I’ve only been once, so this is definitely a guide for those new to this conference. Hopefully this will help me provide you with some tips from a newbie’s perspective, since the experience was so recent. But it also means you won’t find veteran tips here, though I do have some location specific tips near the end.
I think Rule Number One to keep in mind is:
Most likely the person standing next to you is new too! At the very least, she (and sometimes he) will be nice or an introvert like most of us writers and won’t bite your head off if you initiate conversation. I’m serious. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself while you’re waiting in line to get that free book from your favorite author. Who knows, that person could be screwing up the nerve to introduce herself to you! Don’t know what to say as an icebreaker? The easiest one to remember and makes the most sense: So what kind of stories do you write?
Set a goal for the conference
This may sound weird, but this is a huge conference and it’s really easy to become overwhelmed and stand in a corner clutching your conference goody bag, wide eyed. You’ve spent a lot of money to come to it, and it would be a shame to go home and think it was a waste of said money, especially when the success hangs on you. I read this tip before I went to the conference last year, and it’s so true: set achievable goals. Before you head out, think about what would make you smile and feel like it was worth going–and be realistic. Don’t make it ‘come away with an agent contract’ or ‘everyone turns to me in a workshop and remarks how brilliant I am.’ Pitching to an agent? Your goal is to pitch to them without dying. Maybe make it a goal to meet five new people. Needing to hone your craft? Concentrate on the workshops you need. And don’t be distracted by what others are doing–remember, everyone has different goals. If your goal is honing your craft, don’t get distracted by all the people talking about all the free books they got. Sure you got some great free books, but standing in the lines made you miss one of your most-looked-forward-to workshops and you’ll be disappointed later.
Pack with care
Last week I talked about packing, so I won’t get into it too much here, but be aware of your body’s needs and the time constraints of the conference. Do you know that you have to be hydrated, or you’ll drop? Pack a water bottle and fill it at water fountains. It’s such a waste of time to stand in the long lines to get an over-priced bottle of water. Think about what you need to stay focused and happy, and see if there’s a way for you to pack something that will help you. Running around at the conference hotel for it five minutes before your pitch starts is a bad idea.
I also packed flattened boxes that were a good size for holding books, a roll of packing tape, and a sharpie. That way I didn’t need to hunt these down there and was able to ship back all my free books using the US Post Office’s media mail rate (muuuuch cheaper than regular mail, and cheaper than paying the overages airlines charge now).
Yep, what you’ve been hearing is true. Books are given away like candy, and most of the time you can get them signed! I think I came away with 80+ books last year. Here’s what’s going on: publishers want to not only market their various imprints, they also want to help educate potential clients on what they look for, so they give them away to us. During various times of the day (printed in the schedule) there will be room(s) dedicated to certain imprints for their authors to sign books. You go in, find the authors you like, and stand in line. But don’t be one of those that goes to the front and just grabs a bunch; not only is it rude, but there are a limited number, and those patiently standing in line will be pissed if they see you do this, especially if there’s no books by the time they get to the table. It’s also disrespectful to the author. They are there to meet you.
Tips re: books
- I had two of these reusable shopping totes that roll up small and fit in my purse. That way I was ready to snap it open and stuff it with books.
- Some bring boxes to the signing rooms or snag empty ones in the rooms
- Mail them back using USPS Media Mail
- Return often to your room to offload your stack
I’ve written several posts regarding this, Agent Pitch Prep Tip: Make Dossiers and Pitching at a Conference? Set Fire to the Rain! but one big thing that really helped was getting pitches out of the way first thing in the morning on the first day. Not only will this reduce your anxiety level for the rest of the conference, but you’re also pitching to an agent who’s fresh and hasn’t heard a zillion pitches already. Didn’t get your fave agent or editor? Hang around the pitch room–they post open pitch slots that you can nab.
Also, arrive early! I can’t tell you how many people lost out because they showed up just five minutes beforehand–that’s too late folks. It takes time to corral everyone into their lanes and feed them into the room. You need to be there in time for that. To be safe, get there 20-30 minutes before your pitch starts.
This was my only sore point last year. Everything I read and researched online about what to expect said that at previous conferences, they’d handed out a thumb drive of all the workshop handouts, so I knew I’d have those to rely on if the presenter ran out, etc. But last year, they didn’t provide them. And they also didn’t have handouts printed for the attendees. You could go online to print them out, but I didn’t have a printer handy. If, like me, you like to have these during a session, go ahead and print them out before you go. One of my friend’s had done this and I was so envious.
Mark not only your first choice, but your second. Sometimes workshops will get cancelled, or it’s not what you were expecting–now you have a backup to go to. (It’s okay to come and go during a session, just be quiet about it).
Put granola bars or the like in your purse to tide you over–believe me, you’ll want these. Also, there are two food courts easily accessible from the Marriott without even having to go outside. There’s the Peachtree Center food court (which is huge, and also has a CVS)–there’s a skybridge from the Atrium level if you go to Marquis Tower I. Also on the Atrium level, if you go toward Marquis Tower II, you can access the SunTrust food court. There’s also PLENTY of dining outside the hotel.
Hopefully they’ll provide maps of the hotel in our conference packets, since this is a large hotel with many conference rooms and ballrooms on several levels. If you want to see it beforehand, here’s a link to ones that Dragon*Con provides (I’m a regular attendee, which is why I’m so familiar with this hotel).
Dress professionally, you are your brand, so be conscious of how you’re presenting yourself, even if you’re not pitching. Even if you are, keep it up even after your pitches, as agents and editors may see you after. Think about what you’d wear to your first book signing and wear that.
I love to party and drink with the best of them, but last year I refrained from partying–I had a few beers to relax, but that’s it. My goal wasn’t to party, plus I can start getting silly if I drink too much and I sure didn’t want a potential agent sitting a table over to witness me in that state. I’ve heard horror stories from other agents who’ve seen writers throwing up in hallways, etc.
I honestly think folks get out of an experience what they take into it. If you’re looking for things to be sour about, you’ll find them. But why not go into it with a positive attitude and count up the great things you experience? Go into it with a friendly attitude and everyone else will be friendly too.
What about you? Will this be your first time? If you’re a veteran, do you have any tips? I know I only scraped the surface…