15 Tips on Choosing & Attending A Conference


This is the very last post in my series on the Chicago Writer’s Conference 2015. After this, I swear I’ll shut up! I just want to share a few nuggets of wisdom for anyone attending a conference. This is for the ages!

When choosing a conference:

  1. Go Local to Start. If you’re new to conferences, or looking for writing buddies, go local. While it may seem awesome to visit a far-off land instead of a near one, keep in mind that the farther you live from a conference, the less likely you are to find attendees who live near you. And, if it’s your first time going, you should test-run on a cheaper, closer conference.
  2. Carefully Consider the Content. For example, Chicago had at least two different conferences this year. One suited me (and my wallet) better. Don’t go to conferences where you aren’t excited for at least half of the planned sessions.
  3. Choose One with Pitch Sessions. If you are looking for representation, this is the best way to meet agents in person in a situation where they won’t feel too pestered by you. Many agents find most of their new clients in person.
  4. Avoid Writing-Prompt-Heavy Conferences. You can’t always tell that a conference’s sessions will be more writing exercise and less presentation, but if you can, go with the presentations. You will learn a lot more.

Once you choose a conference, I suggest you:

  1. Plan a Trip With an Extra Day. If you aren’t a local, don’t go for just the conference duration – make sure you get at least one free day to enjoy the unfamiliar city and make room for opportunities!
  2. Make a Lunch Sign. Make a sign that says “If you write [your genre here], come to lunch with us!” and stand by the conference exits when lunch gets out. You’ll have a great time and make friends who write the same stuff!
  3. Sign Up Early, and Sign Up For Everything. Signing up early means you can maximize what you get out of the conference. Sign for every pitch session (as long as the agent reps your genre) and every intensive (as long as it pertains to you). The cost will be high – but it will be more than worth it. Have the biggest, most open budget you can manage.
  4. Buy the Books. Get the presenter’s books – as gifts! They will sign them to anyone for you, and write personal messages. Some even give their e-mail addresses and have real conversations with you. Don’t miss this!
  5. Be Bold and Go Early. If you’re an introvert, get over it for the day. Talk to everyone, all the time. Throw your business cards everywhere. Go out for drinks in the evening with other attendees. And go early to the sessions and cocktail parties; this will give you extra (quiet) networking time with other early arrivals.
  6. Tweet and Blog About the Conference. Take pictures – say what you’re doing – and use the hashtags they provide. After it’s over, blog about your biggest takeaways, and share the posting on the conference’s Twitter. You can get retweets and followers this way.
  7. Take Clear Notes by Hand and Write Summaries Later, in a blog or just for yourself. This will cement the ideas more strongly in your head and keep you from forgetting the best gems.
  8. Milk It! Go to every possible session, even if it’s not your thing (the sessions I learned most from were not the ones I looked forward to, and vice versa). Hit every cocktail party and download every extra. And for gods’ sake, take the free pens!
  9. Let Looks Gravitate You. If you see two people, but one looks more your style, talk to that person.It’s more likely that you’ll write similar stuff or get along better. Seems weird, I know – but it proved wildly true for me.
  10. Put Your Twitter Handle on Your I.D. Card. Most conferences give you name tags – put your Twitter handle on them too!
  11. Take AWESOME Business Cards. Take at least 100 cards – you’ll need them! I’ve gotten great advice from an agent on what makes a business card awesome. Make sure it has the following:
    • A picture of you. It will help people remember who you are.
    • Your Twitter handle. Don’t have one? Get one. It should be your name, or something close
    • Your web page. Pay for a domain. No one is impressed by you.website.com!
    • Space for notes. So someone can write in stuff about you.
    • Name, phone number and e-mail. Make sure these are all professional and permanent. You don’t want to have to reprint the cards later.
    • Something nifty on the back, like a calendar. If the card is useful, they might keep it around!
    • And DON’T title yourself an “author” or “writer.” Leave it off – it can be seen as pretentious.

And finally: You will be overwhelmed. Go with it. 

Marketing 101: CWC Session IV (2)


Author Highlight: Lindsay Currie

Often, authors experience the misperception that people already know about a book. People don’t. You need to connect with people to get your book on their radar – and marketing campaigns are a great way to do this.

Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) Tours. These are campaigns where you give free copies to people before a book is published, in exchange for honest reviews. You can’t guarantee the reviews will be good, but you can get more for your money if you follow these guidelines:

  1. Divide Your ARC into Separate Tours. Meaning, run four simultaneous, but different, ARC campaigns – one for each of the following:
    • Bloggers & Reviewers
    • Authors
    • Librarians/ Teachers
    • Readers
  2. Use a Survey to Choose Your ARC Recipients. Using a program like Survey Monkey, ask anyone who wants an ARC to answer these questions:
    • Name & Age. Age will help you get the optimal age range of readers in your ARC tour.
    • Profession/Relation to Industry. See how big of an impact they can have, and which category of the above separate ARC tours they might fall into.
    • Why He/She Wants to Participate in the Tour. This will help you weed out the people who just want free material.
  3. Ask Your Chosen ARC Participants To:
    • Highlight their favorite passages in the book, and initial them or share them with you. These make for great book teasers!
    • Take pictures of themselves with the book and post to their favorite social media. SAVE ALL OF THESE SOMEWHERE SAFE!
    • Post their honest review to Amazon and Goodreads.

Other Marketing Tips & Campaigns

  • Offer ARCs or Signed Copies to Your Favorite Bookstores. A pile of signed books is sometimes enough to get you your own display, or other perks, in-store.
  • Waiting on Wednesday. Try to get on this list to generate pre-publication hubbub for your book.
  • In-Person Tours. Remember: the more attendees, the better. You can advertise an event with all your heart, and still get only one attendee. Consider partnering with places that give advertisements of their own.
  • Newsletters. Send these out rarely, and try to make them not look like spam. Include setting doodles, teaser art-in-progress, character interviews… just fun stuff. This can let people know when your book is out, and help you maintain readerships for a series.
  • Pre-Order Campaigns. Make sure these are very targeted. You can put a great deal of effort, good ideas, and money into them, but only return a few sales. It’s often only worth it if you have an existing readership.
  • Offer Free Content. People love free… but still, this has to be targeted and used wisely, or you end up wasting your effort.
  • Keep it Personal. If there is any way you can give your marketing effort a personal touch, do it. Throw a party at the restaurant you used to work at; use your book postcards to send thank-you notes.

In my next post in this CWC Recap Series, I’ll go over the Making it Real: Character, Dialogue, and the Role of Basic Research in Fiction session from CWC 2015.

Session I Missed: To see this session, I had to miss the Craft of Creative NonFiction session. If you went to that session, consider doing a simultaneous or guest blog to correspond with my CWC Recap!

Marketing 101: CWC Session IV


Author Highlight: Lindsay Currie

This CWC Recap goes over the best ways to personally market your book once it’s out or on the way. All of the following insights were gained by Lindsay Currie during the publishing process for her book Sweet Madness, a young adult novel about the infamous Lizzie Borden.

What Affects Your Book Sales?

  • Trade Reviews. Nothing hurts you more than a slew of 1-star reviews.
  • Existing Readership. If you already have a readership from a strong media presence or from a series, the sales of your book will be stronger.
  • Your Publisher’s Marketing. Some publishers provide some sort of marketing campaign for you.
  • Your Personal Marketing. See below!

What Are Characteristics of Good Grassroots Marketing? When you plan out your marketing campaign, make sure everything you do falls under all four of these categories:

  • Non-Repetitive.
  • Convenient. 
  • Targeted. Know your audience, find them, and reach them where they are. Develop a strong presence on the social media they favor.
  • Cost-Efficient. For physical materials, consider shipping cost. For campaigns, consider the time cost as well as the monetary (you could be writing the sequel).

What Makes for Good “Book Swag”? When giving out free stuff, consider these awesome options – and remember, you have to ship it. Shipping cost is a thing.

  • Bookmarks & Postcards. Hire a professional to make the art if you don’t have the skill yourself. Sites like Fiverr and 99Designs can help you find a good artist for cheap.
  • Wristbands. You can find them on sites like this one, but always search for coupons first! Add a cool tagline and your title – but not dates! You want it to be relevant forever.
  • Buttons. You can even hook them into postcards!
  • Credit Card Style Flash Drives. (Like these.) You can load exclusive content directly onto these – and the recipient can always use them later on for data storage. Don’t forget to add a label!
  • Cell Phone Wallets. (Like these.) I used to work for a custom-printing company, and for our personal promotional products, these were the #1 favorite.
  • Mini-Book. These are miniature books bearing exclusive content. Everyone loves them… but you will have to use them efficiently to make their value stretch.

In the next post, we will get into actual marketing campaigns. But before we get there, here are a few closing thoughts on marketing:

Marketing Does Not End After the Event. Stay honest, hopeful, and passionate in order to keep yourself going.

Accessibility Sells Books! Being available, and being (OMG!!!) a real person, is better advertising than anything.

Don’t Charge for Local Visits. In fact, pitch local visits via e-mail. If an establishment is interested, they’ll reply back – easy peasy.

Hire an Intern. You can apply with your local or past college for an intern to post to social media for you. You’ll get tons of resumes, but choose your intern very carefully.

Session I Missed: To see this session, I had to miss the Residencies, Contests, & Grants session. If you went to that session, consider doing a simultaneous or guest blog to correspond with my CWC Recap!