News & Views

Conference Tiffs and the Polite Lie

Networking name tag

This month's MWA meeting was about conferences. I personally think that if you can afford conferences, you should go, because nothing else works quite so well to get your name out there and allow you to meet people you might want to work with in the future. That said, I have a few thoughts on the topic of things that can—and do—go wrong.

Every year, I hear about someone who is no longer speaking to someone else because person 2 insulted person 1—or possibly insulted person 3 who is a friend of person 1—or because person 2 felt as if person 1 ignored them in favor of a more “important” author or editor.

“She looked right at me, and pretended she didn’t know me,” said one of my friends of another.

Well, yeah, that’s possible. It’s equally possible my other friend was simply on conference overload with a buzzing head and tired eyes, thinking about how much her feet hurt. Or, like me, she barely recognizes people even while fully awake and not thinking about a dozen things at once.

And then there are the room-mate dilemmas. “OMG,” one of my friends bemoaned in an instant message, “so-and-so asked me if I have a room-mate for RT and I don’t, but I sure as hell don’t want to room with her. What am I supposed to say?”

Well, under normal circumstances, honesty is the best policy. But there are also appropriate times for the polite lie, and this is one of them.

“You tell her yes, you already have one,” I advised.

“And what if she finds out I don’t?”

Well, if so-and-so finds out at the conference that you don’t have a room-mate and confronts you, you have two choices. First, say your roomie fell through (which happens all the time) or you can tell her the truth. Chances are, however, that even if she does find out, she won’t say anything to you. Most people aren’t that confrontational.

And if you’re on the receiving end of “sorry, I already have a room-mate” and then later finding out that person is alone in her room? My advice is to leave it alone and assume her roomie fell through. And if you think someone’s ignoring you in favor of a more popular author or a better agent or bigger editor or whatever…make a decision about how important that is to you. I’ve been ignored numerous times at conferences. I’m a nobody. I basically expect it. I understand that people are there to network and I cannot do help their careers in any way. The ones who want to chat with me because we are actually friends will seek me out. And if my friends are networking with someone else for a few minutes, well, they’ll find me later or they won’t.

Let me put this another way: RWA, ITW and Sleuthfest (and to a certain extent even fan cons like RT and Bouchercon) are professional conferences. People are there to do business. If you treat it as a business conference, you’re a lot less likely to get hurt than if you treat it as a social gathering. Remember that even while people are drinking and dressing up in costumes, they’re also there trying to get ahead in their careers. You may not approve of the way they do it, and that may mean cutting them out of your life, but don’t assume that just because they look past you in their search for someone at a con that they don’t like you or care about you. They’re simply wearing a business hat and not good at blending the business and social.


Laura K Curtis Laura K. Curtis gave up a life writing dry academic papers for writing decidedly less dry short crime stories and novel-length romantic suspense and contemporary romance. A member of RWA, MWA, ITW, and Sisters in Crime, she has trouble settling into one genre.

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