Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Spring, and the Conferences are in Bloom!

I’m heading to the Malice Domestic mystery conference in Arlington, VA next week. For me, at least, Malice means the official start of the conference season. Others will be heading off at the same time to RT and I’ve recently heard a lot of people talking about going to this year’s RWA convention in Nashville.

Are you heading to a conference?

If so, here’s my two cents of advice, it’s short and sweet and goes something like this:

Make a plan.

OK, that sounds simple, right? But think about it. A conference, any conference, can be overwhelming, not just for first-timers, but even for convention veterans. There are so many workshops (and they all sound good, don’t they?). There is a hospitality room where you can relax and shmooze and connect with friends. And then there are those friends. And they want to meet for lunch. And coffee. And drinks.

If you don’t have a plan, there’s a good chance you’re going to try to do it all, and you know what’s going to happen then. You’ll miss lots of good stuff, not get accomplished nearly what you want to, and go home kicking yourself.

So start with one question: what do you want to accomplish at the conference?

If you’re a writer, that might be pitching to an editor you’ve always wanted to meet, or an agent whose attention you’ve been trying to get. It might mean being on a panel, or doing a signing. Your prep work is going to have to start long before the conference. If you’re looking for an agent, contact the ones who are going to be there to see if they’ll give you a few minutes. If you’re currently working with an editor/agent, you’ll need to get in touch plenty early to get slated into their schedules. Panels and signings, too, are always set up well ahead of time. Get in touch with the conference planner to make sure you’re included.

Then, of course, there’s publicity to consider. Will you bring bookmarks or other hand outs? You’ll need to have them designed and printed. How about wearing something like a pin made from your book cover, something that will let readers know right away who you are? Each time I have a new Pepper Martin book published, I get a bookcover pin made. Great publicity, and I can’t tell you how many readers have found me in a crowd because of my pins.

Want to connect with friends? There’s time for that, too, but don’t trust to chance. Get in touch now, and set a drink/lunch/dinner date. Conferences like RWA are huge and you can’t depend on just bumping into someone.

If you’re a reader, your focus is going to be different. Maybe you’ve always wanted to hear a certain author speak, or meet your favorites. Check the conference schedule, it’s probably on line, and decide which workshops and presentations look best. Wish you could do it all? Most conferences make CDs of presentations available.

All that being said, don’t over-schedule and leave yourself no time for a little R&R as well as a chance to just go with the flow and see where the conference vibe might take you. Chance encounters at conferences often lead to new friendships and business partnerships. I once had an editor sashay by me in a hotel lobby, turn, point to me and say, "I want to work with you." I went on to sell her a number of books.

Since I’ll be gone next week, I probably won’t be checking in here. I hope to see you at Malice or at the Oakmont Festival of Mystery on Monday, May 3.

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