Smile – Everyone’s Watching

Conferences! What a wonderful time to meet like-minded people, make friends, find mentors, learn the craft, and maybe entice that perfect agent or editor to love your stories. You can make major strides forward in your writing career by attending conferences, but you can also make some horrendous mistakes that can set you back. Let’s talk about positive attitude.

From the moment you step into the hotel, or maybe even as you arrive at the airport in your hometown, you are “on.” Meaning that there are people around you who can notice you and your reactions and interactions. This is the time to practice patience, resilience, friendliness and helpfulness. This is not the time to complain about the lines for check-in or comment about the leggings a woman has chosen to wear that shows the outline of her thong. The hotel staff is working hard to accommodate all the conference attendees, and the person you just made a snarky comment to about the thong lady might be her best friend.

One of my favorite quotes is:

“…people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

This is very true. Your goal at conferences should be to make people feel better having met you. I’ve had people complain to me about everything from the lines in the bathroom to the luncheon chicken at conferences, and the only thing I remember about them is that they are complainers and not someone I want to sit next to.

At one crafting workshop, we were supposed to share a few lines from the opening of our WIPs with the people at our table. At the RWA conference where I was a Golden Heart Finalist, I read a line from my book, which was up for the award. I thought it was pretty creative, but the woman next to me said that it didn’t make any sense, and that I should re-write the whole paragraph. No, she wasn’t some famous author or editor, offering constructive criticism in a helpful way. She was a woman who barely smiled and offered nothing positive to the conversation. I don’t remember much about her except how she made me feel.

When I was an unpublished newbie, attending my first RWA conference, I rode down in the elevator with a VERY well-known author and her small entourage. My heart beat fast, and I smiled broadly. She had lovely shoes on, and I thought to complement them. I made eye contact, but she looked away. In fact, it seemed she went out of her way to completely ignore me through the long way down. Perhaps she thought I had a manuscript tucked in my pantyhose that if she said hello I’d ask her to read. Or maybe she’d been accosted in the bathroom by writer fans. I don’t know, but I stepped off that elevator feeling like the geeky, wallflower that the cool kids look down upon. Because of who she was, I will remember her name and what she didn’t say to me (with a smile or a “thank you” when I would have said I loved her shoes), but I will also always remember how little she made me feel. And I will NEVER buy one of her books.

I will also never talk badly about her because that would be a negative reflection on me, but I won’t be able to recommend her as an author either. I doubt this will hinder her success in any way, but for those of us who are not the very-well-known, making others feel small or being negative could hurt our budding careers.

On the other side of the behavior coin, I’ve had some authors take the time to ask me what I write. They’ve been gracious and helpful, giving me information or even their contact information. They made me feel hopeful and encouraged. And I will ALWAYS remember that. I forward their promotion material on. I attend their talks at conferences. I buy their books and recommend them to people.

Fabulous and very welcoming author, Jennifer Bernard, and Heather at a small conference in Wilmington, NC.

As you prepare for your upcoming conferences, remember to not only pack your business cards and comfortable, yet professional, pumps, but also pack your smile. Okay, that was corny, but you get what I’m saying. A smile, a nod, a patient example, a helpful word – all of these things are just as, or even more, important as your perfect pitch. When you are at conference, you aren’t just pitching what you write, you are pitching yourself to potential readers, colleagues, and editors/agents.

If you are drained and just can’t pull it together to be civil one more minute, high-tail it to your room for a quick nap to regain your composure before heading back out into the public eye. Conferences are exhausting, and at some point, we all want to complain about how the tea water in the hot water carafe tastes like coffee (maybe that’s just me), but you certainly don’t want to appear negative to everyone around you. You want to be remembered for the gracious, positive person that we all wish to be.

Keep this in mind, and remember to smile at the people in the elevator!



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