directly with a publisher without an agent. I had an agent at SCBWI suggest I send my MS to a publisher. I said, but I want an agent. He said I write in a special niche — get published, then get an agent to represent you. He told me it would be hard for an agent to not take on an MS that has been accepted. So, if my MS is accepted I will send out letters to agents.

    My mentor and editor, co-authors books with her celebrity mother. She says that actually it is harder for them. They do a few TV interviews and book signings, but also have to do their own marketing. Have learned so much from Emma about the entire business. I also participate in her online Children’s Book Hub, and listen to some of the top agents, publishers, editors, authors in the industry her her twice monthly teleseminars. If you scroll down my website, I have a link to the hub in my side bar. Working with Emma was the best decision I ever made.

    You must live in the northeast since you mentioned snow today. Hope you’re cozy. I’m in Ohio, and it missed us!



    • clarbojahn says:

      Sorry to hear of your difficulty in your past career. We all have had pasts here haven’t we?

      I saw Emma’s hub on your blog and thought since I have a contract that it wouldn’t benefit so much right now. Maybe as I work on my next book I’ll reconsider. I just joined SCBWI two months ago and haven’t fully availed myself of the benefits there. Thanks though for mentioning it. I’ll keep it in mind.

      Yes, I live in Northern Virginia and we got four and a half inches of snow where we live. Now even the next evening it is slow to melt. Fortunately we didn’t get our electricity cut off. I did have a cozy day of cooking and visiting with my son. Thank you 🙂


      • Glad you had a cozy day. You are so fortunate you didn’t lose power.
        There are four of us in Rachael’s campaign who are all members of the Hub. It’s for both authors and unpublished authors. You only need to ask, or click on the website to find out more info. — Patricia


  4. Widdershins says:

    Sorry to hear you had such a tough time of it Clar. I think every writer on the planet has at least one experience like that

    … have you thought about volunteering at a conference. I was going to do this at an international con up here last week but had to pull out because of that dratted head cold. Not being able to stand up really isn’t a good look.

    Most cons are eager for new victim … er … volunteers, and they do try to be flexible with what workshops you might want to attend. You get to hang out with the cool people who know where everything is, and how it all works, and all the insider gossip. It also gives you a sense of purpose when the urge to bolt gets a little frisky … worth a thought.


    • clarbojahn says:

      That is a good idea, Widder. I actually did volunteer at my first conference last May at Pennwriters. I was a PennPal to an editor and I timed pitches as another thing I did. I actually pitched my second PB to the editor but it was on the subject she just published a book like that so she didn’t want mine. She said to keep pitching it and someone was sure to want it. However I got a professional critique on it and need to rewrite it before I pitch it anywhere else. It’s so not ready.

      I also signed up to volunteer at two of the next SCBWI conferences coming up so I’m good to go. You’re right in that it’s easier to network when you have a sense of purpose. 🙂


  5. Pseu says:

    I think that offering to volunteer is an excellent idea…. you may get to meet more folk that way, with a ‘role’ at the conference…. plus you’ll be there ahead of the crowd.

    Also it would be wise to attend with a friend, so at least you have aech other when the scence gets tough


    • clarbojahn says:

      Thanks Psue for that excellent suggestion. As you can read from the above comment I did volunteer at my first real time conference and your right about it being easier to meet people. We had fun but again didn’t exchange emails.

      I actually did go with a friend and she was a workshop teacher and also got sick so didn’t want to hang out with me. She said she signed up for this SCBWI conference but had to cancel at the last minute. She’s one of these that has no problem networking as a rule anyway. Some people are just more outgoing than others. I’m actually an introvert and have always been shy.

      You’re right though for suggesting it though and the next time I will again volunteer. 🙂


  6. mtnwriter77 says:

    It was such a relief to read this post. I had a very similar experience at the Writers’ Digest conference in NYC last January. I found it very hard to initiate conversations and keep them going, and also found that most of the attendees were in the same boat as me – either self-published, small publisher with book going nowhere, or still working on a book. I found myself developing an “attitude”. By the time I got to the pitch slam I was seething with anger at having wasted my money and time (see my post about the experience: http://mtnwriter77.wordpress.com/2011/01/23/mature-womans-perspective-on-pitch-slams/). I had virtually no opportunity to cozy up to any agents (like I thought was possible at conferences), and came away with an almost militant determination to “make it” just to show them all! Well, I still haven’t made it – still pushing novel #1 (Autumn Colors) and trying to get an agent for novel #2 (Sentimental Journey). I keep telling myself to keep going because I haven’t hit even 20 rejections yet – have a long way to go to beat some of the records out there. But I know one thing for sure – I will NOT be counting on going to conferences to help move things along.


    • clarbojahn says:

      So sorry to hear about your bad experiences with agents and conferences. I admire your “attitude” though. In this tough market it’s what keeps us going. Thanks for the link, too.

      I agree to keep submitting and someone might grab it up. We never hear about how many rejections agents go through when they shop publishing houses for us. It may be twenty or more. We just don’t hear about it. So keep on keeping on. OK? 🙂


  7. jannatwrites says:

    I’m sorry it was so difficult. I just went to a one-day conference and I talked to a couple people, but wouldn’t call it networking (no contact info was exchanged.) I went mainly to check things out, as I had not been to a workshop of any kind before, so I didn’t put pressure on myself to mingle. In fact, I read during lunch and found it to be a nice break from the activity.

    I hope your next workshop is more enjoyable. You’ve come so far, try not to get overwhelmed with the other hats you have to try on now 🙂


    • clarbojahn says:

      Thanks for that refreshing take on my networking, Janna. I didn’t realize it was another “hat” but of course it is. As a whole the day was very worthwhile with much information gathered on marketing. Just what I needed.

      How brave of you to read during lunch! Did you feel brave or were you just shy?
      Thanks for the comment and for visiting me. 🙂


  8. Hi Clar, Oh I could feel your pain! I remember the very first national writer’s conference I attended in Boston two years ago. I walked into the room,felt like a fish out of water and had to urge to turn right around and leave. But since I spent all that money and rearranged my schedule to be there, I decided I was going to “fake it till I made it”. Each time I stepped up to another writer or agent, I forced myself to talk, to try out my pitch. I’ve been to many other conferences since and have found the networking to be the best part of the conference. I hope your next conference will be a better experience for you. I can tell you will not give up. Onward!


    • clarbojahn says:

      Well, “faking it till I make it” Is kinda what I ended up doing when I asked the writer if she wanted to talk. I tried other more conventional openings up till then. I know exactly you felt. I’m so glad to hear that it gets better.

      Thanks for the encouragement. 🙂


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