Networking for children’s authors: What’s the dress code again?

Over the years, as my career shot through its giant pinball machine, changing directions whenever it hit a peg, I have been involved in quite a few trade associations, ranging from the CEA (Consumer Electronics Association) to the ABA (American Booksellers Association). I’ve written for that other ABA (American Bar Association), spent years as an associate member, contributing editor, and faculty member at NCRA (the National Court Reporters Association), and exhibited many times at the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) annual conference. If I added up all of the regional associations that I’ve joined, spoken at, written for, or exhibited with, I could come up with another few dozen easily.

The first time attending one of these conferences can be uncomfortable. The events are mainly social, and you don’t know any of the other attendees—all of whom appear to be lifelong buddies. But networking is an important part of business, and you work through the awkwardness. Next year will be easier! Back in my days in the electronics business, at least one thing was easy: how to dress. For the most part, men in the electronics business had two choices. We could dress up (suit and tie) or dress down (an appropriate t-shirt). As I became more known as a writer, I felt more comfortable dressing like me, which included cowboy boots and a Stetson. That could still be dressed up or down and could still look quite professional.

Despite over 25 years as a published writer and almost 10 years with writing as my primary source of income, I’ve never attended a major writers’ conference. It is, however, time to do so. In a couple of weeks, I’ll be attending the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) summer conference. Hopefully, I shall be networking with publishers and agents and determining what comes after Who Pooped in the Park?

Writers. We’re an eclectic bunch. Nobody expects us to wear suits, right? I can just be me. Until the Saturday mixer. Let me just quote directly from the conference schedule:

7:30 PM – 10:30 PM
In honor of our 40th Anniversary Conference we’re throwing a pajama party! The 40 Winks Ball will be a legendary poolside gala with food, drinks, music and dancing. The only thing we’ll need is you in your pajamas or a reasonable facsimile. Special prizes will be awarded for the best dressed for bedtime! Hurry on down to the pool on Saturday night! We can’t promise you’ll get much sleep, (maybe 40 winks or so) but staying up late will never be more fun.

Wait a minute! I have to network professionally in my pajamas? Nobody wants to see me in my pajamas. I don’t even have pajamas. This will be a challenge. Or maybe it’s an opportunity. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, right? I just need to come up with some incredibly clever sleepwear for a professional mixer.

Or does it really matter? After all, I’m the guy that writes books about poop. I don’t think the expectations will be very high.


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