My question concerns convention and conference etiquette. As I visit the publisher booths at this weekend’s ALA to collect catalogs, I also hope to find work-for-hire opportunities (and I know these exist primarily with the school / library publishers), and I anticipate meeting a few editors. I typically exchange business cards with authors and editors I meet. Is it acceptable to ask about sending manuscripts to those whom I meet in a convention setting? How would I politely look for work-for-hire opportunities? For SCBWI’s LA conference, I've been told to list my available manuscript blurb on the card’s reverse side. What are your thoughts about that? It makes sense for a novel, but what about for picture books?
Every person who attends a convention as a representative of a publishing house (whether from editorial, marketing, sales... production, even!) has to weather the same thing: random people coming around to try to get their stuff published.
a) not what conventions are about or why we're there.
So I appreciate your question. Just as with slush, the first step in approaching the situation realistically and intelligently is realizing that you are one of many. The next things you should realize are
1. If you want my card, fine. But I'm going to toss your card back at my hotel room, if not sooner.
2. I'm going to forget about you entirely, unless
3. You were one of those really irritating people who tried to show me actual manuscript pages / illustrations without an appointment.
I am at a convention doing my job. People who try to get a head-to-head out of me are preventing me from doing my job and usurping my company's time. They are also trying to jump the queue of patiently waiting authors back at the office. And they have almost never read the submission guidelines. And heaven help them if they try to give me materials to take back with me! I'm having a bonfire on my fire escape tonight, and that manuscript is invited.
More than anything, you want to fail to be one of these people—the people who are essentially shouting "The rules don't apply to me!" ...or even "What rules?!"
I'm happy to spend a minute or less answering a question, for instance, "I wonder if you could tell me how I would submit to your publishing company?" (note that I did not say 'how I would submit to you'). Or "I'm a work-for-hire illustrator. Is there someone in particular I should send samples to?" That would also be fine.
Try to approach publisher staff as you would a stranger on the street, if you were asking for directions. Because that's what we are—strangers. And that's what you can politely do at conventions—ask for directions.