What do we mean when we say "work" a conference?There are two kinds of people who go to conferences and conventions:
1) People who are there to ATTEND the conference (attendees).
2) People who are there to WORK the conference (workers).
Each of these types of conference / convention goers is there for specific reasons. The attendee's primary objective is to learn and be entertained. The worker's primary objective is to network and make a sale. Both types are there to make connections. It is what they choose to do with these connections that differentiates an attendee from a worker.
How do you "work" a conference?1) Choose your conferences wisely
There are loads of conferences and conventions that you can attend throughout the year. There are national, regional, and local shows that cover all aspects of the craft of writing and publishing industry. No matter how much buzz is associated with any given show, take the time to do some research before you sign up. Find out who typically attends. Is an editor from one of your target publishers going to be there? How about your top three agents? Will your favorite author be signing books or speaking on panels? Are there panels or classes that will help you with research or otherwise further your career?
Therese Says: I prefer local and regional long-weekend conferences where attendance is limited to 100-300 or less. I've learned my energy and attention starts to fracture after three days. I like conferences that promote a writer retreat flavor and publishing industry professionals who chose the same venue are usually my peers. If the word "boutique" applies, that's my choice.2) Set Goals
Now that you've selected the conference(s) you want to attend, set some goals. The first time you go to a conference go primarily as an attendee. Make having fun your primary goal while you discover all the things a given show has to offer. At future shows, maybe set a goal to talk with at least five readers and two bloggers. Or maybe your goal is to pitch your latest manuscript to at least three of your target publishers in attendance.
Morgan Says: One of my key goals is to meet authors that write the same sort of books that I write. Networking with my genre peers may create opportunities for cross marketing, since we share the same audience. I also like to get to know the staff of the organization that is conducting the show.
Therese Says: I also like to interact with the staff and workers at large conferences. I've been a volunteer and that's how I've met booksellers from Australia and librarians from Norway. I have become more passionate about the global impact of a well-written good-story and why readers, like us, need more of those!3) Leave Room for Serendipity
It is easy to 'over' schedule your time. Running from panel to panel or meeting to meeting constantly can leave you exhausted. Allow time for sitting, observing, and random conversation. Everyone at the conference is a potential reader, until you know if they are or aren't in your audience. Some of the people attending will become great contacts for your writing career. You never know who you are going to sit next to or bump into.
Morgan Says: At the last RT Booklovers Convention, I was sitting in a chair along the main walkway and had just finished a call for my day job when three woman from MacMillan Publishers stopped and asked if they could interview me for their Young Adult blog. I signed a release form and did the quick interview. One of them was an editor who asked me to submit my work. I was literally sitting in the right place at the right time.4) Be Prepared
Have your pitch for your latest book practiced and polished. Have a quick answer ready for the question: "So, what do you write?"Mentally prepare yourself for the social interactions at the conference. Be in your author persona. Have your business cards and promotional materials ready to give to business contacts and members of your audience. If you are signing books at a book sale or fair, confirm that your books have been ordered and find out how much table space will be available for your book signing set up.
Attending conferences and conventions can be both fun and rewarding. Take the time to plan and prepare to squeeze every ounce of opportunity out of the experience.