You can achieve better results with less effort, people. And that totally sounds like a tagline for a laundry detergent. So maybe that's what I'm giving you: the new and improved detergent for helping you network.
What? That made no sense? Hang in there. The rest of this post will. Probably. (And if you read nothing else, skip to the end because there's some key information highlighted down there that you need)
"Networking" is a fancy way of saying "making friends." Just like real life, getting-them-to-do-stuff for you is not the point of making friends. The point of making friends is . . . well, it's having friends! This is the greatest gift that attending your first writing conference will give you: You will walk out with a feeling of, "These are my people." And that will feel really, really good.
How to networkYou will sit in a giant ballroom with at least 500 other people. The cool thing is, you will automatically have a HUGE thing in common with ALL of them. The fact that you both write--or want to--is an automatic icebreaker with every single person you meet. See how easy this is going to be already? So, when you plop down in a classroom, don't choose the seat that isn't near anyone. (Also don't sit right next to someone if there are only three people in the room. It's weird. It freaks me out when people do that in movie theaters. Why, people? Why?) Give yourself a one seat buffer, or even a one row buffer if that makes you feel better, then turn to the nearest person and smile. If you're bold, say "Hi." And just ask basic questions. Where are they from? What do they write? What do they think of the conference so far? Every single one of those questions will lead to more opportunities for questions as you find common ground. Pretty soon you're having a conversation. If you'd like to keep in touch, offer them a business card or ask if they have one.
It's great if you want to sit with friends at meals and general sessions, but make sure your table includes some unfamiliar faces and get to know them too. And be gracious when people ask to sit at your table. Rosalyn Eves asked to sit at my table last year and I didn't know her and now I love her. And I have another great friend, Kathy, who I met the same way. And several other examples of people who it turned out wrote in the same genre as I do, or loves the same authors as me, or in one case, even lived in my same city and that made me so happy since I'm not in Utah.
Who you want to network with kind of depends on where you are in your writing career.
Novice writersYou're just starting out. Everything is new, exciting, bewildering, and often overwhelming. You may have one completed manuscript, or might still be working toward that. You probably don't have a critique group yet.
Who you should network with: other writers, published or not.
Why: You will find kindred spirits. I promise. From the struggles with your craft to the specific challenges you have in fitting your writing into your life to trying to shape a good story to your obsessive reading, you'll find someone who experiences those same challenges/feelings/obsessions. And you will immediately feel less at least 50% less crazy. And slightly relieved because now you'll know you're not the only weirdo on the planet--there's at least two of you!
Who you don't need to network with: agents/editors, etc. You're not there yet, and that's fine. It's not a race. It's interesting to learn from them in classes on points of craft, and really helpful to get that high-level perspective, but I promise you, it's not a big deal if you don't talk to them at this conference. Your work isn't ready yet, maybe isn't even finished yet, and it will be some time before you need publishing connections. What you really need are friends who are in the trenches. They will understand your struggles, talk you down from the ledge, critique your work for you, and just be a good thing in your life.
Experienced writersYou're not published yet, but you've got a couple of completed manuscripts. You may have a critique partner/group. You're looking to publish.
Who you should network with: other writers. See above. But also: industry professionals. Find published writers who are with the agent or publisher you're interested in. Ask them about their experiences, what they like and how they went about getting that agent/editor. DON'T ask them to read your manuscript. It's incredibly time-consuming to do right, and for a million reasons, even in a very best case scenario, you're putting that writer in a super awkward position. But DO ask them for what resources they like to use, like what conferences they like, blogs they read, books on craft they've enjoyed. That's what made their writing better, and they'll be happy to share those resources with you. For agents/editors, ask them about the kind of work they're looking for, and what they've read lately and loved. 99% of the time, the conversation will lead to them asking about your work. Have a short, simple CONVERSATIONAL description of what you write ready, but you're not trying to sell them on your book right then. If they're interested, they'll ask for it. If not, don't push it. You'll leave the wrong kind of impression.
Published writersYou've got a book (or more) out there. But network with other writers anyway. Especially with other published writers who again, and I can't emphasize this enough, will make you feel less crazy. Because if you are crazy, it's a shared hallucination, and that's comforting. Also, on a selfish note, as the conference co-chair I hope you'll be generous in your time with aspiring writers, answer questions patiently, and generally send good vibes out into the writerverse. But on a practical note, you never know when you're talking to an influential blogger who has the ability to put your book in front of a new audience.
How we're going to help you: WE'VE BUILT IN NETWORKING OPPORTUNITIES FOR YOU, no matter where you are on your path. ON FRIDAY NIGHT after the keynote address, we have three different events. You can go to any or all of them. First, we have our Publisher Mingle where representatives of several publishing companies (Deseret Book, Covenant, Whiskey Creek Press, Clean Teen Publishing, and more) will be on hand to answer questions about their companies and what they're looking for. These aren't pitch sessions; this is much less formal, and it's a great opportunity for you to ask questions about these publishers, how they work, what they want, and if they're a good fit for you.
Next, we have our Genre Mingle. We'll have tables, maybe even whole ROOMS, divided into genres so you can sit and chat with other middle grade writers, or mystery writers, or romantic comedy writers, or national market writers, or LDS fiction writers, or what have you. And you can move from genre to genre just chatting if you write in more than one. This will be unstructured and free-flowing so you can chat at your leisure. This might be a good opportunity to find new critique partners or new authors to read.
And we'll have the Authors Incognito Mingle. Authors Incognito is a group of aspiring writers who have attended at least one Storymakers conference. They cheer and support each other and are in general wonderful, friendly, helpful people writing in all kinds of genres.
Mainly, guys? Just relax and enjoy this. Ask thoughtful (but not overly probing) questions. Answer questions that people ask you. You will meet new people. You will make new friends. You will feel less crazy. You will be glad you came!