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Friday, July 18, 2008

Killer Campaigns: Conferences

Since the RWA conference in San Francisco is fast approaching, it seemed only natural that I should talk about conferences. But I think this is going to be a two-parter. There's a lot to cover. Today, I'll talk about cons in general and how to prepare for one. Next week, I'll give you a list, and how to choose a con best suited for your genre and book, as well as a list of well-received promo items.

As a promotional venture, conferences rock! Not only are they fantastic networking venues, but you are surrounded by throngs of potential new readers for your book. All you have to do is introduce yourself. And promo giveaways are a great way to do that.

I've been to several cons and all of them were different, even the ones I had attended once before. It's never quite the same experience.

For example, a couple of years ago I attended the Writers League of Texas conference. It was terrific. Lots of great workshops, lots of authors, and a roomful of interested agents--what's not to love? Yet the second time I went, it was a little better than lukewarm. Out of greed or poor planning, they registered too many people for too small a hotel. People couldn't get rooms, and everything was crowded. I felt like a cow being led from one corral to the next. Overcrowding also led to less than enthusiastic workshops, and agents who skipped out early. I don't blame them. I couldn't wait to get out either.

But then there are mega cons, like RWA. I am glad it was in Dallas last year because it is an expensive engagement, even without travel expenses. But RWA certainly gives you your money's worth. It was the largest, most well organized con I had EVER been to. The logistics to pull something like this off had to be unbelievable and yet these people were on top of things every step of the way. I was very impressed.

You too must be prepared. I started with small cons so I fell into this gradually. By the time I went to RWA, I felt like a pro.

The first thing you need to decide is what kind of con to attend.

There are cons geared more for the fan, and others designed for the author. Both have value. If you want to reach readers, definitely hit the fan cons. Science fiction, fantasy and romance all cater to this audience regularly. Next week, I'll put together a list of some good ones.

If you are going as an author promoting your work, here are some tips on how to prepare.

• Plan ahead. Cons are expensive, both to attend and to stock. If you can plan a year ahead, you can decide which con will give you the most bang for your buck.

• Try out the local ones first. Not only will it be less expensive, but the travel won't be nearly as stressful.

• Dress comfortably, but professionally. I didn’t have to tell you that, did I? (grin)

• 6-9 months before the con: Make reservations. Big cons fill up fast and the rooms even faster.

• 3-4 months before the con: If you're going to give away goodies at the con, contact the promo liaison in plenty of time to reserve a spot. Most cons will make room for you, but why take the chance? Always ask for their timetable and their specs.

• 3 months before the con: Make sure you have an ample supply of business cards. The cards should have your website, blog and contact information. Even if you don't put these on the table, you will be handing them out to every person you meet. Each introduction is an opportunity to network. Don't waste it.

• 1 month before the con: Buy any food goodies (candy) as close as you can to the con date. All other promo giveaways should already be purchased and ready for transport.

• 1 week before the con: Lay out everything you're taking with you and do an inventory check.

• Day before the con: Try to arrive early if possible. You'll appreciate the time to relax and get to know the lay of the hotel. If the promo coordinator is available, hand her your giveaways.

• Day of the con: If it is up to you to put out your goodies, take the time to do a good job and display your items nicely. You'll probably have to check the table several times as visitors rifle through everything.

• After the con: Remember that paper promo will probably be tossed out as soon as the con is over, so if you want them back, go get them.

During the con

I went to a con once and bought a book from every author who took the time to speak to me. There were surprisingly few. One not only stuck around and answered my questions, but he gave me a free book. I was so touched, I bought his other two novels that were in the book shop.

Another author hand sold me her book just by remembering I was in the audience during her workshop. She asked for feedback and then she talked about her book. I liked being appreciated, and so will your potential readers.

• Smile. You're among friends--really.

• Never speak disparagingly about other authors, editors or agents.

• Be friendly. If you see a visitor picking up bookmarks, hand him one of yours.

• Avoid being clingy. It'll scare people off. Okay…it'll scare me off.

• Easy on the alcohol. Drunk chicks aren't cool.

• If you can go with a friend, that would be the icing on the cake. You can help each other and then you'll have someone to share a drink with after it's over.

I love cons, but this year will be my first year as a published author. That makes it even more special.

Enjoy your day in the sun. The people you meet at cons are there because they love books. And you love books. Now doesn't that sound like a match made in heaven?

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Shelley Munro said...

Great post, Maria. Are you going to the SF conference? If so, maybe I'll see you there :)

Maria Zannini said...

Alas, no. There's a scheduling conflict for me. I will try to do the DC con in 09 though.

Hope you have a wonderful trip, Shelley!

J.K. Coi said...

Have fun in San Fran Shelley!
I too might make it to DC, but not this year, although I'll be in New Jersey for the chapter conference this October. Anyone else going?

Maria Zannini said...

I should look into some of the chapter cons. That would be a good compromise for missing the big one.

J.K. Coi said...

The one in NJ this year has guests like Eloisa James, JR Ward, and Keynote speaker Lisa Scottoline

Along with the following workshops:

Lori Avocato Sell Yourself … Sell that Book

Annette Blair Switching Gears Without Getting Caught in Their Teeth

Pam Burford Polish That Sucker!

Dee Davis & Kathleen O'Reilly Out of the Garret and Into the Light: Marketing Your Books Through Networking

Karyna DaRosa & Caridad Pineiro Secrets of Successful Websites

Elizabeth Hoyt Stalking the Wild Agent

Angela James Epublishing Savvy 101
Kasey Michaels How to Organize a Multi-Book Series Without Losing Your Mind

Caridad Pineiro Perils and Pitfalls of Publishing Contracts

Penny Sansevieri Red Hot Internet Publicity

Mary Sue Seymour Killer Queries

Michelle Wolfson Perfect Your Pitch

Plus an Editors Panel and an Agents Panel

Maria Zannini said...

eeks! My editor is there. Guess I'd have to be on my best behavior. :o)

Sandra said...

What about appearing on panels, Maria? That might be easier to do at some conventions and in some genres than others, but I think it would be worth discussing.

Maria Zannini said...

I was going to add panels to my Speaking Engagements post, but we can add it to the Con post.

I'll make the Con post a 3 parter because it is important.

Thanks for bringing it up, Sandra.

Marianne Arkins said...

I so wanted to go to RWA this year... I'm FROM California, so was going to go for a couple of reasons.

Alas and alack, it was not to be.

Maria Zannini said...

Oh, man, Marianne! So close and yet so far. That's so unfair.

I hope you try to make DC next year. It's going to be tough for me. I'd like to do both RWA and Lori Foster, but I might have to choose between them depending on money.