Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Conference Culture

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.


Anonymous said...

I don't buy books at conferences partly because lugging them around is a pain (especially at ones like Comic Con where every booth throws free stuff at you until you can barely walk), and partly because I can get them cheaper from Borders. But I do take note of authors and books I am interested in and buy them later when it is more convenient. I have found many new books thanks to panels or a free bookmark or sample chapter given out.

Gayle Carline said...

The only reason I buy books at conferences is to get the author's signature. If I've managed to schmooze him/her enough, they usually write something personal (no, not THAT personal) inside, which is cool. I guess, if I planned ahead, I could buy the books on Amazon, then schlep them to the conference for a signature. Either way, it's totally worth it.

Picks By Pat said...

Buying books at a conference is my way of thanking the author for a good read. Besides, sometimes you get a really funny and unique personalized quote! (Having gotten Joe's autograph on a few occassions, I can attest to this...he's funny!)

But the best way to acquire book is to look for freebies. Short of that, you can always rummage through an author's room when his or her back is turned and the door is unlocked.

Charles P. Zaglanis said...

Great advice. I sat on a few panels for the first time recently and sold more books/signed more autographs than ever.

I highly recommend it for any writer who wants to compete in this game.



Anonymous said...

Joe, what a great post. I've decided that you and Brett Battles (over at murderati) are conspiring to get me to spend money I don't have on something that could be incredibly helpful to my career (and damaging to my finances and therefore marriage).

Yep, I'm in. Planning for next year starts today. Sorry honey....

Natalie Hatch said...

Rule no. 7 Do not wear skin tight spandex pants to a public gathering. (just a thought)

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I just started to make serious (for me) conference rounds this year, speaking on panels, etc. I'm not published yet, but I have manuscripts making the rounds and an ezine to promote. It's been a joy, every minute, and I've met so many great people. I like to think I'm laying the foundatation for my personal branding, as well as giving back to a community that has given me so much.

Stacia said...

When I'm anywhere another author is...the REASON I get the book, at least "A" book, is for an autograph...I can buy them anytime online...but this allows me the chance to know the author and get a signature. Then, I'm more likely to also keep the book.

And yes, conferences are really about the relationship building :)

Anonymous said...

Another thing to add to the list is to volunteer.

About five years ago, I saw how badly a pitch room was run and thought, "I could do that better." (I used to run army physical training tests, which are timed sessions.) So I volunteered and and asked back each year ("You will do the pitch room again, won't you?").

I'm in the room all day with 20+ agents. I focus basically on being customer service girl. I smile a lot; tell the agents when their break is; come to chat with them if their person doesn't show up; check in to see if they want cookies, coffee, soda, water. I also keep the writers away from them unless they have an appointment.

If the agent has attended the pitch sessions before, they remember me. At the last one, three agents asked me what my book is about, so I practiced my pitch. The book's still being worked on, but one was interested enough to ask to see it when I was done and the other gave me a referral to an agent in his office.

Jenny Jill said...

Lots of great advice here. There is a difference, too, between writing a book and publishing a book. I found the former much easier than the latter!
I was once teaching writing to students in a gr. 3 -7 class. I was trying to have them use more adjectives and one little guy in gr. 3 said he could define the difference between a noun and an adjective. Nouns you can 'hold in your hand', but adjective just 'fly off your pen'!

June Shaw said...

Hi, K.A.,

I didn't get to go to the conference, but I'd like to meet you. Love your books! I mention you when I'm giving a talk and tell about persistence. And I am about to download your advice for new authors. Thanks so much!

Devon Elliington said...

Every Bouchercon I've ever attended has been a blast.

Always pick a favorite bar.

I buy too many books and ship them home.

Something else that I find fun is, when you wind up with a fun group of people, take a few hours to do something wacky, even if it's touristy -- offsite.

I've gotten material for new stories in addition to just having a blast in person with people I only knew from the web.


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