A Writers Conference Survival Guide

You’re going to a writers conference. You’ve booked your travel and are excited and ready to meet fellow aspiring writers, fawn over your established writing heroes and maybe accomplish that Big Next Step in your writing career, whether it be finding an agent, publisher or key connection. Easy, right? You just show up?

Not quite. Conferences—whether they’re major book events like BEA, comic book conventions like San Diego Comicon or genre-specific fan events like BoucherCon—aren’t vacations where great things just appear, fully-formed, or where your endgame is to get sloppy and make a fool of yourself. They can be fun, for sure. But there’s a lot of prep involved in making sure you do more than just show up. Not to sound too corporate drone-y, but you want some return on your investment. Flights, hotel, registration and the assorted other stuff isn’t free (if it is, you’re probably a fairly established author and might not need to read on). You want to make sure that by the time you get back home, drop your bags and flop onto your bed face-first, you feel like the trip added something to your budding career.


This guest post is by Alex Segura. Segura is a novelist and comic book writer. He is the author of the Miami crime novels featuring Pete Fernandez, SILENT CITY, DOWN THE DARKEST STREET, and DANGEROUS ENDS, via Polis Books. He has also written a number of comic books, including the best-selling and critically acclaimed ARCHIE MEETS KISS storyline, the “Occupy Riverdale” story, ARCHIE MEETS RAMONES and the upcoming THE ARCHIES one-shot. He lives in New York with his wife and son. He is a Miami native. Follow him @alex_segura and at www.alexsegura.com.


Here are a few tips that have served me well at almost every conference I’ve been to, whether it’s a cosplay-loaded comic book convention, a business-centric event like BEA or a mystery con that’s geared to fans and authors.

Plan ahead.

You need to make sure the time spent at the conference or con is valuable and accomplishes your goals. Ask yourself, why are you attending Random Book Con? Is it to meet potential agents? To be on panels to promote your book? To network with other publishers? You can set the stage for that a few months in advance. The first step, always, is to register for the convention and make sure you let the people planning the show know what you’re there for. Would you like to be considered for panels? Are you able to volunteer/help out with organizing things? Do you know other authors in the area that might be additive to the event? Let them know. In my experience, con organizers are great, friendly and helpful people that are also very busy. Get to them early and let them know what you’d like to do. Do not send an email a few nights before the show asking if there are any panels you could join.

Schedule your days.

You’ve arrived, said hi to a few people, skimmed the program book and have zero idea what to do…for the entire show. How do you remedy that? Make plans. Beforehand. Reach out to friends you know are going and schedule lunches. Email editors or fellow authors that are going and introduce yourself. Let them know you’ll be at the show and you want to touch base. Do the same for publishers you may want to pitch your book to. Now you have a running list of targets/potential meetings.

[Will a literary agent search for you online after you query them?]

Come prepared.

Before every conference, I prep what I call my Survival Folder. In this folder is everything I need – daily schedules, notebook/pen, flight and hotel info and business cards. I usually carry a phone charger in my pocket, too – to get through the show. I see a lot of authors with bookmarks, postcards, etc., and those work if they work for you. I find business cards to be the most effective and easiest to carry, but your mileage may vary. The key is to have these things handy, because at any moment someone is going to ask for your info.  You also need to make sure you’re on schedule. The worst thing you can do as an author is be late to an important event or meeting. It just looks bad. Make sure you know the layout of the convention center and give yourself ample time to get from point A to B. If you’ve ever been to New York Comic Con or BEA, you know exactly what I mean. If you are late – it happens – apologize and let the right people know as soon as you can. Also, if you’re promoting a book – have a copy. Or a few. I find backpacks a little cumbersome, especially at shows, but if you know you’re not going back to your hotel room until the evening and you don’t have a booth to stash your stuff, it might serve you well.

Be professional and engaged.

Treat the conference like a work event, because that’s what it is. Work events can be fun, but they are mainly professional moments that will hopefully further your career. What do I mean, exactly? Well, don’t dress like you just rolled out of bed (that’s code for “don’t close out the hotel bar the night before”) and try to stay positive, especially when dealing with fans, convention volunteers and fellow authors. These people are either working on this event to help you out or are attending an event hoping for a positive interaction with you, the author. Be kind. It’s my rule of thumb for pretty much everything. “Please” and “Thank you” go a long way in any arena, but especially in one where people are working behind the scenes to make you, as an author, look good, or are taking time out of their schedules to talk to you.

Promote.

Let people know you’re coming to the conference and what you’ll be doing there. Drawing a crowd is important, and it doesn’t hurt when organizers think about whether to invite you back. Make sure your social media is queued up at the right times, loop in your book publicist so they can promo via their channels and be consistent – don’t just blast out your info once and hope it catches everyone. That being said, don’t SPAM people, either. A post a day in the days leading up to an event is perfectly reasonable.

[Want to land an agent? Here are 4 things to consider when researching literary agents.]

Pace yourself.

Eat regular meals. Get some sleep. Give yourself an hour or two during the madness to sit quietly by yourself. Cons are marathons – sometimes they can make you feel anxious, out of sorts and exhausted. I can’t overstate the value of a quiet cup of coffee amidst the insanity of a huge convention. Self-care is important.

Have fun!

Conventions are cool because other authors will be there. Talk to them – ask questions, share experiences and have a good time. These things are supposed to be pleasant, so let off some steam and enjoy the company of people you’ve probably only networked with over social media or email. Who knows – you might get a new connection or find out some useful industry information while kicking back. If not, you at least had fun and made some new “IRL” friends who are in the trenches with you. Also, attend panels you’re interested in that don’t involve you. Support your fellow authors and go to their signings. Listen and watch to see how they conduct themselves. Let yourself be reminded why you do what you do.

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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianKlems
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