I'm off to Thriller Fest this weekend while some of my colleagues are hanging back for ALA, and even though I spoke on this topic a few years ago, I thought I'd touch on the subject again.
Conferences are the perfect place to attend informative panels, meet other authors, and network with industry professionals. Some of my most important contacts I made at writer's conferences. While they can be extremely fun and beneficial, it's important to be productive and use discretion. Otherwise, you could end up spending thousands of dollars on registrations, hotels, and flights all over the country.
Consider the following before registering for a writer's conference:
Why? Why do you want to attend? How will you benefit? Bouchercon is a fan-based conference, so it is perfect for novelists promoting a book. Thriller Fest is more industry centered. Authors meet their publishing team and newbie writer's pitch at AgentFest. It's less about book promotion. Something like ALA is the perfect conference for authors because it gives them an opportunity to promote their books to librarians (very important book buyers). Make sure you're attending the right conference for the right reasons.
Cost. If the conference is local, you'll save on travel, hotel and dining expenses. If it's out of town, consider how much money you'll be spending. Is it worth it? You cannot put a price on networking and making connections, but you can choose wisely. If there are two similar conferences with similar attendees, pick the one that you can drive too or the one where you can stay with family rather than splurging for a hotel.
Once you've registered for the conferences, you'll need:
A Plan. Before you attend a conference, you should have a plan of what you want to accomplish. This may be to introduce yourself to a certain agent that you queried recently or to give away three copies of your book to possible fans. It's easy to get swept up in the camaraderie (and by that I mean drinking), and that's okay. Just keep your eye on the ball and know what you are there to accomplish.
Business Cards. People want to know who you are and how to get in contact with you.
An Open Mind. You will meet tons of people at conferences, and you may be surprised by which contacts actually make a difference. You may be dying to talk to the headlining, NYT bestselling author, but don't shrug off a fellow newbie who offers to buy you a drink. Connelly, Coben, and Lehane were all newbie's once. Bet you wish you had a blurb from them...
Networking and mingling are necessary to succeeding in publishing, whether you're meeting fellow writers, promoting your latest novel, or pitching agents. Publishing is a small community and the more people you know, the better. So if you're in New York, stop by ThrillerFest and meet some industry professionals. Or if you're in Chicago, come down to ALA and hang with authors and librarians.