I'll be hanging out at the Love is Murder Mystery Convention over the weekend, and wanted to go over a few ground rules and some quickie dos and don'ts.
Should You Go? I believe writing conferences are one of the only times it's okay for an author to spend money (we all know money flows toward the writer, not away.)
Unfortunately, many of them are out of state, travel and hotels are expensive, and the conference admission can cost anywhere from $100 to $500 dollars.
But there are several big reasons why newbie and pro authors should attend these events.
Networking. Meeting fellow professionals keeps you foremost in their mind when projects arise. Publishing, like all other businesses, is about people.
Camaraderie. While networking is about business, camaraderie is about hanging around with like-minded individuals. Socializing with writers is part of being a writers.
Panels. Being on them if you're a pro, watching them if you're a newbie. If done an extensive post on this before. http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2006/09/conference-tips.html
Pitching. Any decent conference has agents and editors there. An in-person pitch gets you on top of the slush pile if they ask to take a look--your submission becomes solicited rather than unsolicited, and the agent/editor has a face to go along with a name.
Fans. I put this last, because unless you're already a bestseller, you won't be signing a lot of books. But meeting fans in person is powerful juju, and a handshake and a few kind words will likely be remembered for a long time.
If you have decided to attend a convention, here are some tips.
DO hang out at the bar. This is the best place to meet and mingle, and much more relaxed than anyplace else at the con. If you're buying drinks, you can ask anyone a question or bend their ear for a few minutes, even bigshot editors, authors, and agents.
DON'T get sloppy drunk. It will be remembered, and talked about.
DO wear business casual. The better you look, the better you'll feel.
DON'T be nervous. Everyone was a newbie once, and no one cares if you're perfect.
DO buy books. We're all in this together. If you're an author, buying books is also a great way to get in good with the bookseller.
DON'T talk too much. We learn by listening, not talking, and you're probably not as interesting as you think you are. Or as I am. :)
DO introduce yourself to strangers or people you know from their reputation and/or online. Sit at strange tables during communal lunches. Chat up people in elevators. Smile a lot.
DON'T hang out with the same crowd over and over and over. Yes, hang out with them, but don't limit yourself to only them.
DO pass out business cards, and ask for them in return. That means have some made if you don't have any. They should have your email and website on them--name and phone number isn't necessary.
DON'T sell hard. Conferences are about creating good will, not cramming your books down people's throats. A soft sell is okay, if kept to under 20 seconds, and if you're not doing it all the damn time.
DO thank whoever is running the con. It's an awful burden, and they deserve a pat on the back.
DON'T make any concrete plans. Cons are very liquid, and often you don't know what panels you'll watch, who you'll be hanging out with, or where you'll end up. Go with the flow.
Finally, remember to set goals.
While you don't need to figure out ahead of time what you'll be doing for every second, you should have reasons for attending the con. This isn't vacation time. It's business. You should know who you want to meet, what you want to accomplish, and have a mental checklist of reasons why you're attending in the first place.
Selling 100 books and asking JA Konrath to blurb you isn't a realistic goal. Shaking 100 hands and buying JA a drink is a much better goal, and within your power.
Like all aspects of writing, convention-going is both fun and hard work. The better prepared you are, the more realistic your expectations, and the fun should outweigh the work.
And if you see me, I like microbrewed beer and quality bourbon. Buy me enough and you might get that blurb after all...