Goals: Before you go to a writer's conference, be clear on your goals. If it's just networking that's great, but if you want to get more than networking out of the event, make sure you establish your specific objectives in advance.
Get a head start on networking: Now that you've gone through the conference website, it's time to identify the folks you'd like to get to know better and start your networking early. These days, most events have Twitter hashtags associated with their conferences. Follow these hashtags and respond to and engage with other folks who are in that search stream. If you have compiled your list of folks you want to meet at the event, be sure and follow them on Twitter and tweet to their account using the conference hashtag. For example, "Looking forward to seeing your presentation at #ASJA2013" - that will start the conversation going. Early networking is a great way to get in front of speakers you want to meet or publishers you want to network with.
Make appointments early: The conference website should be your new best friend. Comb through it to find names of the presenters. In the past, I have shown up at conferences hoping to make appointments there and found that they're not only difficult to schedule, but most of the bigger names are generally booked up. Once you hit the conference floor the momentum of the event takes over, and any appointments that haven't been confirmed prior to the event generally won't happen.
Take business cards: Do business cards still make sense? Yes, they do. Make sure you bring a lot of business cards; running out at an event is never good. Also, if you grab cards from folks, be sure to write a short note on the back reminding you of what you talked about and where you met them. I can guarantee that if you don't, you will arrive home and forget.
Stay organized: I will generally bring some letter-sized envelopes to the event and then file cards by session or event so I can keep track of where I collected them. For example, let's say I went to a big awards dinner and did some networking. If I file all of these in the "Awards dinner" envelope, I can add a personal element to the follow-up email like, "It was nice to meet you at the awards dinner, wasn't Marci's acceptance speech great?"
Quick follow-up: Though many people think that "snail mail" is passé, I disagree. I think that these days people tend to pay more attention to a handwritten card than an email. I mean really, how many emails do you get in a day vs. how many handwritten notes? My point exactly. I always bring note cards and stamps to a conference, and when I'm in my room in the evening, I'll handwrite a few notes and pop them in the mail. Again if I wait until I'm home and back at work, I'm often so busy playing catch up that I will forget to do this.
Never eat alone: There's a great networking book by the same name (Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi, Crown Books) and the statement is true. At a writer's conference be sure to grab a table packed with people and even better, don't sit with the same folks over and over again. Mix it up and meet new people! Introduce yourself and yes, have your elevator pitch handy.
Elevator Pitch: What is an elevator pitch and why do you need one? An elevator pitch is a short one- to two-sentence description about your book. It's the briefest of the briefest descriptions you can develop. The reason elevator pitches are important is that we have an ever-shrinking attention span, so you need to capture someone's attention in a very short, succinct pitch.
All elevator pitches have particular relevance to them, but for the most part, every elevator pitch must:
* Have emotional appeal
* Be helpful
* Be insightful
* Be timely
* Matter to the person you are targeting!
Action items: At the end of each conference day, I find it helpful to gather my notes and go through and highlight the important items from the day. I have often waited until I'm on the plane back home, or worse, the Monday following the conference, and by then I generally can't make heads or tails out of who I am supposed to contact. Lesson: do it early while the information is still fresh.
And finally, a few bonus tips:
Conference follow-up: This is a biggie. Make sure you always follow up with everyone you connected with, especially if you said you would send them more information, sample chapters, whatever.
Keep the networking going: Relationships take time. Don't expect miracles when you land at a writer's conference. Sometimes great stuff will happen right away, and other times it's a process. Don't let the networking end when the function is over. You're now networking with them online via Twitter and Facebook, and perhaps you have some follow-up to do. Keep on their radar screen and then be on the lookout for future events you can attend!
Writers' conferences are a great way to get out there and network, meet your peers and meet agents, publishers, and marketing professionals who can help you publish or market your book or expand your career. Good luck!
BONUS: Want to attend a writer's conference in 2013? We've got a list to take you through the end of the year. See if there is an event for you: http://jodierennerediting.blogspot.com/2013/04/writers-conferences-april-to-december.html
Reprinted from "The Book Marketing Expert Newsletter," a free ezine offering book promotion and publicity tips and techniques. http://www.amarketingexpert.com