I'm off to Bouchercon this weekend, and figured it would be a good time to talk about conferences.
The fact is, not many books are sold at these things. I can play the schmooze game as well as anyone, and over two thousand fans will be at Bouchercon, many of them who know and like me, but if I sell more than fifty books over the weekend I'll be surprised.
So why go? When this trip is over, my expenses will be well over a grand. Is it really worth my time and money?
In a word, yes.
Even though many writers attend Bouchercon (and the many other annual writing fairs and conventions) to sell books, that isn't the main goal. It's nice when it happens, but these appearances are more about goodwill than sales.
When we writers go anywhere, we become ambassadors for our writing. Projecting an image of success and confidence, while being gracious, funny, and accessible, does more than get a few people to part with their money. It helps establish a brand.
Word of mouth is the ultimate selling tool, and anytime you have a chance to speak in public, you're able to spread your message to others, who in turn (if they like you) will spread it to others. Being talked about favorably, even by those who haven't read your books and have no intention of reading your books, will lead others to read your books.
Ultimately, bookselling is a popularity contest. And befriending as many people as possible is in every writer's best interest. To do this, we must go where the people are.
There are other benefits of attending conventions as well. Networking with peers is a nice way to blow off steam and have fun, but it also results in meeting people who can potentially help your career. Conferences are great for establishing and solidifying work friendships. Then down the road, when someone is looking for stories for their antho, or you're looking for a blurb or an intro to an editor, the time you spent at the bar buying rounds of drinks will more than pay for itself.
The things to keep in mind, to help maximize your time at the convention, can be reduced to a simple list.
1. Stay in public. Hiding in your room between panels is not why you came here. Go where the people are.
2. Be friendly. A smile goes far, and kind words go even farther.
3. Meet people. Try to introduce yourself to as many people as possible. Sit with strangers, chat in elevators, ask fans questions, approach authors you like and buy them beer. The only time you should be alone is in the bathroom.
4. Promote yourself. All writers should have a 20 second pitch, that they can launch into when asked. Wait to be asked. Have business cards or something similar to hand out to people.
If you can keep those four things in mind, you'll have a productive conference. You'll also have some fun.