Often at conferences we see many examples of authors behaving badly. So in honor of our conference excursions, here are some Do's, Don'ts, and Be Sure To Go tips for attending conferences:
Industry Focused Conferences
An industry conference focuses on the business and craft side of the publishing industry. Only aspiring authors, published authors, editors, agents, and other industry professionals are permitted to attend.
- DO put your best foot forward and wear professional attire that is comfortable for long days. It is better to err on the side of being too conservative than show up at an event in clothing that is too casual. You also don't want the distraction of pinched toes, rolled elastic, or scratchy fabrics. Look Good and Feel Good to present your best professional self.
- DON'T sit in a corner or huddle with only people you already know. You are paying money to attend a conference - and publishing professionals are investing their time to meet you and learn about your projects. Try to break out of your shell and network with new people - how else are you going grow your network? If you're an introvert, stand tall beside an extrovert author friend to smile, listen and learn!
- BE SURE TO GO to the bar...yeah, yeah, twist your arm. All sorts of folks hang out in the hotel bar during conferences. Grab a soda, or beverage of your choice, and take a stroll around the room. Morgan typically wears steampunk jewelry - it's a great conversation starter. Therese has chatted with many agents and editors in the smoking areas but don't hang out there unless you are a smoker and understand the etiquette of that social sphere.
Reader Focused Conference
At reader focused conferences you should be fully in your author persona, but still be professional. Many of the folks who attend industry conferences also attend the reader events. Overall, the atmosphere is much more casual. Reader conferences tend to have more of a party atmosphere.
- DO have fun with your author persona. Wear your persona specific attire and engage your audience.
- DO take the time to reach out to bloggers. One author friend made formal appointments with bloggers who specialized in her genre before the conference. She even had little thank you gifts for them.
- DON'T forget that you are still a professional. Do you really want to be remembered as the author who got sloppy drunk and sang "Free Bird" at the top of your lungs? No, no, triple no!
- BE SURE TO GO to the lobby. If you have to get your word count done for the day, write in the lobby. Yes, it may be hard for you to get your words on the page, but you never know who you are going to meet. Morgan bumped into two key editors form St. Martin's Press while looking for coffee. And of course, there is always the bar....but, see the DON'T note above. :D
- DO have business cards. (See our posts here, here, and here on business card content.)
- DO have your pitch ready. And we mean both your pitch for new projects and the answer to the question "So, what do you write?".
- DO have some books and free reads to give to readers IN YOUR AUDIENCE.
- DON'T canvas or blanket the conference with your fliers and bookmarks...(Canvasing would be exercising the shotgun method.) Many of these items end up in the trash. Be selective on who you give your promotional materials to, know and find your audience. A promo piece handed to me personally by an engaging author will get read. The HUGE pile of promo materials in the conference bag often don't make it to the second day of the conference before hitting the recycling bin - this is because it is information overload. Our primary message here at AM101 is not to spend cash on what goes in the trash!
- BE SURE TO GO to a variety of events or sessions and HAVE FUN! People will want to approach the person having fun. If you would rather be somewhere else, save your time and money and go there. <harsh, we know...but so true>
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?
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.
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.
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.