Especially if you haven't come with a writing group or friends, fear of making connections can really hamstring your conference experience. But now that you know, based on our last post, what you're there for (and what you're NOT there for) at a conference, you can rest a little easier.
In approaching anyone at a conference, first and foremost, read nametags. They will give you not only the person's name, but also what category they fall in--are they an agent or an editor, for instance. Just this simple info-gathering tactic will protect you from a lot of foot-in-mouth moments. There are three types at a conference:
Editors:Editors are likely at the conference to network with agents--to find out what agented projects are in the pipeline--than to sign content straight from the author (not that that couldn't happen!). So don't pitch an editor unless you're sitting in a pitch session...and even then know that they're ultimately gonna want an agent involved before they really commit to anything. If you're agented and you ask an editor about your project that your agent sent to them...your agent will kill you. Outside of pitch sessions, stay on more general topics like pop culture or favorite books that have come out (the better if it's the editor's!!).
Agents are definitely at the conference to network with editors, but we're also interested in connecting directly with authors and their writing.
That being said, we'd definitely rather chat with you in the bar about pop culture or clients' books or the publishing industry than your personal projects. It's just not cool to be put on the spot when everyone is there to hang out. If we're not in a pitch session or a panel, we're off the clock. We just want to meet you, cocktail party style, not be interviewed. STAY AWAY FROM PITCHING unless you're in a pitch session. Period.
Ah, authors. Your kind. Around your fellow author folk, you can let down your hair and talk writing. Talk about your project, your hang-ups, your frustrations (be careful, though, about naming names...particularly if the frustrating agent/editor is there!). Writing is probably the most productive topic you can talk about with your other writers. A major goal of conferences should be to walk out with some Beta Readers. Only way to do that is to find other writers who write and read your genre. So open up!
There's always a feeling that you have to connect with editors and agents at a conference--that you're going in order to circumvent those cumbersome mechanisms that the peons have to go through: queries, submissions, waiting. You've got a direct line to pitch the crap out of your book, right!? Well, yes and no.
You should never, never pitch an editor or agent unless you're in a pitch session...or they literally say "I'd really love to hear about a such-and-such project RIGHT NOW!" And you're writing that! And it's ready! And you're agented.
When you do pitch an agent or editor, you're probably going to get requests. Not only is it just hard to say no right to someone's face, but it's also just better safe than sorry! Even if you don't get a bunch of business cards, you're guaranteed to walk out of there with a lot more insight into the industry and your pitch is gonna be improved.