Wednesday, February 20, 2019

5 Tips For Surviving Conventions As An Author

I just got back from Capricon, and like always it was a working vacation for me. I brought my newest novel Crier's Knife, I was on all sorts of panels, I spent some time at a signing table, shook a lot of hands, and refreshed connections with some folks whom I hadn't seen since... well, since last time we were at this convention.

And in case you were wondering, working vacations are the only variety I get.
As I said back in Can Authors Advance Their Careers By Going To Conventions?, these events are one of the best places to be if you're in the business of writing and selling books. However, if you're not a veteran of the convention circuit, it's really easy to make some rookie mistakes that can ruin your weekend. So while my latest endeavor is fresh in my mind, I figured I'd make a couple of recommendations for all the authors out there.

Tip #1: Wear Comfortable Shoes

Seriously, it matters.
For a lot of us, conventions are when we break out the super nerdy parts of our closets. And while you might be tempted to slip on your steel-toed Doc Martens that look like something out of a 90s comic, make sure they have the right inserts before you do. Because that is going to matter.

This tip applies to anyone who's showing up at a convention, but it goes double for authors looking to sell books and make connections. Because chances are good you're going to be on your feet all damn day, and you're going to do a lot of walking. The last thing you want to do is limp up to a potential contact, or lose track of your sales pitch because all you can think about is how badly your feet hurt.

Seriously, a $10 pair of Dr. Scholl's is worth the cost.

Tip #2: Volunteer For Programming

Even if you're not sure you should be on this panel, volunteer anyway.
When you go to a convention, your goal is to make connections. Connections with fellow authors are just as important as connections with potential readers. However, there is a divide between those who are on panels, or behind signing tables, and the sea of attendees who gently lap against that shore.

You want to be on the professional side of that divide, and that's why you should always reach out to programming a few months before the event to volunteer.

To be clear, it isn't that there's anything wrong with being an attendee, but that guest of honor you want to network with is a lot more likely to remember you if you were on a panel with them for an hour and a half than if you were one of a few hundred people they met and talked to for a couple of minutes. And if you're part of programming, then other attendees are going to look at you as a cut above; your opinions will be listened to, and your status seen as larger than it is. Not only that, but if people in the audience think you made some good points, they're a lot more likely to buy your book.

Which you should have on a stand next to your name tag, just to drive home who you are.

Tip #3: Stay Fed, and Hydrated

Find the green room, if you can.
Again, this is something for everyone, but it is super easy to lose track of when you last had a glass of water and a sandwich when you're at a con. Especially if you're really rolling when it comes to selling books, or shaking hands. So make sure you actually eat breakfast, and that you keep a granola bar or two on your person as you tour through the convention.

Also, something for folks who followed my second tip. Most conventions have a designated green room, which is a sort of lounge where programming participants, convention staff, and guests of honor can go to get some food, and relax in a place that isn't open to the general public. Which means that stopping to rest for a bit, and to pop a top on a diet coke, might also mean you get a chance to share a table with the Big Names attending that year so you can strike up a conversation. It's a great way to get that natural, organic conversation with someone because they have their guard down, since they aren't being beset by the public.

Tip #4: Get Your Game Face On

Hey! Did I tell you about my book?
If you're going to a convention, you should stand out. Be memorable. Have a schtick people recognize, and which makes an impact.

What does that mean? Well, it can take a few different forms. As an example, Paul A. Erickson is a fellow author I met at Capricon many years ago who wrote The Wobbit. As you can probably guess, this book is a Tolkien parody, so Paul showed up to con in full Bilbo Baggins attire, complete with fuzzy feet slippers. That got people's attention, and everyone who commented on his look got a card, letting them know who he was and what he did.

You don't have to go that far with it, if you don't want to. If you're more of a jeans and tee shirt kind of author, that's fine. But if that's the case, make sure you have your pitch down to a fine delivery, and that you have something people can latch onto when they try to remember you. Myself, I have a green leather beret that I always wear to events so that people can pick me out of a crowd... it works, and goes with the Literary Mercenary theme.

As long as people remember you, and can easily associate you with your business card, bookmark, etc., then you've got a solid schtick.

Tip #5: Act Professional

Don't squee... don't squee... deep breaths...
It is shocking how far you can get by just acting like you're more important than you are (in a good way). I talked about this in Why "Fake It Till You Make It" Is Great Advice For Authors, but all of that goes double when you're at a convention.

Now, don't confuse acting professional with being cool and unflappable all the time. You want to be relatable, and you're not going to lose all of your credibility if you geek out about something. This is a con, geeking out is what everyone is here to do. But remember that when you're at a convention, all eyes are on you. And there are probably cameras and recorders all over the place. If you get into a heated argument with someone over nothing, or you start losing your grip on your adult words with kids in the audience, that's an impression you're going to have to work hard to scrub out.

So remember, get plenty of sleep, make sure you're not cranky, and ask yourself if what you're about to say is the impression you want your potential fans and business contacts to have of you. Because those moments we wish no one had seen tend to come around to bite us when it hurts the most.

That's all for this week's Business of Writing installment! Hopefully it helps folks out there who've decided to start hitting conventions this year, and it helps remind my fellow veterans of some things that are all too easy to forget. For more work by yours truly, check out my Vocal archive, or head over to My Amazon Author Page where you can pick up books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

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