A Writer’s Guide to Convention Survival

A Writer’s Guide to Literary Convention Survival
By Julie Butcher-Fedynich

literary conventions

Ah, spring and along with green grass and pollen comes convention season. Writing conventions and fan cons have one thing in common for aspiring authors-a chance to have fun and to network with other publishing people. Here are a few tips to survive and succeed.

1. Have two types of business cards ready, one with your name, website address, email information, and maybe your twitter handle. Have another with the previous stuff and your phone number. I have mine made on different cardstock, one with rounded corners and one with pointy corners so I can reach in my pocket and find the correct card without a fuss. It’s hard to tell what a person is like with just a few minutes of conversation (okay sometimes it’s easy when they’re obviously insane) but do you want to give the rest of the world your cell number?

2. Take more than one pair of shoes, especially if you wear heels. Changing shoes several times a day keeps the blisters down. Oh, and take lots and lots of bandages. A box of six Band-Aids costs practically as much as a meal. When your feet hurt, you’re crabby. Witching around a convention won’t do much for your career or for your budding friendships.

3. Don’t spend all of your time with people who are already your friends. Meet new people, be friendly and don’t talk about your book to every person you meet unless they ask. I know you’re nervous but ask them what they write, ask if they have a dog, compliment their shoes or fingernails. Do anything but pitch your book to all and sundry. Sell yourself and they’ll look for your book.

4. For Sweet Mercy’s sake, don’t gripe about publishing and publishing people anywhere public. Not in the bathroom to your friends, not at dinner, not anywhere. Who might be in the bathroom stall or at the next table? I would remember someone who said something terrible about a friend of mine. I would make it my business to find out who they were. I would remember-so would you. You might think you know all of the famous names and faces in publishing but I promise you do not. People dye their hair and gain or lose weight. Most don’t look like their pictures on the internet. Besides, do you know who their best friend is? No you don’t, so no arguing about this one.

5. No matter how fan-girl you are, (okay, let’s be fair, fan-boys, too) do not interrupt someone at a meal. Not an author, not an agent, not an editor. People plan meals ahead of time to spend time with friends or to conduct business. Most conventions have scheduled events for you to meet with these people. Let them eat in peace.

6. Control your drinking. Drunk isn’t pretty on anyone. It doesn’t make you seem professional or personally responsible. The friends you’re hanging out with might not mind but once again, you don’t know who else is watching. Think of conventions as office holiday parties. You don’t drink too much there.

7. Do have your elevator pitch memorized. When someone asks you about your book, you need to answer in a way that doesn’t include “Buh ba, buh buh buh.” or make you look like a scatterbrained dork. A couple of sentences will do. If they want to know more, they’ll ask questions, and you’ll talk like normal people.

8. Don’t over-pack! You’ll end up wanting to throw away clothes to fit more books into your suitcase. Who wouldn’t pick a signed book by their favorite author over an Angora sweater? I have literally mailed home dirty clothes in order to get more books in my carry-on. Mix-match your clothes and they’ll go twice as far without you looking like Orphan Annie.

9. Do not bring a printed copy of your book. Everyone else has to fly home. There isn’t room in their luggage either. Unless you’re participating in a workshop that specifically requests you to bring printed pages, this is a no-no.

10. This one is a classic, but people still insist on doing it. Absolutely never-ever stalk an agent, or editor, or author in the bathroom. Don’t pass flash drives under the door, or manuscripts, or business cards. It is a bathroom. Eww.

11. Take sanity breaks. Conventions can be overwhelming to those of us who have little or no contact with people outside our immediate circle of friends and family. (Internet doesn’t count.) You can go to your room and watch some TV. I promise it’s allowed. The world won’t come to a crashing end if you need a nap. You’ll be happier and the people you meet will like you more. It’s all good.

12. Don’t freak out when you talk to authors, agents, and editors. Shaking people are just a little bit scary. I’ve been lucky enough to meet tons of all three and they were every single one, lovely individuals. They’re people and you’re people. They eat cookies and go barefooted in the house, just like us. I have seen this with my eyes. They’re in the restroom for the same reasons you are, okay?

Here’s some convention Do and Don’ts from Literary Agent, Marlene Stringer of The Stringer Literary Agency (If you get the chance to hang out with her, DO IT! She’s a blast!)
“Most writers are wonderful. However, I have seen a couple newly published writers warp into pubzillas, instant divas way too important for the rest of the (unpublished) world. The way one acts to everyone is the difference between a book sale and a rave about the writer, and someone who will never buy a book by that writer and who never misses the opportunity to tell their friends how mean that writer was to them.

Do wear comfortable shoes.
Don’t check a bag if you can help it.
Do mail home books.
Do push yourself out of your comfort zone.
Do plan on talking to as many people as you can — don’t stay in a herd with your friends.
Don’t drink too much.
Don’t interrupt editors or agents having private conversations.
Don’t talk during presentations or workshops, unless you’re asking a question.
Do plan to try a new author you saw or met at the conference.”

After getting Marlene’s advice, I asked twitter for their best Conference Survival Tips.

-Jennifer McAndrews @jenmcandrews says “Conference survival tip: mp3 player loaded with favorite tunes to help me relax when over-stressed.”
-Jared Nathan Garrett @jaredgarrett says “Fully charged laptop battery and a full water bottle at the beginning of each day.”
-Andrew Jack @ajackwriting says “Tip 1: Bathe, at least once, preferably twice a day. Try to never be the worst smelling person in a room.”
-Pat Zietlow Miller @PatZMiller says “The best advice is just to breathe. Nothing is as life-and-death as it seems. Even if you’re pitching an agent or editor.”
-Colleen Mondor @chasingray says “Schedule time to sleep or you will forget to and be nearly dead by the time you leave.”
-Joe Alfano @Zombie_Joe says “Bring a bottle. Not booze. Just a bottle for water. Hydration is your friend. Bring an extra/empty suitcase. Great for bringing back books/swag.

The most important thing to remember is to be you. Conventions are just real life taken to the extreme and squeezed into a building. You’ll like some people and not others. No big deal. Put on your big girl pants and a smile and you’ll come home with new friends, contacts in the industry, and a boatload of signed books. It doesn’t get better than that.

Do you have any conference tips?

author Julie Butcher-FedynichBy Julie Butcher-Fedynich
Buzzy Mag Columnist & Pundit

literary conventions

Get FREE Buzzy Mag Email Updates!
Julie Butcher Fedynich
Buzzy Mag Columnist & Pundit. Julie Butcher lives with her husband and six children on the fringes of Utter Chaos. She is the sister of #1 USA Today and NYT bestselling author, Jim Butcher. She adores puppies, kittens, and thinks world peace would be awesome as long as stuff still blows up in the movies.
  • Max LaForge

    Seems like good advice to me. Glad I go to conventions strictly as a partygoer not because I need to network. If I did need to network this would make an excellent guide.

  • Spikeyfan

    Bring your own pillow to any convention — sleep and alertness is important. Hotel pillows…just YUCK!

  • Write your pitch down on a small note card (elevator pitch on one side, longer pitch on the other) and keep it in your pocket. If you freeze, pull the pitch and pick back up. If you’re too nervous to pitch without it, use it as a guide. I’ve never met an agent or editor who wasn’t completely understanding about this.

    • Oh this is SUCH a relief to hear! I freeze just thinking about what I will say.

  • Julie, you brought me to my first convention. I met more people because you were ‘blinging’ people’s badges than I could ever begin to remember. I thank you for that, because it got me started. I love conventions. I love meeting published and aspiring authors. I love learning from them, and I love learning from you.

    Thanks for being wonderful, momma.

    Ps: so which one are we hitting next?

  • Theresa Bane

    Tip – Always wear your name badge at the con but when you go out to dinner, take it off. if folks don’t know you by site they can’t stalk you.

  • Robert Durand

    Best way to network I have found is to make contact with an author through social media or at a panel and then introduce yourself later one. Don’t try to monopolize their time just have a brief chat and move along this small investment will reap you benefits later on at another con.

    Case in point, my wife and I befriended Myke Cole author of Shadow Ops: Control Point on twitter and then met him in person at NYCC this past year. He then introduced us to Peter V Brett and his agent Joshua Blimes ( JABerwocky Literary Agency). Fast forward to early this year and a Convention in Boston. My wife and I are sitting chatting with Myke and Peat (misspellings are purposeful BTW) and John Scalzi comes to sit with us and then Cat Valenti ect ect.

    Now while not all these folks know us by name they DO recognize us when we see them at later cons.

    so in not so short, just hang out in the lobby/common room what have you and if you run into someone you’ve met before chat with them and other authors/agents will likely come to YOU in a natural non pressuring sort of way.

  • I’ve been going to cons as a fan since 1972, way before as a writer guest. Make sure you eat properly, as you can forget to, and bring antiacids, constipation medication, and exlax as things can happen and better to be prepared not to get ill. Headache medication too. Even if not use any of what I mentioned, it’s betterto be safe than sorry.

    I just did a writer’s conference my romance chapter put on and really editors and agents are nice. One of the agents remembered me when I did the pitch of my urban fantasy at my appintment andremembered me and I think even read all the bio of us speakers, as she asked me why wasn’t I writing a ghost story with paranormal investigators! She has inspired me to do just that after finishing my YA. But honestly, be polite and they like to talk to you and not just them, but authors and stars, as they are people too.