Your book is in print and you’re ready to attend your first conference to promote it. You’re proud of your work, and you should be—writing is not an easy task. The venue is already filled with other writers setting up their works and displays. You think about this as you create your own masterpiece to showcase your book. The uppermost question in your mind is probably, “How can I make the most of this appearance?”
The first thing an author may want to do when considering promoting books at a conference is announce the appearance months in advance to everyone possible. Get friends of friends talking about your book. Hit social networking sites and make sure everyone knows you will be on the road. If possible, set up book club meetings and other showings in that part of the country for the same time period. This way, your work is exposed to as many people as possible in that area. Waiting until you arrive to start buzz about your book may result in future interest, but you want to have already built on that interest before you even get to town. The conference will do general advertising for the entire event, but it is your responsibility to promote your individual work.
The next thing to do is evaluate your attire. It’s always a good idea to put your best fashion foot forward, but if you’re the author of a young adult book and you attend the conference in a church lady hat and suit, not too many young adults will likely approach your table to talk to you. Or if you’ve written a book on the economic status of the country, cut off jean shorts and sandals won’t be your best clothing choice. Consider your audience and genre. If you have an interesting character in your children’s book, by all means, dress like that character to garner reader interest.
Finally, put on your most genuine smile and get from behind your table. Yes, you will need to move around just a bit. Everyone at the conference is there for the same reason: they have a book they want to sell. You are one of numerous people doing the same thing, so what makes you special? If readers see someone sitting behind a table, blocking communication, will they likely approach that table? Probably not. There’s no need to bombard people in the aisles and herd them to your table, away from everyone else. Honest conversation goes further than the most practiced sales pitch.
Things to take along:
Comfortable shoes—this is not a myth. Anyone who has ever hauled boxes of books through huge convention halls in stilettos or attended a conference in Houston in the heat of summer and hurricane season in expensive Italian loafers can attest to this fact.
Bottled water and snacks—there may not be food venues on site at the conference, and even if there are, you may not want to have to leave your table for refreshment.
Pens and more pens with a mailing list signup sheet (or a laptop for the same)—one of an authors’ main goals in appearances should be to grow his/her mailing list. The price of most conferences to gain just this list of opted in newsletter readers is generally worth it, even if you don’t sell one book.
Promotional materials for author friends—paying promo forward in this manner will foster good will between the author and their writing community. Hardly any writer can attend every conference that is held, and by taking along small promo items for other writers, the author is giving readers exposure to more works.
Your best attitude—the writing community is very small, and a bad actor will be remembered in the worst way. Try to refrain from spreading negativity, complaining about everything that comes to mind and creating a scene. The person next to you witnessing this just might be the best agent or editor in the world, and your name will be remembered. No one will want to work with a difficult diva.
The last bit of advice is the most crucial for not just conference appearances, but all author events. Many writers will cringe because we’re generally introverts who would rather be at home writing than out in public. But it is very important to thank our readers and interact with them. Without them, we wouldn’t have an audience. We need to greet everyone who passes our table, genuinely, because they could have been doing so many other things with their time. Even if these people are fellow writers, or do not make a purchase, they are to be appreciated. Suggest other books by other writers to visitors at your table. After all, there are more than enough readers in the world to keep us all writing.
And remember: making contact with 600 people who will remember your authenticity and kindness when making future book purchases is much better than selling twenty or thirty books. Plan your appearance well and do as much as you can to make it work for you and there’s no reason why you can’t do both.