Many of the writers and editors you meet at AWP are going to be genuinely pleasant and friendly; however, it is important to be ready for the other ones. Some red flags:
The Disgruntled & Possibly Drunken Writer/Editor
For some writers, AWP is not only a place to rekindle writing friendships but a reminder of how very disconcerting the publishing business can be for literary writers. If one of these disgruntled writers/editors gets hold of you, nod, smile and escape with grace and as soon as possible. Remember, this writer/editor may just be in a bad patch and is usually a charming person to know. It is a fact that literary publishing is a tough, tough business, but you don’t need a depressed writer and/or editor bringing you down. Remember, we write for the craft. For the art. Publishing contracts are a happy coincidence.
It goes without saying that you should always know where your friends are and should never put yourself in a compromising position. If you find that you are uncomfortable speaking with someone at an event, bar, on the floor, wherever, excuse yourself gracefully and firmly. You will find, however, that most writers are friendly and happy to answer questions about craft or their work specifically. Don’t take it personally if you meet someone who doesn’t want to talk.
On the other end of the spectrum, you might come across a veteran writer/editor who is willing to share words of wisdom and guidance that are not only realistic but practical and without the hype. This is a writer/editor to cherish. Accept his or her time as a gift and do not push for more than he or she is willing and able to give. Spend less time talking and more time listening.
The Sloppy Nouveau-Published
For some writers, a book contract can go to their heads. They might not usually act like divas but there are a select few who will respond to new publishing contracts with a sense of elitism and entitlement. This sort, when inebriated, can become fairly predatory. Watch yourself. Check your perimeters. Know where your buddy is.
The Fresh-Faced Wanna-Be
Let it be said that we are all the wanna-bes. We have all been fresh-faced wanna-bes trying to get our work out and we are now wanna-bes looking to publish our next work. We all have a soft spot for the brand, spanking new wanna-bes. Linguistic babes. If a wanna-be corners you with business cards and “But how…?” questions, more than you have time or patience to answer, smile and thank them for their time then beg off with some grace and an excuse. Maybe you have a lunch date or you promised so and so you would meet them. Perhaps you have a personal phone call to make. Don’t be too specific or your wanna-be may ask to walk with you, etc. Try to excuse yourself in a way that won’t be spirit-crushing but is firm. Remember, you were once brand new, too.
If you are the fresh-faced wanna be, try to be considerate of other writers’ times and schedules. AWP is a very busy place and this may be the only time of the year that the writer with whom you are speaking will be able to spend time with a best friend on the opposite side of the country. It’s not personal at all. It is simply a matter of having too much to do and not enough time to do it.