Dice & Deadlines: Convention Networking

I’ve talked a lot about how the freelancer works within the RPG industry. Contracts, word counts, professionalism, editors and co-authors. But there is more to being a freelancer than just writing. Much more. It’s called networking.  And that’s what I’m going to focus on for the next few articles.

Now, don’t let the term “networking” give you hives. Really, all it means is going out, talking to people and making contacts within the industry. This particular article is going to focus specifically on gaming conventions and professionalism—especially when dealing with other RPG professionals. I’m not going to talk about the freelancer personally (hygiene and such) because Jess Hartley has one of the best and least expensive resources out there. Check out Conventions for the Aspiring Game Professional on DriveThruRPG.com.

I’m going to talk about some of the less obvious nuances that will help you connect with the people you want to connect to.

Timing and Opportunity

The first thing you need to realize is that your timing is the most important part of social networking. Interrupting another professional while they are in a meeting, a meal, with family, or something else where they are clearly busy is not a good idea. If you are remembered, you will not be remembered for the right reasons.  Thus, you must pick out the ideal times and grab opportunities where you can.

Some of the best times to approach a professional are “transitional” periods: Asking to walk with them to their next panel, after a group of people has left their dealers table, as they head out for food (but don’t invite yourself to the meal) and so on. One of my more fortunate meetings was in the line waiting for coffee.  Another one was waiting for a panel to start.

The key to meeting people is timing but the grease that keeps the social wheels turning is being able to gracefully accept a rejection. Frequently, professionals will not have time, even in the transitional periods, to talk to you. If you request time and they turn you down, accepting that without fuss will go a long way for the next time you try to meet up.

In Dealers Room

Networking in the Dealers Room is both the best and worst time to do it at a convention. Frequently, the person you want to talk to (the editor, the line developer) is a captive audience behind a table at a booth. This means you know where they are. However, this is their job and you absolutely must allow them to work: selling their product, talking to their writers, and so forth.

That said, there are often down time moments where the savvy freelancer can slip in and talk to their target. Always have a business card. Always ask for a business card. If it is an editor I do not know, I usually start with, “Hello. I’m Jennifer Brozek. I’m a freelance author and I was wondering if you were looking for more freelancers for your product.” It is that simple. Be prepared to talk about what you have worked on and what you like about the product you want to write for. If they say no, thank them for their time and move on.

At all times during your conversation with the person behind the dealers table, you must be prepared to step to the side and allow the RPG professional to do the job of selling their product to people who come to the table. Patience is a virtue and it may be the key to getting you a job.

Parties: Sponsored and Otherwise

Parties have become a big part of conventions. Sponsored parties are usually thrown by one of the larger companies attending the convention. Frequently, these parties will have required invitations or tickets to attend. How one receives these invites is all based upon the individual company. Some are much stricter than others. Some, you just have to ‘know a guy.’ In the end, if you get in, you get to party with some of the greats in the industry.

One thing to remember though: people in the RPG industry work hard and they like to play hard. But, that is no excuse for you to become a sloppy drunk and they will not appreciate you vomiting on their shoes while you try to pitch yourself to them as a freelancer.

Non-sponsored parties are usually much harder to get into if you don’t know someone who is already going. They are rumored to be like the fabled “after parties” of Hollywood.  In truth, they are usually a bunch of tired convention RPG professionals who just want to sit and drink in quiet while sharing a companionable word. If you are invited into one of these parties be on your best behavior.

BarCon: the Con Within a Con

Didn’t get an invite to a sponsored party? Didn’t ‘know a guy’ who could get you into something more private? Don’t worry. At all conventions, there is the convention within the convention and it is called BarCon. This is the bar (or bars depending on how big the convention is) where many of the professionals go to hang out when they need a break or food.  This is, by design, supposed to be an open and social thing where people come and go. New people and old friends congregate to tell “no shit, there I was” stories of the RPG or real life varieties.

Circulating at BarCon can be daunting but, if you’ve been around at the convention, visited the dealers room, or gone to the panels, there will be people you recognize. If they are at the bar, unless they are off in a corner looking intense and business-like, it is OK to go up and say hello. But don’t immediately pitch yourself. Just relax and enjoy. Talk about your pets, your games, your friends, that cool purchase, or whatever. Eventually, people will start asking you questions about you. It’s part of human nature.  THEN you can let them know that not only are you a freelancer, you are open for new work. If they are interested, they’ll ask for a business card.

You do have your business cards, don’t you?

After the Con

Making a connection is only one part of the deal at a convention. The grips and grins help get your foot in the door but you still have to close the deal and that means following up after the convention. One to two weeks after the convention, go through your stack of business cards and email all of the ones you said you would get back to. Thank them for the meeting, express your interest in their product, remind them how they met you and what you can do for them.  Networking is always about the follow through. That’s where the actual jobs come from.

Got any questions or comments about networking at a convention? Perhaps a tip or two I did not touch on? Leave a comment and I will respond as soon as I can.

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