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Mixing and Mingling: The Door to Publication?

Mixing and mingling with industry professionals is an opportunity that you should NEVER let slip by. Here are some tips from my own experience to help you make the most of your conference:

1. Agents and editors are people too. Just like you, they have an agenda as well as their anxieties when attending conference. As an agent or editor walks into the party, she might be thinking: will I find that writer who will get me promoted, or will I have to get a restraining order from the lady in purple? A slight exaggeration that I hope illustrates the point.

2. Introduce yourself if you do, and especially if you don't have an appointment with that person. Be a familiar face when you walk into your appointment; you'd be surprised how much more comfortable you feel and how much she pays attention. Or, seize the opportunity to chat up your first-choice agent who was booked by the time you signed up for your appointment.

3. Small talk doesn't have to be small. When I attended my very first writer's conference in 2001, Red Dress Ink Senior Editor Margaret Marbury sat next to me during the keynote lunch. Rather than pester her with my pitch or worse, ignore her, I said hi and then complimented her on her dress. We started talking about life in New York versus L.A. and then, she told about the new line she was starting called Red Dress Ink. From that chance meeting, I didn't get a six figure offer for my book; rather, I got a valuable education on the editorial process (especially submission faux pas that irritated editors the most), what makes a book marketable, the books she had edited, etc.

4. Don't drink and drive. Keeping the previous point in mind, don't fuel up on liquid courage even if you are at a wine and cheese party. Social mixers are ultimately professional events. The agent holding a glass of wine while laughing at your witty repartee still has an agenda at the conference: to size up potential authors and meet up with her current authors. You have an agenda too and don't screw it up!

5. Have an entry and an exit plan. I met my editor during the Q&A session of the Avon Spotlight during the Romance Writers of America conference in New York. After the session, I went up to her and introduced myself. She was surrounded by authors who wanted the guidelines she was passing out, so I kept it short by asking if she would like to see the synopsis and the first three chapters of my book I had referenced in my question. She said yes and I thanked and then wished her a good conference. Do you know that when I asked her about that day eight months later, she remembered? What she appreciated was that I respected her time and yet took the time to introduce myself and my book. It was the start of a beautiful friendship.

6. Do not channel your inner used-car salesman. Present yourself as a confident and professional author that agent or editor would enjoy working with. If you find the conversation dwindling or there are six people lining up behind you, end the conversation with a thank you or "it was great meeting you, may I have your card so that I may send you the synopsis and first three chapters of my [insert tagline here]." Trust me, she will remember you.

7. Don't let the encounter end at the party. If you have a book ready to be sent out, get that letter, synopsis and first three chapters in the mail. An editor once revealed to me that they are never inundated with conference submissions immediately after a writer's conference. That was why my editor called my home three weeks after I sent her a partial submission to request the full. She bought that book two months later.

However, if you don't have a book ready, send a short note reminding the agent or editor of your meeting. Thank her for her time and that you look forward to sending your book after it's done.

Mary Castillo is the author of "Hot Tamara," a romantic comedy that was was excerpted as a Red Hot Read in Cosmopolitan Magazine and deemed "what is sexy right now" by the New York Daily News. Castillo is also a featured author in the anthology, Friday Night Chicas. She was a reporter for the Los Angeles Times Community News and her articles have appeared in Romance Writers Report as well as the University of Redlands' alumni magazine, Och Tamale. 2006.

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