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Dos and Don’ts for Interacting with Editors at Conferences

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Later this month I’ll be attending Balticon, a science fiction and fantasy convention in Baltimore, Maryland, for the second time. Over the past decade, I’ve attended a number of conventions geared toward readers and writers, and I’ve had my share of both good and bad interactions with people who found out I’m an editor.

It can be hard to approach someone in any social situation, even more so when you’re an author who has poured your heart into your work and now fears rejection and/or harsh criticism. I get it—I’ve been on that side of the exchange before. In case you’re like me and worried about putting your foot in your mouth, here are some easy dos and don’ts for approaching an editor in person (at conventions or elsewhere).

  • “My name is Author McAuthor. I write magical realism about blood-thirsty unicorns. Nice to meet you!”
      Introduce yourself. Even if you have nothing particular to say, putting a face to a name is always nice, and if we end up working together later—or when sending a query—you can say, “We met at that unicorn convention in Pittsburgh in 2017!” Bonus points for being specific about what kinds of things you write, because that will make you stand out. (Extra bonus points if you really do write magical realism about blood-thirsty unicorns.)
  • “Do you have a minute to chat? I’m working on a romance novel that I’d like to have edited, and I’d love to know what to do next.”
      You don’t have to commit to working with someone, but after introductions, you can still pick their brain about next steps and ask them for advice. This is also a good way to find out what their schedule looks like if they are someone you want to work with in the future.
  • “Hi, I saw you on a panel earlier and would love to chat more about the serial comma while we both enjoy our piña coladas!”
      Don’t be afraid to approach us in social situations, like at a bar or at lunch. Most often, we’re there to interact with others in the industry—just like you. But don’t trap us for half an hour listening to you talk about yourself; engage us in meaningful conversation! (Piña coladas are an added bonus.)

  • “Oh, you’re Editor McEditor. You rejected one of my stories once, which was a huge mistake.”
      No good can come of this. If an editor rejected your work, I can assure you it was nothing personal. But if you introduce yourself to an editor for the sole purpose of saying something snarky or mean-spirited, you’d better believe they’re going to remember you from then on. And not in a good way.
  • “I’m working on a story about a man who meets a woman and they fall in love and then she gets pregnant but the twist is he’s an alien, and then it turns out she’s cheating on him with a centaur-turned-villain whose name is Henrick…”
      Unless we’ve asked you to, don’t pitch us your book on the spot. And then, if we do express interest, definitely don’t tell us the entire plot. Sum it up for us in a sentence or two (typically called an elevator pitch), and then, if we’ve requested it, email the manuscript for us to look at later, when we’re not surrounded by distractions. It’s not that we’re not interested in your work; it’s just that this is not the time or place to be getting so granular—again, unless we’ve specifically asked you to. (In that case, all bets are off: go wild!) One more thing: if an editor does invite you to submit materials, don’t forget to follow up and note when and where the connection was made.
      If an editor is obviously in the middle of a meeting with someone, don’t interrupt. Sometimes this is the only time we’ll have to see clients from other parts of the country face to face, so this time can be precious to us. If you’re only available for a short time, try signing up for a pitch appointment to be sure you have our full attention. If you can be more flexible, a quick “hey, can you chat for a few minutes after your 4 o’clock panel?” will suffice—as long as you’re okay with hearing “no.”

These are just some basics, but if you have specific scenarios you’re wondering about, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below (or shoot us an email).

And if you’re going to be at Balticon in a couple of weeks, let me know! I hope to see you there.

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