Get Thee to a Conference, Writer!

I want to be alone...photo from www.fanpop.com

I want to be alone…photo from http://www.fanpop.com

Like many writers, I work at home, which means I spend much of my day alone. To force myself to get out of the house and interact with living, breathing, real people, I set a goal of attending at least two conferences in the course of the year.

They’re not writing conferences, however.

They’re pre-writing conferences.

In other words, I go to conferences to do research for my books. In particular, I go to events that have to do with birding, nature, and spirituality, since those are my book topics, and I’m always looking for new ideas and the latest developments in the field.

But last month, as I promoted my second free Kindle offer on amazon.com for my Birder Murder mystery series, I realized a marketing benefit to those research conferences: the stuff I bring home – the hand-outs, the programs, the lists of attendees – are invaluable marketing tools.

Influential contacts

You meet a lot of people at any kind of conference, but you might not get the chance to meet them all, especially if they are keynote speakers who typically are surrounded by a crush of people at the conference. If you keep the program, though, you can usually track them down again on the internet, and make contact by sending an email and thanking them for their presentation. Then, when you would like to notify them of your book release or promotion, you’ve got  influential contacts in your target market. Even if you haven’t previously corresponded with them, just naming the conference in a subject line will ensure your email will be read by the recipient. Ask them to share your promotion, and you’ll reach new readers through their cooperation.

Potential readers

Every person who comes to a conference is a potential reader of your work. I recently went to a conference on the therapeutic effects of nature, and chatted with other attendees about my interest in nature and birds. When I mentioned I was an author, I was asked for the names of my books, so I got to do a little promoting to a market I hadn’t previously considered. At a birding event, email addresses of all the attendees are sometimes included (because birders like to email each other about bird sightings), so I have a ready-made email list for special book promotions that I think they might appreciate. Never underestimate the personal touch of addressing individuals!

Creative approaches

Being the packrat I am, I keep all the hand-outs and advertising materials from conferences, too, thinking I might be able to set up a speaking date or promotional opportunity with one of the sponsors. For example, I never thought of wildlife photographers as a market until I met a camera rep at a birding event; now it’s a part of my target audience. As a result, I’ve found that thinking about the ways sponsors connect to conferences is a fertile field for marketing development.

What kind of conferences do you attend and what are the marketing benefits you find?

Do You Need to Schmooze an Editor or Agent?

I’ve attended over 7 writers conferences since walking the road of an author. One thing I’ve come to observe at these conferences is they way we interact with one another.

Editors and agents are seen as the gate keepers to our dreams. They are the ones who will accept our book and validate our work.

Janalyn Voigt and I at Northwest Christian Wrtiers Renewal

This is sort of true and sort of not. Editors and agents will let you know if your work is ready. They’ll let you know what you need to work on. They do not hold your dreams. You do.

Having our work published will not validate us. Only Jesus can do this. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking your worth is measured by a contract and sales figures.

I’ve seen some writers completely crushed when an editor/agent declined on their pitch. I’ve been one of them. Jesus gently reminded me that He is my agent. And He’s yours if you’re willing to give your writing over to Him.

I don’t mean He will do everything. We still have to hone our craft, build our platform, and continue learning.

At conferences, I’ve seen editors and agents hunted down by well-meaning enthusiastic authors. They couldn’t get an appointment with the agent/editor they wanted, so they stalk them at meal times, breaks, in line at the bathroom….

I’ve had some wonderful chats with editors/agents at meals and in the hallways. But I’ve also seen a weary trapped look in their gaze.

We should never become so focused on what other people can do for us and our careers that we forget they are people and children of God first and foremost.

Take the time to ask them how they’re enjoying the conference. Chat them up like you would meeting someone at a neighborhood barbecue. Take the time to get to know them a little. They’ll eventually turn the conversation towards writing. After all, they’re there to discover great writers.

Even if they turn your project down, they’ll remember a friendly person. Later, circumstances may be different and your project will be the one. You can never go wrong investing in people and relationships.

You should spend some time schmoozing at conferences. Just make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. If we look at every person and situation with the attitude of how we can help them, instead of how they can help us, we’ll get much further.

Have you ever made new friends at a conference? How have you helped someone else and had it benefit you unexpectedly?