On Writers Conferences and Book Fairs

Recently I went to North Carolina for a book fair. I had a wonderful time, met some great people, and came back with books, business cards, and a wealth of information.

I decided not to make this post a conference review, but rather just share some things that I’ve learned about writers’ conferences, workshops, and book fairs.

Note: I’ve never participated in a conference or event from the vendor’s side (yet) – so far I’ve only been an attendee. But since a bookish event should be, ideally, designed for the attendees, I can comment on the things that are appealing and done well, and the things that could use some work.

Bring business cards. Whether you’re an author selling books, an agent, a publisher, or just an amateur writer checking it all out for the first time, business cards are a must. You’re going to meet some people you want to stay in touch with, or an author or agent you want to follow up with later. And scribbling names and emails on random pieces of paper is just awkward. If for some reason you don’t bring business cards, at least have bookmarks to advertise your book, or flyers for your company, or something. At one event I stopped at an author’s table and she told me she hadn’t bothered to bring business cards. She had no bookmarks or anything else, either. I didn’t buy a book right then, and do you think I remembered her name long enough to go home and look her up on Amazon or GoodReads? Nope.

Don’t be embarrassed to set up a table even if you have only one book. There are plenty of prolific authors who have to bring just a selection of their stuff to an event, because they have too many titles to fit on a table. But don’t be intimidated by them if you have only one book out so far. I’ve bought just as many books from authors with full series laid out on the table as I have bought from writers selling just one title. Be friendly, have a professional-looking book (and bookmarks or business cards), and have fun.

Be on social media. And have a decent-looking website. Really, this point should be a post all to itself, but I’ll save that for later. The point is that if you’re a writer, an agent, a publisher, an editor, or an illustrator, you need to be represented online. I understand that not everyone is a social media nerd like me, or has the know-how to create a fancy website. But basic blog templates are free, as are Facebook and Twitter. At one book event, I spent some time speaking with a representative from a small publisher. He had a good sampling of books on the table, and he had business cards. However, when I went to the website I found it visually very hard to read because of the design; also, there were several broken links, and no social media links at all. I’m sure it’s a great publisher, but I will not be submitting my manuscript to a company that is still using a website design from 1998 and isn’t on Facebook. It’s not that I’m a social media snob – it’s just that I expect professionals in the writing industry to at least try to keep up with the current trends of said industry.

Another note: With all of these points, good and bad, I am not referring specifically to the event I just attended in NC. These are observations gained from my (admittedly limited) experience of attending bookish and writerly events in general. I also didn’t name any names because a) I want to be polite and protect people’s identity, and b) I’m not that great with names so I’d probably get it wrong if I linked a name to a specific point.

Anyway. Have you attended a writers’ conference or book event of any sort? Do you have any comments or observations to add to this list? Please share!

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